So Now What? : Education During a Pandemic

Parents, Educators and School Administrators are beginning to realize that this isn’t a break or a blizzard. Many of them are hitting the ground running, some are laying as low as possible this week and hoping things will settle, a few are immobilized. And every teacher I know or talk to is trying to figure out a strategies. Teachers, you know it is true: You LOVE strategies. And I love you for it. But these are strange times, and if your strategies or lack of them are making you feel stuck, maybe some of this will help. I have my two cents and then a list of resources for you.

First, my two cents, based on working in special education, public education, higher education and clinically over the past 25 years. The most important thing right now for kids right now is to stay calm, connected and establish new flexible routines at home. No homework packets, no busy work to keep them “occupied.” As tempting as this may be to administrators, educators and parents, that does not really lend to good learning, in fact it is this adherence to the status quo that partly got us into this problem to begin with.

  1. Play is OK. There is a wealth of research out there on the benefits of physical and digital play on cognition, visuospatiomotor skills, social emotional learning, and more. Allowing kids to engage in stress-relieving fun will make them better learners, keep them in contact with their peers, & feel mastery at a time when all of us are feeling little.
  2. Look for the embedded learning in the activity. This is different than trying to structure learning too much. When you are able to focus on your child between other things you are doing as a parent or online educator, try to identify what learning is happening with the play activity and maybe share it when the child is done. I say maybe because first and foremost this is for you to reassure you and calm your anxiety that your child or student is falling behind and will end up living in a cardboard box on the highway because they are playing Portal 2 rather than doing math sheets. Instead, watch the game a bit, and ask yourselves, are there things about physics embedded in the game? Does Plants Vs. Zombies have an opportunity to discuss task planning, sequencing, or math skills (hint, it does: all of the above.) Try to see the things that kids are always learning in play. Now don’t interrupt and ruin it.

Ok, I know that’s not enough for many of you. So here’s a list of some things educational innovators are offering for parents, kids and schools as resources for online learning:

From Continuity with Care to Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens–My Internet Responds to COVID-19

Parenting (in RL) during a pandemic

Resources For Teaching and Learning During This Period of Social Distancing

THE COLLECTION :Explore thousands of artworks in the museum’s wide-ranging collection—from our world-renowned icons to lesser-known gems from every corner of the globe—as well as our books, writings, reference materials, and other resources.

Educators can also join one of my free Zoom groups (download free software at (http://zoom.us )

Thursdays 3-4 EST

COVID19 Educator Support: Not tech support. This meeting is to provide psychoeducation and collegial support for educators adjusting their teaching to COVID19

Meeting ID: 906-040-691

Password: 02554

Coping With COVID19: Advice for Parents & Educators

As anticipated, I’ve begun to receive a few communications from therapists, parents and educators about the social distancing impact on them and their children. The first question I get usually is something like “I’m worried about my kid playing too much video games, should I be setting limits on this with them?” I’m going to give you an answer that you may not want to here, but may actually improve mental health.

First, as I mentioned earlier this week, we are all going through an adjustment reaction to a rapidly emerging situation that is impacting everyone you know at the same time. This alone is rare in that usually some of us are not dealing with psychological upheaval when some others are. But this time, whether you are denying, minimizing, remaining guardedly calm, scared, or overreacting, you too are on the same continuum that we all are. So welcome. 😊

Local governments and schools, comprised of similarly recalibrating individuals are doing what they can to get ready for the wave of shut-downs, and this includes for many teachers and kids a break for 2 or more weeks and then perhaps online learning. Many workplaces are closing and reducing hours, which means that families are about to spend more time together in closer quarters with less emotional and financial resources than usual.

So, what can you do?

Here are my suggestions which are based on my work, research and thinking about psychology and technology over the past 25 years:

 

