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New Survey Shows Parents’ Top Challenges With Online Learning

With half of parents struggling to keep their kids focused on schoolwork, Canvas offers tips and tools for parents to help students learn at home

Millions of students and teachers have had to adjust to learning from home in the last few weeks, which means that parents have had to adjust too. To check in on how parents are doing, Canvas, the learning management platform made by Instructure, commissioned a survey to learn more about how parents are managing their new teaching roles. In the survey, parents identified their top three challenges as keeping children focused on schoolwork, juggling daytime responsibilities with children’s schoolwork, and unclear instructions from teachers and schools.

“I’ve worked in education my whole adult life and still struggle with being the person in charge of my child’s learning experience,” said Hilary Scharton, VP of Strategy for Canvas. “The first thing we as parents need to do is set realistic expectations with our children, their teachers, and ourselves. We can’t recreate all the benefits of the face-to-face classroom, but we can give our children more freedom to explore while learning.”

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UNESCO reports that nationwide school closures are impacting more than 90% of the world’s student population. The Canvas survey results provide a glimpse into what learning at home looks like for these students and their parents.

  • Kids are learning new ways to learn
    • 79% of elementary students now have online learning experience (up from a pre-COVID-19 level of 56%).
    • They are also learning new ways to stay connected, with 64% now using videoconference to connect with teachers.
  • Elementary isn’t easy
    • Nearly half (44%) of respondents said their children had no experience with online learning tools before COVID-19 – a number that rises for parents of kindergarteners (62%).
    • Parents of young children disproportionately report that they struggle balancing their work/daytime responsibilities and their child(ren)`s schooling (51% for kindergarteners and 46% for elementary schoolers, compared to 38% for all respondents).
    • These parents also disproportionately report that they struggle to keep their children focused on schoolwork (62% for kindergarteners and 58% for elementary schoolers).
  • Videoconference goes beyond connection. Parents report video conferencing being used for many learning activities, including:
    • Covering new materials
    • Checking in on progress
    • Helping with schoolwork
    • Connecting with classmates

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In light of this feedback from parents, the Canvas team — comprised of many former and current educators — prepared some tips to help make teaching and learning at home easier.

  • Factor in attention spans: According to child psychologists, kids can typically focus on a task for two to five minutes per year of life (for example, 16-40 minutes for an eight-year-old). Younger kids need shorter instructions and work periods. Everyone needs built-in breaks.

  • Reach out to teachers (and remember to thank them!): Ask teachers about their preferred communication methods and office hours. Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or to offer support and thanks for all their work during this time. 

  • Don’t forget about recess: Many aspects of life can start running together when you’re stuck at home. Still, make sure your kids get designated downtime, which hopefully includes fresh air and physical activity. 

  • Remind kids this is temporary: The shift to remote learning may not make sense to little ones. But whatever age of children you have, talk to them. Listen to what they have to say and empathize.

  • Reach into your tech toolbox: With many schools using Canvas, parents can take advantage of the Canvas parent app, where they can see assignments, check grades, and get alerts on student activity.

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