Building Engagement with Distance Learning

DL #6: Getting "Unstuck:" Tips to Help Your Child if They Get Stuck with Their Remote Learning

TIES Center Distance Learning Series

With remote learning, instead of getting dressed for school in the morning, grabbing our bagged lunch, and heading out the door for school, we are home in pajamas and are trying to “go to school” from our living rooms. Families may have to help more with academic learning and children may have to be more independent in how they learn. Some of the academic learning routines work well, but sometimes children may get stuck and frustrated during remote learning. 

As parents, we face challenges when we try to help our children in their school work. We may not always have the time and energy to help our child with academic school tasks. In addition, we may not fully know or understand: 

  • the content our children have to learn. 
  • where to find resources or tools to help. 
  • what happened before or after this activity. 
  • how to give helpful feedback or whether our child is taking the right first steps.

As a family member of a child with significant cognitive disabilities, you probably already have strategies for helping your child when they are stuck in their learning. However, as a family member wanting to support your child in their learning, here are some strategies and tools to help your child get “unstuck” when they are frustrated in their learning- so they can be independent and successful learners. While not all of these tips may work for you, we hope that some will resonate.

1. Identify the Main Goal or Purpose for the Assignment

When you first start to help your child, clarify the key concept or skill for the assignment. In other words, know what your child needs to learn and how they need to show what they know. When you know what is most important about the assignment, then you can advocate for flexibility in how they get there. If you and your child are not clear on the learning goal or what success looks like, this is an opportunity for collaboration with the teacher. 

  • Encourage your child to re-state the learning goal using their own words, so they really understand what they are working to achieve. Sometimes identifying the primary goal can help you better understand where they may be getting stuck in the process.

For example, perhaps your child has a full packet to complete. If you are able to help identify the purpose of the packet and what your child is supposed to ultimately learn by completing the packet, then it becomes more clear how to direct their attention and to support them. It also helps you to know what they may skip or what they already know.

2. Recruit Interest in the Topic

Engagement is critical for learning. If your child is stuck in their learning, finding ways to recruit their interest is a good first step. Open the lines of communication about what interests them about the material. You could chat, text, draw a picture, or use AAC. 

  • Communicate about how the concept is used in the real world. Share how the content has an application that is of value to your child or in your community.
  • Discuss what can be skipped or saved for a time when your child is more engaged.
  • Find a peer you child could talk with to help re-engage your child with the assignment.

3. Look for Flexible Pathways: Choice can be Key

  • Do they need a refresher about the concept they are learning?  If so, maybe there is a video online, an article or book, and/or a bulleted summary to support their background understanding. 
  • Do they need a different way to show what they know? Instead of just writing or typing answers, maybe an audio recording (e.g., try vocaroo , or Speakpipe ), a video (e.g., try screen-cast-o-matic or flipgrid ), a graphic organizer, or a diagram. If the assignment or learning requires a certain tech tool that is challenging, perhaps there is another tool that they already know that could be used instead. This is an opportunity to communicate with the teacher about what has worked (or not worked).
  • Where you can, help your child to minimize distractions. Some days, they may want to work in the busy kitchen with lots of background noise - other times, they may need to work alone in a room. Keep the communication open for what is working - or not working- during the challenging learning moments. Remember that how you might work through an activity may differ from how your child wants to do it. 

4. Break Bigger or Longer Tasks into Smaller Chunks

Having manageable, “bite-sized” bits to work on can be really helpful. Whether you divide the work by time or by task increments, you and your child will know whether there is progress in the right direction. Celebrate the small steps, such as when you can check off an item on the “to-do” list.  

  • Share feedback with your child on the process - it is not just the outcome.
  • Make a list of strategies or ways that worked for your child to get “unstuck”with their learning, so they can reference those more independently in the future.
  • Work with the routines and tools that already work well - build on what works. Use your favorite text-to-speech tool, timer, or scheduling planner.
  • Think about different ways to visualize the work into smaller chunks. If you have 10 problems in one worksheet, you could divide them into 2 chunks.


In remote learning, there will be times where our children get stuck and are frustrated in their learning. As a parent who is now taking on some of the “teaching” responsibilities, add these tips to what you already do to help your child to get “unstuck” in their learning. Know the learning goal for the activity, make personal connections to the content, brainstorm and try different strategies and tools to make progress, and take it one step at a time. Share what is working - or what is not working - with each other and, where relevant, with your school team. Find times to laugh and enjoy learning together. There is tremendous opportunity today to develop new routines and ways of learning that will extend beyond this period of remote learning- and that can be empowering for everyone.

Want to learn more about student indepence and learning?

Expert Learning is for All

Using the Least Dangerous Assumption in Educational Decisions

Disclaimer: The information in this Brief is not an endorsement of any identified products. Products identified in this Brief are shared solely as examples to help communicate information about ways to reach the desired goals for students.     

Distance Learning Series: DL #6, April, 2020

All rights reserved. Any or all portions of this document may be reproduced without prior permission, provided the source is cited as:

  • Posey, A., & Taub, D. (2020). Getting "unstuck:" Tips to help your child if they get stuck with their remote learning (DL #6). TIES Center. 

TIES Center is supported through a cooperative agreement between the University of Minnesota  and the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education (# H326Y170004). The Center is affiliated with the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) which is affiliated with the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) at the College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota. The contents of this report were developed under the Cooperative Agreement from the U.S. Department of Education, but do not necessarily represent the policy or opinions of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. Readers should not assume endorsement by the federal government. Project Officer: Susan Weigert

The National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) leads the TIES Center partnership.  Collaborating partners are: Arizona Department of Education, CAST, University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky, University of North-Carolina–Charlotte, and University of North Carolina–Greensboro.

TIES Center

University of Minnesota

Institute on Community Integration

2025 East River Parkway

Minneapolis, MN 55414

Phone: 612-626-1530

This document is available in alternate formats upon request.

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity employer and educator.

TIES TIPS partner organization logos: Arizona Dept. of Education, CAST, UNC Charlotte, NCEO, University of Kentucky, The University of North Carolina Greensboro, IDEAs that Work