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Distance Learning Resources

Occupational therapists work to promote independence in age appropriate roles and routines. For children, education is a main area of occupation. As the 2020-2021 school year approaches and children across the country are beginning distance learning, our team of OT’s have developed a list of our top tips for success this school year. Check them out! For more tips to promote success and independence reach out to your child’s OT. 

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Set A Schedule

A schedule can be calming and organizing for all members of the household. During these times of uncertainty, a schedule is even more important. 

 

 Children benefit from a schedule because it creates clear expectations. A consistent schedule and routine helps children know what is coming next, which can help develop trust between children and caregivers. In addition, a schedule promotes emotional, social, and cognitive childhood development. 

 

Try making a schedule for you and your family! You can use this visual schedule to adapt and modify to fit your family’s routine or make your own!

 

Check out these other tips for developing a schedule:

 

  • Use a visual schedule for young children

  • Use the schedule to provide things to look forward to

  • Use a consistent pattern for your schedule from day to day

  • Put the schedule somewhere everyone can see 

  • Reference our Sleep Hygiene Tips when developing your schedule, including setting bedtime and sleep prep activities

  • Include time for sensory input and playtime

  • Include time to wake up, eat and get dressed before beginning distance learning

  • While distance learning may not require uniform/dress codes, we encourage families to still complete their morning routine, including getting dressed, to help children transition into an academic mindset. 

For more reasons to use a visual schedule check out this post from Inspired Tree House!

Supporting Attention for Distance Learning

We know that it can be difficult to stay alert and focused during a long stretch of hard work. Try to keep some of these tools and strategies nearby to help increase your learner’s level of alertness, so that they can better attend and make the time pass by more easily.

Sour Candies - Eating a sour candy or food may increase the muscle activity in your mouth and your heart rate. Keep one or two near your kiddo during the school day so they can pop it in their mouth when they are feeling their focus drift.

Fidget Toys - Fidget toys can be both supportive and distracting. Proceed with caution, and let them know you are using a trial-and-error approach. There are a variety of fidget toys that exist (spinner, fidget cubes, fidget balls, squishy fidgets, putty, stress balls…). They may also be helpful with managing stress. BONUS- several of these toys also improve hand strength and can help prep their hands prior to writing and keyboarding tasks.

Proprioception and Touch Sensory Input to Feet and Legs - Foot fidgets (like a spiky foot roller) and resistance to the legs (therapy or exercise bands around the legs of a chair) can provide that sensory sensation that our learners may be needing during an extended period of time sitting.

Crunchy Snack- Similar to the sour treat, the crunchy snack can increase their alertness level. The loud sounds in the ears and the muscle work in the mouth can help a drowsy learner focus. Lean towards healthy options like apple slices, low sodium popcorn, carrot sticks, and pretzels.

Chewies - If you notice your kiddo is looking for even more of that oral sensory information (teeth grinding, chewed pen caps), then you may consider a chewy snack, pencil topper chewies, chewelry, or chewing gum. These strategies are helpful for stress management by providing sensory input that is both calming and supportive of focus. 

Wiggle Cushion - Wiggle cushions help to activate the core, improve posture, and give better awareness of where the body is in space. All of these skills translate over to improving sustained attention!  

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Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene encompasses the habits and routines throughout your day and in preparation for sleep. Sleep and sleep preparation is actually an Activity of Daily Living, or daily self-care occupation that is important for us to prioritize. It is particularly important for our kids who are learning and growing daily. While routines have been heavily influenced during these times it is important to continue to attend to sleep hygiene to ensure the best night sleep! 

 

As the school year begins, help your children practice good sleep hygiene for optimal academic and social performance. Check out these DO’s and DON’Ts compiled from the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control.

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DO:

  • Practice a bedtime routine--Maybe a calming cup of tea, lowering noise in the house, reduced lighting, strategies that help to calm your body and reducing stimulation 
     

  • Have a consistent bedtime and wake-up time to help with rhythm and regularity--even during the weekend

 

  • Include physical activity in your day--the World Health Organization recommends an accumulated 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity for children age 5-17 years old. Evidence suggests exercise helps the quality of sleep in the evening

 

DON’T:

  • Drink multiple caffeinated beverages during the day-- they can have a big impact late into the evening

 

  • Have electronics or screens near your bed or in the bedroom

 

  • Eat a large meal before bedtime

For more healthy sleep habits, check out the American Alliance for Healthy Sleep.

