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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

To Parents Who Have Suddenly Become Teachers

By Steven D. Herrington, PhD, with Brulene Zanutto

This is a stressful time for parents who suddenly find themselves responsible for overseeing their children’s education. The shelter-in-place order is a necessary step to protect everyone’s health, but that doesn’t make it any easier to juggle work, health, and financial concerns and parenting.

I want you to know you’re not in this alone. Numerous organizations, including the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE), are here to provide support and resources to families during these challenging times.

I also urge you to go easy on yourself and focus on spending quality time with your children. Putting additional pressure on yourself and your children to complete school assignments may only increase everyone’s stress and anxiety. Pace out the school learning activities, providing appropriate breaks for your child. It is important to offer emotional as well as academic support. Children learn when they feel safe and connected.

Following are some tips from SCOE experts on how to make the most—both academically and emotionally—of this time at home with your children.

Staying at home can be seen as an opportunity to spend time with your family. Turn off the TV and other devices and talk. Resources such as the family version of Table Topics ( can help start conversations, and sites like offer activities for preschool to elementary school-age children.

Don’t think you have to stick to traditional books; audio books and graphic novels are also good choices. Even everyday activities, such as going through a recipe, offer chances to read together.

Read to your kids. It is OK to read aloud books that are several levels above a child’s reading level. It supports the development of their reading comprehension skills and provides discussion opportunities.

Check out Storyline Online, which features celebrities reading storybooks and includes discussion questions and activity resources.

Support your child’s creativity. Set them up with an online drawing tutorial, bake with them, or help them learn a new skill. Learning a new skill with your child is a wonderful bonding experience and models a learning and growth mindset.

Most importantly, slow down and enjoy your time together. If your children feel connected and cared for, they may remember this unusual time as a positive one.
Now that everyone is feeling calm and cared for, let’s focus on the academics.

1. Create a designated learning space.
Plan for where the academic work will take place. If everyone is using the kitchen table, remove any distracting clutter. Create a space and/or a bin for each child to keep materials and supplies organized. Learning materials can be cleared away when the school day is done, or it’s time for a meal.

The TV and other devices that aren’t necessary for the assignment should be turned off. Avoid social media during this time and consider moving pets to another room or the yard if they are distracting.

2. Stay in communication with the teacher.
Connect regarding the expectations for what education will look like during this time. Learn what resources are available to students.

Help your children review and understand assignments. Do they understand the task, have all the necessary materials, know when the assignment is due, and how they need to submit it? If there are any questions, reach out to the teacher for clarification.

3. Calendar the due date.
It might be helpful to create a family calendar. This is also a way for young children to track important events and begin to get a sense of time. Older students may appreciate having their own calendars to keep track of their assignment due dates. Break down the larger assignments into smaller tasks and calendar those, too.

4. Create a family schedule.
Structure and routine help children to feel safe and secure. It’s still important to have a regular bedtime and a time to get up in the morning.
Balance work time with breaks for movement and healthy snacks. Take stretch breaks, go on a walk, or have dance parties to help children get exercise and burn off extra energy.

Remember to be flexible and open to what children need. Some days will go smoothly and children will be able to focus well on academics. Other days, they may need more of your time. These are uncharted waters, and you are doing your best to help your children navigate them as smoothly as possible. A few bumps along the way are to be expected and are part of the learning process.

For more information and resources, visit

Steven D. Herrington, PhD, is the Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools. Brulene Zanutto is the SCOE’s Coordinator of Early Literacy and School Readiness.