OT-based Strategies for Promoting Distance Learning Success

School has begun for many, and it has taken on many different forms. We are very much thinking of all the students and families we know. This school year can be an opportunity to build resilience.

We wanted to offer a few strategies to provide support at this time – we compiled a list of occupational therapy-based strategies to promote distance learning success for your child.

Please note that the following list may or may not directly apply to your child. We acknowledge that this situation is ever-evolving and will look different for everyone who is engaging in distance learning. For more in-depth information, please consult with your child’s school, physician, and/or occupational therapist.

The purpose of this 10-item list is to jog your ideas of other components about distance learning that you may or may have not thought of before. We encourage you to focus on what you can control in this situation.

Strategy 1: Share your story.

Start a conversation with your child regarding distance learning and approach it with curiosity – what are their favorite parts and least favorite parts about it? If applicable, talk them through situations where you had poor WiFi connection, when you were late to a virtual meeting, or when you have experienced technology glitches, and provide them with examples of how you handled the situations. At the very least, we can communicate our support and empathy with our body language and facial expressions.

Strategy 2: Consider the environment.

Personalize their workspaces by having helpful sensory toys, favorite stuffed animals, pictures, quotes, and/or crafts they made, nearby. If your child benefits from less visual distractions, promote a decluttered workspace and/or view. Ensure their workspace temperature is optimal for their learning, and/or provide them with access to jackets or cold water nearby to help keep them regulated.

Strategy 3: Consider their eye health.

Remind them of the benefits of the “little things,” such as closing their eyes when they feel their eyes are getting tired, or looking away. You can do this by playing a game of “I Spy.”

Note: To exercise their eye muscles, have them look up, down, side to side, and diagonally while keeping their head straight. To exercise their neck muscles, have them do the same movements, but this time moving their head (i.e. looking over their shoulder when looking side to side).

Strategy 4: Consider the scents in their office.

Some children are highly distracted by scented candles or the smell of cleaning products. Also, imagine smelling your favorite homecooked meal, on an empty stomach, in the middle of an exam. Could be distracting; would be delicious!

Strategy 5: Consider the sounds.

Inform others in the house when your child needs it to be quiet, such as during assignments or tests. Teach your child how to adjust the volume on their devices & how to use the mute function. Consider the background noise in the house (i.e. washing machine running, television on in the other room, dogs barking, neighbors talking, etc.). Avoid having multiple devices in the same room to eliminate echoes.

Strategy 6: Consider movement & flexible seating.

Movement is a big component here. Encourage movement by having a dance party or doing exercises in the time that would replace their commute to school. Exercises can be embedded in your routine, such as safely jumping from the kitchen to their desk or squatting while brushing their teeth. Your child can even create movement cards by writing an action such as “plank for 30 seconds while naming 5 things you learned today” or “crab walk across the room to retrieve puzzle pieces & finish a puzzle on the other side of the room”; have them keep it by their desk so they can refer back to it during their breaks.

In terms of flexible seating, consult with your occupational therapist to further personalize this to your child. In general, flexible seating can include sitting on dyna discs if your child prefers to rock or wiggle to keep their attention to activities. However, it can also mean changing positions, such as by standing, kneeling, or lying on their tummy.

Strategy 7: Dress the part.

Ensure your child maintains the routine of getting ready and dressing up for school. This may help encourage your child to differentiate between home time and school time. This may also promote their self-confidence during distance learning.

Strategy 8: Put words to their feelings.

Discuss with your child how it feels to be distracted (i.e. “I know I am distracted when I feel like my mind is racing and jumping from thought to thought”) or focused (i.e. “I know I am focused when I can imagine heading toward a target”). This can help paint a picture to identify their emotions and can be a precursor to coping skills. Draw it out for them, if that helps, too.

Strategy 9: Go with the flow.

This can look like adapting with possible changes in the curriculum further down the school year.

It can look like teaching your child ways to avoid becoming visually distracted with the moving tiles they see on their screen (i.e. consider changing the screen to only focus on the teacher, if possible).

It can look like informing your child that everyone learns at a different pace (i.e. if they may fixate on one student finishing an assignment before others).

Strategy 10: Lean on support.

What does “community” look like to you at this time? You do not have to take this on alone. Know and utilize your helpful resources.

These are just a few items that can be addressed – we hope this encourages you to think of what else is within our control.

We wish you all peace, resilience, and good health at this time.