What’s in your (Virtual) Back-to-School Toolbox?

As we see many school systems across the country beginning the year with online classes, and some families opting for virtual school all year, host parents need to set their children and au pairs up for success.

Local Coordinator, and 1st Grade Teacher, Dina Nichols points out that, “March was crisis learning, this is not that. It’s time to get creative and be positive with your kids!” Once parents receive a plan from school, Nichols recommends that parents sit down with their kids and au pair and get everyone’s buy-in on the schedule and the platform(s) being used. “Au pairs are not teachers; they can be facilitators. Think of it as helping with homework. Au pairs should never be teaching a new concept to kids that a teacher has not taught first.”

Professional organizer Perri Kersh of Neat Freak Professional Organizing helps parents set up study spaces and gather supplies needed for the school year.

With input from these two professionals, we’ve put together a list of tools and suggestions for parents this school year:

  • Check that each child has a proper device and connectivity. Multiple children may be “in class” at the same time. Do you need a network extender? Does your child have headphones, if needed? Repurpose a smaller tv as a monitor if more intensive work is necessary.
  • Consider your child’s age and learning needs, and find an appropriate spot for them in your home. Try to make this space as distraction-free as possible. Would a white-noise machine be helpful if multiple adults and children are working from home?
  • Have a clock in the workspace to help everyone manage time without looking at phones. Hang a whiteboard or daily calendar to help visualize time.
  • Once the school district releases a schedule, parents need to sit down with their kids and au pair and get everyone’s buy-in. Does all schoolwork need to be completed immediately, or can it wait until later in the day? How will your au pair get a personal break during the day? What does their schedule look like?
  • Parents and au pairs need to learn and be comfortable with the platform that children will be using for school, whether it’s Zoom, Google Classroom, Canvas, Moodle, or all of the above. Most districts have helplines, so have this information handy.

Once school starts:

  • Be positive with your children about the school year and the creative ways they’re going to learn this year.
  • Children should be up early, dressed, and have had breakfast. Distractions such as pets, food, toys, other devices should be removed. While teachers will likely share proper class etiquette, be ready for the day!
  • Younger kids will need help logging in and likely need help to stay on task. There will be many breaks built into the school day – strategize together about bathroom, snack, and wiggly breaks.
  • Know that older children will need less hands-on assistance and more check-ins. If you have multiple school-aged children, everyone should work together to set age-appropriate expectations for the day.
  • Host parents should give au pairs permission for it not to be a perfect day every day. With multiple children of different ages, au pairs have always been making priority decisions on the fly – now, the pressure is more intense. Make sure they feel supported and empowered.
  • Set time aside to “download” the school day together with your au pair and children, every day.

We are all doing our best in these unprecedented times. Communicate about expectations and be forgiving when they’re not quite met. Praise resiliency and celebrate small successes. This will pass (not soon enough!), but we can all only do so much to keep learning in the process.

Mary Beth Grealey

Mary Beth was the InterExchange Au Pair USA Local Coordinator for the Chapel Hill area from 2010 to 2021. During that time, she contributed to many Au Pair USA blog posts.