Sarah Davis

Communications Specialist

OS Blog

How to help your child(ren) succeed in online learning

On a recent weekday afternoon, I was helping my daughter, who is in the fourth grade, work online to complete a writing assignment on the “Wizarding World.” After helping her settle on a topic while I was juggling work conference calls, she was off and running. Or so I thought.

An hour later, she had not accomplished very much. She was lost in videos, articles, images and formatting. She had inadvertently lost the entire purpose of the writing piece. Tears rolling, frustration ensued and the panic monster came to rear its ugly head because so much time had elapsed and she was not standing on good ground. She felt defeated. When I looked at her computer screen, she had about 10 windows open and could not find her way back. 

I learned in an instant that I did not set her up for success. I wrongly assumed she could manage the digital world on her own.

The situation I have described in my own home is likely what many other parents are experiencing as they try to navigate the digital learning world with their children.

There have been some articles, links and tips on how to make this transition from learning at school to learning at home during COVID-19. One element missing which needs more attention is how to navigate learning on digital platforms. 

Sure, we are glad to have Zoom, Webex and Facetime as video conferencing ways to communicate between the teacher and home. And with a couple of practices, most children will quickly learn to navigate video conferencing. However, there is more to these platforms than just video conferencing.  

Switching gaming devices to learning tools is harder than it looks

Parents need to consider the transition from Chromebooks/iPads/PCs as gaming devices to using them as tools for learning. This is a game changer quite literally. Changing our electronic access from gaming, apps, text messaging and videos to tools to devices that assist with communication, learning and demonstration of knowledge takes intention, experience, and immense executive functioning skills. Executive functioning allows us to decide what we will attend to, what we will accomplish, how we will prioritize, how to manage our emotions and how to persist. These skills are still developing until early adulthood - up to 25 years old. Using technology devices for learning puts great demands on executive functioning skills students are still developing, not to mention many need to work independently as parents are either essential workers or may be working remotely. 

It is important to understand the skill set of most children. We assume children can handle this because they are so entrenched in the digital world. However, gaming and learning are quite different. Some classrooms have had access to Chromebooks or iPads and then may have assignments posted in google classroom. When these devices are used in the classroom, there is high scaffolding or step-by-step directions and limits to when and how assignments are completed.

Now we are asking students to use their electronic devices as the vehicle to learning essentially without the teacher in the room to guide, assist, redirect, clarify, etc. For others, children have had less experience at school using devices as learning tools. Learning in this manner is difficult for most freshmen in college and we are now talking about teaching students in kindergarten through high school in this manner. 

There are some strategies that can be helpful for parents and students which can make this transition using technology for learning easier, with less tears. Apps and extensions are quite common and the internet is filled with articles and tips, but those resources can be overwhelming. 

Here are five ways to help make online learning easier in your home. Learn how to: 

  1. limit the pop-ups or advertisements on the screen when reading an article for school.  This allows just for the article to be viewed on screen, decreasing distractions for students. Click here for reading without pop ups or ads directions. 
  2. open two screens at once side-by-side. This allows a student to both view an article that they need to read and another article if they were making comparisons, or a Google document if they were writing a response. This will decrease distractions, decrease unnecessary toggling between screens and promote close text reading. Click here for split screen directions. 
  3. turn on dictation for writing, especially for reluctant writers to get started with their piece. Dictation can serve as a virtual scratch pad to help with brainstorming and getting initial ideas generated. This accessibility strategy can be good to move from idea generation to transcribing ideas. Click here for dictation accessibility tool directions.
  4. restrict access to undesired websites for a specified length of time. Click here to limit access to websites
  5. turn on tracking features to keep younger students more focused while expected to read. Click here for tracking features directions


Susan M. Koceski, Ph.D, is a school psychologist consultant who works with general education teachers, special education teachers, with a specialty in specific learning disabilities.  She is also a parent of a 10 and 12 year old navigating the home instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Melissa Karsten, M.A.T., CBIS, is a teacher consultant for students with traumatic brain injuries and is specially trained working with low and high tech devices for all students.


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