Homeschool parents share tips on educating students during remote learning period

photo by: Shutterstock photo

As students of Lawrence public schools returned to education through remote learning last week, parents may have found themselves in a new position of needing to make sure their children are participating.

Two Lawrence mothers who homeschool their children told the Journal-World that they understand educating children from home can be stressful and confusing for those who have never done it before, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

That may mean learning is not about reaching a certain standard of education during this period, but learning as much as one can under trying circumstances.

“This is not about (education) measurables and control,” said Cole Cottin, a Lawrence mother who homeschools her two daughters. “It’s about surrendering to a new situation and learning from it.”

On March 30, the Lawrence school district began its remote online learning program, which it is using to educate students after the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the state to shut down school buildings for the remainder of the semester.

Cottin and Rebecca Lyddon, another Lawrence mother who homeschools her two children, shared a few tips they believe could be helpful for parents who may feel unprepared to help their children learn during the remote education period.

‘Rhythm’ rather than schedule

Both Cottin and Lyddon said educating from home should not be done with a strict schedule, but instead with a general guideline. Both of them called it a “rhythm” for the day, where a general outline is followed on a regular basis but allows for flexibility.

Lyddon, who is a former elementary school teacher, said an example is making the mornings for school and the afternoons for play or relaxation. She also noted younger students, such as elementary-aged children, do not need as much direct academic time as some may expect.

She said students third grade and younger really only need about an hour of academic time a day, which can be split up into 15-minute sessions.

“It’s really breaking down the day into pieces, rather than expecting them to sit and do homework for two hours,” she said.

That is reflected in the state’s guidelines to school districts for remote learning, which suggested the maximum student commitment to learning each day should be 30 minutes for pre-kindergarten, 45 minutes for students in kindergarten and first grade, 60 minutes for students in second and third grades, 90 minutes for students in fourth and fifth grades, and 30 minutes per teacher with a maximum of three hours total for students in sixth grade and up.

Cottin said her family follows the same rhythm every day and includes chores, education, meals and family time. They are done in a certain order, but none of those activities have a set timeframe, she said.

“This is not a schedule; it’s a rhythm,” Cottin said. “The rhythm doesn’t have times.”

Consider mental health before learning

Lyddon said parents should first consider the children’s mental health before educating. It is likely a new experience for students and the pandemic could be a scary time. What’s more, students who do not feel safe are not going to learn, she said.

“It’s going to be a transitional time of children grieving and mourning,” Lyddon said. “Before we go headlong into academics, there is going to be time for turnaround. They are going to need a little bit of a break.”

The Lawrence school district has noted the importance of student social and emotional health during this period, as well. Superintendent Anthony Lewis recently told the Lawrence school board that the district has asked all teachers to reach out to their students for regular check ins.

“While we know school is extremely important, we do recognize and understand there are some external pressures and challenges that we are all facing,” Lewis said on Thursday.

While considering these things, parents may need to relax and not force their children to learn when they are not able to, Lyddon said.

“If there is any kind of expectation or forcing … that’s going to shut their children down and it’s going to create power struggles,” Lyddon said. “The first thing I say is to lower expectations and the second thing is to educate yourself when education occurs, and that happens when the child feels safe, supported and trusted.”

Cottin said it’s also important for the parents to be mentally healthy. She said her family tries to build a “spacious” environment to allow each other to process feelings, and her children understand she has a period of time built into the day when allows herself some free time to relieve stress.

“In order to take care of my children, I have to take care of me,” Cottin said. “It’s not only OK and I have permission to do that, but my children will benefit from it.”

Don’t worry if it looks like children aren’t learning

When Cottin first started homeschooling her children, she said she was always having her children doing something that looked like school to her. But she eventually realized that’s not needed, or even beneficial.

Instead, she found children will learn no matter what and applied learning — rather than book learning — can flourish in these times. So parents shouldn’t be afraid if their children would rather do some sort of activity rather than focusing on their book or online learning, she said.

One example Cottin mentioned was when she allowed one of her daughters to decide an activity to do for the day. The daughter, who was learning language and writing, chose to visit a neighbor and bring her a handwritten letter. Cottin said she realized writing a letter on her own allowed her to apply her lessons on her own.

“Applied learning is integrative,” she said. “The kids come up with stuff like that all the time.”

Additionally, Cottin said parents should not be afraid of their children being bored. She said that’s actually when their children’s creativity will kick in. If parents are limiting device screen time, children can try to fight the boredom by applied learning, like the letter Cottin’s daughter wrote.

“When somebody said that to me, it changed everything,” she said, referring to letting her children be bored. “From boredom came the most incredible projects, which are very advanced for their age usually.”

More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As the pandemic continues, the Journal-World will be making coverage of COVID-19 available outside of the paywall on

Find all coverage of city, county and state responses to the virus at:

Please consider subscribing to support the local journalists who are helping to inform our community:

What to do if you think you may have COVID-19

Patients who have symptoms — difficulty breathing, cough and fever — should stay home, immediately isolate themselves from others and call their health care providers. Patients should never show up unannounced at a medical office or hospital. Instead, they should call ahead to explain their symptoms and give health care workers the ability to minimize the risk to others.

If patients do not have health care providers, they may call the Lawrence Douglas-County health department’s coronavirus line, 785-856-4343.

For updated information on the outbreak, Kansas residents can email or call 866-534-3463 (866-KDHEINF), which is staffed 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

More information can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website or the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health website.

Contact Dylan Lysen

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact reporter Dylan Lysen:


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.