By Jillian E. Gismondi MA LPC NCC
Currently, many parents throughout the Metro Detroit area are wondering how their child’s school year will begin – virtually, in person or a hybrid approach.This unknown approach is leaving parents feeling stressed, overwhelmed and unsure of what is best for their family. However, as each day creeps closer to the start of school, it feels as though many districts are announcing a move toward virtual learning for the first semester.
If your child’s district has chosen a virtual learning environment, or if you have elected that environment, below are some tools to help your children thrive.
Designated Learning Environment – Previously, children would physically move from their home to a school in order to be in the learning mindset. With virtual learning, home and school are blended. To create that designation for a child, it is important to have a room, or part of a room, within the house be the “learning environment.” This can include a desk, school supplies and personalized touches (e.g. posters, pictures, etc.) While a child may request to have their room or bed be the learning environment, this can create distractions and not help set the child up for success. Also, when selecting the learning environment, be certain there is a consistent and reliable internet connection.
Consistent, Structured Schedule – The child’s school will provide a schedule of meetings and live instruction time. Outside of the school structure, parents can create a secondary structure for their child. This can include, but isn’t limited to, classwork time, study time, lunch time, bedtime and time spent with friends. It may be tempting for parents and children to become lax in regards to bedtime. If your child isn’t getting sufficient sleep, there is going to be reduced school performance. It is recommended families maintain suitable and regular bedtime for their child. Also, a large part of a child’s school experience is building interpersonal and social skills. With a child doing virtual learning, he/she is not able to experience this portion of the day. In order to continue moving a child’s developmental growth forward, schedule frequent social distancing interactions with peers.
Reducing Screen Use – Children will be using screens daily for their virtual learning, this will naturally increase the amount of time that a child spends looking at a screen each day. When the child isn’t on the screen, encourage a reduction of phone use and/or video games. This can come with a reward, such as the child is allotted one additional hour per day of a screen. Yet if the child completes different chores, an additional 20 minutes could be earned. If the child needs additional time spent on particular subjects, consider buying learning books and completing the work with paper and pencil.
Maintain Normalcy – The start of the school year brings about mixed feelings for children and their families. It is an unknown experience that can bring about anxiety and happiness. Allow your child to take part in setting up their designated learning area — whether it is new pens, pencils, folders, or notebooks. Support your child in identifying what will make the start of the school year feel more comfortable.
Be Creative – Each family has their own unique routine and practices. What works for one family, may not work for another. If a suggested practice doesn’t work, be creative and make adjustments to suit your child. The virtual learning environment is flexible, which allows families to create their own version of the environment.
Above all, it is important for parents to model their own feelings about the return to school. Both child and parent are experiencing their own levels of anxiety and uncertainty regarding this transition. Encourage your child to share his/her feelings and experiences. It is helpful for parents to also share their own fears, anxieties and uncertainties regarding the transition.