Returning to school for the 2020-21 school year is going to be anything but normal and will look at lot different than in years past. As COVID-19 cases continue to remain high across Ohio, many districts are moving to online instruction.
Videoconferencing tools, such as Zoom or WebEx, can enhance student-teacher interactions while students learn remotely, but they are creating a large learning curve and a whole new set of challenges (and anxiety) for students and families to overcome.
To make the most of our new normal, proper steps should be taken to ensure students are comfortable with the virtual platform and understand how to use it for optimal learning.
“It’s all new for everyone — parents, kids and teachers,” said Dr. Jacqueline Branch, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital. “It’s OK to ask questions to the school and your child’s teacher. We’re all learning this together.”
To prepare for all those videoconference calls kids will be expected to do this fall, it’s important kids practice ahead of time. Just as we would as working parents prepare for an important conference call, it’s important, too, that our kids practice and prepare for a year of virtual learning.
Try role-play so it’s not brand new for your kids on the first day of school. Do video chats with grandparents, friends or others, so your children can learn to navigate the video platform and become familiar with the functions they’ll need to know to participate in a virtual classroom. Kids should know how to mute themselves, virtually raise their hand, chat and more so that they’ll be ready and comfortable when it’s time to start school.
In addition, establish a routine and stick to a school-day schedule — even if your child is not in the classroom. Post your calendar on the wall so your child can visually follow her schedule. When kids follow closely to a typical school day, learning remotely will become routine and predictable, which can ease stress and help kids thrive.
Kids also should have a dedicated, quiet space to concentrate and focus on school activities. Have all of their school supplies there and ready to go, so it will limit interruption. They won’t have to get up in the middle of virtual class time to grab supplies.
“It’s important to remember that this is school, and just like at school, kids should be on time, have all their materials ready, and be quiet, even if that means hitting mute to limit background noise,” said Dr. Branch. “Kids should know when and how to ask questions, and they need to make sure they wait their turn to speak just like they would in the classroom.”
How to reduce anxiety surrounding videoconference calls
With anything new, stress and anxiety are bound to build up. Some kids may feel camera-shy, have physical disabilities they don’t want to highlight or other concerns. They may feel exposed in ways that we normally don’t while physically in the classroom.
Practicing ahead of time can help ease that anxiety. When kids practice using the video platform, they will know what they look like on screen, how much of their body is showing and what’s in the background. Knowing ahead of time gives kids a chance to get comfortable and make adjustments, if necessary.
“Talk to your child’s teacher about her concerns and find out what the rules are,” said Dr. Branch. “Ask your child’s teacher about disabling video, digital backgrounds, online safety measures and other ways to help you and your child feel more comfortable.”
If your child is really struggling with the video portion, she can disable the camera and still participate in the videoconference. Instead of turning on the camera, most platforms allow you to use your profile picture or an avatar instead.
Your child could also check-in with the camera on to show the teacher and class she’s present and then turn off the camera once classroom instruction begins.
If your child is concerned about what’s showing up in the background, she can use a static, digital image. It can help your child focus on the teacher and not be concerned as to what other students are seeing in her background.
Just be careful, Dr. Branch warns, as some busy, bright-colored backgrounds can be distracting for other kids participating online. If her teacher is uncomfortable with digital backgrounds, your child can simply sit against a blank wall.
“Remind your child that she’s not alone; this is new for everyone,” Dr. Branch said. “Assure her we just need to get through the initial start and we’ll all be OK once we get used to how things go.”
If your child seems to be struggling significantly, Akron Children’s Lois and John Orr Family Behavioral Health Center is offering mental health services via telehealth. Call 330-543-5015 to schedule an appointment.
Learn more about Akron Children’s COVID-19 response and resources available for families.