Cover still of the "Helping Your Child with Routines at Home" video from the video series on parenting.

A new video series featuring and supporting parents of students with significant cognitive disabilities is bringing structure—and a dose of reality—to the often-chaotic world of distance learning during the pandemic.

Real-life families across the United States volunteered to film their daily routines and learning activities on their own mobile phones for the series, which offers tips for supporting children’s learning while at home. Two ICI centers—the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) and the TIES Center—developed the short instructional videos at the request of the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. 

The first four videos focus on routines, communication, and understanding students’ grade-level academic goals. Another seven, delving into more specific academic instruction techniques and ways to check on progress, will be launched shortly.

“They bring a reaffirming message that is practical and positive,” said Kristin Liu, assistant director at NCEO and co-principal investigator for the TIES Center, which supports inclusive learning environments for students with significant cognitive disabilities. “They show actual families of students with significant cognitive disabilities, so that parents can see other parents like themselves who are navigating home learning successfully.”

Because COVID-19 made it difficult to send a videographer to homes, Liu said, families turned on their mobile phones and recorded themselves doing school work and every day activities, from household chores to playing outside. A narrator offers tips on how to create a strong learning environment and work with a child’s school to understand learning goals.

“We’re not asking parents to take over the teacher’s role, but providing some helpful information on how best to support at-home learning,” said NCEO and TIES Center Director Sheryl Lazarus. "I'm extremely pleased the team was able to create such a useful video series during such a difficult time. Parents are their children’s best advocates, but their children with significant disabilities have unique challenges in instruction and these videos will be a welcome resource.” 

The series stresses the importance of predictable routines, staying in close communication with teachers, and regularly checking progress. Practical ideas for working academic lessons into home life, such as having children calculate the number of knives, spoons, and forks needed at the dinner table, are also included. 

“There is a huge amount of self-doubt that parents have now about whether they are doing the right things for their kids, whether they have disabilities or not,” said Liu. “This series says, ‘We see you, keep it up, you are enough.’ Small things make a difference in this context and are valuable for students’ long-term learning.”