How some kids have thrived in online learning during the pandemic

For parents, children and teachers, one of the most vivid memories of the pandemic will be the sudden shift to online learning.

Many educators, parents and children struggled with online teaching when schools were closed and were relieved when classroom instruction resumed.

While the media often seemed to report on negative aspects of online educationit was not a universal experience.

In my educational research with international colleagues on socially innovative interventions to foster and advance the inclusion and agency of young children in society during the pandemic, we worked with teachers as they implemented research ideas on pedagogical practices that promote listening to children’s voices.

In our study, we saw that during the pandemic, for some children, the online environment was an extension of how pedagogical practices such as dedicated dialogue circles presented ways to share children’s opinions and thoughts. . For these children, forced online schooling was overall a positive experience and not a struggle.

In Canada, our research took place for most of the duration of the pandemic in diverse and economically disadvantaged schools in Eastern Canada.

Some students preferred online learning

Classrooms can be intimidating social spaces, and when they suddenly become virtual, some students found the digital space better suited to their needs.

Xavier was a newly arrived Canadian who had just entered 4th grade when the lockdown started in the spring of 2020. We learned that the online class offered him catch-up time, in a welcoming space, in which he could develop his English skills.

Developing friendships, relationships, and pursuing educational goals became easier for him when the confusion of a new language was eased and he was able to learn at his own pace. The adaptability of the digital space was important. The stability, quiet, and ability for students to go at their own pace — and some of the benefits of that — have all become more transparent with the pivot to online classrooms.

Webinar on socially innovative interventions to foster and advance the inclusion and agency of young children in society.

A break with language barriers

Online learning has given some children autonomy and a break from the curriculum for children to work on projects independently.

In an online shared home project, Xavier built an entire city out of boxes left over from his recent move to Canada. He was thrilled to share this with his classmates, freed from the language barrier that made his school days difficult.

When asked why it was easier to talk to each other in front of the camera, a new Canadian student, Abdul, who sometimes struggled with English, replied “because no one could interrupt me”.

Some new Canadian parents were able to learn English together in the virtual classroom. A teacher received an email from a parent thanking her for the wonderful picture books and reading time she shared daily.

Families reunited

For the many out-of-province workers who reside in Alberta but reside in Newfoundland and Labrador on other days of the year, online schooling has enabled family reunification.

A student, Roxy, explained how life was less stressful in Alberta with her mother and father: “Mom went to work in Newfoundland online and I went to school,” she said. declared. She was also able to help an aunt with a newly arrived baby while residing in Alberta.

Online schooling has allowed some families whose parents work in other provinces to be geographically reunited.

Parents played a bigger role

We found in our study that parents also played a bigger role in everyday education, both learning and helping to teach their children.

Children like Liv, whose mother helped her perform a song during her class’ show and share, have brought their parents and family life into virtual learning. Although some children struggled to find quiet spaces, even these scenarios had positive effects when parents (reluctant or not) entered into discussions about their children’s school life.

One mother, Tammy, pointed out that her children’s online classes gave her a unique window into a part of her children’s lives that she knew little before. She says:

“It was amazing to see how the teacher interacted with the children… My daughter was much more animated than she is at home, she shared a lot more… She is not always looking forward to go to school, but she couldn’t wait to log in to google class.


Some children enjoyed an environment free from the distractions found in classrooms, such as school announcements or challenging behavior from classmates. The children were also exposed to each other’s home environment, which encouraged mutual empathy.

“Everyone’s family life continued around them,” recalls one teacher. “Pets and younger siblings came and went, phones rang, people ate, doorbells rang – we all got used to it.”

Some students were quick to point out the extra time saved by not having to travel to after-school programs and childcare.

In our focus group interviews with teachers, they noted that some children who had behavioral issues in the classroom did much better online. “Maybe it made the learning environment a little less overwhelming,” one teacher explained, “and so the focus was more on the academics.”

Read more: Bullying, racism and being ‘different’: Why some families are opting for remote learning, regardless of COVID-19

More sharing

A child in front of a laptop.
Students shared on a more private level when participating in breakout rooms.

One of the best things about online learning for the teachers in our study was that all of their students could share on a more private level. Breakout rooms allowed children to connect with teachers and friends without interruption.

Over time, parents and teachers also discovered aspects of the experience that they found positive.

Over the past two decades integrating digital devices into education has often been a tricky process, often with more effort to limit their use and distractions, rather than embrace their benefits.

As educators, we need to rethink how kids and technology can interact in the classroom and various ways to support children’s voices in different spaces.

Erin Power, a teacher in St. John’s, NL, and researcher of the project “Socially Innovative Interventions to Foster and Advance Young Children’s Inclusion and Agency in Society through Voice and story,” co-wrote this story.