Julie McIsaac
January 21, 2021

How can I make remote school easier for my child (and me!)?

I’m not going to ask how remote school is going for your family because I see you sitting with your phone in the one quiet corner of the house taking a minute to yourself. I get it. I’d share my secret stash of chocolate if I could. This isn’t easy to manage.

I’m not going to ask how remote school is going for your family because I see you sitting with your phone in the one quiet corner of the house taking a minute to yourself. I get it. I’d share my secret stash of chocolate if I could. This isn’t easy to manage.

But we can do hard things. We just need to continue to lean on and learn from each other.

Most students in the US are learning remotely at least one day a week right now and many are full time.   Remote learning can be synchronous (where the child is online with the teacher and makes faces at their classmates or mutes and unmutes themselves uncontrollably) or asynchronous (where the child moans and complains and procrastinates and falls off their chair while trying to complete classwork the teacher has assigned), or it can be a combination of the two. If your child is managing this new learning smorgasbord reasonably well, please know that good-enough is GREAT, especially right now.

Unfortunately, many of us parenting children with a learning or developmental disability are not feeling like things are going great right now. So I’m going to stand right up on my chair and shout this part: 




What if it’s not because they won’t, but because they can’t?

It’s our job (with the teacher, and team if you have one) to figure out why school isn’t going well. Students can have success in school when what is being asked of them is at their level, is tailored to their individual needs and is delivered using the power of relationship. (What does this mean, “power of relationship”? It means the student and teacher have a mutual respect for one another so when the teacher asks the student to perform, the student is more likely to do so because of the strength of that relationship. It’s powerful.)

There are a few challenges that many of our children have in common; self-regulation, attention, and organization are three big ones for example.  These are sometimes discussed as executive functions. Remote learning puts a giant spotlight on these struggles and our children will likely require modifications or supports to help set them up for success. It’s likely you’ve already thought about what your kids need for this new way of learning. And after observing what works and what definitely doesn’t work, it’s a good time to revisit our plans and make changes. Let’s breathe some fresh air into this process.

Here are my tips to support our students’ executive function during remote learning:

  1. Reset Priorities.

    Now that we’ve seen this remote learning in action, think about what the goal is for a given activity and then make the other things easier  — if everything is hard, wouldn’t you want to walk away too? For example, yesterday my child was incredibly frustrated with a math activity. In order to complete the math activity, he needed to understand the online program, read the problem and make sense of it, solve it and type it into the appropriate place before reporting back to his class. This was too many steps for him to manage and his response was to yell, shut the computer and slam his door. I knew he could do the math if he was less overwhelmed, so I took away the other demands (he did the math, I did the computer navigation).  The priorities will keep changing, next week it might not be math, it might be computer navigation, and that’s ok, too. But my advice is to pick a priority and decrease the other demands.  This will help with regulation.

  2. Recreate the Space.

    Depending on the needs and abilities of your child, look at where your child is sitting (or laying down) for class and help the recreate a workspace based on the things they need throughout the school day. For kids who struggle with executive functions like organization, be sure to help find a place for all needed items and post a schedule beside the computer for frequent reference. You can also have websites bookmarked on the computer and passwords posted as well.

  3. Plan for Snacks and Exercise.

    I know this is not easy. We are keeping so many balls in the air right now as it is, but I encourage you to make a plan for snacks and exercise before the week starts. If you have a list of go-to snacks, it just takes the thinking out of it a bit, reducing the cognitive task of problem solving and making it possible to recognize that the kids need to eat and how to make that happen; because remote learning does not only require executive function for our kids, but for us as well. 

  4. And last but not least, notice the good.

    There may be a lot of things that are not going according to plan, but it’s helpful to notice what’s going right. It does not matter how small, celebrate those wins whether they are related to school or just the way your child is managing the day; ‘I love how you reached out to your friend today’, ‘thank you for cleaning your spot after lunch’,  ‘thank you for telling me that you needed a break  from online today’.  Don’t we all feel a little better when our efforts and gestures are noticed?

Now go grab a beverage of your choice, find your snack stash, sit on your back steps… and start that snack list.

  • Julie McIsaac, Ph.D.

    Child Development and Disability Advisor

    Julie specializes in working with children and families with diverse developmental profiles She uses reflective practice, emotion-coaching, play and a relationship-based framework to support skill building in the areas of emotional-regulation and problem-solving. Julie consults with families, schools and community organizations. As a parent, she understands the need to have a cohesive team supporting a child and family.

    Profile Photo of Julie McIsaac
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