Tips for helping your children through virtual learning

Hello SPES families!

We’re are almost at winter break and I’m so proud of staff, students, and their families for how well everyone is working with this new learning environment.  Distance learning is a huge adjustment for everyone from young to older students and adults at schools and in homes alike.  While I am proud of us, I have heard from a number of parents about the challenges their families are facing.  Check out these tips to see if any of them might be helpful to your child or to you during this time:

  1. Start by discussing your expectations.  One thing learned by school divisions in the emergency school closure in the spring was the need for a structured school day.  All of our teachers are following a daily schedule even in this virtual environment.  Start your day with a schedule as well.  Have your child wake up at the same time every day and establish a morning routine if you haven’t already.  If there are other tasks outside of school (homework, chores, activities), make sure time is set aside for each of them after the virtual school day ends.  In addition, part of discussing expectations is keeping your child informed of the school and county plans.  Of course, they won’t understand all the verbiage sent out via email that parents receive almost daily.  But it is okay to explain that virtual learning should not be for the long term.  You can tell children that Henrico County is working on a plan to get everyone back in school, sooner rather than later. 
  2. Figure out how your child learns best.  What things excite them versus shut them down?  Consider their favorite/least favorite subjects, tasks that motivate them, or ideas they learn about.  Is your child a self-starter or do they need a lot of reminders and prompts?  Does your child do best with visual prompts such as pictures, number/alphabet lines, graphics, videos, maps, etc.?  Once you learn some of these things, you can work with your child’s teacher or one of us to tailor their learning to what will be most engaging to them.  It will also help you for the future when working with your child.
  3. Going along with how your child learns best, consider what motivates them.  They are already in front of a screen all day.  It’s best to keep other devices away while virtual learning takes place.  Other kids are motivated by fun activities, hobbies, time with friends, favorite TV shows, special time with mom or dad, or simply being outdoors.  Also consider if a special incentive can be provided during the lunch break to get through the day.  Younger children might respond to stickers.  You can give them a sticker for completing each task or staying as focused as possible for an hour at a time.  Decide how many stickers they need to earn each day to access something they enjoy.  You can also do this for larger activities of choice for the week.
  4. Try the 20-20-20 eye break rule: Look at something 20 feet away from the screen for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
  5. Provide healthy snacks.    Do the best you can.  Sugar is increasingly showing up in studies as a problem for focusing and stimulation as well as a host of other issues.  We all consume it.  It can’t be avoided (especially by us sweet tooth folks!).  But limiting it as much as possible and providing lower sugar snacks might be a very helpful thing for kids struggling to make it through a virtual day.
  6. Resist the urge to help.  Consider yourself technical support.  If there is a computer problem, we definitely need your help (which may just be notifying us that you need help!).  But let your child work with his/her teacher on the actual learning.  Our teachers are fantastic and they work very hard to make sure they are reaching each student for the material they are teaching.
  7. That being said, communicate with your child’s teacher.  From talking through what you learn about your child’s learning style to other specific concerns or questions you might have, reach out to our teachers for suggestions and support when you notice your child struggling. 
  8. Monitor your attitude.  This new world can be very frustrating and overwhelming at times.  But if your child sees your frustration, he/she will feel it, too.  If they see you trying to stay positive, they are more likely to learn that as well.  That does not mean you should swallow your frustration.  Stay as positive as you can while helping your child, then call a friend or your school counselors to vent :).  Which leads me to my next point…
  9. Mental wellness is so important!  We are working on putting together some specific resources for everyone.  In the meantime, make sure you take time for yourself and provide time for your children every day that helps you relax and have fun.  Consider exercise, reading, music, contacting friends and family, movies and tv shows, gardening, working with your hands, games you can play with your kids, being outdoors, and mindfulness.  Please reach out to us if you or your children feel overwhelmed and you are looking for additional resources or just a listening ear.  I am here to support you in this new learning environment!

For those of you with busy little bodies, know that all teachers are incorporating movement breaks throughout the day.  I also strongly encourage you to utilize the recess time each day by having your child get active.  There are lots of videos online if you need some ideas or for rainy days.  Go Noodle is a popular website our teachers use.


Coronavirus Support

Resources for Families 

Dear Short Pump Elementary Families: 

We know there is much uncertainty right now, but we believe it is important for all of us to take care of ourselves and our families. While we are away to ensure we are staying physically healthy, we also want to make sure we are taking care of our mental and emotional health. During this time, we understand many different feelings and thoughts can arise. We want to provide resources to help support you and your families while we are navigating this period away from Short Pump E. S. Here are a few links to resources on how to talk to our students about the Coronavirus, how to deal with fear and anxiety, mindfulness strategies, and coping skills.

