The COVID-19 pandemic seems endless. We’re all getting tired of staying at home—and so are our kids. Many school systems have chosen to start the school year virtually to help mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. All of Sheppard Pratt’s 13 special education schools are starting the year online as well.
Luckily, we learned a lot about fostering effective online learning environments when the stay-at-home recommendations rolled out in earnest this spring. To help parents and students alike best get through another semester of digital education, we’ve compiled top tips from our special educators:
- Create (and stick to!) a routine. Children and adolescent thrive off of routine - especially children who have an emotional or learning disability. And, "When given too much down time, adolescent will naturally start to worry more and become anxious when there is so much uncertainty about what is going on around them," says Ronald Lee, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist. Unpredictability can be a breeding ground for anxiety, so control what you can - morning rituals like making the bed, lunch time, and daily physical activity.
- Designate a 'classroom.' If you have the space in your home, designate a room (or part of a room) as the classroom - and use that space for ONLY school activities. Do your best to keep it free of clutter and distractions; perhaps 'classroom clean-up' becomes part of your evening routine (see tip #1). This way, you can keep school life and home life more physically separated.
- Schedule physical activity each day. Kids need an outlet for letting off steam - especially when they are in front of a device all day, and don't get to stretch their legs walking from classroom to classroom. Think of it as 'recess' - an ingrained part of the daily school schedule. Physical activity can be as simple as a family walk around the neighborhood, or a pick-up soccer game in the backyard.
- Look for learning opportunities outside of the classroom. When kids are outside of the virtual 'classroom,' opportunities for engaging with their surroundings and tapping into their creative side abound! Whether you're finger painting al fresco or going on a scavenger hunt in the woods, the options are endless.
- Find a 'parent safe space.' At my school, we are developing virtual 'support groups' for parents - a place for them to 'gather,' share their experiences, hear one another's challenges, and get tips and ideas from the administration team and behavioral services team. If your school isn't offering this, check out online social networks like Facebook and NextDoor for opportunities.
- Above all else, go easy on yourself and your child! If an activity is too challenging, or something just isn't 'sticking' today, know that it happens. It's OK to take a break or to come back to an activity another day. Remember that this is a new and weird learning environment, and not everything works for every child! In the words of Ignacio Estrada, "If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn."
Searching for the right special education school for your child? Sheppard Pratt operates more than a dozen Type I and Type II nonpublic special education schools all throughout Maryland.