A television in the next room, the sound of siblings throughout the house, dad on a Zoom call, snacks in the kitchen at the ready…it’s no surprise that so many children have had a hard time transitioning from the structure of a classroom to e-learning at home.
Virtual learning poses even more challenges to children who are particularly active. They’re being asked to attend to a screen for a prolonged period of time without the movement they previously received in the classroom going to P.E., walking to and from the cafeteria, and engaging in hands-on activities with their peers.
Millions of these students have been impacted by school closures and the option of remote learning since the Coronavirus was first declared a pandemic almost one year ago. According to a survey by Education Week, by May 2020, 80% of teachers reported interacting virtually with the majority of their students daily or weekly.
The good news? If your active child is enrolled in virtual education, the days don’t have to be full of redirections and refusals.
These simple strategies can help.
If your child’s remote instruction has some flexibility, try scheduling assignments to be completed during times when your child appears more attentive. If you child seems to be the most focused and alert in the morning, and starts to fidget and move more as the day goes on, help him or her complete tasks requiring increased concentration first.
Environment is Everything
Set your child up for e-learning success by creating a space that is free from visual and auditory clutter, which can easily distract your active child. Research from Behavioral and Brain Functions has shown that playing white noise or soft background music can help some inattentive children focus on tasks. Consider flexible seating options that can support your child’s posture and his or her need for movement. Does your child focus better while standing? Consider a standing desk for him or her. Tune into your child’s needs to create an environment that supports his or her need to move while also limiting distractions.
Build in Breaks
Working in movement breaks away from the computer are beneficial to your child’s body and brain. Give him or her time to move and you might notice your child absorbing more information when it’s time to get back to work! Dr. Linda Carling, an Associate Research Scientist at Johns Hopkins University, recommends allowing time for exercise before your child is expected to focus on a virtual learning task. She also states it’s important to remember that if your child becomes frustrated and hits a wall when completing a task, it might be time to take a break.
Movement breaks can be planned by writing times onto a schedule that your child can see so he or she knows when to expect them. Set a timer for 10 minutes and have your child do some jumping jacks, play Simon Says, or jump on a trampoline. Incorporate visual or auditory cues like a double sided sign or using the terms “break time”/”school time” to help your child transition between the two. Analog clocks can be helpful for letting your child know when they’ll get their next break because they provide him or her with a visual representation of the passage of time. Saying, “just a little longer,” “you’re almost done”, or “almost time for a break” can be difficult for children to quantify, so visuals can be very helpful!
Provide Positive Praise
If you’re running a marathon, your loved ones cheering you on can make all the difference in keeping your mind on the task at hand and staying motivated! Giving frequent positive praise daily can encourage your child to do something that might not be particularly fun or interesting to them. Being specific with your comments can encourage the desired behavior. For example, try telling your child something like, “You are doing a wonderful job focusing on this assignment. In 20 minutes, you’ll get a break to go outside and take a walk!” This lets your child know that you understand their need to move and notice how hard they are working.
Help your child write a checklist for virtual learning tasks. Not only will this help keep them focused and structure their day a little more, but something as simple as marking off each item as it’s completed can help your child feel accomplished and motivated to continue.
Reward charts such as a sticker chart can be helpful for providing more long term motivation. Add a sticker each day that he or she completes e-learning, with a picture of your child’s choice of weekend reward at the end. A trip to the beach, movie night, or ice cream for dessert are great incentives for helping your child tackle the virtual school week!
Seek Additional Help When Needed
If you still have concerns with your active child’s ability to stay focused during e-learning, seek an evaluation with a specialist. A Speech-Language Pathologist can evaluate your child in a variety of areas, including possible difficulties with executive functioning (planning, organization, and execution of tasks). An Occupational Therapist can help with concerns of sensory processing disorders or deficits in fine motor skills.TherapyWorks provides Speech, Occupational, Feeding, and Physical Therapy, in-person in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois and nationwide via teletherapy.