Helping Students during pandemic

Managing Fear and Anxiety During Health Pandemic 

Video made for kids about the Coronavirus  and How to talk to your young children about the virus

25 Mindfulness Activities for Kids and Teens

Calming Anxiety – Coping Skills for Kids

Deep Breathing Exercises for Kids

150 Enrichment activities for children While Parents are Working Remotely


In the event you need access to mental health services, here is the information for Henrico Mental Health Services. 

Phone Number: 804-727-8100

East End Location: 

4825 S. Laburnum Avenue

Henrico, VA 23231

What We’ve Learned About Kids And Sleep

“The latest discoveries in neuroscience show that there’s much more to sleep than just recovery. For example, scientists have long known that sleeping was critically important to the development of brain functions, such as learning new information and storing long-term memories.”

  • Lack of sleep can lead to misdiagnoses of ADHD.
  • Sleep debt puts kids at higher risk for obesity and diabetes.
  • Sleep debt can make kids more likely to get sick.

 Amount of sleep needed: 

  • Preschoolers= 10 to 13 hours per day
  • Ages 6 and 13=nine to 11 hours per day
  • Teens= eight to 10 hours

-The Huffington Post,Vinnie Neuberg



Manage Morning Mayhem-Start the day friendly, not frantic

By: Ann Matturro Gault

Your clock radio goes off at 6:30 and like a runner out of the starting block, you begin the morning rush. You shower, dress, wake the kids, get them breakfast, fix school lunches, attempt a cup of coffee, find missing homework, pack backpacks, brush a couple bedheads, double-knot your 1st grader’s sneakers and dash out the door. It’s downright alarming how much gets accomplished before the school bell rings. If getting to 8 a.m. feels like an entire day’s work, some simple a.m. strategies may be all that’s necessary to put the “good” back in to your morning.

Anticipate Tomorrow Today
Donna Goldberg, author of The Organized Student, says our success in the morning starts the night before. “No matter how much money you have, you can’t buy more time. But with a little planning, you can save it.” Another key to efficiency, according to family management expert and best-selling author Kathy Peel, is the ability to live in two tenses. “Successful moms are able to function in the present — dealing with demands of the here and now — while also anticipating the needs of the future,” Peel explains.

Lunch: While cooking dinner (or cleaning it up), for example, get a jump on the next day’s lunches. Have the kids clean out their lunch boxes and add water bottles, napkins, whole fruits like apples or oranges and other no-spoil food (boxed raisins, crackers, baggies filled with pretzels or nuts). “Whatever you can cross off your list tonight gains you precious minutes in the morning,” says Goldberg. “Remember, most leftovers put between two pieces of bread make a delicious midday meal. Or, skip the bread and roll deli ham or turkey between cheese slices — you can’t get much quicker and easier than that!”

Clothes: Other nighttime tasks should include readying backpacks (and your coffee pot) and selecting the next day’s attire. Richmond, Virginia-based psychologist and mom of three Debbie Glasser, Ph.D., says it’s easy to make wardrobe selection fun. “Show your kids how to lay clothing on the floor to look like them — shirt on top, pants on the bottom, accessories to match and socks underneath.”

Peel recommends designating an area in the closet for school clothes. “Tie a ribbon to the rod and push to one side of the closet. Explain to your child that everything to the right of the ribbon works for school. Slow dressers are often confused about what to wear.” Stacy DeBroff, mother of two and founder of, takes the guesswork out of the equation completely. “When doing laundry, I fold coordinating outfits together before I put them away in dresser drawers.”

Calendar: For children ages 7 and up, checking the family calendar should become a nightly ritual. A large, centrally located calendar is vital. Some families code entries by assigning each family member a color. “That way it’s easy for kids to distinguish their schedules from everyone else’s and it gives them a sense that we’re all in this together!” says Peel, who is also the mother of three.

Goldberg believes that consulting the calendar promotes self-reliance. “When Jessica sees ‘ballet’ on the calendar for Thursday, she’ll know to put her leotard and dance shoes in her backpack Wednesday night,” the former school librarian explains. It’s a skill that truly contributes to lifelong success.

