Due to COVID-19 many schools have made the decision to move to virtual learning to keep our families and communities healthy. If you have ever worked in an office, you understand the physical and emotional toll sitting for long periods in front of a screen can take on a person.
Many things about virtual learning are harder for students, parents, and teachers even though we are all trying to make lemonade from the lemons COVID-19 has thrown at us.
As an Occupational Therapist and mom, I wanted to share some practical tips that can help students with positioning and attending while participating in online learning.
1 • Shoulder/neck position: Position the screen in the child’s midline so he/she is able to look at it with the neck in a neutral position.
Ideally, we should be able to draw an imaginary line from your child’s nose to the center of the screen.
The child’s forearms should be able to rest on the table while the shoulders are in a relaxed (not hunched) position.
This positioning prevents neck strain and keeps the screen front and center to help maintain attention. For the child in this image, correct screen height could be easily attained by stacking a couple of large books under the computer screen.
2 • Hip position: A child’s hips and knees should be at 90-degree angles with feet stable on the floor.
This positioning allows for decreased back strain but also gives children a stable base to work from, which allows them to have greater fine motor control.
To better explain the body mechanics behind having hips and feet supported, imagine trying to accomplish a tedious task while seated on a barstool with your feet dangling. Typically, we would seek a stable base for our feet to give us a steady hand.
Likewise, a child needs a good, stable base for greater control with writing, coloring, or typing.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a new desk and chair to achieve a good position. Take a look at this image: The mom has propped up her child to see the screen well with shoulders relaxed while propped on the table.
However, you can see this child’s feet are dangling. A simple adaptation to help the child in the above image would be to place a small stool stool or a stack of large books under the feet until the child’s hips and knees are able to rest at a 90-degree angle.
3 • Movement breaks: After periods of sitting, movement allows for stretching of muscles that have stayed in one place for too long.
Not only is movement important for our children to maintain healthy weight, but did you know that movement also plays an important role in readying a child to attend?
Between classes, encourage children to take short movement breaks. While they may think they need to take a rest break by watching television or playing a video game, movement breaks will be more helpful.
Below are some quick and easy movement ideas:
- Play a favorite song and allow your child to show off his or her best dance moves.
- Run around the house 2-5 times. For added fun you can time your child and see if he or she can beat that time the next day.
- Tape coins on the bottom of shoes and tap dance.
- Play games like hopscotch, Red Light/Green Light, Mother May I, or Jump the Brook.
- Do exercises like jumping jacks, burpees, or wall push-ups.
4 • Dynamic seating: Allow the child to sit in a variety of positions.
This option can be especially helpful for some children who have difficulty staying seated for longer periods of time. For example, a wobble cushion or exercise ball can also be used to allow a child to rock and engage in slight movements while seated at a desk for instruction.
Set boundaries and establish rules for use in the beginning to make this a successful addition to your learning environment. Sample rules could be this is a seat that stays on the floor or no throwing.
While the first two tips discussed correct positioning when seated in chair, giving children the option to sit differently for a subject that requires less writing gives them a break from the desk and chair and engages different muscles.
Below are some images of dynamic seating options:
5 • Visual focus: Assess the area where your child is learning and listening to teachers by sitting where he or she would sit.
As you sit, make observations from your child’s point of view:
- Are the toys bins just beyond the screen that would be making your child wish they were playing instead of learning?
- Is the lighting in the room conducive to learning?
- Is the workspace cleared or are there lots of papers or junk mail stacked nearby?
Based on your observations, make the changes to the space that you feel will help your child most.
6 • Fidgets: Pull out the fidget spinners from the 2018 fad and allow your child to fidget during the online lesson.
For some children, a fidget can be a distraction, but for many it can help occupy busy hands and allow a child to listen more intently.
If you don’t have a fidget spinner or a store-bought fidget, below are some other fidget options:
- stress ball (one can be homemade by stuffing a balloon with flour).
- Velcro strips stuck underneath the table.
- Rubik’s Cube.
- play doh.
- rubber bands.
- clothes pins.
I hope one or two of these tips will help your child through the virtual learning phase. But perhaps the greatest tip we need to remember is to extend grace to ourselves, our child, and their teachers.
It’s okay if every lesson doesn’t go smoothly. We are all learning what works and what doesn’t.
If you are like me and set expectations high, remember that during this time giving grace to all involved helps us keep a positive attitude as we navigate this uncharted territory.