All around the country, kids are gearing up to go back to school. But this is far from a normal school year. Here in Austin, where COVID cases have been on a decline, several of the districts chose to delay the start of the school year by two weeks and then only offer virtual instruction for the first four weeks of class. Any in-person instruction is still up in the air, though the Texas Education Agency says schools must offer in-person classes. It’s all a waiting game at this point.
If your family is doing virtual school right now, as ours is, you want to make the best of it—both for your children and for your own sanity. Don’t get me wrong, things are definitely weird and emotional and hard, but as the parent, I’m trying to stay as positive about at-home learning as I can.
To help everyone out (including myself), we talked to Allie Ticktin, who has her doctorate in occupational therapy and is the founder of Play 2 Progress, a play-based learning system for kids 0 to 4 that emphasizes the importance of sensory development and the power of play. I was thrilled she answered my questions on how to set children up for virtual school success.
Keep scrolling to read her advice, and then let me know in the comments what your family is doing for school this semester. I’d love to hear!
Play 2 Progress is for kids 4 and under. Do young kids need virtual schooling?
That’s why we created this program. A lot of preschool age kids are home right now, and prerecorded classes don’t help them socially and emotionally. We are a play-based learning center that has gone virtual. We engage kids through their parents via live classes, which are really fun and engaging and teach parents to help kids with development, movement, play, and sensory learning. In addition to classes for the kids, our monthly membership includes unlimited access to P2P experts, workshops and support groups for parents to help them navigate this strange time.
What are the virtual schooling basics every parent should know?
Don’t just put your kids at the kitchen table, if you can help it. Ideally, you want them in a desk that fits them and in a chair that puts their knees at 90 degrees and makes them eye level to the computer. (See below for some affordable desk and chair options.) Having a separate learning area also helps kids distinguish your expectations of them when they are in school. Having that transition from the rest of the home to a special area helps them understand what they need to do when.
There are lots of funny memes of kids who do not look happy to be doing virtual school. What can parents do to help their children succeed?
Just like adults at a conference, at a certain point kids are done. At school, they are moving from class to class, recess, lunch, natural breaks in the day. It isn’t natural for small kids to be sitting in front of a computer for two-plus hours straight a day, so the best thing you can do is give them lots of movement breaks. Have multiple seating options, like a yoga ball chair or standing up, make sure there are plenty of snacks nearby, and I always recommend having a basket of fidgets too. Let them play with a squish ball, weighted ball, or a fan while they listen to the teacher. Anything to help them focus.
If kids do have a break in their schedule, should they go outside and run around?
The natural inclination is for kids to run, but that actually brings their energy up vs. down. Instead, you want them to work their muscles through heavy movements, which will increase their attention spans. We use heavy work because it is proprioceptive input, which is organizing and helps a child’s body to calm, whereas fast vestibular input (i.e. swinging and running around in circles, which is what kids tend to do) is more alerting. If a child runs around in circles or spins on a swing for 15 minutes and then is asked to focus on a Zoom, they may be more dysregulated. Have them climb, bike, or jump on a trampoline instead of running.
What about high schoolers?
They naturally have longer attention spans, but they still need breaks. Running is good for them, as well as walking, and biking. They need activity to break up their day a bit, so make sure they add that to their schedules. If they don’t have the time to leave home, have them do push-ups or yoga poses.
What can parents do if things aren’t going well?
Kids are resilient, so even if virtual learning doesn’t go as great as you planned, they will be fine. Once everyone is back to normal school, teachers will figure everything out—they are living through this weird time, too. So right now, you just have to do what works best for your family.