Parents and students alike have shared one tremendous lifestyle change since the start of the covid-19 pandemic: more screen time. We use our screens to shop, communicate with friends and family, and for kids now more than ever before, for school.
While some students may have taken an online course or two before the pandemic hit, the majority of families now find themselves grappling with the brand new challenge of trying to figure out what healthy online learning looks like. We know that extended screen time, even for positive experiences, like socializing and learning, can have harmful physiological and biological effects. Prolonged hours at the computer or on a phone or tablet mean less physical movement and exposure to blue light waves that can impair quality sleep, impacting memory, mood, and focus.
And now that kids have the green-light on digital devices for learning, we’ve heard from many families that free-time screen time activities are becoming harder to manage. Even parents who used to have good control over their children’s screen time find that their kids want to read books, play games (even educational ones!) and do projects on their computers outside of school time.
While there is a whole wide world of healthy growth activities that children can engage in online, we want to make sure that your kids don’t suffer from the additional screen time and its effects on the brain and body. So, we want to share our tips for online learning that take your child’s physical and mental health into consideration. Use our distance learning tips as a guide for how to set up your child’s study space, incorporate movement into your child’s day, and support your child as they adapt to distance learning.
1. Get plenty of sleep.
This tip is number one on our list for a reason: lack of sleep can seriously impact brain function, particularly in terms of focus and impulse control. As your child’s typical school year schedule changes to accommodate online coursework, it’s important to factor in a regular bedtime. For children who fall asleep on a regular schedule but have trouble staying asleep due to anxiety or other factors, consider building time for rest or even a nap into their day.
2. Limit screen time before bedtime.
Thanks to online learning, students have seen a significant increase in daily screen time during the week, which can have a serious negative impact on sleep. Blue light emitted by computer, tablet, and phone screens reduces the body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates the sleep cycle. One of the most important acts of self-care your child can practice is closing their laptop and putting away their phone an hour or two before bed to help ensure they get the rest they need to thrive throughout the day.
3. Build a comfortable study space.
In order for your child to have a comfortable and focused learning experience, they need a comfortable learning environment. Some considerations include adequate lighting, seating with sufficient back support, and an area where distractions can be limited (for example, keeping the learning space neat and organized).
In addition, developmental optometrist, Dr. Carl Hillier, recommends keeping at least an arm’s lengths distance from your screen. This might mean setting up a separate monitor and remote keyboard and mouse for your child’s laptop.
4. Practice great posture.
Having a comfortable study space will make this next tip easier to achieve – keep great posture! Discourage slumping by making sure that desks, chairs, and monitors are at an appropriate height for your child. Exercise ball chairs are also a great way to encourage good posture – and focus for kiddos who work best with a little movement.
If posture isn’t something your child has ever had to think about before, leave a sticky note on their desk or set an alarm to remind them to check their posture every so often and make adjustments as needed.
5. Promote a positive learning environment.
So your child has a space that is physically comfortable and free from distractions and that encourages good posture – now what? Don’t forget that there is likely a mental and emotional toll that all of these changes can take. You can address this in your child’s healthy study environment by including small, cheerful touches that will brighten their day.
For example, stock their space with school supplies in their favorite color, leave encouraging or even silly notes for them to find on their desk, set their desktop background to a photo of a cherished memory, and/or keep their desk drawers stocked with their favorite (healthy) snacks.
6. Eat healthy and drink lots of water.
It’s no secret that better health starts with healthy eating. When students are home all day, it can be tempting to reach for salty or sugary snacks in between online classes, rather than having healthy meals and observing regular meal times.
Preparing quick and easy healthy snacks ahead of time – such as sliced apples, trail mix, sliced cheese and crackers, etc. – will make it easier for your child to make healthy decisions. It’s also important for your child to stay hydrated.
As we move into fall and the weather cools down, it may be harder for children to remember to drink water consistently. Keep a favorite water bottle or tumbler (something with a lid, as it will be near electronics and papers) on hand to encourage your child to drink water throughout the day.
7. Get creative with social time.
Online education isn’t the end of your child’s social life. Online platforms like Zoom or Google Hangouts allow for video chatting, and streaming services like Hulu are adding “watch together” features so that your children can watch movies with their friends while apart. Encourage your child to form online study groups to maintain a level of collaboration with peers while setting up a designated time for socialization.
8. Remember to take breaks.
Breaks are important for your child’s physical and mental health. A break doesn’t just mean switching from a Zoom lecture on the laptop to social media on the cell phone, either. Students should get up and move around, drink water, stretch, and do something fun and/or relaxing. We love jumping rope, practicing yoga stretches, or using hula hoops for a quick movement break! When taking breaks outside, remember to practice social distancing and follow CDC guidelines for your area.
9. Incorporate stretching into the mix.
Stretching is an activity your child should engage in often throughout the day. They can even stretch while in their chair! If your child complains of specific problem areas such as stiffness or soreness in their back, hips, or knees from sitting in one position for an extended period of time, you can find stretches to target those areas. Use notes or set an alarm (try the Tomato-Timer app or Amazon’s Alexa for scheduled reminders) to help your child remember to stretch consistently throughout the day.
10. Get out and exercise daily.
Physical activity is something else that can fall by the wayside as students shift to online learning. Practice healthy habits as a family by taking walks on lunch breaks or at the end of the day, playing sports in the yard or in an open area where you can socially distance, or doing structured physical activities such as following online yoga or dance class videos.
11. Keep study expectations in check.
For the vast majority of students, distance learning is brand new. Even if your child has taken online classes in the past, spending all day doing coursework on the computer is a change – and a challenge. Not to mention the additional mental and emotional weight of the uncertainty of the pandemic, and the potential anxiety your child may be feeling.
You may notice your child struggle with skills they mastered previously, such as time management or good study habits. If your child has always identified as a good student and now finds themselves struggling, they may experience issues with self-confidence. Be sure to offer extra praise and encouragement during this time.
12. Keep stress out of the picture.
It’s normal to feel anxiety when the world is changing in so many ways that are out of our control. That’s why it’s more important than ever to eliminate unnecessary stress. Encourage your child to keep a To-Do list so they can keep track of their assignments and feel a sense of accomplishment by crossing them off, rather than a sense of dread procrastinating as deadlines loom near.
Do more fun activities as a family, and add fun to mundane activities – blast music and have a dance party while folding laundry, or compete to see who can come up with the wackiest lunch recipes. Take plenty of breaks, talk about things you’re grateful for around the dinner table, and seize every opportunity to laugh and have fun together.
The caring and experienced educators at La Jolla LearningWorks are here to make online learning as stress-free as possible while helping your child achieve their full academic potential. Connect with us to learn more.