10 Virtual School Tips from a Philly Parenting Consultant

You're all cooped up in the house together. That damn Zoom camera is looking at your kid all day. Parenting consultant Brandi Davis explains how to make it work.

A child participating in virtual school while his father attempts to work from home as well.

A child participating in virtual school while his father  (who clearly needs some virtual school tips) attempts to work from home as well. | Photo courtesy of Getty Images

If you have school-age children in the Philadelphia area during COVID, chances are they are doing virtual school this fall. This presents a host of challenges for any parent, so we reached out to Best of Philly-winning parenting consultant Brandi Davis (@parentpartnerbrandi) for some tips. Davis creates a safe space for parents to talk, vent, and discover new paths for their parenting journey. Here, the Fairmount-based parenting expert offers several tips on how to keep your cool while helping your child succeed in virtual school.

Create the right school workspace.

If you’re sticking your kid at the dining room table while you’re making work calls from the kitchen and their younger sibling is watching TV in the living room, this isn’t ideal. “If possible, it needs to be a quiet space where people aren’t flowing in and out all the time,” says Davis. “Plus, it should be a positive workspace. Bright. Put a flower in there.” And, Davis says it’s important to make sure they have everything they need in that workspace, from healthy snacks to pencils. “They shouldn’t have to get up a million times to look for pencils or whatever else they need,” Davis explains.

Consider your kid’s learning style.

Your child might have a learning style that’s completely different from that of your niece, your neighbor’s kid or the other students in your child’s virtual school. Figure out what works for them. “If you notice that they like to stand up during class, don’t tell them to sit down just because your teachers made you sit down in class,” Davis says. “Some kids are auditory learners, and they learn best when they read something out loud instead of just reading it silently. Knowing the best way for your child to learn and work will go a long, long way.”

Recognize that being on camera all day can be exhausting for any kid — or adult.

When you sit in a real classroom, most of the time, you’re looking at the teacher or maybe glancing around the room a bit. But virtual school is completely different, and that can be a problem for some students. “Kids can be really thrown off by the whole Zoom thing,” Davis points out, “Seeing everybody all the time and being seen by everybody all the time. You can feel like you’re really on display. You can feel like all of those faces are staring at you. If you need to turn off their camera, do it. Take a video break. But tell the teacher first. As long as you’re doing the work and you’re on audio, it shouldn’t matter to them if the camera is off for a bit.”

Philly parenting consultant Brandi Davis, who has tips for surviving virtual school

Philly parenting consultant Brandi Davis, who has tips for surviving virtual school. | Photo courtesy of Brandi Davis.

Don’t discount the value of Youtube and video learning for all subjects.

So the teacher is talking about the Civil War. Your kid is reading about the Civil War. But it’s just not connecting. It’s just not sinking in. What do you do when your kid is stuck with virtual school? “Why not find a documentary about it on YouTube or another platform or streaming service?” Davis suggests. “This works for little kids and big kids. A video might be an easier way to digest information, whether it’s science, math, history, whatever. There’s a video for everything.”

Be flexible with their curriculum — especially if your kid is in kindergarten.

Virtual school can be especially hard on the little ones — and their parents — with hours of on-screen learning. “This is not how kindergarteners learn,” Davis says. “Kindergarteners can’t read directions, so the parents have to do the reading. Plus, it’s a lot of sitting. But you know what? Kindergarten is not mandatory in Pennsylvania. It’s important, but if they are bugging out and you can’t handle it, turn the computer off for a few hours. There are so many other ways to learn. If your kid is obsessed with killing spotted lantern flies, they can make a book about it. They can count how many they’ve killed and do the math of how many more they need to kill to reach their goal. They can learn from real life.” Flexibility can go a long way, especially with small children.

Manage screen time outside of virtual school, but be reasonable.

Your kid is about to have way, way, way more screen time than pediatricians recommend. But such is the nature of virtual school. So when they are done with the school day, you might think that the last thing they need is to play a game online or FaceTime their friends. “It would be horrible to punish them by taking away something they are used to just because they are in virtual school — a decision that has nothing to do with them,” Davis says, “Maybe instead of taking a device away, you let them do an hour instead of the two they were used to. Or maybe you skip a day and add time on the weekends. And definitely encourage active screen time. There’s a difference between FaceTiming a friend or Grandma, and watching some kid open toys on YouTube for a half hour.”

Resist the urge to hover.

Normally, your kid is away from you all day and their education is left to the teachers and administrators to figure out. So when your kid is now in virtual school at home, you might be tempted to get more involved than you should— especially with the older kids who probably don’t actually need your help. “Teachers don’t hover over kids,” Davis says, “They can’t — especially when there are 25 kids in a class. When your kid is home, it’s hard not to step in. Whether it’s ‘You got that one wrong’ or ‘Why aren’t you working faster?’ But your kid is probably thinking, ‘Can you back it up a little?'”

“It’s like watching your kids try to put shoes on when they are little,” Davis explains, “You don’t want to watch a four-year-old child put shoes on. You need to step away and let them figure it out themselves. Roll in sometimes and see if they need anything. Micromanaging the whole thing is frustrating for both parent and child. Plus, it’s really important that their teacher knows what they know and don’t know — and if you’re there all the time helping them get the right answer, that’s not productive.”


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Don’t obsess over grades as your personal responsibility.

“Your job is to help them stay excited about learning,” Davis insists. “Not to help them get a 4.0 GPA. If they work hard and get a B, that’s great. If they were getting a D and now they got a C, that’s great. I would gladly take a kid who gets all B’s and a C or two, but who loves researching and learning.”

Rely on mental health days when you need a break.

You’re all cooped up in the house together. You’re working. They’re learning. You will butt heads. Voices will be raised. Tears will be shed. “And if you really can’t do it anymore, have them take a ‘sick’ day,” Davis suggests. “A mental health day. In a normal school year, your kid misses school at some point. So why not take a sick day to maintain their and your mental health? You can’t do this every week, all the time. But you know when they are getting to the end of their rope and when you are getting to the end of yours. As long as they get the work done, it doesn’t matter if you both take a day off to rest. We all know how important mental health is, especially these days.”

Remember: Your relationship with your child is what’s most important here.

This school year is not going to make or break your child’s school or occupational career. “Do what you can to survive and maintain a good relationship with your child,” Davis says, “Help foster their love of learning. Be honest that this sucks and that it’s tough. It will be okay. You and your child do not have to be perfect. Just survive this.”

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