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Learning in the time of COVID-19 by Lotti Kershaw

With the transition to learning at home for most children, parents are now supporting their remote learning and education at home. We need to understand that what we are doing isn’t the traditional idea of homeschooling, which usually provides social opportunities, excursions, and is very connected.

We should be mindful that we are in a very stressful time. Children may be hearing the messages and seeing the news, or even if they’re too young to understand what is happening, they know life is different now, and may even be picking up on anxieties from the rest of the family. The current situation far from normal and is difficult for the whole family, and even for your child’s teachers.

Teachers are doing an amazing job to provide and deliver the learning remotely, we are now our children’s education support. As an educator, parent and former education support worker, there are a few things in my toolkit that I would like to share with you to help you support your children during remote learning.

A stressed child is unable to learn

Education support workers in schools understand that learning is impaired when a child is stressed. This is because at times of heightened stress, their nervous system goes into fight, flight or freeze. If your child is getting distressed, it’s important not to judge them for their behaviour. Behaviour is a form of communication and they may be communicating their stress, frustration or anxiety. It is our job to bring them back down to a level of calm.

Help them regulate their emotions ready for learning.

Everyone processes things in a different way. Your child may be a little more clingy than usual. This is natural as they are searching for reassurance. Listen to them and validate their emotions. Help them to understand that their feelings are normal in the circumstances.

Temporarily removing the demands on the child can help if they are anxious or upset. You can distract them with another activity, deep breathing, mindfulness or grounding technique. An easy one is “name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste”.

Be led by your child as to how they prefer to be calmed. They may prefer a break in a quiet area or getting out in the fresh air and doing some movement activities. Learn to recognise your child’s triggers and preferences, and be proactive. Make up a “stress first aid kit” with some things that calm them and allow them to choose. Be careful not to make this too motivating, it should be for de-escalation only. If they ask for it frequently, you can build in extra breaks.

Help them feel safe and secure

It is important to make sure your child feels safe and secure. Create a calm and safe environment at home. Clutter and noise can make it difficult to concentrate, so work together to create a clear and quiet space for learning.

Start the day with a mood activity, for example ask them to choose an emoji or superhero to match how they are feeling. You can use this after temporary stress breaks too.

Choosing a family bonding activity can help them feel secure. This can be as simple as making breakfast together or planning what is for dinner. Children will often talk about things when they are at their most relaxed. Listen to them and give them the opportunity and time to express their feelings, especially if there has been conflict.

Add in processing time during learning or when giving instructions. Stress or anxiety can make it harder to think clearly.

Use Routines

Familiarity and routines can reassure them and help them to feel safe. Try and replicate some of their school life routine at home.

Knowing what will happen throughout the day can help reinforce the sense of security. A schedule can allow them see what to expect at a glance. Don’t feel you have to stick rigidly to it, use it as a guide, but be careful about making alterations or removing items, and give your child advance warning of any changes.

Stress can also interrupt their executive functioning skills, making it harder for them to get organised for learning. Introducing a routine means they don’t have to always remember what to do, as they have cues from the routine you have created.

Give your child choice and control

By giving a child choices and options, and allowing them to participate in daily planning, this will contribute to their feeling of safety. Involve them in putting together a schedule and let them decide on their free time and exercise activities (you could create a shortlist of options).

Allow them to choose from lunch and snack options. Having some autonomy will help them to feel in control and give them some security.

If your child doesn’t have a set school timetable to follow, let them decide which learning activities they want to begin with. If they do the fun or the easy stuff first, this may help them to build momentum to tackle the harder or less interesting tasks.

Look for the child’s strengths

Your child’s strengths may be academic, creative or they may be soft skills such as being organised, listening, being flexible or keeping positive. They are currently showing resilience in adapting to their new situation, this is a strength. No matter how small, encourage, praise and highlight their skills and strengths, and build on them when they are learning. Use them to guide their learning activities, build new skills and tackle challenges.

This will give them a sense of success and help them feel more positive and in control.

Maintain your child’s social network

Children may be missing their friends, extended family and teachers. Take time out as a family to do fun activities, read a book or play a game together. Help them to keep in touch with family and friends on the phone or over the internet. There are so many options for online video calling – FaceTime (for Apple users), Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, Discord, even WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Many of these have a minimum age of 13 to use, but you could set up a family account that you can all use, and supervise them according to their age.

Keep in touch with their teachers too. It is likely their teachers will check in from time to time, but you can always email them, especially if your child requires assistance or support with their schoolwork.

Your child may wish to express themselves. You could encourage them to write a letter to a friend or give them a notebook they can use as a diary.

Maintain trust and a positive relationship with your child.

It is important that we talk to our children about what is happening, in an age appropriate way. We should aim to build trust with our children, they are relying on us right now. They know things are different, they can see and sense the changes. If you try and hide it or pretend there is nothing wrong, they may feel a little insecure or anxious.

Being clear in your instructions and expectations will ensure there are no misunderstandings. We should be honest and upfront about any changes and what to expect, and keep the lines of communication open if they wish to talk. Express your own feelings and talk about how you deal with them.

Create healthy boundaries and keep promises, or if you can’t keep a promise, explain why. Transparency can help to maintain your child’s trust. Be consistent in your behaviour management and regulate your own emotions. If you find this difficult, build an extra break or outlet into your day. It is tough, not to mention unrealistic, to be able to keep it together all the time.

Look after your own mental health

A stressed adult is unable to support a stressed child. This is not a normal situation. It is important that we remain calm ourselves, as our body language and tone can escalate the situation and exacerbate their feelings of stress.

Take care of your mental and physical health, ensure you are getting enough sleep, eating well and having some downtime. This may be tricky, but try and build it in around your family’s routine. ABC TV have some educational TV programs and there are plenty of ideas for entertaining and educating your children in my web directory (see links below) which will allow you to step back for a few minutes without feeling guilty.

And whatever works for your children and for you is fine.

Useful links

Ideas to entertain and educate – https://learningmentor.com.au/listing-category/entertain-educate/

There are several resources for children to explain COVID-19. We have listed some here – https://learningmentor.com.au/listing-category/covid-19-coronavirus/

Commonsense Media has some tips for using online video calling apps – www.commonsensemedia.org

Bio

Lotti Kershaw is a parent, community educator, digital literacy and life skills tutor, and former integration aide with a passion for learning. She is chief curator and blogger at www.learningmentor.com.au

Home Learning Mentor was set up to help parents as they prepare to take the role of supporting their children’s learning while schools are closed or while self-isolating.

Life in isolation for Lotti consists of juggling work and home learning with a teen and a tween, daily roller skating, piano practice, baking yummy treats, and sharing memes and puzzles in her Facebook group for parents of teens.

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