Advice for parents to maintain their child's learning

Important introduction

Due to the pandemic and school closures, researchers from the UNESCO Chair in Curriculum Development (school subject and emergency education specialists) have developed a guide to provide useful information for parents of elementary school children.

In the vast array of learning resources available and shared through social media, it can be difficult to find one's way around. What should you prioritize for your child? Which resources comply with the curriculum content of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education?

Given the current lack of clear benchmarks, the Chair has produced guidelines for setting priorities as to which academic skills and knowledge should be maintained and consolidated with children. These are grouped by elementary school cycles and are in line with school programs. The elements outlined below were developed by combining the Québec Education Program (elementary education) with knowledge from the field of education in emergencies1,2,3The following is a selection of skills and content that we identify as priorities.

The Chair thus seeks to support parents who wish to maintain their children's education in order to facilitate an eventual return to school. However, it is important to specify that these educational guidelines are not a turnkey plan or a list of tasks to be checked off, but rather a response to the questions raised by many parents.

Let us keep in mind that many parents will legitimately decide to carry out various activities of a less academic nature and that all teachers will set up various remedial activities at the end of the confinement.

General recommendations

  1. Give your child an overview of the day's schedule of activities; this will reassure them and help them prepare psychologically. A routine, even if it differs from the school environment, is reassuring for the child;
  2. Try to give your child tasks that they can do on their own, then offer feedback. Autonomy will develop over time through routine;
  3. If possible, choose mornings for tasks that require more concentration and try to respect a week-weekend structure so that your child has a sense of time;
  4. Compile all the work in a notebook or binder and start the day by writing the date, for both young and old;
  5. Don't forget to take breaks;
  6. If you can, try to connect your child regularly with another child their age by videoconference, or with another family member (uncle, aunt, grandparent, cousin) with whom they have a close relationship to allow them to tell and share what they are doing;
  7. Don't hesitate to join virtual groups of parents and educators; you will find interesting, free educational resources and a support network that will become more and more important over time;
  8. Above all, have fun and take advantage of this time to develop a special bond with your child; don't put too much pressure on yourself if you don't succeed in achieving everything you have planned.

Recommended amount of time to spend on school activities with your child

For parents who would like to maintain learning activities with their child during confinement, here are a few daily scheduling recommendations. Although it may be relevant to ensure the continuity of educational activities, it is important not to exceed the child's cognitive abilities and generate more stress and anxiety for the child and the parents.

First cycle (grades 1 and 2)

Reading 20-30 min/day
Writing 20-30 min/day
Mathematics 15-20 min/day
Problem solving 1-2 activities/week
Physical activities 60 min/day

Second cycle (grades 3 and 4)

Reading 20-30 min/day
Writing 20-30 min/day
Mathematics 20-30 min/day
Problem solving 2-3 activities/week
Physical activities 60 min/day

Third cycle (grades 5 and 6)

Reading 45-60 min/day
Writing 45-60 min/day
Mathematics 30-45 min/day
Problem solving 2-3 activities/week
Physical activities 60 min/day


Cycle Priority concepts/skills
First cycle Practice reading using simple sentences and short texts.

Have your child read a text aloud. This way, you will be able to determine how fluent your child's reading is. Reading speed, intonation, punctuation, and word decoding are important to make sure the reader doesn't lose track of the story and understands the text.

1.     Strategies:

1.     Read the same text every day for a week;

2.     Serve as a role model for your child by reading in unison (at the same time);

3.     Support your child as they read. When a word is difficult, wait a few seconds and provide the sounds of the first syllables or the whole word.

Pedagogical activities to develop reading fluency and comprehension in first and second grades of elementary school.

Second cycle Reading short texts

Work on the reading process with your child.

1.     Do an introductory overview of the text with your child. Give the text some context.
Have your child read the text;

2.     After the reading, ask your child to summarize the text in their own words to make sure that they fully understand it;

3.     Finally, if necessary, you can review the text with your child if it was poorly understood. You can also ask them to re-read it.

Third cycle Reading children's literature

Work with your child first on comprehension, interpretation, and response to their reading.

1.     Help them recognize the text structure;

2.     Have them make inferences (deduce) and establish cause-and-effect relationships;

3.     Have them question themselves. It is necessary to remain in interaction with the text throughout the reading;

4.     Provide your child with reading aids such as a dictionary and highlighter pens;

5.     Ask your child about the ideas conveyed in the text. Ask them to take a position on the subject.

After having worked on comprehension, interpretation and response (expressing ideas about the text), help your child form an opinion about this work of literature. Enjoying literary works can take time. It may require reading several texts to get there and can take several weeks to achieve. It is important to support your child in the construction of their critical judgment by questioning them:

  1. Did you enjoy your reading?
  2. What were the strengths and weaknesses of the text?
  3. Can you show me excerpts to illustrate what you liked or didn't like?
  4. Is the story original?
  5. Is the story realistic or make believe?

If their friends have read the same text, encourage the children to share their thoughts.


