Learning from home can be challenging and, at times, downright exhausting for students and parents alike. While many parents may be focused on keeping their children on track academically, it’s crucial to acknowledge the health impact – both mental and physical – that children may be experiencing due to the isolation and potential inactivity brought on by the pandemic. Parents may be noticing their children are displaying some new behaviors or behaviors they knew existed but which were previously addressed in the school setting.
Behaviors such as fidgeting and restlessness are often the manifestation of underlying physical and emotional needs. Children experiencing sensory issues can find it challenging to remain focused on school assignments, but parents need to know that there are ways we can help. And they don’t necessarily involve resorting to a store-bought fidget spinner. There are several strategies parents can implement to help address sensory issues and relieve their child’s distress.
First and foremost, dedicate a school space at home that limits distractions. Most children struggle to manage distractions, so this is a critical step for any parent whose child is attending school virtually, even part-time.
Personalize the learning experience whenever and wherever possible. Make sure to schedule “brain breaks” throughout your child’s day. Depending on your child’s needs, these brain breaks may involve physical activity or quiet activities that your child finds relaxing. Either way, they provide a break from the sustained mental efforts required for learning.
Permitting children to take breaks when they feel frustrated or notice their attention span beginning to slip can help kids learn to self-regulate and self-monitor. While this practice is particularly beneficial for children with executive functioning issues, it’s good for all kids to know how to refocus and refresh when school assignments get tough.
Mindfulness & Breathing
Another strategy is practicing mindfulness and breathing techniques. Parents can remind children to slow down and pay attention to their breathing, just as they might remind them to clean up after playtime or wash their hands before dinner. Mindful breathing can help kids to manage feelings and shift their mindset.
Homemade Sensory Toys
A final strategy is to make your own sensory toys, particularly for children who fidget. Sensory toys can be made from household objects and need not be expensive. Options for hand fidgeters include nuts and bolts, legos, paper, and pipe cleaners. Other suggestions include using beads and string and popsicle sticks. When it comes to feet fidgeters, using bungee cords, bicycle tubes, balls, or therapy bands could very well do the trick. Other options for various fidgeting include weighted items that can be used for calming as well as touch. Weighted lap pads and bean bags are fantastic examples of this.
It’s important to note that it is easy to label a child as “fidgety,” but that does not address what is actually happening within the child to cause a need to move. When they touch things or move to touch things, it is because the brain needs what is called “tactile input.” Simply, the brain desires stimulation from touch. The main goal of all of these creative and DIY ideas is to foster a child’s natural tendencies to move with simple and not distracting things rather than to eliminate the behaviors.
It’s understandable for children and parents to be frustrated with the current learning situation. However, it’s vital to remember there are still some things within our control to improve the situation. If we endeavor to make the best of it for our children and guide them in learning new ways to self-regulate and self-manage, they will benefit from these strategies well beyond the pandemic.
Dr. Edward S. Thalheimer is the President and Founder of The Tutoring Franchise Corp. As many schools are now turning to online learning, we here at The Tutoring Center® are continuing to provide one-to-one instruction combined with The Rotational Approach to Learning® to prevent children from slipping through the cracks academically. Our programs help children achieve long-term success, build concentration and focus, and, with our outstanding instructors, find the love of learning. Don’t let your child fall behind this school year. If you’re interested in learning more, visit our website at TutoringCenter.com.