A Message to our Challenge Success Family during COVID-19

This piece was also featured here in Thrive Global.

Dear Challenge Success Family,

During these uncertain times with school closures and significant shifts away from normal routines, many people have expressed concerns about the impact on students’ academic journeys. I want to encourage parents, educators, and students in the Challenge Success family to remember the big picture. This is a time to focus on — and be grateful for — your family’s safety, health, and well-being. Make building strong family relationships a priority. Reach out to neighbors, friends, and others in your community to check in, offer support, and connect virtually. We will get through this together.

Each family is experiencing this time differently depending on how the local schools are approaching remote learning, the work commitments the adults are juggling, and the unique needs of each child.  I worry about our underserved population in particular and for children with challenges and learning differences who rely on schools for food, safety, therapeutic care, and stability. I know that educators are working tirelessly to meet the needs of all of their students to the best of their ability. For those families who have been given remote lessons and resources from the schools, try to honor as best as you can what the school is asking your child to do. If the workload feels like too much for your child and your home situation, communicate with elementary school teachers and have your middle and high school students advocate for themselves directly as well. 

For families concerned that their children are missing out on academic content, remember that at a time like this, less is more. I encourage you to broaden your definition of learning and focus on playtime, downtime, and family time. Think about how to help your kids continue to develop skills rather than trying to re-create school content by assigning extra worksheets and flashcards. Critical skills for kids of all grade levels include reading, problem solving, and communication, as well as social-emotional skills like resilience, collaboration, flexibility, and positive coping. Use this time at home to support these skills along with prioritizing students’ well-being and engagement with learning. As a family, discuss and agree to a routine that might include the following:

  • Reading for Pleasure – Time spent reading is strongly linked to academic achievement. For kids of all ages, this is one of the best “academic” areas for you to encourage. Re-reading childhood favorites, reading aloud, reading interactively with a family member, and listening to audiobooks are all excellent ways to support literacy skills.
  • Personal Interest Projects – Find time for students to dive more deeply into their own interest areas. Give them voice and choice to explore something they are curious about or have always wanted to learn. Whether it’s researching sea otters, understanding the stock market, or analyzing the lyrics to songs from Hamilton, let your student explore online resources or call a friend or family member to share their expertise.
  • Social Time – Kids will likely be missing the social aspects of school more than the academics. Encourage them to connect to friends near and far through Facetime, social media, phone calls, and even handwritten letters. Leave chalk messages on driveways or ask kids to brainstorm other creative ways to interact with neighbors and friends.
  • Family Time –  While you might feel like you have nothing but family time right now, make sure you actually spend time together as a family unit. Prepare and eat meals together, play games, or take a walk.  Use this time to check in on how your family is coping; calm fears and let your children know that you are there to keep them safe.
  • Chores – We often believe that our children are too young or too busy to help with household chores, but contributing to the family in this way can foster responsibility and independence. Use the time now to practice important skills like cooking, doing laundry, mowing the lawn, or cleaning the bathroom.
  • Service – Find big or small ways to be of service to somebody else. Pose this as a problem that your family might solve together: How might we help others? You may want to organize a food drive where neighbors leave canned goods on their porches and one healthy adult delivers them to a food bank, have older kids virtually babysit for a co-worker’s younger kids, or reach out to seniors to see what they might need.
  • Exercise and Meditation/Deep BreathingThis is important for kids and adults alike. Go for a run, do family yoga, coordinate with friends to do virtual workouts together, or put on some music and dance. This is a great way to build in family time while also developing positive coping skills.
  • Good Sleep – Most kids do not get the 9-11 hours they actually need each night. Use this time to develop good sleep hygiene by keeping devices out of bedrooms, turning off screens at least an hour before bedtime, and getting to bed at an appropriate hour. You can also let your teen wake up later than usual now that they do not have to commute to school.
  • Sensible Screen Time – Try to balance work time (yours and your child’s) with ample breaks and time to connect. It might feel like everyone is spending too much time on screens right now, especially if you need to use the television or the computer to keep kids occupied while you get some work done, but it’s ok. Try to strike a balance with non-screen activities as much as possible, especially during evenings and weekends.

If you set up a routine that includes the suggestions above, your child will be learning important academic and social and emotional skills that will prepare them for returning to the classroom and help them thrive in school and out. So be gentle on yourself. Be patient with your kids and your partner. Have empathy for teachers and express your gratitude for them and others. Try to embrace and enjoy this family time and stay healthy.


Denise Pope, Ph.D., is a Co-Founder of Challenge Success and a Senior Lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, where she specializes in student engagement, curriculum studies, qualitative research methods, and service learning. She is the author of, “Doing School”: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students, and co-author of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids. Dr. Pope lectures nationally on parenting techniques and pedagogical strategies to increase student health, engagement with learning, and integrity.