Cycle Priority concepts/skills
First cycle Handwriting

1.     Practice the writing movement and transcribe sounds into written words.

1.     Practice writing in detached letters (scripted calligraphy) in a lined notebook;

2.     Practice the written transcription (graphemes) of sounds (phonemes) that form words (letters and syllables);

3.     Using word banks, work on vocabulary and spelling.

Second cycle Writing practice

Have children practice writing simple sentences using word banks.

  1. Encourage your child to keep sentences short and to regularly reread themselves when writing to identify broken sentences;
  2. Once the text is well constructed, help your child revise spelling and grammar.

Having your child do dictations is an effective way to practice writing. Find games that involve words (hangman, crossword puzzles, etc.).

Third cycle Writing and literary creation

1.     Practice writing short original texts on various topics.

  1. Set a number of words for these texts (50 to 150 words). Have your child make short sentences and regularly re-read them to themselves while writing to identify broken or unclear sentences;
  2. A good way to find writing themes is to draw inspiration from the reading you have been doing together;
  3. You can also encourage your child to write about the pandemic or other aspects of the current situation. This can be useful to help him or her understand and answer questions and concerns;
  4. Also, each playtime during the day is an opportunity to find various themes to write about to take their mind off things;
  5. Once the text is well constructed and makes sense, help your child revise spelling and grammar.

Having your child do dictations is an effective way to practice writing. In addition, favor games that involve words (hangman, crossword puzzles, etc.).



In mathematics, work with your child on math activities related to everyday life at home. Many activities can be done without paper and pencil. Prioritize the use of tangible materials (Legos, peas, candies, cans or cardboard boxes) or concrete, authentic situations involving mathematical concepts. Mathematical activities can be carried out in conjunction with artistic (drawing, collage, sculpture, etc.) or technological (construction, computer) activities.


Cycle Priority concepts/skills
First cycle Arithmetic and operations

Arithmetic is frequently encountered in daily life, and all contexts are relevant for its application.

  1. Positive integers less than 1000 (units, tens, hundreds): reading, writing, notion of digits and numbers, counting quantities, approximating quantities;
  2. Addition and subtraction (addition not exceeding 20) without borrowing and without carrying;
  3. Meaning of equality;
  4. Equivalence between two numerical expressions (what is equal to X? Is X equal to Y?).


Geometry can be integrated into art activities (cardboard, paper, straws, etc.) involving various figures and/or solids.

1.     Flat geometric figures (squares, rectangles, triangles, circles, rhombuses)

  1. Figure construction;
  2. Comparison of the figure characteristics (number of sides, number of vertices).

1.     Solids (prisms, pyramids, balls, cylinders, cones)

  1. Solid construction;
  2. Comparison of the solid characteristics (number of sides, number of vertices).


For activities of a technical or artistic nature, a ruler or measuring tape can be integrated. Time cycles can be addressed in stories or daily routines by involving a calendar.

  1. Comparison and measurement of length (cm, dm, m);
  2. Measurement of time (hour, days, minutes, seconds) and time cycles (daily, weekly and annual).
Second cycle Arithmetic and operations

1.     In the second cycle, arithmetic activities may remain the same as in the first cycle, but their complexity increases.

  1. Natural numbers less than 100,000 (units, tens, hundreds);
  2. Decimal numbers up to the order of hundredths (tenths, hundredths);
  3. Fractions from a whole or a collection of objects: reading and writing fractions, numerator and denominator, fraction equivalence, comparing fractions to 0, ½ and 1;
  4. Integer addition and subtraction with withholding and borrowing (formal method with 4-digit numbers);
  5. Multiplication and division of a 3-digit natural number by a 1-digit number;
  6. Written calculation: addition and subtraction whose result does not go beyond the 100s.


Through concrete contexts and manipulations with your child, the study of figures and solids continues.

  1. Figures (square, rectangle, triangle, circle, rhombus): classification, description;
  2. Construction of parallel and perpendicular lines (with ruler and squares);
  3. Solids (prism, pyramid, ball, cylinder, cone): construction and development.


1.     The measurement continues of objects present in the student's environment (longer lengths, more precise measurements, surfaces, volumes).

  1. Length measurement (cm, dm, m, mm);
  2. Classification of angles (acute, obtuse, straight, flat);
  3. Area measurement (introduction to the concept of area without formula);
  4. Surface comparison;
  5. Estimate;
  6. Introduction to volume (no formula).


1.     In the second cycle, students are introduced to concepts that can help them investigate their environment. These activities can be carried out in the context of scientific investigation.

  1. Data collection;
  2. Organization of data in tables;
  3. Representation of data in diagrams.
Third cycle Arithmetic and operations

In the third cycle, arithmetic and operations become more complex. However, don't overload the child and vary the type of activities.

