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5 Tips to Thrive in Virtual School

Can you believe it’s already time to go back to school? While school looks very different this year, it is possible to make the most of it and learn from your own home with these sensory friendly tips.

1. Set up a “school” area with multiple seating options
It will be important for kids to feel like they are going to school, even if ‘school’ is a designated place at your kitchen island. Much like adults can benefit from a designated work space, kids need a place where they can focus and understand the expectation to learn. Allowing your child to switch between types of chairs, sitting on the floor, sitting on a ball, etc. will provide them with the opportunity for vestibular input that they need. Blue light admitted by screens essentially puts the visual system in hyperdrive and turns the vestibular (movement) system off. Allowing them some extra movement will ultimately help with balancing both systems. Furthermore, on a regular school day, kids are constantly moving around the classroom in centers, through the hallways to specials and lunch, and on the playground. We all need these types of ‘brain breaks’ to keep learning.

2. Allow non-screen time breaks in a sensory friendly area
Taking a break from blue light will go a long way for your child’s sensory system. During screen time, especially on Zoom, the brain is in overdrive processing both the visual input and increased cognitive load spent decoding social emotional cues. In person, we are able to pick up on social cues such as body language and facial expressions more readily. Removing the screen will help your child ‘reset.’ Having a ‘safe sensory place’ in the home is encouraged. In this space, provide comfortable seating such as a bean bag chair or blanket, a sensory “kit” with anything your child finds calming, such as sensory bottles, putty, play dough, a favorite book, etc. Closets, under the bed space, and a corner in the bedroom are all great options.

3. Encourage movement throughout the lesson
Not only can your child benefit from multiple seating options, but they can also benefit from movement during a lesson. Standing up, stretching, using fidgets and crossing midline activities will all help keep the vestibular system awake and therefore improve arousal level during school hours. Crossing the midline also helps with ‘waking up’ both sides of the brain.

4. Use as many hands on manipulatives as possible
Printing worksheets, taking notes on paper, cutting, gluing, tearing paper, etc. all provide a multi-sensory approach to learning and will help commit lessons to memory. In addition, hand manipulatives help with developmental skills necessary to develop hand strength for improved handwriting, bilateral skills and fine motor coordination for improved independence in activities such as managing fasteners, and opening containers. This will also provide a valuable opportunity to glance away from the screen for a visual reset.

5. Do your best!
Being a parent, teacher, and holding a job is not easy! Keep in mind that your children are learning so many skills through play, growing emotionally through your support, and are safe. Parenting during a pandemic is no doubt super challenging and you are not alone. A little goes a long way and you are doing great!