This week I am pleased to have a guest taking over the blog. Melissa is is a pediatric OT with years of experience working with children privately and in schools. Now that we are a few months into the 2020 school year, I asked her to share some of her practical strategies to help our students (and us) adjust and succeed while learning remotely.
Hi! I'm Melissa DelaTorre. I am an occupational therapist, wife and mom of adorable twin toddlers Molly and Max. As a school-based OT, my typical (pre-COVID) days involved very little sitting or computer time. I didn't even have a desk at work! Needless to say, this shift to remote learning has been a big one for me and many therapists. In the beginning, I enjoyed the challenge of creating activities using household items as supplies and finding ways to make my sessions fun. But as these circumstances persist, I have had to move beyond creating fun sessions and concentrate on helping my students focus and engage for their entire remote learning experience.
Here are a few ideas that have helped my students succeed in remote learning:
Schedule: Remote? Hybrid? In person? Whatever it is we are all feeling the stress of
our constantly changing schedules. Children, like adults, thrive with predictable
routines. In a world where their routines were essentially thrown out the window,
they are struggling. One way to support them is to utilize a printed,
-For older children who can read, I found it helpful to
make a weekly, color- coded schedule with each
discipline, special, and teacher in their own color
(extra points if these colors coordinate with notebooks!).
-For the little ones, a daily visual schedule with use of
easily identifiable pictures can help with transitions throughout the day. You
can use clip art or actual photos of each teacher/activity.
Environment: The most important and possibly the hardest factor in setting up our children for success in the home, is the environment. Our homes are full of extra distractions that are not present in school. It is important to have the proper set-up to allow our children to focus.
-Seating: An ideal desk and chair setup follows a 90:90:90 rule.
The child’s hips, knees, and feet are all at a 90-degree
angle, ensuring proper body position. If you do not have
access to child-sized furniture, there are ways to achieve
this position with modifications. Books or shoe boxes can
be utilized to allow your child’s feet to reach the floor. A
pillow or rolled up towel can be placed behind their back to allow them to
sit up straight. Simple changes to their set up may have a great impact on
their ability to focus and attend. Watch for signs of poor posture and
positioning such as swinging feet, slumped posture, sitting on feet, etc.
and be sure to try some of these simple modifications!
Distractions: I have seen a lot of AMAZING home setups where parents go above and beyond to create a school themed learning space! As much as I love the effort, unfortunately, for some, this may be distracting and over-stimulating. A computer screen provides a ton of visual input and having the alphabet on their table may actually make it harder to attend to the screen.
-Blank slate: In efforts to further limit visual distractions, it is ideal to have
your child facing a blank wall versus a busy room or window.
-Privacy screen: If a blank slate setup is not possible, you can easily create a
privacy screen by placing a cardboard box behind the computer screen to
block out the background.
-Headphones: Headphones have helped my students (and me) to focus
during remote sessions. For children who can tolerate use of headphones,
this is a great option to limit auditory distractions. Over-the-ear versus in-
the-ear have proven to be more less distracting.
Movement: Kids CRAVE movement and are being asked to move even less than before, while learning at home, as well as those who are physically attending school. This is extremely difficult for a lot of our children and we are seeing them struggle to adapt. Whether they are fidgeting, running away from the screen, staring at the wall, or just plain dreading their virtual session- movement can help!
-Movement breaks: Movement breaks are essential to get our body and
brain ready to learn. They should be done as a preventative measure so
have your child take a movement break before they are too far gone.
Here are some more structured movement break ideas:
Balloon Breathing: Have your child fill up their balloon (belly) with air while
raising their arms above their heads, then blow all of their air out while
lowering their hands down.
Wall pushups: Place both hands on a wall and both feet placed away from
the wall to create a 45-degree angle. Slowly lower yourself until your nose
touches the wall, then push yourself back up. Don't move your feet!
Animal walks: Bear crawls, crab walks, snake crawl, bunny hops, frog jumps,
-Changing body positions: Adjusting body position and engaging different
muscles can have a great impact on a child’s attention level and can be
done in any environment! You can try having them sit on a pillow, a chair, or
on the floor. Ask them to lay on their belly on the floor or stand/kneel at a
-Fidgets: Fidgets can easily be made with items found in your home! My
favorite fidgets are ones that cannot be played with or moved. I love
placing velcro or taping sandpaper underneath a desk or chair. This
provides tactile input without becoming a visual distraction. If your child
can tolerate a handheld fidget without becoming more distracted, there are
tons of DIY handheld fidgets utilizing household objects. One simple idea is
a DIY stress ball made by filling a balloon with flour, water beads, or even
Visual breaks: Our eyes are not used to staring at computer screens all day. Just like our bodies and minds, they require a break. “Fire eyes” is a quick visual break that my students and I enjoy during our sessions. I instruct them to make a fire with their hands by rubbing them together really fast. Once their hands feel “hot” they cup them and place them over their closed eyes and count to ten until their hands have cooled down . This provides a great visual break, as well as some tactile and proprioceptive input to help them refocus!
Always remember that each child is different and what works for one may not always work for the next. Be patient with your children and be gentle with yourself! This adventure we are on is a new one and we are learning as we go. Take 5 balloon breathes and remind yourself you got this!