Modern Life

Help for families in the new world of home schooling

As the living room becomes the new classroom, HP and partners including NASA, Britannica, and TIME for Kids are providing aid to families navigating distance learning.

By Stephanie Walden — May 8, 2020

In the past month, parents around the world have upended their personal and professional lives, learned how to use Zoom for parent-teacher conferences and birthday parties, and put on a brave face in the midst of global economic havoc — all while placating antsy kids confined indoors. To top it off, they’ve also had to become instant homeschoolers. According to the UN, nearly half of the world’s student population is out of school due to the pandemic

And while researchers have found that distance learning has wide-ranging benefits, the shift to the quickly assembled “coronavirus classroom” has been a big lift for everyone. In a recent HP survey, 60% of parents said they worry they aren’t doing enough to keep up with their child’s education during this time, and two out of three parents said they’re worried about their child’s progress.

“What we’re seeing now with ‘schooling at home’ is very different from ‘homeschooling’,” says Jessica Parnell, CEO and founder of Bridgeway Academy, an organization that specializes in personalized homeschool programs. “Teachers are trying to figure it out as well, and there’s a lot of uncertainty.” 

HP helps kids learn during COVID-19

Stocksy/Kristin Rogers Photography

Researchers mention that learners absorb printed information more effectively than digital.

The uncertainty comes from multiple concerns, with access and quality at the top of the list. How can students who don’t have technology or Wi-Fi at home keep up with school from a distance? How can busy parents give their kids the best educational experience online and off? Answering these questions has become an all-hands effort, with businesses, educational publishers, and nonprofits stepping up to help the millions of students who need to finish the school year without physically going back to school.

“With each day and week that goes by, students are missing out on opportunities to learn,” says Michele Malejki, HP’s global head of sustainability and social impact programs. “We’re up against a clock, and that means looking at how we can tap into existing solutions and partnerships to respond immediately to what teachers and parents need now.”

Addressing the widening digital divide

In the scramble to turn kitchens and bedrooms into offices, science labs, and virtual classrooms, schools and teachers have moved quickly to deliver online lessons so students don’t lose valuable learning time. But for many families — those who don’t have devices at home, or who live in rural areas with limited internet infrastructure — online learning simply isn’t possible. This digital divide, also known as the homework gap, is even more pronounced now that in-school education isn’t an option.

School districts across the country are distributing school-issued laptops and tablets to as many students as possible, and organizations such as and are helping low-income families get access to devices and Wi-Fi. But connecting with students at home is still a huge challenge — at some schools, fewer than half of students are engaging with online instruction.

In response, HP and the HP Foundation have committed to donating nearly $8 million in products (including laptops, printers, displays, and paper) and grants to support communities impacted by COVID-19. HP also launched HP Turn to Learn, a new program with curated curricula from leading scientific and publishing companies like NASA, Britannica, and TIME for Kids to help students without technology continue learning at home and offline. 

Homeschooling during Coronavirus

Stocksy/Sean Locke

The demand for technology to access education makes bridging the digital divide a priority.

Using the on-demand HP Piazza Platform, schools will be able to order packets of current-events articles, environmental conservation-themed activities, and more that they can distribute alongside free lunches or at designated no-contact pick-up spots. HP is partnering with Command Companies, local print service providers, and paper mills to produce and deliver the packets at no cost to schools every couple weeks through the end of the school year and possibly into the summer. The program will begin with content for grades K-3, with plans to expand to K-12.

“Ensuring digitally marginalized students have access to printed lessons limits the learning gap and reduces the risk as schools start to reopen following the COVID-19 and summer-related closures,” says Karthik Krishnan, global CEO of the Britannica Group. “This is even more important given that the current learning slump will be on top of the well-known summer slump.”

Blending online education with off-screen learning

Printed materials and off-screen learning are also important for kids who do have access to technology and online learning resources at home. Research suggests learners absorb information from printed material differently — and in some cases more effectively — than digital media. And, offering a variety of activities can help students stay engaged in what they’re learning as they move through often unstructured days at home, when screens are their primary source of not only education, but also entertainment and communication with family and friends. 

“We’re up against a clock, and that means looking at how we can tap into existing solutions and partnerships to respond immediately to what teachers and parents need now.”

—Michele Malejki, HP’s global head of sustainability and social impact programs

“We design TIME for Kids to encourage and engage even reluctant readers, with colorful photos, varied text features, and visual context clues,” says Andrea Delbanco, editor-in-chief of TIME for Kids. “Seeing these stories in print is especially important for the many kids who are at risk of falling behind because of the disruption to this school year.”

Parnell suggests looking for activities that go beyond “skill and drill” exercises designed to supplement classroom learning.  “Everything should connect back to, ‘Why does this matter to me?’” Parnell says. “Not just, ‘OK, let’s go practice fractions.’” For example, HP recently launched HP Print, Play & Learn, a curated collection of free worksheets, activities, STEM lessons and more, to help parents create moments of off-screen learning and fun throughout the day.

Liz Kline, vice president of education at the nonprofit Common Sense Media, says her organization was intentional about including a balance of on-screen and off-screen activities in its recently launched, a one-stop-shop for learning from organizations including TIME for Kids, PBS, and National Geographic. Programming runs the gamut from more traditional lessons to activities kids can do away from their devices, such as household alphabet scavenger hunts, cardboard crafts, and drawing, drama and music exercises.

Tools to homeschool kids during COVID-19

Stocksy/Maria Manco

Young learners need creative freedom to play with crafts away from electronic devices.

“We’re in front of screens now perhaps even more than we were before, and a lot of our interactions are happening through technology,” Kline says. “It’s important to remind ourselves that a lot of meaningful things still happen in the real world.”

Balancing educational and emotional needs

While staying on track academically is important, Kline advises parents should prioritize kids’ emotions, moods, and attitudes as they find the right balance for learning at home. Kids are, after all, grappling with the same roller coaster of the “new normal” as all the adults in the room. 

“This isn’t just like, everything’s fine and we’re all converted to homeschooling now,” she says. “Things are not fine. There’s a whole social/emotional aspect to this and what your kid needs, and [we need to recognize that] maybe practicing multiplication tables isn’t what they need at this moment.”

Parnell agrees, noting that one of the beautiful parts of schooling at home is that parents aren’t beholden to anybody else’s judgment as they help their kids find the rhythm that works for them. “It’s OK to cancel class,” she says, especially on tough days when parents or kids are feeling depleted. “When a student is experiencing emotional flares or frustration, they’re not equipped to learn.”

As for parents feeling their own emotional flares during this time, Parnell has one message: You can do this. “You’ve been teaching your kids their whole life,” she says. “You were the first one to teach them to walk, to talk, to eat, to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ — you are already their teacher.”


Find inspiration for fun ways to wind down with your family after a day of working and learning at home.