Rise to the Occasion
What’s the best way to get sleepyheads out of bed? Children under 7 can’t developmentally understand the concept of time — how to manage it comes even later — but even 1st graders can respond to a bell, buzzer, or favorite song. Encouraging a child to wake up on his own, without a gentle nudge from mom, can be a time-saver. But Glasser doesn’t recommend alarm clocks for all children. “Some kids feel stressed by a buzzer or bell,” she warns. “Others will be eager to take on the responsibility, but talk to them about it first.”

Technologically savvy preteens may enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to set their cell phone, computer, or wristwatch to wake them. Starting the day with their favorite music may also be a draw. For super sleepyheads, be sure to put the clock, watch, or iPod across the room. This tactic forces kids to get out of bed and get moving.

Silence Stress — Yours and Theirs
Two hours of lead time should be enough to get your family through the morning and out the door on time. But as Glasser points out, mom sets the tone for the day, so you may want to start yours early enough to build in some solo time. “Kids respond to our mood and stress level, so it’s important to be calm and upbeat for them,” she says. Her advice: “Take the time you need to get your act together first! If the family rises at 7, wake up at 6:30. Enjoy a cup of coffee alone, meditate, pray, or shower before everyone else is awake. The best gift you can give your child in the morning is the feeling of being happy to start the day.”

Gentle reminders: Childhood development may be partially to blame for morning stress. “Kids’ brains aren’t the same as ours: they’re still developing. They can’t absorb much more than small bits of information at a time and may be overwhelmed by the amount of information and directives you’re doling out in the a.m.,” says Glasser.

Instead of issuing repeated reminders, Glasser recommends using a visual prompt. List morning tasks (bed-making, dressing, brushing teeth and hair, eating breakfast, etc.) on a piece of brightly colored posterboard that you keep in the kitchen (or try our printable checklist). “Instead of barking orders and hurrying your child along, tell him to check the chart so he knows what still needs to be done. It sure beats nagging.”

You can make the morning chore chart even more playful by using a digital camera. “On the weekend, take photos of your kids hamming it up as they go through their morning routine. Print out the photos and attach to the chart,” Glasser suggests.

Keep it quiet: Television can really add to morning chaos as well. Forbid kids’ programming before school Monday through Thursday. Leaving the house on time can be rewarded on Friday morning with 10 minutes of TV if (and only if) everyone is completely ready to walk out the door for school.

Easy edibles: Another effective way to end dawdling is to insist that no one arrive at the breakfast table in pajamas. Have children get completely dressed for school first. And don’t even think about making anything more complicated than cereal on weekdays. For variety, serve hard boiled eggs (made in advance, of course) and plain yogurt — instead of milk — with cereal. “If kids enjoy pancakes and French toast, make extra on the weekend and freeze them. Then, pop in toaster or microwave for a quick and easy before school breakfast,” says Peel.

