Back-to-school tips for parents

Expert tips from UCI’s Online Learning Research Center

August 18, 2020

By Pat Harriman

For most Southern California K-12 students, “back to school” means back to online instruction at home, and many parents are looking for ways to help their children get the most out of the experience.

Remote learning can be isolating and less engaging, experts say, and it requires self-discipline to stay on top of information on multiple websites and apps.

“Back to school” means back to online instruction for most Southern California K-12 students. Three experts from the UCI School of Education Online Learning Research Center – professor Mark Warschauer, assistant project scientist Tamara Tate and associate professor Di Xu – offer advice for parents trying to help their children successfully learn in the virtual classroom. Tamara Tate / UCI

For some practical parental advice, we consulted three experts from the UCI School of Education Online Learning Research Center:  Tamara Tate, assistant project scientist; Di Xu, associate professor of education and OLRC co-director; and Mark Warschauer, professor of education and OLRC co-director.

“Organization is essential to achieving success in the virtual environment,” Warschauer says. “One idea is to create a master document with hyperlinks to all of the basic tools and necessary resources. Setting it up early will save you time and frustration later. Put a link to it on your child’s desktop for easy access.”

Create a single Google or Word document, with links arranged in the order you or your child will be accessing them:

  • School website
  • Learning management system – Canvas, Blackboard, Schoology
  • Google Classroom
  • Online library
  • Course online grade management system

For middle school and older children, teach them how to add links to the master document so the information they need is just a click away.

Next, set up a calendar. “Teach your child to make notes when an assignment is due and then identify all the steps that have to be taken to meet the completion date,” Xu says. “Once a week, make a plan with your child for the next week. Review the online space of each class to check announcements, look at the syllabus and go over posted assignments. This is also a good time to check online grades and email notes from the teacher.”


Reading is critical for elementary school children. Books, magazines, comics, graphic novels, online – it all counts. Let them follow a passion, be it trains, superheroes, plants, animals or anything else under the sun. Some libraries are allowing curbside checkout and most have online digital resources available.

“Read together. Read out loud. Read silently. Just keep reading,” Warschauer says.

Middle school

Students at this age should be learning how to manage the recommended master document and calendar scheduling practices, as well as gaining an understanding of digital literacy and safe social media practices. Middle school kids are very focused on their peers and, during social distancing, online may be the only way to safely connect with others.

High school

“For a challenging high school course, knowing what the instructor expects is especially important,” Tate says. “Your teen will need to read the syllabus carefully and keep up with course announcements. Learning how to actively study, using self-testing with old-fashioned flash cards or apps, and spacing out study time rather than cramming, are effective skills to acquire. The OLRC has some great resources.”

Last but not least

The experts agree that “keeping everything in perspective” is the best advice for the entire family. Parents can help their children navigate anxiety and stress through exercise, fresh air, healthy eating and connecting with friends and family in a safe way. These habits will not only help families get through the pandemic, but will last a lifetime.

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