Keeping Kindergarteners (and Other Students) Engaged in Remote Learning

First of all, let’s recognize that parenting and helping our kids get their education at home is difficult! Getting kindergarteners to sit still for hours, or even 20-30 minutes at a time, is a big ask for them. This is especially true since their home was a place where they were able to run around and play pretty much all the time until it suddenly became school, too! It’s good to remember that in any environment, sitting still and paying attention is a new and developmentally advanced skill for kindergarteners.

School is set up to be an environment where just one thing happens: school. This consistency in environment and routines sets kids up to learn how to behave at school. When we try to turn home into school, especially when kids have never been to school before, this can make learning the new expectations of schooling particularly difficult.

We have lots of ideas for creating consistent, visual cues in the home environment to make it easier for kids to follow these new expectations. Check out these blogs here and here.

Once we have done what we can to set kids up to be successful with environmental arrangement, consistent routines, and clear expectations, we can capitalize on some natural inclinations of young kiddos to encourage their motivation for school. There are 4 things kids this age enjoy:

  1. Being helpers
  2. Having some autonomy and a sense of control
  3. Being recognized for being a ‘big kid’
  4. Playing games or being challenged

Being helpers

  • Especially if you have to work from home, talk to your child about how working together (even if you’re working on different tasks) helps you to get your work done. It can be especially hard work when you’re in it alone. But when someone else is working along with you, it gives it a sense of comradery and accomplishment. And you can celebrate your little wins during the day together!
  • Do homework together and see if they can catch you in any mistakes, or explain what they are learning to you.

Autonomy and control

  • Give choices! Break kids’ tasks down into smaller, more manageable chunks, and give them the choice of what they will do first. As long as it gets done, they can do it however they want. Consider adding in little breaks they can choose from as well, 15 mins of snack, 30 mins of playtime, so it’s not all school related.
  • Let kids choose their name or their background for a Zoom call (as long as teachers allow this). Earning the chance to be “Grumpy Snortalotus” in the morning Zoom meeting could help encourage your child to pay attention!
  • Talk to your child about why they are doing the tasks for school. Not for an end goal (getting good grades, or going to college), but for the benefits of learning itself and how enjoying learning can benefit kids. For example, talk about how learning and practice are actually building their brains and making their brains smarter and faster. Talking to kids about how education and learning benefits them increases their intrinsic motivation, and helps them make good choices. Plus, that’s a pretty cool concept for kids–that their work is building their brain!

Being a big kid

  • We all like to have a sense of feeling like we are respected for our abilities and hard work. Notice your child’s effort and let them know you appreciate their ability to rise to ‘big kid’ status. Even when they aren’t enjoying schooling, the fact that they are trying their best is a really big kid thing to do!
  • Engage your child in making decisions about their school day and planning. Instead of telling kids to do school work because you say so, collaborate with them on figuring out what they need to be successful in their school day. If you know they usually struggle after lunch time, point out that this seems to be a hard time for them, what do they think would make it easier? Do they need a specific kind of break to look forward to? Extra support from you? If it’s really hard, maybe they need something enjoyable to work towards to help them stay focused and motivated? A sticker chart, an activity, more reminders and support from you, or an incentive might be helpful while they grow their self-regulation and ability to pay attention.

Meeting a Challenge

  • Make it a race: Can they beat you (or a sibling) in getting ready for school first? Compete against themselves: Can they recognize more letter sounds this week than they did last week? Who can come up with the funniest or coolest name for their zoom call?
  • Turn their tasks into a check-list or game board. Being able to check off what they’ve done feels good in itself, especially if stickers are involved, and gives a sense of accomplishment that promotes motivation to keep going.
  • And make sure kids are getting breaks! Getting the wiggles out and doing physical movement is not only important to children’s ability to pay attention and take in information, but to their ability to be resilient during times of stress and change. Read more about the importance of play.

Figuring out what works for your family and students for virtual learning may take some time to figure out, and is likely to change. If you are working to help your child not only get through but also enjoy virtual learning, I hope you give yourself a great big round of applause! Helping your child find what works for them in this first part of their learning adventure is really setting them up to be successful.

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Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2020

Image: © Iurii Davydov |


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Livia Carpenter

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