by Sarah Uzzi, G’21, school psychology
Among the many changes that the pandemic has brought into our lives, some people have spent the last several weeks facing the challenge of teaching their children or younger siblings. Even with classroom teachers providing lots of content, guidelines, and virtual meetings and office hours, the task of helping our children learn can feel overwhelming to both you and your young one(s). Trying to keep a young child occupied and learning throughout the day – especially without the usual diversions of playgroups, play dates, and regular outings – can be daunting. But it can be done!
As a student finishing up my second year in the Saint Rose graduate program for school psychology, I’ve studied the development of children, theories of learning, and ways to support children’s mental health. I recently completed my 240-hour practicum, in which I spent two days per week at Stillwater Elementary School to gain a better understanding of how children learn, and how to support their learning. In addition, both my parents work in education, and I’ve witnessed the strategies and resources they’ve developed to help children keep learning during this unprecedented time.
Here are a few tips to help your day go smoother.
Pause. Breathe. The first thing you can do is stop and take a deep breath. Whether you feel it or not, this stressful event can be affecting you cognitively, emotionally, and physically. Kids are most likely experiencing the same effects, so you can guide them in their own deep-breathing exercises.
Celebrate successes. Remember that, like everyone else, children were not prepared for the transition to online learning. In addition, it may be hard for them to understand why we had to change so many things in our daily lives, and they may miss seeing their classmates and friends more than adults do. Asking them to learn and complete work in an environment with increased stressors and anxiety is asking for a lot. The best thing to do during this time is to focus on the everyday successes, no matter how small.
Chunk it. Staring at a screen for several hours at a time can be hard on the body. It can also get really old, really fast. It is important to break up the day in order to keep children engaged. This method is called chunking.
Chunking out the day can give structure and routine that children are craving. With younger kids, having them work on activities or homework for 20-minute intervals, with 5-minute breaks (or longer, if you think it works best for your child), can make information easier to process and remember.
Throwing a lot of information at a child at once can be overwhelming, and they may not retain as much as you would like them to. Chunking out learning time will make information manageable and give them frequent breaks. Have them enjoy a snack and wash their hands during some of the breaks!
Be creative. Learning at home means that kids can learn about their core academic subjects using things that are relevant and meaningful to them. You can help your child study in unique ways!
For example, you can ask your child to find patterns on their bedroom rug or on their comforter. They can experiment with sounds by banging on different-sized pots and pans, empty oatmeal boxes or yogurt containers, even table tops (or show them how to make stem glasses ring).
They can learn about their environment by studying the different types of plants they have in their own backyard. It may be fun to go on a scavenger hunt to try and find different objects that spell out the alphabet. Kids can even make volcanos and slime out of common household items.
If they’re old enough to write letters, they can write thank-you notes to first responders, healthcare workers, and other essential workers in the community. They can also write cards and letters to relatives, friends, and classmates (maybe they would like to gain some pen pals!).
Remember that children may be more receptive to learning when they have a choice in what activity they are doing. By incorporating supplies that they see and use every day, it may make them more excited to learn and they’ll pick up important academic skills along the way.
Virtual sitters. You may not have the option of physically sitting with your children throughout the day to work with them, especially if you’re juggling work, caring for other family members, running a household, or even your own schoolwork on top of helping your child to learn. Currently, many organizations are offering free online services that are geared towards children. Check out the library, museum, and park websites, as well as business websites with fun interactive videos like GoNoodle.
Professional websites such as the National Association of School Psychologists and the American Psychological Association are also great resources on how to manage you and your children’s mental health while navigating the intricacies of online learning.