As school gets into gear, the reality of a school year online is really starting to hit. As a parent, you are facing the impossible job of balancing work, home, and education. Not to mention, you might be feeling a little underprepared for this new role based on the simple fact, you most likely don’t have any sort of background in education.
And if your child has learning differences or disability, you count on educational professionals to provide their expert guidance to build skills on a daily basis. Your child might not easily “catch-up” like other kids
Quite honestly, many kids with learning challenges or attention problems can’t simply be set up with a computer and expected to navigate learning independently. There’s more to school than just the lessons from the teachers.
School provides valuable childhood experiences for social interaction, movement, emotional regulation, and daily routine.
But there are many things you CAN do to infuse these missing elements to your child’s at home learning experience. And, if nothing else, this year gives you the unique opportunity to customize elements of your child’s learning experience, taking in account your child specific needs and interests.
And you’re not alone. Don’t forget you still have teachers and staff from school. Count on them to provide guidance for the curriculum.
Your job is to fill in some of the other pieces: emotional regulation, structure, environment, movement, and social opportunities to give your child a great online school experience.
So here are some ideas to get you started. Gather some hints, and adapt for your child.
Use Your Regulation StrategiesThe traditional school day provides a lot of opportunities to practice self-regulation: taking turns, waiting in line, and dealing with frustration. Recognize your child’s need for the practice of self-regulation and look for ways you can provide support.
Some Quick Pointers:
Use regulation strategies for yourself to maintain your own calm. You are taking on a big challenge. You are prone to have some big emotions along the way.
It’s important to remember that by acknowledging your own feelings and experience, you are better able to support your child. So, find ways to take care of yourself. Whether that is going for a walk, doing some yoga, or carving out some alone time.
Create an Environment for LearningNot everyone has the space in their home for a dedicated learning zone. And that’s ok.
But find ways to set up a space for learning whether it's the kitchen table or a desk. Maybe it’s as simple as bringing certain supplies such as a pencil box or computer in a consistent place at the start of learning time.
Try to find ways to limit distractions such as using headphones or making dividers so your child isn’t distracted by other things going on. Provide your child with fidgets that he can use to help him sustain attention, such as gum, a koosh ball, a stress ball, a rubber band.
Did you know that 75% of the brain is water! Give your child a water bottle at the start of the day. Kids need water to think.
And keep in mind, your child needs variety. So think of how you might use your space flexibly to allow for position changes and different views throughout the school day. Maybe your child watches their computer-based lessons at the table and then sits on a bean bag to do their reading.
Visual SchedulesVisual schedules can be a powerful tool to keep everyone on track. They keep focus on the current tasks and show what’s coming next. Consider whether your child more easily understands words or images. Then, use pictures or words to show what needs to be done for the day.
You can get as fancy as a chart purchased from online, pre-printed clip art or as informal as self-drawn pictures on a whiteboard. Then, let your child mark off items as they go through the day.
It’s also helpful to add a visual timer where your child can see how long they are expected to play or work on their own. For younger children, timers with a visual element can help them understand how long something is supposed to last.
For instance, Amazon carries visual timers that look like a kitchen timer but the red indicates how much time is left. The Learning Resource Time tracker offers a timer that goes from green to yellow, to red as time counts down. Even simple sand drop timers can show how much time is left for an activity.
Develop a Healthy Routine
Set up a realistic schedule that everyone can keep. Children do well with predictability but it’s also important to leave some room for flexibility based on emotional needs and the realities of daily life.
Start off the week by spending some time planning.Then you have an overall grasp of what’s going on. From there you will know which tasks NEED to get done and where you can be flexible.
One of the most powerful elements of a healthy schedule is a consistent sleep and wake up time. Set specific times for going to bed, waking up, and starting schoolwork. It might feel hard at the beginning but you will thank yourself later when this foundational schedule makes everything else run more smoothly.
A healthy diet is also important as nutritious food can make a big difference in mood and energy. It's easy to fall into unhealthy eating patterns of snacking or convenience food when everyone is home so much of the time. High carbohydrate meals will lead to an insulin crash, and fatigue. Food dyes are associated with hyperactivity. Try to stick to simple whole foods.
Think of creative ways to include your child in meal planning and meal prep. This will help you get the task completed and encourage some important skills. Cooking is not only an important life skill but also helps with regulation, following directions, math, and science.
Movement Breaks Throughout the DayLittle bodies were made to move, not sit all the time. And when you think about it, movement is actually a big part of a typical school day. Teachers provide movement breaks between lessons, children go to recess, walk to different rooms for lunch or PE, or even walk across the room to get a book.
Movement increases blood flow to the brain, helps improve attention, and decreases stress. So, if you child learns better when they aren’t expected to sit still all the time, this school year provide a great way to allow more movement.
You might find it helpful to structure by planning in movement breaks about every 45 minutes. These could be getting up to clean, adding a stretch, or giving time for a planned movement-based activity. Maybe keep a tally sheet of how many laps your kiddo can do around the house!
Think about how you can add a movement component to whatever you are learning about. If you’re learning about plants, take five minutes and pretend you are a plant growing. If you’re learning about numbers, make a list of movements (jump, flap arms, spin, clap) and roll a dice to find out how many you will do.
And not everything needs to be a big event. You can even lead your child in a quick stretch or brief dance party. Everyone will feel more focused and ready to do the next task after moving around a little bit.
Find Supports Outside the Home
Seek out safe programming that will support your online schooling with your child. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Find things that will lift you up as a parent and will be meaningful for your child. It’s going to be especially important to find safe ways for social interaction or different scenery.
Connect with other parents who are doing the same thing to get support and suggestions. You might even find some great outdoor locations to spend time together.
And don’t forget about the support being offered at Child’s Play Therapy Services for families in the Bay Area. We grasp the importance of providing safe ways to get children the experiences and skill practice they continue to crave.
We are committed to finding ways to support parents in the areas that might be missing with online schooling. From emotional regulation, educational therapy, outdoor groups, and ongoing therapy, we’re here during your journey in online schooling.
Foster a Positive Attitude and Have Some Fun!Online school might not have been your plan for this year, but it can still be a positive experience. Celebrate your child’s wins along the way (and your own). Find your child’s favorite ways to learn and use it a lot!
And most of all, give yourself room to be authentic – honoring the hard parts and cherishing the good. If nothing else, this year is sure to be memorable.
We’d love to stay in touch and continue to provide you with supports during this year.
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Christina Gallo, MS OTR/L
Child’s Play Therapy Services