10 Homework Help Tips

1. Do It as Early as Possible: Best for Everyone
On days when there are no afternoon activities, give your child a time frame — say, between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. — to get down to business. This gives her some control over her schedule (some kids need a longer break after school, and others need to start right away to keep the momentum going). The only rule is that 5 o’clock is the latest time to start. If you work, that means homework duties will fall to the after-school caregiver. This way, the bulk of it can get done before your kiddo’s too pooped — and you can just review and wrap things up once you get home.
2. Create a Call List: Best for Forgetters
From kindergarten on, kids need a list of three or four classmates they can call on when they forget an assignment, says Ann Dolin, M.Ed., a former teacher and author of Homework Made Simple. The study buddy can read your child the spelling words over the phone, or his mom can snap a pic of the worksheet and text it to you.
3. Build Confidence: Best for the Intimidated
When kids don’t get something right away, they may feel like they’re stupid and start to shut down, says Sigrid Grace, a second-grade teacher in Almont, MI, and a member of Scholastic Parent & Child’s advisory board. You can short-circuit negative thinking by sitting down and figuring out the first problem together. That alone can help him remember how to do the rest. Then heap on the praise: “You did a great job on that one! Try the next one now.”
Another strategy: Have your child show you similar problems he worked on in class. That may jog his memory so he can retrace the steps. Plus, it helps you see what he’s already learned.
4. Cut It in Half: Best for the Overwhelmed
That’s right — you can make an executive decision to lighten your child’s load for a night, if:
  • She doesn’t understand the assignment.
  • The assignment is vague or touches on a topic she’s not ready for.
  • She’s exhausted from a long day of school, gymnastics, and an argument with her best friend.
If your child is completely lost, you can excuse her entirely. In the other cases, shorten the assignment, says Cathy Vatterott, Ph.D., a University of Missouri-St. Louis professor of education and author of Rethinking Homework. What you can’t skip is informing the teacher. “Have your child write a note explaining,” says Vatterott. If she’s too young, write it yourself (with her input) and have her sign it. If you don’t hear back from the teacher in a few days, or your child is still clueless on the next assignment, follow up with an e-mail.
Most teachers will be understanding if a student does this once in a while, says Grace, but if your child frequently fails to finish her assignments, there will probably be a consequence.
5. Change the Scene: Best for Daydreamers
Something as simple as a special place to work can boost a child’s motivation and, in turn, his confidence. “I let one kid at a time use my office if they are having trouble,” says Jennifer Harrison, of Sacramento, CA, mom of a 7- and an 11-year-old. “Being in the spot where Mom does grown-up work seems to help them focus. Maybe because I tell them that it’s my place to concentrate.”
6. Keep the Positive Feedback Coming: Best for the K–2 Set
Little kids need instant feedback, so it’s okay for parents of young grade-schoolers to correct mistakes, says Grace. Then emphasize what your kid’s done well. After he’s finished, take his paper and say “Hmm, I’m looking for something . . .” After scanning it for a minute, say “Aha! Look how well you wrote your letters in this part!” or “This sentence is even better than the one you came up with yesterday!” If you praise specific improvements, your little learner will become more inclined to try to do a good job the first time around.
7. Leave the Room: Best for Whiners
“Kids who drag things out are often doing so for your attention — they’re enjoying the interaction on some level,” explains Grace. “Avoid joining in. And if you must stay in the room, have your child work in a spot that’s farther away from whatever you’re doing.”
8. Beat the Clock: Best for Procrastinators
Sometimes a pint-size foot dragger just needs a jump-start. If that’s true for yours, try Dolin’s “Five Minutes of Fury”: Set a timer for five minutes, shout “Go!” and have your child work as fast as she can until the timer goes off. At that point, she can take a short break or keep going — and many kids continue. “Racing against a timer gives kids an external sense of urgency if they don’t have an internal one,” she notes (besides, it’s fun!). But it’s not an excuse for sloppy work, so tell her to go over it before she puts it back in her folder.
9. Plan, Plan, Plan: Best for 3rd- to 5th-Graders
Many teachers will break down big projects into a series of deadlines so that children learn to budget time. If your kid’s teacher doesn’t, show your child how to “scaffold” the assignment yourself, says Dr. Vatterott. Together, divide the project into steps, then help her estimate how much time each will take. Get a weekly or monthly calendar (like Martha Stewart Home Office With Avery Dry Erase Monthly Planner; $8,, and then write down which steps she’ll tackle when — and for how long. To get the most out of your calendar, include everything — from basketball practice on Mondays to the reading log every night so you both can plan realistically. If you know which nights are going to be a problem, “Ask for the week’s assignments at once and figure out your own schedule for completing them,” suggests Dr. Vatterott. “Teachers will often work with you on this, but most parents are afraid to ask.”
10. Let ’Em Vent: Best for Everyone
When your routine is upended — and your kid hasn’t even started his homework — ease frustration by letting him complain. Listen, empathize (“Wow, that is a lot of work”), and state his feelings back to him (“You sound upset”). Once your child feels understood, says Dolin, he’ll be more likely to accept your suggestions — and better able to focus on what needs to be done.

10 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Learn

If you want your child to be a stellar student, don’t limit learning to the walls of his classroom. Although the skills he’s learning there are crucial to his intellectual and social growth, your child needs your help to open up the world of ideas. His renewed joy in discovery will transfer to his schoolwork, so you’ll boost his academic achievement too!

