Expert answers most-Googled questions about working parents and back-to-school

Question No. 1: How are working parents doing this, exactly?
/ Source: TODAY

With the future unpredictable as kids return to the classroom during the coronavirus epidemic, parents are turning to Google to ask questions and attempt to plan.

As a part of TODAY's coronavirus and the classroom series, NBC senior business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle answered the three most-Googled questions about the 2020-2021 school year and followed up with an Instagram Live, giving advice on how to juggle work responsibilities while supervising online learning.

NBC investigative and consumer correspondent Vicky Nguyen also answered questions about home schooling versus virtual learning, saying for parents who do not have the option to home school, distance learning may become the default schooling method for their kids.

How are working parents doing this?

While Ruhle acknowledges working parents are stressed and struggling, she says it's important to make a plan, but stay flexible.

"Put together a plan and an actual schedule," said Ruhle, who likens the work and school routine to maternity leave; when baby sleeps, that's when mom gets time to shower or nap herself. "When that school day starts, that's when you can get the most out of your work day."

Ruhle also cautions parents to be flexible.

"That schedule is a goal, it's not a die-hard plan."

What is the parents' role in virtual learning?

Ruhle says parents should focus on communication with their child's teacher.

"You are not the teacher, you're the supporter," she said. "You're the facilitator. Ask them what you can do to be supportive."

Parents should also figure out disruptions that could hinder their child's learning. Ruhle suggests making the room where kids do schoolwork video game and television free. She says parents should make sure kids understand what to do to troubleshoot tech issues, for example, so you're not always hearing "MO-OOOM!"

In her Instagram Live, Ruhle also recommended that parents try to make the at-home learning environment feel as close to a classroom as possible. "You don't want your kids taking class while they're laying in bed," she said. One option is to order a small classroom desk or call the school to see if you can borrow one. Creating a classroom at home will help make school time feel more official, and more important.

How can employers support working parents?

Ruhle says it's easier for employers to support working parents if parents are honest about the limitations they're facing due to their children's schooling, explaining that it's important to make employers aware in advance of scheduling conflicts or specific needs that arise during the school year.

"Hopefully employers can start to be somewhat flexible," Ruhle added. "We're all experiencing this together and we've got to stick together."

What school supplies should parents make sure kids have for virtual learning?

Nguyen says the list is simpler this year than in years past.

"The number one tool you're going to need is technology," said Nguyen. "You can't do virtual learning without the internet and without a laptop or a tablet."

Ruhle also added on Instagram: "Don't wait until school starts to see if your internet connection is strong enough." Run some test beforehand to make sure your home wifi can handle the traffic. If you have a job that requires high-speed internet, reach out to your human resources department as your company may be willing to pay for your connection.

What can teachers do to help their students learn safely?

The most important thing, says Ruhle, is to not only teach the kids about COVID safety, but also to model that behavior yourself. Wear a mask, disinfect communal objects, and practice social distancing as much as possible. Otherwise, these precautions can start to feel like punishments, and students will feel less comfortable taking ownership of their own safety.