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Young mother working on a laptop with child in the background

COVID-19 has brought about significant changes and challenges for Americans. One common challenge is that of working parents and guardians who must help children complete schoolwork at home. Prior to COVID-19, many parents and guardians did not have to work and care for their children’s needs at the same time. Today, parents and guardians are trying to figure out how to do their jobs from home or a work environment and manage children who are schooled at home. The answer could be as simple as creating and implementing a realistic and sustainable schedule.

Kids Need Structure

Children are used to following a structured schedule at school. Teachers implement a set routine as part of their classroom management system. The children know what to do when they arrive to school and what their parents and teachers expect of them throughout the day. They also know the consequences if they do not comply with these expectations.

One way to ensure that children complete coursework while at home is to put a sustainable schedule and clear expectations in place. Do not underestimate children. Even pre-K students understand rules and consequences. They can follow a routine if they know what is expected of them. There are plenty of sample schedules on the Internet and social media to use. Parents should find one that works best for their family or create one of their own.

What to Include in a Schedule

It is important to understand that students should not be expected to do school work seven hours a day. That is an unattainable expectation. Although children may be at school for that amount of time each day, their schedule includes other activities. For example, kids have many brain breaks, such as dancing, changing classes, lunch time, physical education, and elective courses. Therefore, when creating a family schedule be sure to include mealtime, academic time, physical time, and social time.


Create a designated time for meals in a family schedule. Children will eat all day long if they are allowed to do so. To limit children eating out of boredom or  just because the food is there, set a schedule for when they can eat. In the schedule, have a set time for children to wake up and eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Also allow for one or two snack breaks throughout the day. Most children are used to having a snack break at some point during the day. Removing these breaks from their daily routine could be detrimental.

Academic Time

Again, it is unreasonable to expect children to focus on schoolwork seven hours a day. According to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, elementary students should commit one to two hours a day to academic work, middle school students two to three hours, and high school students three to four hours. However, this does not mean that parents should expect their elementary school age child to sit and work for two consecutive hours each day.

Activities for Learning Centers

To ensure students are engaged, teachers implement a myriad of best management practices. This involves whole group, small group, and independent learning centers. For example, as teachers work with a small group (three to five students), other students may be actively engaged in activities in independent learning centers.

  • Activities in independent learning centers reinforce previously taught skills. For example, after reading a book on their level, students can complete a creative, nontraditional book report like the ones suggested by Scholastic. Also, Alabama 4-H at Alabama A&M University has created a digital library of read-aloud books and activities that go along with each book.
  • To reinforce math skills, students can explore real-world math while baking in the kitchen or learning to balance a checkbook. They can also reinforce math skills while playing board games, dominoes, or cards. Likewise, Scholastic (math) provides math games students can play with a simple deck of cards. While learning virtually, parents can request similar activities from teachers for reinforcement after children complete homework.

Learning centers allow students to move around the classroom at a pace that is appropriate to their learning ability. While developing experience with their new normal created by online learning, children still need to be given the freedom to move around during the day. Sitting for two or more hours straight while learning causes frustration. Students may end up not learning the necessary material needed for success.

Physical Time

Time designated for physical activity is an essential component of the daily schedule parents create for the family. The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 engage in 60 minutes or more of physical activities per day. Physical activity supports good health, improves cognition, and reduces symptoms of depression.

Social Time

Academic learning is not the only thing teachers focus on while students are at school. Research shows that social and emotional learning are just as important as academics when preparing children for the twenty-first century. Social and emotional learning involves learning how to collaborate, developing good social skills, and learning how to feel and react to emotions responsibly.

If children are using their mobile devices for video chatting or texting their friends more than usual, remember it is healthy for them to have this social time. Think of all the social interactions children encounter at school each day. Allow children to socialize and have this time.

More Information

As parents and guardians return to work or continue to work from home, children may also be doing the same. If they are being schooled from home, a schedule can become a useful tool to balance home and work dynamics.

More information and resources about scheduling while learning remotely can be found at www.challengesuccess.org or by contacting your local school system. Visit the Urban Extension Online Learning Classes page to find the latest virtual learning programs offered by Alabama Extension at Alabama A&M University.

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