School closures and remote learning have significantly impacted the lives of parents and children across the country and the world. In fact, over one billion children in approximately 200 countries have had to stay home from school due to the pandemic (UNICEF). While remote learning has been a welcomed change of pace for some learners, many students with special needs, such as those who receive services and supports with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan, have been particularly struggling in this new learning environment. In this blog we will outline strategies that you can implement at home to support your online learner.
Communication with Your School Team
Our first tip is to find ways to exchange information with the members of your child’s school team. Depending on their individual needs and IEP or 504 Plan, this may include a speech or occupational therapist and/ or a behavior specialist, in addition to your child’s teacher. Use phone calls, email, and/or video conferencing to stay in touch with the members of the team and for team meetings. This can help you advocate for your child’s needs and make sure everyone is working towards the same goals.
Take Time for your Own Mental Health
Take time to care for your own mental health, in addition to the health of your child. You are being given more demands than ever before, whether you have become a hands-on support to your child’s learning, are working full-time, or both. The demands increase even more if you are supporting a child with special learning needs. We recommend that you consider the following strategies to maintain your own mental health.
- Use positive self-talk, such as “I gave my child my all today, and that is enough.” or “We are a team, and we are all in this remote schooling together.”
- Engage in self-care activities like going for a short walk, or reading a chapter of your book before bed.
- Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Remote learning is new and tricky for them too. Practice patience with your child during this time.
Use Positive Parenting Strategies
Use positive parenting strategies to help your child learn to regulate their emotions and promote positive behavior during the learning process. When used consistently, these strategies can shape your child’s behavior over time.
- Praise your child’s positive behaviors. It is all too easy to miss your child’s good moments, but impossible to miss the bad ones. Taking time to look for and praise those positive moments will benefit you and your child in the long run.
- Repeat or summarize your child’s appropriate talk. This will help them to feel heard, as well as help them to better process their schoolwork.
- Show enjoyment when interacting with your child. This can be as simple as smiling and using a positive tone of voice when working on homework.
- Ignore minor attention seeking misbehaviors, as this teaches your child that you will only provide your attention when they engage in positive behaviors. Ignoring consists of looking away, maintaining a neutral facial expression, not mentioning the negative behavior, and instead, praising the positive ones that you see.
- Model positive behavior for your child. Children learn from the adults in their life, so if you want them to speak positively about school, you should too.
- Use the “Premack Principle” to increase motivation. Help your child to pick a preferred activity they can look forward to doing once they finish their less preferred activities, such as completing math worksheets.
- Implement a behavior chart to promote and reward positive behavior. Behavior charts work well for kids who prefer routine, as they provide specific expectations for behavior.
DESIGNATE A SCHOOL WORKSPACE
For kids who thrive on routines, a designated and distraction-free workspace is key. The following items can help make a workspace work for your child.
- Desk or table: this should be placed away from televisions and distractions.
- Cozy secondary work spot: it is challenging for children to stay in one spot all day, so a cozy alternative can help kids maintain engagement all day long.
- Adapted or flexible seating: allowing children to sit on the floor or a pillow can help those who need to fidget or have sensory needs.
- Supplies: having supplies ready to go prevents children from wandering during the school day.
- Headphones: these are great for children who are sharing a workspace or are easily distracted by background noises.
Create a Predictable Daily Routine
Our final tip is to create a daily routine. This will support all children, but particularly those who struggle with transitions. Providing a visual schedule of the routine can make this even more effective. If a visual schedule or Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) was included in your child’s regular school day as part of their IEP or 504 Plan, consider using some of the same images and routines in the home visual schedule. Your child’s school team might want to include specific activities in the visual schedule. The following components are essential elements to incorporate in your daily routine:
- Implement a regular sleep schedule. Elementary aged kids need 9-12 hours of sleep per night (American Academy of Pediatrics). Alarms can ensure that kids sleep and wake at the same time each day.
- Make sure your child is well fed. Becoming hungry will decrease your child’s participation over time. Providing regular meals and energizing snacks every 1-2 hours is best.
- Provide physical movement breaks. Engaging in physical activity such as dancing, jumping, and stretching enhances learning, so it is important to get your child moving every 1-2 hours.
When you consistently use these strategies, you will find that you and your child will begin to feel more successful with remote schooling. You can find additional explanations of these strategies here.
For a video illustrating these examples, follow this link.
Piper, R., Stoll, M., Naguib, S., & Dixon, P. (February 12, 2021). Parenting and Schooling at Home when Your Child has Special Learning Needs (https://infoaboutkids.org/blog/parenting-and-schooling-at-home-when-your-child-has-special-learning-needs)