Virtual Learning

Disclaimer: At UPMC HealthBeat, we strive to provide the most up-to-date facts in our stories when we publish them. We also make updates to our content as information changes. However, education about COVID-19 can shift quickly based on new data, emerging variants, or other factors. The information in this story was accurate as of its publish date. We also encourage you to visit other reliable websites for updated information, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and your state and local governments. 

COVID-19 has forced many school districts to embrace some form of virtual learning. Whether your child’s school week is fully remote or a hybrid, chances are they’re spending more time than ever learning online.

For some students, virtual learning poses challenges to staying motivated and engaged. Even when teachers live stream their classes, it’s easy for children to tune out. Here are a few strategies to help your child stay focused with virtual learning:

Organize Their Time

During a typical school day, classes start and end at specific times. If you’re lucky, your child’s online school day will closely follow the in-person format — and classes will be live-streamed in real time. Children will need to check in virtually for each class, and teachers may take attendances.

Some virtual learning may be more free form. Classes aren’t live-streamed and children learn the material at their own pace. They also have to schedule their own time.

If your child’s school doesn’t organize their online time, you’ll have to help them out. You might need to remind your child to check in.

Create a school day calendar for them to follow. Younger children often need more time structure than older children. Err on the side of more structure at first. You can loosen time constraints as your child becomes more comfortable with the routine.

Let Them Sleep Later

Allow middle school and high school students to create their own schedules. But hold them to it. Older kids may want to start their day a bit later, preferring to sleep in. Getting more sleep is one benefit of virtual learning for middle school and high school kids.

Most middle and high schools start too early anyway. Start times before 8:30 a.m. are one reason many teens feel sluggish in the morning. Children between the ages of 13 and 18 should get eight to 10 hours of sleep each night, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text the word STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Click here to view the privacy and terms.

Designate a Spot for Schoolwork

At school, children have assigned classrooms and even assigned desks. Teachers put a great deal of thought and effort into designing the classroom to limit distractions and increase focus.

To help your child stay focused, choose one or two spots in the home that are conducive to learning. Set up a table or desk with the materials they’ll need to complete their work.

Limit visual and audio distractions. Don’t have the TV on in another room, for example.

Schedule Breaks

If your child is in charge of the lesson time, don’t try to cram too much in at once. Sitting too long can make kids tired and fidgety. Schedule time between classes to get up and stretch.

Reduce Stress

Adjusting to a new learning platform can be stressful. COVID-19 adds an extra layer of stress and anxiety. It’s important that the entire family learn coping strategies to keep from getting overwhelmed or depressed. Meditation is one way to reduce stress.

Limit Cell Phone Usage

Schools have strict cell phone policies for a reason. They’re a big source of distraction. To reinforce what your children are used to at school, follow the school district’s cell phone policy during home learning hours.

Continue Specialized Services

Children with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) should continue receiving special services outlined in their plan. These services include speech therapy or reading intervention. Contact the individuals listed in your child’s IEP to find how they will provide the services your child needs.

Reach Out for Help

If your child is still struggling to stay engaged, reach out to the teacher or a school counselor. They may have helpful resources or advice. Or they may be able to provide some virtual face time to encourage your child to stay on task.

A Parent's Guide to Virtual Learning. National Center for Learning Disabilities. Link.

Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, MD, MPH, FAAP. ADHD and Learning During COVID-19. American Academy of Pediatrics. Link.

Schools Start Too Early. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.