  1. Natural numbers less than 1,000,000 (hundreds of thousands);
  2. Written calculation;
  3. Multiply a 3-digit number by a 2-digit number;
  4. Divide a 4-digit number by a 2-digit number, express the remainder as a number in decimal form without exceeding the hundredths digit;
  5. Priority of mathematical operations;
  6. Decomposition into prime factors;
  7. Divisibility by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10;
  8. Mental arithmetic: multiplication and division of decimal numbers by 10, 100, 1,000;
  9. Fractions;
  10. Addition and subtraction of fractions using concrete material and diagrams (denominator of one is a multiple of the other);
  11. Multiplication of a natural number by a fraction.


1.     New notions are introduced in geometry in the third cycle. These notions will be easier to learn when they are linked to everyday objects and contexts.

  1. Location in the Cartesian plane;
  2. Description and classification of triangles;
  3. Study of the circle (radius, diameter, circumference) without formula;
  4. Description of polyhedra.


In the third cycle, concepts related to measurement are often approached through geometric activities.

  1. Relationship between length and area units of measurement (comparison and conversion);
  2. Introduction to volume (no formula);
  3. Angle measurement (with a protractor);
  4. Area calculation and conventional area units;
  5. Calculation of prism volumes in conventional units;
  6. Relationship between units of time.


In the third cycle, children will continue to investigate their environment. These activities can be carried out in the context of scientific investigation.

  1. Interpretation of data using a pie chart;
  2. Meaning and calculation of the arithmetic mean.

Problem solving

Curricula are not exclusively oriented towards the memorization of mathematical knowledge or calculation techniques. We also recommend that parents place their children in a variety of less structured problem-solving situations.

Problem solving is a fundamental approach that is central to many curricula, such as in mathematics or science.

1.     Here are the generic steps:

  1. Understanding the problem;
  2. Designing a plan;
  3. Implementing the plan;
  4. Analyzing the results in light of the original problem.

It might be interesting to carry out different investigative activities with your child.

Although it is desirable to limit daily screen time, it should also be noted that some video games, known as serious or educational games, can develop, in whole or in part, certain problem-solving strategies.

Physical and health education

These recommendations are a summary of this article.

It is ESSENTIAL to incorporate physical and health education into your daily routine for the well-being of both children and parents. A formula to keep in mind for your physical and mental health is the following: MOVE - EAT WELL - SLEEP - RELAX - MANAGE SCREEN TIME - HAVE FUN.

MOVE: Children and adolescents should be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day according to WHO recommendations. This includes intense moments of physical activity through simple games (playing hide and seek, making a hut in the basement, playing in the alley, throwing the basketball, kicking the soccer ball, playing hockey in the street, dancing, cycling, skateboarding, etc.). Alternate with moments of finer motor skills (writing, painting, drawing, modeling, sewing, crafting, etc.). These physical activities should be punctuated with breaks such as recesses and should be carried out in several periods of 5-15 min rather than a single large period of 60 min. The key is to have a variety of activities on a regular basis. Other alternatives exist to get the children moving, such as household chores (sweeping the floor), active breaks with Go Noodle or Wixx, and free play outside in a backyard or garden for a breath of fresh air.

EAT WELL: With the confinement situation comes boredom and withdrawal. You can use your family time to cook together and learn how to eat healthily with your children. The Canada Food Guide and websites such as Ricardo's can be an excellent reference tool. Remember that eating should be fun, not boring: eat a variety of foods, eat portions without excess, eat meals in good company and enjoy your food.

SLEEP: The current situation is exceptional and may call for major changes in your pace of life. For the well-being of all (parents and children alike), it is important to keep being disciplined in order to get enough sleep. A tired child brings stress  and nervousness which ultimately spreads to the whole family. The best way to keep a steady sleep schedule is to favor relaxing activities and low screen time a full hour before going to bed.

RELAX: Confinement can be difficult because talking and sharing with others is a natural human need. It is important to find strategies to maintain this need: organize a meal with friends by videoconference, talk with relatives you haven't seen in a long time, write them letters. Find spaces, both physical and mental, to rest, be alone and relax. Be attentive to the well-being of all family members. Organize breaks during the day when you notice that the motivation is no longer there (change tasks after 30 or 45 minutes) or when enough screen time has passed. Allow everyone to withdraw silently somewhere in the house when necessary.

MANAGE SCREEN TIME: Exposure of young people to screens carries the risk of altering their eating and physical activity patterns, as well as having an adverse effect on sleep. Philippe Meirieu's formula is perhaps the best: "choose what to watch beforehand - watch together - talk after". This is especially useful to accompany children and allow them to take a step back, criticize, reflect, discover and be interested. Ultimately, it is about controlling what Meirieu calls "available brain time" to improve concentration and achieve academic and personal success.

HAVE FUN: Finally, it is essential to remember that young people learn first and foremost through play, and that their motivation and confidence must be nurtured. The more a young person feels confident, the more they will want to get involved, discover, and learn. Moreover, several health education themes can be discovered through play: posture, sleep, ecology, sexuality, etc.

What is most important is that young people grow up playing and being active.