Raising Remote Readers: Keeping it Real

Virtual learning is happening regardless of our affinity for it and, while it can be a difficult venue for students of any age, it can be particularly difficult for very young learners. Remote learning may not be the preferred choice, but there are simple things you can do at home to support young online learners when they are offline.

By nature, virtual learning is, well, virtual. It is an electronic representation of something that exists in real life. Our little learners are using their fingers or styluses to write on virtual whiteboards, they are swiping side to side to turn pages of e-books, scrolling to see pictures and text, and muting and un-muting themselves to have bits of conversation with classmates in little boxes. Given the necessity of online schooling during the era of COVID-19, we are lucky that technology is as advanced as it is so that typically in-person academic teaching can occur, but most learners, especially the youngest, require real-life experiences to learn. When you think about it, a 6 year old has only lived approximately 72 months. They most likely have conscious memory of 36-48 of those months. That’s not a whole lot of life experience, and here we are asking them to imagine what a virtual representation would really be like. Families and caretakers can easily provide the real experiences needed to pair with remote learning, and many of them may have even occurred to you already. What is important to remember, though, is to intentionally plan to incorporate them into your daily routines to ensure your young learner encounters them enough.

Pencil & Paper

Children who are still learning how to form letters learn best when they can feel the friction of a writing utensil against a rough surface. The glossy feel of the iPad or Chrome Book screen will not quite be tactile enough. Paper and typical writing utensils such as, pencils, pens, markers and crayons will do the trick, but so will chalk and a chalkboard (or a driveway or sidewalk!), or tracing a finger over sandpaper. If the surface can be elevated, then even better! Writing on a vertical or slanted surface helps with muscle control, so easels are a great option, but if your markers and crayons are washable, go ahead and tape a piece of paper to the wall. If you don’t want to wash the walls, you can put a 3-ring binder under your child’s paper. You can also keep in mind that having lots of experience drawing can also help develop your child’s writing skills by strengthening muscles, and practicing appropriate grips on writing utensils.

Books, Books, and More Books

There are so many websites and apps now that allow children to have access to literature and that can allow a teacher to share a book on her screen for virtual reading lessons. However, young children who are just learning to read will benefit from manipulating real books. Holding a book allows a young reader to learn how to position the book from front to back, and right-side up. They orient themselves with the left-to-right nature of reading at the book and page levels. These are aspects that are lost, or even confusing when done online. Reading English is a left-to-right process. It’s how we navigate pages, sentences, and words. Reading online is different in some ways. When children are learning with a balanced diet of both tangible books and e-books, they can learn the exceptions you make when reading online such as, swiping right-to-left when “turning” a page, or scrolling from bottom-to-top when reading lengthy text. If a developing reader’s experiences become completely digital, however, it has the potential to confuse the learner. This can be course-corrected by:

  • Having children’s books in your home that are accessible to your child.
  • Setting aside time for your child to browse and read.
  • Reading tangible, paper books to your child as often as possible.


Giving reading and writing a purpose that is bigger than academics is important. Whenever you can, give reading and writing a real-world feel by asking for help writing grocery lists, cards to family and friends, or asking your child to write down a story they told so that you can remember it forever, or so that they can read it to a relative. Make reading authentic by having conversations about books that feel like a book club and not a test. Read seasonal books or books that go with your child’s interests. You won’t have to invest in volumes of books. Using your local public library and rotating books every month will be just fine.

Virtual learning can simulate many traditionally in-person learning experiences, but it cannot replace the feel of a book in your child’s hands or the sensation of writing on paper. These types of opportunities, when provided intentionally, will go a long way in supporting your young learner’s literacy development.

Read more tips for supporting young remote readers in this previous post: Raising Remote Readers: Never Underestimate the Bedtime Story

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