How to Handle Virtual School (From a Mental Health Perspective)

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A lot of kids—and parents—really struggled with remote learning during the beginning of the pandemic last spring. But, whether kids were bored, resistant, or simply not getting much out of Zoom classes, in the fall the 2020 school year brought virtual learning back for many families across the country.

Are you wondering what to do differently this time around to make it work better? As difficult as this situation is, focusing on the benefits of learning from home can really help families thrive from a mental health perspective.

Take advantage of the schedule

Since most kids aren’t required to be in front of a screen for the same hours they’d be in in-person school, make your schedule your own. Take lots of breaks from online school work to allow for unstructured play. So instead of more screen time, let your child explore outside, learn a new board game, or browse books.

Incorporate “real life” activities as much as possible too. Kids will benefit from learning practical, hands-on skills—like fixing things around the house, cooking, or taking care of plants. Plus, you can find moments to reinforce what they’re learning in school. When baking bread together, use it as a math lesson (volume and measurements) or a science lesson (how yeast ferments).

Play to their strengths

Most of all, remember that kids ARE naturally interested in learning—they might just want to do it a different way. If your child is obsessed with LEGOs, give them LEGO-related challenges, like re-creating a scene from a book they’re reading for school.

Recreate the parts of school that are helpful

Ask your kids what they like the most and what was most helpful at in-person school, and zero in on anything you can recreate at home. Try:

  • A Zoom “study hall” with friends — take turns moderating the group with other parents if needed
  • “Passing periods” between classes — teachers recommend allowing 5-10 minutes for kids to stretch, take a break, and prep for the next subject
  • Virtual lunch tables — let your child meet up online with a friend while they eat
  • Recess — a daily exercise break will help kids release tension and concentrate on their schoolwork

And if your kids need a boost to get into back-to-school-at-home mode, try injecting some fun into their new routine—buy or make fun “school” snacks, or have them help set up the ideal desk space for their Zoom classes.

Keep them motivated (without a fight)

Experts have loads of tips for keeping kids motivated through virtual learning. Taking a bit of time to make sure they’re body-ready to learn, have breaks built into their routine at the right times, and have what they need to stay organized can help avoid constant fights to keep your kids on task—which will work wonders for your mental health in the long run.

Talk to them

This is a really stressful time for lots of kids—talking things out with them can eliminate a lot of the resistance, making your job as teacher/parent/principal much easier. Flip through this Instagram carousel for ideas on what to say.

Take tips from teachers

Dr. Katherine Williams, a child and adolescent psychologist, put together a panel of experienced teachers to explore several tips for how parents can plan for a successful new school year. As experts on how children learn, their advice has helped many parents make virtual learning run more smoothly.

Go easy on yourself

Don’t forget your own pep talk—this isn’t easy for parents either! Keeping these five things in mind can help lighten your mental load.

Overall, when things are tough, take a step back and think about how you’ll want to remember this moment. Connecting with your kids is probably more important in the long run than having them “catch up” academically.

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