With school closures, many families and schools have had to settle into a new style of learning that has brought certain advantages but also several challenges. Distance learning and the expectations placed on students, their parents, and teachers, differ between schools. We have gathered some ideas from our therapists and medical doctors to help alleviate some of the frustrations and challenges that our patients have experienced during periods of online learning. This information sheet includes some helpful tips and guidelines for parents and caregivers on distance learning, supporting your child at home, and taking care of yourself.
Tips & Tricks
Expand learning opportunities
Take advantage of some additional time with your children by taking their learning out into nature. Try to be creative and have fun. Make use of all that HK has to offer.
Keep routines and a sense of normality
Keep morning routines (washing, getting dressed, eating breakfast) and have a plan for the day just like you would on a typical school day. This will help your child know what to expect and will allow for a smoother transition back to school. A routine is not a schedule; it has flexibility so that you are not bound to a rigid time frame, but it has also has predictability. It’s okay to allow your child to spend a little more time on certain activities than usual. Ensure that visual aids are created, are easily accessible, and are created in collaboration with your child. It would be helpful for parents to have their own schedules visible too so that children know when their parents will be working from home, travelling for business, and when they can access the parent for one-to-one learning or academic support.
Since distance learning requires self-discipline, it is important to help your child stay motivated. Helping your child set academic goals and make plans for how to reach them is a good way to keep them motivated. When goals are accomplished, celebrate these successes together. Children and teenagers respond well to positive reinforcement, so be sure to give positive feedback and praise whenever possible. It is much more important to reward effort than outcomes. If your child is struggling with motivation, consider implementing a simple token economy whereby their effort for work is rewarded with a token that eventually leads to a reward that they would like to work towards. Because children have shorter concentration spans, it is helpful to have daily rewards (these don’t have to be expensive or big) such as an extra cookie for snack time, 10 minutes more play time with a parent, or staying up 15 minutes later than usual. Teenagers have longer concentration spans and can work towards rewards every few days. Remember to adjust expectations for both you and your child. If things don’t get done or are not perfect, that’s okay!
Break tasks down
As much as possible, break assignments down into short, task-bounded bursts, rather than in open-ended study sessions. Completion of assignments will be easiest when work is task-based rather than time-based. Instead of deciding for example, to do some writing for half an hour, have your child identify a target task (eg. write five sentences). Work that is task-based allows for progress measurement, racing the clock, and rewarding completion of specific tasks.
Designate a workspace and minimise distractions
The workspace should allow for clear boundaries, at a time when school and home life have morphed into one. It will also give everyone their own space. Help your child identify aspects of their learning environment that may cause them to become distracted or procrastinate. These may include needing to go the bathroom, feeling hungry or thirsty, watching YouTube, checking social media, etc. Reflect on these with your child and problem solve ways to alleviate or avoid these situations. Most teenagers need to access social media frequently to avoid it becoming a mental or physical distraction. Studies have shown that having designated ‘tech breaks’ for five minutes or so every 30 minutes can facilitate on-task behaviour. Many teenagers find that listening to music or having some background noise aids focus (but if they are singing along or watching videos then this strategy isn’t working for them!).
Take lots of breaks
Children often struggle to concentrate because our expectations far exceed their attention spans. Remember that children have lots of opportunities to move and walk around at school – whether it’s within the classroom or walking between classrooms. Movement allows children to reset their attention. It is helpful for children to work for 30 minutes and then take a short break or change activities. With teenagers this can be extended to 40-60 minutes. It is important that these breaks are not task-focused – they could be walking the dog, getting a drink, or doing some intense exercise. It is best if they do not involve gaming.
Children learn through social interactions and the current situation can feel very isolating, especially for teenagers. Organise virtual meetups with other classmates (if this has not been done by your school already). This can be a great way to complement break times. You can also consider small study groups or play dates provided strict hygiene measures are in place (please see the box below for tips on keeping study groups or play dates safe). Teenagers generally work well in groups, so study groups are a particularly good idea.
Incorporate physical activity into your day. Going outside and getting fresh air is critical both for you and your child. Take advantage of Hong Kong’s many walking trails and city parks. It is okay to play in playgrounds and outside as long as it is not crowded, and you are maintaining hand hygiene (handwashing or using hand sanitiser). Continue to enjoy sports as usual but try to avoid contact sports. Exercise is important for both physical and mental health as children need a physical outlet to release their pent-up energy. You can also take advantage of many exercise apps on your phone, your tablet, or home exercise videos on YouTube.
Make sure you are getting some support by communicating with other parents and families. Share strategies, approaches, and talk. You can schedule rotating child meet ups to give each other opportunities for respite. Also, reach out and connect to your support network – these are stressful times, and it is good to have someone to talk to. We understand that it can be extremely difficult to manage both your child’s learning and working from home simultaneously – it is hard to support your child when you are running on empty. So do ensure you are taking care of yourself as well. Take a mindful break, get some exercise, continue with your hobbies, go out with your partner, engage in self-care activities, and be kind to yourself.
Keeping group activities safe:
- Keep the group size small, in line with COVID guidelines
- Keep windows open, this is the best way to ventilate (this is more effective than hepa filters)
- Keep a strict no symptom rule – anyone with any symptoms (eg. fever, runny nose or cough) should stay home
- Good hand hygiene is key! Make it routine for everyone to wash their hands at the start of the meet up, at the end, and before eating if snacks are served. You can use hand soap or alcohol-based sanitisers.
- If you are serving snacks, ensure that they are individually wrapped servings and do not share utensils or plates.
- Sports and playing outside are safe as long as areas are not too crowded, and contact sports are avoided.