Anyone who’s experienced “distance learning” with their child(ren) knows it can be a frustrating ordeal. Despite best efforts and even with the most savvy and patient of parents, on-line learning offers a ton of challenges that are unique, especially during a pandemic. With that said, our team of dedicated pediatric therapists have come up with a few “helpful hints” to help you and your child be more successful during distance, on-line, or whatever other names are being bandied about in the name of education during a pandemic.
Helpful Tips to Keep You and Your Child Sane During Distance Learning
- Make sure the set-up is child friendly. Ideally, children should be seated at a desk for their size. If this isn’t available, adapt the adult seating to fit their bodies. Children should always have their feet supported (and ideally a 90 degree angle between their trunk/hips and hips/knees). You can use a step-stool, diaper box, overturned laundry basket, etc to place under their feet for support. A pillow behind the child’s back may also help encourage this more upright posture vs slouching.
- Provide a variety of seating choices. If kids have the wiggles, give them a variety of seating choices (i.e. sit on a therapy ball, wiggle cushion, pillow, even standing). Our bodies, including children’s, were made to move, not sit still for long periods of time. Sensory seating may allow your child to sit and focus for longer periods.
- Provide movement breaks. Children aren’t used to sitting in front a screen for so long. They may benefit from movement breaks to help maintain focus. Examples of movement breaks include: performing some animal walks in the hallway, run a lap around the house or block, do a yoga video on youtube, etc).
- Maintain a schedule. Children often benefit from a routine. Try to build as much structure and consistency as possible, setting times for meals, schoolwork and other activities. For some children, a basic visual checklist of tasks will help keep them focused. It allows them to see the full scope of what they have to accomplish and what steps to take. The child would check off each task with you as it's completed and receive a reward at the completion of the list.
- Hydrate! Our body naturally performs better when we’re fully hydrated. Keep a water bottle on your child’s desk with perhaps a stickie or sign as a reminder to drink from it throughout the day.
- Play around with sound. If you have a lot of noise inside your home (other kids, vacuum, neighbors, etc.) try a fan or classical or ambient music to drown out the noise.
- Provide Positive Feedback. It's important to remember, your child may be missing out on consistent reassurance and reinforcement from his or her teacher or counselor due to not being in a classroom setting. Therefore, consider building a reward system can help maintain motivation. After kids complete a task or finish a class, consider praising them.
The worst consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are experienced by the most vulnerable students, especially those who require an individualized education program (IEP). The first thing parents need to do is to meet with an IEP team and discuss what strategies and tools the school can put into place to support students in virtual learning. Work with your child’s teachers to identify and remove any learning barriers.
Many children may need more support with focus during classes. Try starting with smaller amounts of time for an activity. Reward the child for accomplishments, then gradually increase the duration of learning sessions.
Keep in mind that most phones and laptops have built-in technology that can aid kids with special needs. For example, read aloud or text-to-speech can help struggling readers, and speech-to-text can help struggling writers.
Every kid is unique and it's important to find out what works for best for your child. Set some time a few days into the semester to observe them and figure out the optimal length of learning sessions, the times that they are most engaged, and what helps them maintain focus.
If you're interested in learning more about how pediatric OT, PT and SLP can improve your child's life, contact us today.