Teaching Advice for Parents – from a long time Student and Tutor

With the coronavirus situation in the US constantly changing and schools opening or shutting their doors in response to this, more parents than ever are finding their kids doing classes from home either through distance learning or online education.  And while homeschooling, distance learning, and online classes are all perfectly valid options and can be quite beneficial to students who might struggle in a traditional classroom setting, these are decisions that are usually arrived at after weeks if not months or years of ongoing conversations with teachers, education professionals and guidance counselors.  As such, when students do move from a traditional classroom setting to online, they are at least somewhat prepared for that transition.

This is not at all what happened last year as millions of students suddenly saw themselves learning online from home with very little warning and even less of an idea of how to handle the change.  

Homeschooling and long-distance learning are no joke.  It’s not ‘the easy way out’ or ‘simpler’ to try and navigate these waters online.  It takes time and patience and resources and, oh yeah, even more time.  This is why parents who home school need to seriously consider their decision before they take that step.  It takes weeks to settle into a routine and years to find the right balance between teacher and parent. 

But parents of students displaced by COVID never got the chance to make that decision on their own or come to terms with suddenly being a full time stay at home teacher.   So, as a tutor and nanny for the last ten years, here are a few things to hopefully help make this transition easier;


Distance Learning During a Pandemic

If your student is continuing online or distance learning this year, you need to make an informed decision early on about how involved you are going to be. This will obviously be complicated by your family and working situation and how independent a learner your child is. As this situation goes on, however, expectations for student performance will only go up. If you relied on grace periods or leniency in the last term, be prepared to no longer have those to rely on this fall.

Parent Teacher Involvement

However much you intend to be involved, or not, in your child’s education over the coming months the most important thing is to establish clear expectations and boundaries right from the start. If you are working 9-5 office hours, you need to have an honest conversation with your student about when and how much you will be able to help. If you are home but need to help a younger child during ‘classroom hours’ that also needs to be established early on. If you are home and fully available but looking at your child’s physics homework just makes you wonder what a Newton is, you need to communicate that as well.

While your routine and level of involvement may change over the coming months, keeping clear and honest lines of communication between yourself and your child over how much you are able to help and how much is appropriate for you to help is one of the most important things you can do. Will, there be times at 2 in the afternoon when your child is frustrated by a math problem and becomes upset that you can’t help? Of course. But acknowledging that those limitations exist ahead of time will limit the establishment of false expectations and unnecessary confusion.

Are you a Parent or a Teacher?

At various points in the coming months, you will need to straddle the roles of both parent and teacher. This is a difficult balancing act that you will, at some point, inevitably get wrong. But that is okay.

Again, this is where those clear and honest lines of communication come into play. So long as your child knows that you are there to support them, everything else will fall into place.

Set up a School Routine

One of the things I mentioned last year when students first transitioned online (HERE) and which is still true today is figuring out what your ‘school schedule’ looks like. Does your student need to be logging in at a set time for lectures and discussions? Do they need to login a certain number of times a week to count for attendance? Are the assignments entirely do at your own pace?

Whatever your students’ situation is you need to figure that out within the first week of school starting (if not before) and then use that to build a routine. Set a time that they need to be logged in and get started and then stick with it. Don’t be afraid to schedule in an afternoon break if they have long days (like an after school break before homework) but make it clear that once they are done for the day their time is their own and restrict access to distractions like TV, cell phones or video games until that time.

*Pro Tip – kids resisting a schedule? One of the easiest ways to set up a routine is through established mealtimes. If lunch is at 1 (assuming your kids are not supposed to be attending online classes then) this gives you a set point of control to help keep things moving. Plus it provides added motivation to actually make and eat a healthy lunch each day.

Start the Semester Together

They’re still relatively new to this, you’re still new to this. Those few months at the end of last school year already seem so very far away and, honestly, it was more of trial by fire than anything else.

If you are a stay at home parent or are working from home and intend to be involved with your student, set aside the first day back to go over the online platform with them. Make it clear that this will not be every day before you start. But beginning the semester by going through and familiarizing yourself with the platform, the class expectations, and the rubrics is a great way to a) ensure that your student doesn’t skip over all that ‘boring’ stuff, b) take the time necessary to familiarize both of you with the platform and c) means that if your student does get stuck or needs help you are not completely clueless when it comes to looking at the online assignments or even knowing where to find them.

It’s Okay to say “I don’t know”

As “all knowing” as parents would love to believe they are, or at least would like their kids to think that they are, there will be times when you stumble across some of your child’s school work that you Just Don’t Know.

And that’s okay.

Whether it’s 3rd grade rock formations or junior year calculus, there are going to be subjects and material that your child may need help with but which you either a) haven’t seen in 20+ years or b) never learned in the first place. At some point you are going to have to be comfortable with freely admitting that you don’t know about a subject, acknowledging it, and then moving forward to find the right answer. Teaching your child the critical thinking skills and tools necessary to teach themselves and help them learn over a lifetime is so much more valuable to them than teaching them that you know all the types of rocks.

How “Helping” can Hurt Students

We’ve all seen it. The helicopter parents who think they can fix everything for little Jimmy by harassing the teacher at the PTA meetings. The ones who meticulously glue poster boards together for their fourth graders’ science fair project. The ones who “edit” 10th grade English papers on Shakespeare and expect teachers to not notice the difference.

While these behaviors, as well intentioned as they might be, are toxic and controlling, they are also relatively easy to spot. What is harder to see is the parent who spends 15 minutes carefully coaching their child towards the right answer. This is especially true in subjects where parents aren’t totally comfortable. The common default of ‘google it’ won’t help your child learn how to solve these problems in the future.

Policing ourselves more than our students is hard. It takes a sometimes uncomfortable level of self honesty. But all that gentle prodding towards the right answer won’t help your student two years down the line when are not in the classroom with them to help them with their test. Recognize the difference between when you are helping them to learn versus when you are helping them to get the right answer.


As many of us can now recognize, we are likely into this for the long haul. This means that distance learning and online education will likely be a recurring part of your child’s academic future. Learning the skills to succeed in such an environment will be key to their success in the future.

As will establishing healthy study routines and habits, learning critical thinking skills, and being comfortable in an online platform.

If you are ever in doubt or have any questions, do not be afraid to reach out to your child’s teacher, auxiliary staff, your local children’s services council, library services, or another education professional such as a tutor or aide. You can always reach us here at The Nerdy Nanny either at contactus@thenerdynanny.com or by reaching out on social media.

If you are looking for more information on effective study or learning habits for older students I strongly recommend checking out Thomas Franks playlist HERE. And for more on general productivity and motivation, you can check out this playlist from Matt D’Avella HERE.


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You can also check out Eve Daniels, author of The Nerdy Nanny books, on YouTube where she gives writing and academic advice as well as updating you on all of her latest and upcoming projects.

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