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Community Champion

Parents Access to Canvas

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Our parents are keen to engage in Canvas particularly monitoring homework which we push out through the global calendar and course calendars. As a non US school we struggle with the limited course view on the calendar as many year groups have 15+ courses. I personally don't see why we cannot have more control over this and allow our users to make the choice of which courses are viewed.

So far we have adopted an 'over the shoulder' approach for parents as we review all the options available to us. This is by no means ideal.

Our preferred option is for parents to view as Observers via the browser. Any website worth its salt should be responsive in its design. I am also concerned about the steps and extras needed to use with the Parent App.

Issues we have come up against....


We are very fortunate to have written some scripts that allow a fair degree of integration of Canvas with our MIS (SIMS). We have had to do this ourselves as, at the moment, there is nothing in place from Capita. The scripts have reduced the time consuming manual aspects of creating and matching up parents to children and then creating separate accounts for parents.

The real problem is then ahead of us.

Many parents have 2 or more children attending school. It is not possible to view global calendars for individual children. Adding a filter feature would be fantastic. I don't know of any way of helping parents - other than imposing strict course naming by staff on courses. I am not sure why this was not considered earlier and would have other massive benefits eg for Learning Support or Teaching Assistants working with individual children.


We did not pursue the app as we felt the limited focus on the gradebook and grades was not how we wished to promote parental engagement with the platform so early in the launch. We also have our staff the option of using Canvas in their subjects in a range of different ways, some of which did not involve grading online.

The App does have this 'toggle' flexibility for parents with 2 or more students and there is now access to a calendar of sorts.

My biggest issue and headache is how we push this to parents. A colleague in a different school has been testing this out and reports back a number of concerns when parents are starting with the app - his comments are next to this:

  1. Parents need to know to click log in with Canvas and then log in.  This is already a problem because it’s not intuitive
  2. Parents type in school
  3. Parents log in
  4. The message “There are no students associated with your account” appears.  This is incorrect because we’ve set up parents as observers 
  5. They must again type in the school This is unnecessary
  6. They need their child’s log in details. The parent and child or the child must send the parent log in details – again not ideal

So we are current in a position where neither option fit what we want to do. Am at a bit of a loss here and wonder if anyone can help....

17 Replies
Community Participant

There's no way we can recommend parent use the app. When parents log into Canvas on their mobile devices- use the app shows up quite prominently- they download the app and call us when they can't log in.   Why would they think that parents should have a different account for an app wasn't thinking it out clearly.   Nor did they consider how difficult they make it on the tech departments creating and adding students to parent accounts.   clearly they were not thinking of the K-12 districts.

Community Contributor

Agreed.  The setting up process for the parent app is ill-thought out.

Community Participant

How are you handling the complicated view of the observer role for parent?  

Community Member

Is there any further action/development to this? The app is painfully slow (if it works at all) on my phone, and I am frustrated to the point of tears trying to sort through 3 students' worth of courses on the desktop/web version where I cannot sort by student. I feel ill at the idea of 6 more weeks of "e-learning" wading through this mess.

Community Member

I have 4 kids and feel your pain. One thing that helped me was to assign a color to each kid and rename the courses putting their name in the title like “John ELA”. That at least helped me keep organized and now when I get emails I know exactly what kid it is for. You can do that by clicking on the three dots in the top right-hand corner of each subject.

But I agree, this is an awful platform!!!

Sent from my iPhone

Community Member

Maureen, THANK YOU! I didn't realize we could rename the courses, which helps a LOT. Color coding helps too, even to help denote which are inactive so that I can see easily which to remove from favorites. Now if only we could get instructors to use the announcements/inbox/assignments in a consistent manner, we might be ok! Thank you again!

Maureen's suggestion is one that I offer to families too. The color-coding and nicknaming helps a lot when working from a browser! Have you found the option to include each student's name in notifications? (How do I set my Canvas notification preferences as an observer?) That could help streamline things if you prefer email notifications to push notifications with Canvas Parent.

Another thing that will help is the Ready Release Feature that includes the name of the observed student, right on the course card! This will be a feature only for the dashboard seen in a browser, but I think it's an awesome addition.

opksmoor  @artjewl , if there's anything I can do to offer guidance or support with the observer role, please reach out. I'd be more than happy to collaborate or to work with you to find a lesson or video to clarify something. Navigating Canvas as an Observer is a unique experience, and with the transition to online school happening so quickly, it can sometimes become that "one more thing" on our lists. Smiley Happy 

Julie ~ Are you using the Canvas Parent app? There was an update that was just released to iOS and Android. However, sometimes the app may run slowly on older devices. If that shouldn't be the issue, how much free space do you have on your device?