Thursday 22 October, 2020

Meeting your children's needs as they navigate online learning

The coronavirus pandemic has forced tens of thousands of students into remote learning classes.

This, of course, was deemed a necessary step to control the spread of this virus and keep us all safe. 

Initially, this abrupt restriction caused a vortex of spiked fear and panic coupled with trauma and confusion but now some students report feeling demotivated, despondent, and isolated while others have told me that they absolutely love their online classes to the point of hoping never to attend a traditional class ever again. 

Both in-class and online learning classes offer live instruction whereby the teacher is able to present material to a classroom of students. They also offer some form of assessment such as tests, projects, and assignments.

For my clients who have said that they enjoy online learning, they appreciate the asynchronous classes (a.k.a. independent study classes) where they do not have to work at the rigorous pace of an in-person class. 

They are also able to review slides or visual prompts as often as they need to without being forced to move onto a different topic before they are ready. 

Other clients have said that they do not feel as though their attentional control is taxed as much since they have a mixture of live tutoring as well as the opportunity for independent work. 

Some students have told me they appreciate no longer having the stress of competition in class. They are not burdened with the daily fear of being teased about their grades or taunted because they have to stay in to finish work that most of the others in class have already completed.

I have had clients who have told me that they used to wake up every day with a sense of dread due to their fear of public scrutiny. As such, they now feel a sense of relief that they are by themselves, in a safe space at home. They do not have to grapple with their anxiety when forced to speak in front of others. Instead, they can simply turn off their screens or fade into the background. 

For those of my clients who struggle with social anxiety, the fear of public humiliation, embarrassment or shame has been significantly lessened so that their attention can be solely focused on the task of learning.

Conversely, I have had clients, of varying ages, who are struggling with online classes. 

Several have told me that they grieve for their old way of life and routine.  I have heard from several young people say that they struggle to stay motivated each and every day.

One youngster explained to me that in class he “could go up to Miss to get help” and was upset that he “can’t do this now”.  Another child told me “at home I can turn off my screen and walk around, in class there is no way I could do that. I have to listen”. 

One of my clients also confided that she usually did not speak up in class because she is shy but that she would often learn from others asking questions, chatting about the topic and “Miss” explaining the topics to her neighbours.  She longed for the sense of belonging to a class, for her friends and for the connection to her teacher.

One major complaint from some of my clients is that their learning style does not mesh with online teaching.  For those who learn though movement (kinesthetic), the auditory presentation of work has been taxing, tedious and outright torturesome.

They stare at screens for hours on end, taking in about one fifth of what is being taught while looping on catastrophic thoughts and escape plans. For some the direct transference of curriculum to screens without the balance of exciting visuals, experiential learning as well as interaction has left them feeling robbed and disenchanted.  They feel as though the expectations of parents and teachers is at a level that is unrealistic and unfair, so they dodge or avoid where possible.

The transformation of the home-based classroom has been difficult for some to process and accept, especially when there are several children sharing the same space.  I remember students sharing that their siblings are their “biggest stress” and that they “can’t get away” from the constant nagging and criticism of their parents. 

Some have said that they feel like they “can’t do anything right”. Moreover, to add fuel to the fire, others have told me they miss their parents. They long for the hugs, comfort, and love.  They have told me they no longer have anyone to go to for support since their parents have become their teachers and principals. 

For a few of my clients, school offered an appreciated respite from the stress at home. If there was chaos between family members, at least they could escape during the day. For others, school meant a meal, someone to talk to or a kind word from an adult.  With online classes at home, there is a sense of flooding or the experience of multiple stresses at one time, which is too much to bear. Neglect, abuse (verbal and physical) as well as fear have become common place.

So, what can we do to support our children with online learning?

Firstly, we have to ensure that our children have the proper technology and know how to use it.  I have had one child complain to me that at school, she simply handed in her work at the end of the period so that the extra steps of taking pictures and uploading can be tedious and confusing.  If your child is having difficulty with remembering the steps, write them down on cue cards which could be easily referenced. If more assistance is necessary, contact your teacher for additional information.

Remember at school, desks and chairs are usually proportionate to the students’ physical statures.  Observe your children. Are they dangling their legs? Do you have them on swivel chairs where they are spinning for most of the sessions? Do their arms rest comfortably on the desk or are you using the dining room table which may be too large?  The less discomfort experienced, the more attention they will have for learning and retention.

Have your child be part of the ‘school-time’ routine. Ask them to recall the class rules so that you can write them down together and put them up in an easily accessible place.  This is to remind them to abide by the same expectations which their teachers have reinforced.  This will also allow them to feel empowered by not only providing you with information but also setting their parameters.  Ask them what movement breaks they would like for the day. For example, on Mondays it may be five minutes of yoga or on Tuesdays it may be jumping jacks.  Make it fun but ensure that your child is part of the plan.

Ask your child what he or she misses the most about in-class learning. This will give you insight into what the main issues are for her.   For example, if she says she misses the conversations in class about work, it may be that she is missing the experience of class or that she is an experiential learner.  Get creative with learning, especially since you can take advantage of the freedom of movement which she could not do in class.  If your child is fidgety, arrange your space so that she can stand and read or work on her computer while standing or rocking. This may give her the physical stimulation needed for alertness as well as meet her movement needs.  Use anagrams, sing songs for learning (such as multiplication tables), or do cartwheels/dance moves when revising. Some children may benefit from the use of fidget-toys which they are able to use at home once it does not cause more of a distraction. Most importantly, discover your child’s learning style. Once you know why, you will be better equipped to find solutions.

Remember to keep in constant contact with your teachers. They would be able to let you know whether assignments are missing, whether your child is interacting or even if he is keeping his screen on to show participation.  Supervision needs may also vary. Some children may require constant supervision while others are much more independent. Regardless, your child needs to acknowledge your presence and be accountable for his or her actions.  Tardiness, missed assignments or opposition should be met with discussion and understanding; however, allow your child to experience the natural consequence of her action so that she is able to learn valuable life lessons. 

Try to facilitate social support where possible. See if you can establish a safe ‘pod’ of children to call on for social interaction. Network with safe, responsible parents who can take turns having children for brief playdates where they can talk and engage in safe, play activities.

Most importantly, tie hard work to success.  A naturally high IQ will not guarantee that your child will achieve but consistency and effort will.  Point out their victories when they are not able to and allow them to see the steps they took to attain their goals. Remind them that mistakes are fine because they allow for learning. Persistence, resilience, and courage are our watchwords. But most of all, remember that first and foremost we are parents. Our children will go on to have other teachers but there will always be just one you. The bond between parent and child is sacred. Remind them of their worth but most importantly of your love and commitment to them.

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