  1. Fill your child’s world with reading. Take turns reading with your older child, or establish a family reading time when everyone reads her own book. Demonstrate how important reading is to you by filling your home with printed materials: novels, newspapers, even posters and placemats with words on them.
  2. Encourage him to express his opinion, talk about his feelings, and make choices. He can pick out a side dish to go with dinner and select his own extracurricular activities. Ask for his input on family decisions, and show that you value it.
  3. Show enthusiasm for your child’s interests and encourage her to explore subjects that fascinate her. If she’s a horse nut, offer her stories about riding or challenge her to find five facts about horses in the encyclopedia.
  4. Provide him with play opportunities that support different kinds of learning styles — from listening and visual learning to sorting and sequencing. Supplies that encourage open-ended play, such as blocks, will develop your child’s creative expression and problem-solving skills as he builds. He’ll need lots of unstructured play time to explore them.
  5. Point out the new things you learn with enthusiasm. Discuss the different ways you find new information, whether you’re looking for gardening tips on the Internet or taking a night class in American literature.
  6. Ask about what he’s learning in school, not about his grades or test scores. Have him teach you what he learned in school today — putting the lesson into his own words will help him retain what he learned.
  7. Help your child organize her school papers and assignments so she feels in control of her work. If her task seems too daunting, she’ll spend more time worrying than learning. Check in with her regularly to make sure she’s not feeling overloaded.
  8. Celebrate achievements, no matter how small. Completing a book report calls for a special treat; finishing a book allows your child an hour of video games. You’ll offer positive reinforcement that will inspire him to keep learning and challenging himself.
  9. Focus on strengths, encouraging developing talents. Even if she didn’t ace her math test, she may have written a good poem in English class. In addition to a workbook for math practice, give her a writing journal.
  10. Turn everyday events into learning opportunities. Encourage him to explore the world around him, asking questions and making connections.

Keep Your Child’s Skills Sharp During Winter Break!

Winter  break means a well-deserved reprieve from homework and daily obligations. But before you know it, the holidays will be over and it will be back to the bus stop. To prepare for a smooth re-entry and a successful second semester, don’t let school skills like reading, writing, and math slide completely during winter vacation. Try these family-friendly activities to keep skills sharp:

  • Read for pleasure. Winter break provides the perfect opportunity to stash schoolbooks and read for fun. Encourage relatives to give books as holiday gifts or gather in front of the fire (big kids too!) to take turns reading from classic tales.
  • Cook up an easy lesson. Invite your child into the kitchen to help you whip up a special dish — from Christmas cookies to potato pancakes. All of those half-tablespoon and quarter-cup measurements are great practice with fractions.
  • Write thank-you notes. Penning notes of appreciation to gift-givers teaches gratitude and helps polish writing and spelling skills. Not sure what to say? Check out our thank-you note template for wording. One final tip: a mug of hot cocoa can make this task feel more festive!
  • Make the most of car rides. Turn the drive to or from a holiday get-together into an opportunity to practice letters and numbers. You can look for license plates from different states, try to find the alphabet on the license plates, or count the number of red (or white or green) cars you see.
  • Maintain reasonable bedtimes. With no school to get up for in the morning, it can be tempting to let kids become night owls. A few days before school starts up again, ease back into the regular bedtime schedule so your child can start the year bright-eyed.
  • Ask for grocery list assistance. Have your child help choose what to buy, decide how much you need, check your supplies to see what you’ve already got, write or draw pictures on the list, and sort coupons.
  • Let kids help with online shopping. Need a last-minute gift for Grandma or Uncle Joe? Log onto your favorite shopping sites and let your child help you select presents. This helps children work on their computer and research skills.
  • Have a family game night. Chances are many of your family’s favorite board and card games reinforce skills such as counting, reading, and drawing. Gather the group to play games you usually don’t have time for on school nights.

Tips For School Success

Be Involved 

  • Speak regularly with your child’s teacher, even if things are going well.
  • Ask your child about his/her day. Start your conversation with something he/she likes. Once your conversation is going well, then it’s easier to talk about more challenging subjects (and actually have him/her respond!).
  • Oversee your child’s homework by sitting near your child and reading while the child is doing homework, occasionally walking past your child and patting him or her on the back, and/or looking over the homework with your child.
  • Volunteer at your child’s school. Parent involvement improves children’s school performance.

Establish a Routine 

  • Have a regular morning, afternoon and bedtime routine.
  • Arrange after-school childcare.
  • Make sure your child eats breakfast.
  • Establish a designated place and time for homework.
  • Provide a quiet and non-chaotic environment during homework time.
  • Read together each day. Reading is a proven factor for school success.

 Learning is fun and not just for school!

  • Let your children see you reading, paying bills, or watching an educational program. This shows children that learning happens not just in school and that some of the things they are learning WILL help them later in life!
  • Have your children measure out ingredients for recipes; plan healthy meals together, collect different leaves from the neighborhood; any activities where they see learning can be fun.
  • Get a library card for you and your child.  Public libraries have a variety of resources and activities for young (and young-at-heart) minds!
  • Have a positive attitude about school and learning. It’s contagious and your child will catch it!

(Families are Magic, FAM