  1. Focus on social distancing (skip ahead if you already have embraced this idea.) This is the most important way we have to #FlattentheCurve and mitigate against higher more rapid infectivity. As has been written at https://staythefuckhome.com/sfw/ the concept of self-quarantine works to mitigate the spread of infectious diseases. We have known this since the 1400s. This is hard on social creatures, and can start to evoke guilt in caregivers. Compassionate ideas like visiting elderly shut-ins in person; babysitting groups and play-dates; local support gatherings are all bad ideas when it comes to a pandemic.
  2. Anticipate but don’t panic. It is very likely that more disturbing information and misinformation will happen in the next several days. If you note the way COVID19 is trending things are going to worse and scarier pretty quickly. Remember this is happening at a pace that is quicker than you may be used to and be prepared to change your mind and recalibrate family rules and limits much more rapidly and often. Be prepared to say, “I know I said X but now that I have more information it is Y, and I’m sorry that we keep changing the rules on you. Building that understanding with your child that things are moving quickly is part of the overarching message “I love you, I’m listening and I’m going to keep you safe.”
  3. Let kids play their games. I have mentioned elsewhere and will include below several posts debunking the common misconceptions that demonize video games. But here let me put it a different way: 2 or more weeks is a long time to be in your home nonstop with your children in a state of embattlement. Video games are a great way to practice social distancing: Kids can talk with their friends online, escape the heightened stress at home or in our communities, and feel a sense of being in control of something. It also provides you with the respite you know you are going to need after a couple of days. Lift restrictions if your authoritative parenting style can handle it. One exception here is helping kids build in 5 minute movement breaks every 45 minutes or so.
  4. Try to see it from their point of view. No matter how much your child or teen loves you, they are used to having several hours a day away from you too. Like you, they find being distracted from family life by work and friends reinvigorating, so please don’t frame this as an opportunity for more quality time. It’s disingenuous and sets everyone up to feel like a failure when the reality of quarantine sets in. Of course if they are open to spend time with you, accept the invitation as they deliver it: Now may be the perfect time for you to finally learn how to play Fortnite with them.
  5. No, YOU go outside and play. Often parents find themselves exhorting kids to go outside when they are secretly yearning for escape themselves. If your child can be left alone safely for a bit, go outside and take a walk, get some fresh air and calm down. You already believe that exercise will do you good, so focus on the one you can control, you! Of course, if your family walks/hikes/runs together and you are not looking for alone time, definitely invite them along with you.
  6. Get in the habit of zooming, calling, texting with others regularly. Your kids may be experts at this, but older family members may need help with the habit or technology. Or you might. Learn how to use Zoom, which is being offered for free for most kids. Call and help other folks learn how to set it up and test drive it. This week is the week to get practice before things get more hectic.
  7. Practice mindfulness games and meditation when possible. My colleague Chris Willard has some excellent suggestions on this here. Don’t force kids to do this though, as it will turn them off. If anything, trust that if they are intently playing a video game they may be engaging in a form of concentration meditation which isn’t bad either.
  8. Confront and redirect the inadvertent demonization of touch. This one is huge. This past week many have become acutely aware of how often they touch their face, or others without asking permission. To control the spread of infection this is crucial, and yet we need to also resist the urge to begin to perceive touch as unnecessary or lethal. Touch and reaching is a part of healthy infant development (Beebee, 2016.) It plays a significant role in focusing attention and attachment security in adolescence (Ito-Jager, 2017.) Children need to touch themselves as part of learning motor imagery (Conson, 2011) body ownership (Hara, 2015) and the assembly of “self” (Salomon, 2017.) Research has shown that adolescents in America already touch each other less and are more aggressive to peers than in another country sampled (Field, 1999); and for all of us touch quite probably helps us with emotional self-regulation (Grunwald, 2014.) Self-touch is a cornerstone of mindfulness and compassion meditation practices. Practice everyday precautions while at the same time but remember that touch is necessary for basic neurological and psychological well-being. Find adaptive ways to continue giving yourselves touch so we do not become a planetwide Harlow monkey experiment.
  9. Special note to educators: Relax your curriculum and pedagogy. Please push back on your administrators on this one. You are all home because there is a global pandemic with all its increased stress and uncertainty; this is not a snow day or break. Kids should be focused on social connection, play and reduced stress. You aren’t going to hit your benchmarks this semester. There, someone finally said it. You can encourage your parents to read to kids, spend more time together, offer fun reading lists or math sites, but please let go of your own overarching expectations and resist any arbitrary ones placed on you as much as possible. If someone starts talking about lesson plans, say “this is a pandemic.” If someone starts talking about kids’ grades, say, “this is a pandemic.” Part of your job as an educator is to educate kids and their families about adjusting in reaction to events, I’m sorry you got stuck with this event, but there you have it.
  10. Pick one or two trusted sources to keep yourself and your kids informed. Two much information overloads kids and adults alike. Most of us don’t need to know what JCPenney or Walmart have to say about COVID19. On the other hand, I have found the info from Harvard very helpful. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center has some great thinking and writing for education and child development. Your Teen Magazine is very accessible to parents. Dr. Kristin Moffitt from Boston Children’s has a short but useful interview on how to talk to your kids about COVID19

 

If after all that you are STILL focused on screen time, please check out these items for your consideration:

 

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