Distance Learning Ready:
Suggestions From an Occupational Therapist on Helping Your Child Stay Engaged
When I reached out to my son Jacob’s Occupational Therapist, Danielle Cesarz, for her recommendations on what might support Jacob with distance learning, I was blown away by her insight and suggestions. I realized this was information that could help all parents, not just those whose children are differently-wired. So, I asked if I could share her perspective on the Mother’s Quest Blog and she said yes! Hope these ideas support your children as you begin this school year. Have some ideas of your own to share? Leave them in the comments or come on over to the Mother’s Quest Facebook Group and share with us there!
The COVID- 19 pandemic has impacted all facets of life: how we go about our daily activities, the way we work, our ability to parent, and our children’s development. Soon, our homes will become classrooms again. Our dining room table will transform back into our child’s desk. Our outdoor space will equate to the playground. As an OT, I have many parents asking me, “How do I set my child up for success with distance learning at home?” “What kinds of OT tools will help my child stay regulated, focused and engaged?
Learning is a social phenomenon. Kids benefit most from in-person learning because of the social emotional and sensory motor affordances it provides. There are silver linings, however, to learning at home. And right now it serves us well to engage in positive thinking.
A true silver lining to learning at home is the flexibility that it allows. Your children can write while standing up at a kitchen counter. They can listen to a ZOOM read aloud with their most favorite stuffie nestled in their lap. They can chew gum while completing their math worksheets. They can keep their most comfortable pajama bottoms that have holes in them on all day. They can squeeze playdough or a squishy ball fidget without distracting their peers. They can crunch on ice while working. They can blast the Hamilton sidetrack to get their creative “writing” ideas flowing.
Taking breaks throughout the day may no longer require special permission. They can take as long as they need to complete their written work without the pressure or comparison to their faster paced peers. They can school outside in the fresh air if they desire. And let the sound of the birds and the feel of the breeze calm their nervous systems. They can lower the lights in their room to calm their minds. They can pet their dog or cat to lower their heart rate while listening to a lecture. They can crunch on chips or sink their teeth into fresh fruit at a moment’s notice. They can re-apply roll-on essential oil to their wrist before a test. Schooling at home allows incredible flexibility to meet your child’s emotional regulation and sensory motor needs.
To my older daughter’s deep disappointment, I am not advocating that your child lie in bed to engage in school. Quite the contrary, as an OT, I am making some of the following recommendations to my families:
- Offer flexible seating to increase your child’s engagement and focus. Invest, if possible, in a swivel desk chair, wobble stool, inflatable ball, wedge seat cushion, or a portable lap desk. Show your child pictures online. Ask them what their preferences may be.
- Allow your child to change body positions throughout the day
- Use oral sensory input such a ice water, chewing gum, crunchy and chewy snacks to optimize arousal level
- Play preferred music while working.
- Per the recommendation of my younger daughter I stress the importance of maintaining a calm arousal level yourself. Co-regulation is KEY! As parents we need to provide empathy during stress, try to maintain a stable and safe environment with structured routines and logical consequences and model what it looks like to be calm and regulated.
- Take breaks as needed
- Kids need to move to learn. Build in a variety of movement breaks throughout the day. Kids need frequent exercise and movement to support their ability to attend and self-regulate. Ideas include:
- Do jumping jacks
- Log Roll
- Animal Walks
- Run outside
- Go for a walk
- Take a bike or scooter ride
- Ball play
- Spin (in both directions)
- Hippety Hop
- Go for a hike
- Hula hoop
- Roll over a therapy ball
- Spend time in nature
- Use structured work-outs or apps like Go Noodle, Cosmic Yoga for Kids, ALO GIVES or Swork- it Kids
In all honesty, am I eager to support my child’s learning at home? No!?! Am I freaking out about how I am going to manage work and parenting? ABSOLUTELY. Do I want my children to go back to school? YES!! There’s no denying that we can’t replace the impact in-person learning has on the development of our children however there is no harm in keeping a positive outlook that we are all in this together, keeping our communities safe and supporting our children with tools to thrive.
Danielle Cesarz, MS, OTR/L
Distance Learning Wish List
Have you listented to this?
Back to School Milestone Hike: My Secret to Starting The School Year Well ✨
In this “Bite-Sized Reflection from Living my E.P.I.C. Life” Minisode I Talk About:
- How/when I learned about the importance of ending well to begin well at the youth development organization Alternatives in Action
- The transformative Milestone Hike Experience I had on my 40th birthday
- How I’ve used the same components of that hike to acknowledge milestones with my son Ryan (we even recorded a podcast episode about one on his 13th birthday!) including Back to School Milestone Hikes
- The ways I have taken that experience to create signature Mother’s Quest opportunities for reflection
- The Back to School Milestone Hike and Reflection Circle I’m offering if you’d like support packing up your lessons from the last chapter before starting a new school year
Hope this supports you or a mother preparing for Back to School in your life!
✨ Back to School Virtual Milestone Hike and Reflection Circle ✨
If you’d like to go on a reflective milestone hike (virtually!) with me by your side, I have three spaces left for this Back to School Circle and one-on-one coaching experience. You can sign up here: www.mothersquest.com/backtoschool