What the Pandemic Taught Parents That Could Change Education for the Better

Emily Greene

When teachers and students were forced to shift to remote learning during the pandemic, parents experienced plenty of angst.

Could their children learn as well on a computer screen as they did when they and the teacher were in the same room? Would the children stay motivated? Would parents need to act as constant hall monitors, making sure students didn’t wander away from their laptops or switch to another screen to scroll through social media?

But in the midst of all that uncertainty, unexpected benefits emerged, benefits so positive that many parents may be reluctant to slide back into the pre-pandemic status quo of in-person schooling without seeing some improvements.

As a working mother of three children myself, I know from experience that the pandemic jostled parents into thinking differently about “traditional schooling.” Distance learning in the time of COVID-19 altered our expectations and parents want to apply what we’ve collectively learned to help our children thrive as they return to school.

But, of course, parents need the support of administrators and teachers in making it all work. With that said, here are five benefits that parents hope to carry forward and that those who work in schools can help put into action.


More free time

Before the pandemic, many families' lives were overscheduled. For all its problems and downsides, the lockdown did help families reconnect with the joys of free time, playtime, and downtime. This took the stress off children overwhelmed with homework, extracurriculars, and overly structured schedules and opened the door for natural curiosity to flourish. Scientists say free time is essential to the developing brain and is tied to curiosity, creativity, and imagination. Looking back on the past year, many parents notice an increase in their children's natural curiosity, creative expression, and imaginative thinking. By pushing through the boredom that can come with free time, children learn to use their imaginations, think inventively, solve their problems, and express themselves.


More time outside

During lockdowns, many people became desperate to leave their houses, but indoor public places were problematic. So, families connected with the outdoors just to get out of the house, walking, biking, or simply eating lunch outside. Parents do not want their children to lose their newfound levels of outdoor activity. They understand now that one short recess per day is not enough. Sadly, before the pandemic, many children spent less time outdoors than prison inmates. One survey of 12,000 parents in 10 countries found that half of children ages 5 to 12 were outside less than an hour each day. In comparison, inmates at U.S. maximum-security prisons are guaranteed at least two hours of daily outside time.


Less standardization, and more personalization

A traditional in-person classroom follows a standardized schedule, leaving minimal room for independent work or passion projects. Distance learning, in contrast, offered gaps in the day for children to explore their passions and interests. Many parents saw their children expressing new interests, exploring and deepening existing hobbies, and making and building things. Between the middle of March and the middle of April 2020 – the first few weeks of the lockdown – Google searches that began with the words “how to make” doubled, as did searches for “DIY." While the world was becoming more virtual, children wanted to be hands-on in new ways.


More parental connection with what their children are learning

Remote learning handed parents an up-close view of what their children are learning. While at first parents felt overwhelmed with supervising distance learning, they eventually came to value this connection. Now, many parents have a deeper level of engagement that they do not want to lose. In some cases, parents were impressed with what their children were learning. In other cases, parents were surprised to discover the details of their children's school experience and began asking questions they never asked before, such as "Is this relevant?" Or "How is this helping my child?" I believe this new level of parent engagement should and will trigger long-overdue updates to the standardized curriculum, as well as more options for children.


An increased focus on balance and wellbeing

The pandemic caused disruptions to everyone’s lives and children were not immune. They suffered through social, emotional, and mental impact. Parents want balance and wellbeing at the forefront. That means less menial homework, less time wasted on irrelevant standardized tests, and more focus on curiosity, creativity, and joy in the classroom. For many parents, this means holding onto distance learning as an option and giving students the flexibility to attend in-person or distance learning to support wellbeing. Now, as children are returning to school, we don't want to be forced to choose between in-person learning or distance learning. Both should be options. Learning should be blended.     

When society lives through a disruption, it rarely returns to the way it was before. The next few years should be an inspiring time in education as all of us – parents, students, teachers and administrators – begin to apply what we have learned.


About the author

Emily Greene (www.emilygreene.com) is the author of School, Disrupted: Rediscovering the Joy of Learning in a Pandemic-Stricken World in which she shares her experience educating her children inside and outside of traditional schools. She inspires parents to think differently about the future of the school, offering practical strategies to help bring back balance and optimism as we reimagine a better way to learn—in the pandemic and beyond. She developed the Kiddovate program, working with hundreds of teachers and students to ignite curiosity and creativity in the classroom. She also is cofounder of VIVA Creative, where she and her team create live and digital events. In 2020, she received an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® award recognizing innovation during the pandemic.


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