Distance Learning and Eye Strain

Even before the pandemic, we often heard of children experiencing eye strain, headaches, and fatigue. Now, with increased use of technology for instruction and learning activities, we can help identify ways to help prevent these issues.

 

  • Keep a safe distance – When we bring a device (tablet, phone, computer) closer to our face, our eyes turn inward instead of looking straight ahead. This can fatigue the eye muscles and cause headaches. 
     

  • Screens should be positioned slightly below eye level and the distance between their face and the screen should be no closer than the distance between their fist to elbow (Harmon distance).
     

  • Take breaks! 20/20/20 rule – Every 20 minutes, we should look up and focus on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Identify in your child’s schedule where these breaks are needed!
     

  • Adjust the brightness of the screen in Settings and move the screen away from windows to avoid sun glare.
     

  • Look for signs of rubbing eyes, excess blinking, headaches, irritability as these may be indicators of a vision problem. If you have questions, ask one of our therapists about next steps to visit an eye doctor.
     

  • Reduce amount of leisure time involving screens, including time on video games, tablets, cell phones, etc. At the end of the school day, provide rest for the eyes by engaging in outdoor activities, exercise, helping with cooking, etc. Incentivize your child to engage in non-technology activities. Create consistent guidelines for when electronic free time is allowed. 

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Brain Breaks

Sensory movement breaks are vital for children of all ages!

 

Did you know, the sensory system is at the bottom of the pyramid of learning (Williams & Shellenberger, 1996). Therefore the sensory system is necessary for higher-level academic learning. For this reason the use of sensory motor breaks during learning is essential. In addition to providing sensory input, movement breaks promote blood flow to the brain, which improves attention!

 

Research suggests that children learn best with movement opportunities provided every 20 minutes. With distance learning our team at KTT has put our minds together to develop some sensory movement breaks to implement throughout the day. 

 

Brain breaks can take a few short minutes and have long lasting effects. 

 

Below are some sensory motor/brain break ideas for home. It is important to incorporate these with structure, therefore caregivers provide directions for these breaks.

  • Animal walks (frog, bear, crab, elephant)-- use these to transition between rooms and activities

  • Pushing activities- wall push ups, chair pushups

  • Crossing midline- cross crawls, alternating toe touches, windmills

  • Jumping activities - jumping jacks, scissor jacks, broad jumps

  • Yoga/stretching

  • Simon says

  • Go noodle (www.gonoodle.com)

 

 

Sensory input at the tabletop can be further supported as mentioned in our supporting Attention for Distance Learning post. 

 

 

For more tips and ideas check out these resources:

https://www.coordikids.com/help-for-school-and-kindy/movement-breaks-in-the-classroom/

https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/learning-at-home/homework-study-skills/brain-breaks-what-you-need-to-know

Desk Ergonomics

This school year, like much of this year is going to be a little bit different. For many children this ‘different’ will include distance learning. Parents are working hard to support their children during this new style of learning. One important  step to supporting your child’s participation in distance learning is having a workspace for them. If possible this space should be a ‘school’ only space, somewhere separate from other daily activities such as play and sleep.

 

When setting up your child's 'distance learning space' keep in mind that ergonomics and posture are key for proximal stability. This stability has effects on skills such has handwriting, cutting and attention. 

 

For many parents finding the proper set up can be difficult. To make it easier try to remember 90 degrees! 

 

  • Starting with feet your child's feet should be flat on the floor- making their ankles rest at a 90-degree angle

 

  • Knees should be bent to 90 degrees

 

  • Their hips should be at 90 degrees-- avoiding tilting backward into the chair

 

  • Lastly elbows should be at their sides and bent 90 degrees when their arms are resting on the table

 

Now that we know the ideal position for an ergonomic desk how can we help children achieve these positions at home? Try these adjustments with household items,

 

  • Use a step stool for their feet
     

  • Stack boxes or books to make a DIY step stool
     

  • Place a pillow or rolled blanket behind the child to provide lumbar support and prevent slouching
     

  • Use a 3-ring binder to make a DIY slant board to promote stability during writing tasks. 
     

  • Increase seat height by sitting on pillows to ensure the arms rest comfortably on the able without needing to elevate shoulders. 

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