You could almost hear the collective sigh of caregivers from around Victoria yesterday afternoon with the announcement that students are likely to continue remote learning for the rest of Term 3. We know for many juggling home life, work, and facilitating remote learning in incredibly challenging. Just like you, many of our therapists are experiencing the same juggle, and we are walking alongside you, hand in hand.
For some, remote learning has been a gift of extra family time, and you’re finding it is running smoothly, but for others, we recognise this is a time of increased stress.
Below are some ideas to help you navigate your remote learning journey. Some of these tips may be new to you, some of them you may already have in place. If you are finding this time challenging, please reach out to your child’s health care team. We are here ready to support you and your family.
The school environment is a naturally structured environment, with all students following the embedded school routine, and picking up on the behaviours and actions modelled by their peers around them. It is not possible to replicate the physical and social aspects of the school environment, but you can integrate some degree of structure to your schooling day. Keep in mind that many children process visual information more efficiently than aural, so depending on your child’s needs, write down a daily schedule or use visual images to create a predictable routine.
On a typical school morning, your child will be exposed to natural daylight at the start of the school day while they wait for the bell, and during recess and lunchtime. Exposure to natural light, particularly in the morning, helps to reset our circadian rhythm which in turn supports the production of Melatonin- a naturally occurring hormone that helps us wind down and fall asleep. If you aren’t already, try incorporating time for play or exercise outdoors just as they would on a typical school day.
You may find it helpful to prepare ahead for the following school day and engage your child in this process. Each evening, have them assist you in setting up their learning environment, their snacks and their schedule. Allow them to make simple choices, so they know they have some choice and control in what is happening around them. They may then start the day feeling on top of the simple things. To help them get in the zone, consider having them wear their school uniform or part thereof to help them make linkages between remote learning and their school environment.
Have clear expectations all around…
It is not realistic to expect your child to be able to replicate their behaviours and productivity when learning in the home environment…because it isn’t school…and this is ok. Check-in with your expectations of your child during this time, aim to have clear daily goals and keep things simple. And check in with your expectations of yourself…remember your role is to facilitate learning, not to replace your child’s teacher. Identify ways you can take the pressure off yourself and your student/s because it will create a more harmonious household now and for the remainder of the term.
Re-assess your child’s learning environment if you are experiencing some difficulty engaging them. Are key distractions out of sight (think visual and auditory stimuli)? Do they have an adequate desk and chair set up? (Do their feet reach the floor comfortably? Do their arms rest of the table comfortably?)Do they have sufficient lighting? Do they have all of their supplies in arms reach? If you’re having trouble identifying whether or not your child’s learning environment is appropriate, your occupational therapist can easily assess this and provide supportive recommendations through a telehealth appointment.
More than ever, brain breaks (movement breaks!) are incredibly important because we know that sitting in front of a screen for extended periods is exhausting! Build-in regular brain breaks as part of the structure of your day. Think about brain breaks which are meaningful and fun to your child. A yoga break? A colouring break? A few laps of the backyard on their bike? A quick board game with you? Try as much as possible to aim for a screen-free time during your brain breaks. Encourage your child to stretch the muscles in their eyes by focusing on things at a further away from them. Going outside is perfect for this!
These can be perfect to help keep your child on track, and even as a motivator sometimes. When structuring your child’s day, consider alternating preferred and non-preferred activities in their routine. Use a timer to help them transition between the two to make this process a little easier.
Just Right Challenge
Remote learning is challenging for even the brightest students. If your child is finding their schoolwork challenging, it is incredibly important that you communicate this with their teachers. We want to aim for a ‘just right challenge’- activities which are challenging enough that they will expand on their learning of that concept or skill, but not so challenging that they will want to avoid the activity altogether. If you are receiving a lot of push back from your child- check-in with their teacher to identify ways in which the activity can be modified to suit their learning needs.
Acknowledge and Validate
Your child is likely feeling an incredible range of mixed emotions, and most likely has for some time now. Living through a global pandemic is a big deal, and the unpredictable nature of it makes it all that more challenging. Your role as a caregiver is to be there to support them through their rollercoaster of emotions. Let them know that you are right there with them by acknowledging and validating their feelings, no matter how small they may seem. By doing this, you are telling your child that their feelings are real and important, and showing them that you are there to support them. Help your child name their feelings…name them to tame them!
Reset and Restart
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, the day just doesn’t go to plan. You can have the best set up environment, and the best preparation and structure- but this does not always guarantee smooth sailing. If you experience a particularly challenging time, be sure to wash it off at the end of the day and remember that tomorrow is a new day. Sometimes hitting reset is helpful, this can be as simple as mixing up where your child is sitting for their remote learning or creating a new routine.
Above all, remember that you are not alone. Your child’s health care team is here ready to support you and your family.
Be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and hang in there. You have got this.