The coronavirus pandemic has uprooted the way we look at and interact with the world, including our families, friends, and social lives. This pandemic, which has affected millions of people in the United States and other places, including Florida, China and Italy, has changed the way we think and learn, and has forced many people to think outside of the box to live more safely as well as provide the right type of educational options for our country’s students, who are not only struggling to make sense of all that is going on in their world, but are also trying to adjust to this new way of living, which often involves learning approaches that many are not accustomed to. Also, students with different learning styles and backgrounds have been practically forced into online learning due to social distance restraints being placed upon them and the schools they attend, and many families are at a loss for exactly how to properly educate and support their children during this difficult time.
The following are some ways in which children and young adolescents can be supported during this transition into online learning, with special consideration for families working with younger children, and children with special learning needs:
1. Work with the school your child attends to see if any educational devices, including computers or laptops, can be provided for your child or children for the duration of online learning classes. This equipment will be vital and essential to the success of your child or children’s educational learning outcomes, and the right type of equipment must also be considered when exploring options with online learning. Also see if the equipment that you have at home is sufficient and reliable for online learning.
2. Make sure you have a reliable internet connection. This will be especially important for logging onto the computer and using the internet service, and having the right kind of connection (example: wired or wireless) can really make a difference for online learning outcomes and success. The most reliable type of internet connection is a direct wired one which uses an Ethernet cable, so this is the most supportive type of connection provided.
3. Make sure the learning environment is comfortable. This includes such considerations as the type of chair that is used for online learning classes, the tools that are available to students and their accessibility, the length of the assignments given for online learning, honoring wait time for each student’s response, and breaks and activities that should be built into the online learning schedule, especially for younger children. Even incorporating virtual group chats or journaling with a focus question each week can be a real benefit to students, and can help teachers ascertain and understand the positive and negative aspects of online learning, and look for common areas of concern amongst students. Also, someone who is proficient in setting up and testing equipment for online teaching and learning, such as a technology instructor or other education professional, can be utilized for this purpose, or teachers can take on additional educational workshops or certifications to learn more about technology integration for all students.
4. Make sure the equipment you are using has been approved for students with special learning needs, such as students who have trouble with speech or language acquisition. There are webcams that have better picture quality that teachers and other education staff can use to support learning with clearer picture resolution above 640p to support learning for students with specialized learning needs.
5. Parents should work with teachers at a convenient time to support all children with the online learning process, especially for younger learners. A great way to support online learning outcomes for all children, especially younger ones, is to have the teacher email the parent a list of sites that will be used for online learning, along with a Home Packet that has a complete list of problems and learning objectives that children will be required to complete. This packet is grade specific, so speak with your child’s teacher(s) in order to receive a copy of this packet and start learning!
6. Keep contact information handy for any school-related service providers, such as counseling or other related services. This will be especially important as children may not understand what is going on, and may need counseling guidance and support to help them make it through this new learning process, or any other difficulties they may experience.
7. Provide an outlet for your child or children to safely express themselves and communicate with others outside of school. This may be in the form or weekly group chats with extended family or friends, by observing religious holidays in unique and creative ways to honor social distancing requirements, or even providing autistic children who have limited verbal capabilities with a felt board comprised of different faces and emotions for daily check-ins to see how students are doing. This is especially important for children who have special needs who may not have other ways of expressing themselves.
8. Include daily or weekly physical activities and games for children and young adolescents to engage in that provides them with needed physical activity to help promote health and also prevent certain health conditions. Online learning can really take a toll on students who are immobile for many hours of the day and are constrained to sitting in one position for too long, so make sure children have the opportunity to engage in some physical activity, such as alphabet yoga, where children make the letters of the alphabet using yoga poses, as this is important to children’s health and well-being. Children and adolescents alike who are engaged in online learning for hours at a time can become susceptible to certain health conditions, so be sure to take breaks and stay well for the online learning process to be a complete success.