By Vicki Hervitz
Her math Zoom class is starting, and she double checks her materials. The class starts and she’s furiously taking notes. She starts sweating and scratching her head as the teacher’s voice skips due to a bad connection. And then she screams, “It’s frozen! I’m missing it all. I’m never going to get the information!” Is our child anxious… or mindful?
It’s minutes into the davening Zoom, and you’re yelling, “Stop playing Pokemon! Hurry! They’re already up to Shema.” After he fumbles to the table, his tiny hands are all over the screen, touching, pressing and clanking on the keyboard. He’s standing up, sitting down, spinning and then wandering away. Is our child hyperactive… or a multisensory learner?
You’re reviewing her Zoom schedule for the day. She yawns and says, “Mom, you know I can’t do Zoom. I’m just not a Zoom kid.” You respond with a slew of reasons as to why she’s so wonderful and the usual spiel about how she can do anything she puts her mind to. She rolls her eyes and walks away. The rest of the day, she’s only half present, constantly mumbling, “I don’t like Zoom.” Is our child difficult… or in need of support?
Each child in these stories is your child, my child, our collective child. And their struggles with virtual school during COVID-19 are real. COVID-19 has pushed us parents, educators and clinicians to new innovative heights as we constantly shift, adapt and pivot, to dig deep as we attempt to reach and support our children during this unprecedented school year. Now, even nine months into the pandemic, we still find ourselves asking the same question: How can I help my child through this insurmountable journey of virtual school?
Tune into your child
First, ask yourself the following and write down your answers: Who is my child? Who is my child as a learner?
Think about age. Is your child 3 or is your child 16? For younger children, the goal should be connection and joy. For older children, connection is key but also more serious and complex academic skill acquisition.
Think about temperament. Is your child calm, focused and mindful? Or energetic, loud and a whole-body learner? Are they organized and concrete thinkers or are they out-of-the-box thinkers that beat to their own drum? Are there any mental health concerns or learning needs that require support?
Think about what motivates your child. Is your child excited to learn and gain knowledge? Or is your child more excited about the treat you promised them for a successful Zoom?
Every parent will have a different set of answers for every child. Tuning in to your child and delving deep into your understanding of who they are as learners and individuals is the best and most important place to start. This information will guide your journey in supporting your child.
Be honest and psycho-educate
We all know the negative effects screen time has on the mind and on the body. And study after study show that children learn best using their whole bodies, not just their eyes and their ears. But still, there is an expectation that our children should buy into or be able to learn virtually.
Share the facts. Virtual learning is hard for children, but virtual learning and working is hard for adults too. And we should tell our children exactly this — that we get it. That we too feel body discomfort, headaches, irritated and drained from sitting and staring at a screen all day. We need to be honest about how kids learn so that they can understand why virtual learning may be hard for them — that children learn best and most comfortably with their whole body and when all five of their senses are engaged (a multisensory approach).
Share the positive. We need to have open conversations with our children about our personal and school reasons that they have to be a virtual learner right now. Emphasize and discuss the blessing that we live in a time that a virtual option exists and enables them to continue growing and thriving. Make sure to spotlight the level of thought and creativity their teachers have in every Zoom — providing hands-on, interactive lessons and assessments to overcome the limitations of Zoom.
Reminding ourselves of the facts, psycho-educating and conversing with our child shifts the problem away from me vs. my child or my child vs. Zoom and toward our family vs. COVID-19. Our message is that together we can solve this seemingly insurmountable journey.
Join with your child to empower them
Schedule a special “date” with your child to collaborate (enjoy a treat together!). Come into the conversation with a growth mindset of who your child is (see above). Sit down together and create a list of solutions to make virtual learning possible. As each idea is given, don’t assess or judge it, rather accept it and add it to the list. Even add some absurd ideas for some good laughs (go to clown school instead!). After the list is complete, go through each solution and evaluate together, and make your way through the list until you end up with one or a few solutions.
Here are some strategies that can empower your child’s autonomy, as you take this journey together:
Create structure and routine — establish the importance of getting dressed, a visual schedule and checklist and/or a countdown to something they’re looking forward to.
Design a specific and thoughtful physical space for learning — give them ownership over decorating their space or choosing the type of chair or yoga ball they sit on.
Supplement curriculum with multisensory tools — find specific fidget toys of your child’s choice to regulate their need for touch and movement and make time for movement breaks and outdoor play.
Possibly provide rewards — decide if working toward a goal would help, whether it be quality time with you (preferable) or an item/toy/activity they earn.
Let the journey be ongoing
No plan is set in stone. Schedule a date to review and revisit the conversation to make any necessary changes. Children are ever-changing and what works today may not work tomorrow. And now more than ever, keep an open mind to outside support, whether it be a therapist, a tutor or an organizational coach.
Let’s give our children all the supports possible, to hold them up and keep them steady through such a trying time.
Vicki Hervitz, LCSW-C, is a guidance counselor at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. This is part of a series on topics in education facilitated by The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, with the partnership of local schools and educators. CJE promotes and facilitates lifelong learning that nurtures Jewish identity and strengthens Jewish community.