Creating a learning environment for children during social distancing
UOPX Dean of the College of Education shares tips on ways to ease anxiety by setting expectations.
Remember those difficult mornings of the past, rushing to get everyone ready for the day? There was a rhythm to it: Wake up, brush teeth, get dressed, pack lunches, eat breakfast, check backpacks — then out the door for another day of school and work. It was hectic, but predictable. Now this familiar routine has been completely upended by the social distancing we must practice during the coronavirus pandemic.
Needless to say, this disruption combined with the ever-present fear of contracting the illness itself can be extremely anxiety-inducing, and children are not immune to these feelings. As natural learners, children absorb much more than we may assume, including our worries, said Dr. Pamela Roggeman, Dean of the College of Education, University of Phoenix. We can help quiet their fears and ease anxiety by being intentional about our days.
“Kids emotionally rely on their routine. It gives them a sense of security,” Dr. Roggeman said. “So when we disrupt that routine, regardless of whether they are 4 or 14, it makes them uneasy.”
As parents we need to recognize this time is hard on our kids. It’s easy to assume they’re enjoying being at home, hanging out and likely seeing this as fun. But children are also having to embrace these sudden changes for an unknown period of time, just like adults. Even children who were once reluctant to go to school may be experiencing a level of anxiety about suddenly having to live and learn in the same environment.
Many adults are still trying to figure out expectations for ourselves at this point and probably haven’t effectively set or communicated expectations to our children. Dr. Roggeman suggests considering the following tips to ease the transition to learning at home and quiet anxiety created by uncertainty:
Set age-appropriate expectations and goals
Our daily schedules are likely much more fluid in these days of social distancing, and that’s okay. Setting expectations and goals doesn’t necessarily equate to a rigid pattern, which would likely just lead to more stress. Dr. Roggeman suggests setting “loose goals” with age-appropriate expectations, then holding children accountable.
Older kids, for example, could establish four loose goals per day. These could be as simple as making their bed, taking a shower, setting aside learning time and setting aside social time. For younger kids, the goals can be even more simple. Maybe set two loose goals for each day, such as setting aside learning time and active time. Talk with your kids about the expectations for the day and involve them in creating a plan to reach their goals.
Kids emotionally rely on their routine. It gives them a sense of security. So when we disrupt that routine, regardless of when they are 4 or 14, it makes them uneasy.
— Dr. Pamela Roggeman
Dean of the College of Education, University of Phoenix
Encourage them to learn about what they love
This is the perfect time for children to hone in on their natural interests and use them as the foundation for building educational opportunities. For instance, if they’re interested in sports, create a research project related to traumatic brain injuries in the NFL. If they play an instrument, ask them to try to learn one of their favorite songs. If they have a favorite band or musical group, ask them to research how much it would cost to go on a trip to see them in concert when the pandemic has subsided. For early learners, Dr. Roggeman suggests expanding story time into an art or science lesson.
Embrace technology for learning and fun
Technology is our friend during this time, for many different reasons. Phones, tablets, laptops and even game consoles are readily available tools to deliver educational materials to our children, or just to connect with friends and family. Continue to allow children access to downtime on their devices, as well, if that’s what they’re used to. That way, their familiar relationship with technology can be used as a vehicle for both learning and fun.
“Kids are constantly learning, that’s why they’re obsessed with their screens. They can research what they’re interested in, it enriches their life,” Dr. Roggeman said. “So even if it doesn’t look like a text or reading a book when they’re going down a YouTube rabbit hole, they are learning all the time.”
Arm them with an age-appropriate understanding of the coronavirus
When talking with your kids about the coronavirus, you can use these same learning techniques as mentioned above. Have them learn about the history of pandemics through research, or have them find an educational podcast to listen to and then write a response. Younger children can learn about the spread of germs with a science experiment using balloons and glitter that can be found through a search on the Internet. Dr. Roggeman said these are good ways to inform kids about the coronavirus pandemic in a way that is empowering rather than frightening.
Even during times of uncertainty, children have a natural inclination to learn. Use that to help them continue learning. This approach can fill a void they likely feel from having to quickly embrace learning a whole different way and will help create a new sense of normalcy.