As remote learning stretches into months, children and parents are seeing increased levels of stress, and families are experiencing meltdowns and anxiety at greater levels. With distance education continuing for the foreseeable future, we need to readdress our efforts for social/emotional learning and build more structure and organization for ourselves and children during this difficult time. Over winter break parents and caregivers have an opportunity to take a deep breath, slow down, and address some of the difficult issues we faced during the last several months.
Consider some of these tips:
Create schedules that are clear and posted for easy access. Use pictures, dry erase/chalk boards, magnets or anything that will be eye-catching and allow for flexibility to move and/or change the schedule. Depending on the age of your child, include them in creating some of the routine. Giving them some control in the process can reduce power struggles and stress.
A successful daily schedule for school-age children might be: Wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, distance learning, lunch, free play/outside, family time, dinner, bedtime routine, bed. Opportunities for your child to participate in creating the schedule could be around free play activities, outside play options, snack options, and family time activities. Younger children may benefit from a “first/then” schedule — as in “first math and then a snack break.” Reducing the schedule in this way can decrease stress and make tasks feel more manageable.
The family time part of your schedule should be priority. Allow your child to choose or suggest some of the activities. Having this time will help bring a sense of stability and comfort that may reduce stress and free up your child’s brain for more effective learning.
Take some time to assess what is working in your child’s learning space and common issues that have caused frustration during academic time. Consider new ways of organizing the environment to address issues you identify. For instance, an organizer, like one used for silverware, can keep pencils, scissors, rulers, etc. handy at all times. Consider a variety of seating options (bean bag, pillows, chairs), and trays, baskets, or accordion files for organizing.
You can find many ideas on Pinterest to create organizational systems. Just remember, make it functional and keep your child’s specific needs in mind. The space should be free of clutter, well lit, with a place for everything. If appropriate, let your child help in the process of making their space work better for them.
Supporting social-emotional learning
Attending to the social-emotional needs of our children is exceptionally challenging during these times. In times of stress, remember that your child looks to you, observes your reactions, and uses this information to develop social-emotional skills. Recognize your own emotions and describe feelings, talk about how you cope (taking deep breaths, a break, a walk, etc.). Identify the strategies that make your child feel safe and relaxed. Create a “choice board” with pictures of these strategies. This can be as simple as printed pictures of calming choices available in your home, such as taking deep breaths, a designated “safe place” to be alone, a stuffed animal to have during learning time, or a fidget toy. Pictures could be posted or moved from place to place as needed. You can always be creative, but it doesn’t have to take a lot of time or be fancy to be effective. If you are unfamiliar with the idea of a “safe place,” Dr. Becky Bailey’s ConsciousDiscipline.com website offers more details and provides ideas for creating a calming space.
Our children thrive in structured, predictable, and highly organized environments. We’ve had the luxury of sharing this immense responsibility with teaching professionals in brick-and-mortar learning environments. Now that this structure has shifted, the responsibility falls heavily on families. We have to look at routine and organization in our homes differently, and learn how to respond to behaviors related to this shift. While we can’t recreate the school environment, we can adjust the level of support we provide.
Yes, this is hard! Take a deep breath, you are not alone, you’ve got this.
Tiffany Copeland is an EI/ECSE Coordinator with the IMESD, a partner of the Blue Mountain Early Learning Hub which works to bridge early childhood resources and prepare children for kindergarten. For more information visit www.bluemountainearlylearninghub.org.