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How can parents and teachers support elementary students as they learn from home during COVID-19?

Schools across Canada have had to adapt amid the global pandemic, resulting in many students learning remotely. Teachers are being asked to lead learning virtually in the family home while families are being asked to support students in ways that may be unfamiliar and potentially overwhelming. While schools are important for a child’s learning outcomes, research has demonstrated that positive family involvement can have a significant impact on student achievement. This doesn’t mean that schools cannot make a difference, but rather these unprecedented circumstances are calling on schools and families to work in partnership to support student learning. Here are some questions that teachers and families can ask when developing and implementing home-based learning activities, including tips to support student participation:


1. Can the activity be easily done in a home setting, and is curriculum being used in a flexible way that fits with family activities/interests or things that families might already be doing?


• Developing online activities is difficult. Don’t try to recreate the school classroom at the family dinner table. Just having worksheets and powerpoint slides online is not the answer.

• Find teachable moments in everyday activities including cooking/baking, board games, reading a storybook, etc.

• It’s important to keep an open line of communication between teachers and families to identify the diverse needs of students and their households (e.g. level of expertise, interests, access to resources, culture, language).

2. Is there a focus on literacy and math?


• Literacy and math are fundamental skills required for daily life. Learning how to read and write and do mental math occurs gradually over time.

• Try finding little ways that prompt children to practice mental math. For example, when playing the card game ‘go fish’ you can’t ask for a card directly, but make up arithmetic questions (e.g. you can’t ask for 10 but can ask for a card whose face value is equal to 8+2).

3. Are the activities taking up a major portion of the day?


• Think quality over quantity. We should never underestimate the learning that can happen through talking. Some parents are still working and at best have only gained commute time.

• Ministries/Departments of education are recommending 5 hours a week doing school work – that’s it. This means just 1 hour per day of school work (e.g. 20 minutes of reading a book, 10 minutes of math exercises, and 30 minutes of teacher-led time a day).

If families are deciding not to complete teacher-assigned activities, this might mean that families are finding it challenging to play school in the home. A partnership between school and home is one where each partner has something to gain and shouldn’t feel exhausting to either teachers or families. This can be achieved by integrating curriculum expectations within everyday family activities in ways that consider their interests and unique needs. Creating learning experiences that are family-centered can help to better support student learning – and most importantly– student well-being during this time.


Baking/cooking with a twist: Students can make family treasured dishes/treats with a family member but teachers can put in the challenge that only the student can read the recipe. This can allow targeting of specific language and mathematics curriculum expectations yet monopolize on family activities.

Researching with a twist: Students can invite family members and friends to share experiences about topics (e.g., earthquakes, geographical regions, historical events, gardening) from their own work, home, travel, and festivities. Students can capture what they learned from the interview in a video or written report.

Family challenges: Families can be challenged to make safety devices that protect an egg during a drop or build stable towers/structures/forts. Students can reflect on all family members devices/structures and make a video to report which strategies worked best (using teacher requested terminology).

Card games with a twist: Families can play card games like ‘go fish’ where you cannot ask for a card directly but make up arithmetic questions. (e.g., you cannot ask for 10 but can ask for a card whose face value is equal to 8+2).

Family math: Family members (even high school students) can share their strategies in solving a mental math problem a couple days a week for 10 mins or less.

Family reading/writing: The student reads one page and a family member reads the next. Families can demonstrate what they learned in the reading by completing a comic jam to the prompt “what happens next (in a follow up book or in the next pages)?”. Families fold a paper into quarters (to make comic frames). The student and family member take turns filling out the comic frames. For example, the student completes the first comic frame and a family member has to pick up on ideas within the first comic frame to complete the next comic frame. They take turns until all frames are complete.

TDSB mathematics for families website: This website contains weekly age related family mental math challenges with videos that represent the strategies families submitted to solve the mental math challenge. https://sites.google.com/tdsb.on.ca/tdsb-mathematics-for-families/home

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Meet the Expert(s)

Dr. Tina Rapke

Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, York University

Tina Rapke is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education who teaches mathematics education courses to current and prospective teachers.

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Dr. John Ippolito

Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, York University

John Ippolito is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education who develops programs in public elementary schools, based in the Greater Toronto Area, that foster dialogue between families and schools and within families themselves.

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