What can parents do to help their children learn and grow during the coronavirus crisis?

Young girls sitting at kitchen table with father, doing homework with school books. Mother in background looking on.

By Yuri Belfali

Head of Early Childhood and Schools Division, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

On top of juggling work, household management, and looking after their own well-being, many parents have suddenly found themselves tapped for another important mission: overseeing their children’s home-based learning. And many education systems have their back.

According to the recently published survey to guide an education response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, education leaders in 98 countries said that supporting parents is among the top priorities in response to the crisis. More than 70% of the respondents reported that supporting parents and caregivers as they help their children learn at home is critically important – along with the support for teachers and students. But more than 70% said it’s challenging to support parents, possibly because it is difficult for parents to stay available or for schools to communicate with parents.

However, some countries have been providing concrete support. In Estonia, for example, an open webinar was organised at the early stage of the pandemic to provide guidance for parents on how to support their children in distance learning. Israel has opened a dedicated online portal for parents through which they can access learning tasks and digital content based on the national curriculum. Latvian parents have been issued a guidebook with advice on how to adapt to digital learning.

Encouragingly, more than 65% of education leaders reported that parental involvement and co-operation has strengthened since the pandemic began. Parents could build on this momentum and think about what matters for children and what they, as parents, can do – even when time and space is limited – to help their children with their learning. Tips for parenting during the coronavirus outbreak provides some guidance. It suggests that parents can set aside time for one-to-one conversations, set a structure to daily life, remain calm and manage stress, even when managing bad behaviour, and talk with children about COVID-19. 

The benefits of parental involvement in children’s education are well-documented. PISA 2018 has shown that children whose parents support them emotionally are more likely to be academically resilient.

UNICEF tips for parenting during coronavirus - infographic telling parents how to keep positive with their children
UNICEF’s tips for parents on ‘keeping it positive’ during the coronavirus outbreak

Simple actions can make a big difference

Parents can make a big difference just by setting aside some time for simple actions, even in confinement. According to PISA 2015 reuslts, students whose parents reported that they eat the main meal with their child around a table, that they spend time just talking with their child, and that they discuss how well their child is doing at school every day or almost every day were between 22% and 39% more likely to report greater satisfaction with their lives. PISA also found that students who regularly benefit from these types of parental involvement do better in science, even after accounting for socio-economic status.

Younger children thrive when their parents are involved in their learning. The International Early Learning and Child Well-being Study found that five-year-old children in Estonia, England and the United States had better learning outcomes and social-emotional development when their parents read to them almost every day, ensure there are many children’s books in the home, have conversations with them, take them to special activities, and are involved in the kindergartens and schools they attend. Of course, not all of these activities are feasible if families are required to stay at home; but parents can still be creative in proposing playful learning activities at home or creating hand-made books and reading them to or with their child.

Even if parents cannot devote all of their time to their child’s learning, the hours spent together with their child can make a difference in their child’s learning, development and well-being.

Even if parents cannot devote all of their time to their child’s learning, the hours spent together with their child can make a difference in their child’s learning, development and well-being. Parents can make the time to create a moment of family dialogue, ask their child how he/she is feeling and what he/she is learning, or propose age-appropriate activities that are conducive to learning. 

How can schools and employers help?

Equally important, school systems and employers can help parents succeed in this mission by:

  • Providing flexible work arrangement to allow parents to spend time with their children
  • Ensuring good communication between schools and parents, and sharing information on what parents can do to support learning at home
  • Providing concrete guidance and tools for parents to help their child’s learning
  • Providing specific support and resources to disadvantaged parents, including disadvantaged immigrant parents who might lack the necessary language skills or social network to get relevant information and support.

By playing the role of home educators, parents are also realising what teachers and schools have been doing to support their child.  Engaged parents can be more closely united with teachers and students, and become actors in their school community. This isn’t “mission impossible”. After all, education is – and has always been – a shared responsibility.

Read more: