It's been a while and every time I go quiet with blogging, I promise myself I will get better. The good news is the reason I took a break from blogging was because I was actually busy with work. The gratitude I feel for being busy during this crazy time is immeasurable. I love what I do and to be able to continue even remotely felt like such a gift. In July, I was able to slowly go back to my New York City office to see a handful of kids in person, but the majority of my caseload has been remotely and will continue that way with this new school year.
Unlike March and April when we were all trying to figure out this new way of doing therapy, I feel so much more prepared and ready for whatever gets thrown at us this school year. Not only do I feel more prepared, I have figured out how I can support parents and caregivers for these sessions to be more successful by setting up the environment. With the help of my daughter (illustrator) and my husband (graphic designer), I have created this infographic that I will be sharing with all of my families before we begin online therapy sessions. The suggestions made are not exclusive to therapy sessions and can be used to make distance learning and online extra-curricular activities
1. Dress in therapy appropriate clothing-I know that we have all fallen into a clothing rut. Why really bother to get dressed if we are not going to be going outside. Keep in mind that kids do better with routine and consistency so if they are going to be on a zoom class or therapy session, they should get dressed just like they would for an in-person session or school. This is especially important for activities that will require them to get up and moving. I like to start most of my remote sessions with a gross/sensory motor activity and it's helpful if they are wearing shoes (if you are a no-shoe household, get a pair of inexpensive shoes that can be worn indoors).
2. Plan to have a snack and use the bathroom BEFORE a session begins-another thing that I saw a lot of during my remote sessions was kids turning on the camera with a big snack in-front of them. These remote sessions make it much easier for snacks to be at our disposal whenever we want them. This is a huge distraction for kids during sessions, especially if they are presented with more challenging activities. Having that snack right there in-front of them is an easy way to avoid tasks. Typical therapy sessions last no more than 45 minutes so if your child says they are hungry, make a plan with them that there will be a snack waiting for them as soon as their session is over. As for the bathroom, we all know that when you have to go, you have to go but if possible, encourage your child to use the bathroom right before their session begins to avoid a pause in the session. My observation was that it quite tricky for the kids to regain their focus and attention afterwards.
3. Set up a good work space-I know that space is something that can be quite limited, especially for my New York City based clients who live in apartments and you are juggling parents working from home and multiple children doing remote learning/therapy. I speak from my own personal experience with my 10 year old daughter. While in my head I knew this was going to be a long-term thing, my heart wanted something else so badly that I just threw her at a crowded table with too much junk. That disorganized table naturally led her to be disorganized with her supplies, papers, etc.. No matter what happens with NYC schools, my daughter will be home and we are starting the year off with a proper desk with her computer and only what she will need for school. This designated area will be her own space and will be the only place she will be allowed to do her work. In order for therapy sessions to be successful, do the same. Have a designated space, preferably a child sized table or desk with room around them for them to participate in any gross or sensory motor activities.
**for kids who have a hard time sitting for long periods of time, consider a standing desk that can be adjusted for them throughout the day.
4. Physical movement space is a must-kids have never been asked to spend so much time sitting in front of a screen and we forget how much natural movement occurs throughout a school day. Getting up from circle time on the floor to go to their tables, moving from their classroom to the lunch room and specials rooms are all things that will no longer be happening so we must create movement opportunities, especially when we see their focus is impacted. Whether your child will be in school or at home, make sure they are set up with space around them to get up and do some quick physical movement. Some simple movement activities that can be done throughout their school day: jumping jacks, dance parties, freeze dance, running in place or some simple yoga poses.
5. Only have materials needed for school/therapy sessions on hand-going back to number 3, whatever work space you have set up for your child, only have materials that they might need for their sessions or that particular class. I can't tell you how much time was wasted during some of my sessions asking kids to put away their favorite stuffed animals, books or other toys. One of the things that I have learned and vow to be much better about this year is to send an agenda to my remote session parents at the beginning of the week with any materials that will need to be printed and what we will need for our sessions. If I know a child well enough and know that they will need markers or Legos during their session but having them out before they are needed will distract them from doing other activities, I will ask parents to bring them to them when needed.
6. Set up technology before the session begins-this is especially important for younger children and children who might not have a grownup right there to support them in the moment (working parents, parents/caregivers supporting other children). Make sure that the camera and volume are on and stay with your child until you are certain they are signed on and everything is working with their therapist or with their class. Another important thing, make sure your device is completely charged before your child's day begins and be sure to check on the battery level throughout the day. The more you use a device, the quicker it will go through a charge and if kids are in the middle of an activity and their device dies, it's very hard to come back and attend.
7. Limit distractions-again, another much easier said than done expectation. But there are some easy things that can be done no matter what your remote learning situation looks like. If your child has a session or class, turn the television or music off and have them put away any toys that they might have in their eye sight. If there are siblings at home, try and have them occupied so they don't interrupt your child's session. Also, if your child needs your assistance during your session, try not to be on the phone as that can be a huge distraction for kids.
8. Make sure a grownup is available for troubleshooting-one of the things I realized early on is that one of the most helpful things I could do as a therapist is set up an online session in a way that parents didn't have to be involved 100% of the time. This ended up being easier for older children but I did figure out that even for some of my younger children that as long as I was clear with what I needed for each session prior to beginning, things went smoother. My pre-schoolers did great because they had a grown-up assisting them for much of the session but for my older kids who were more independent, I worked it out with their parents or caregivers that they would be reachable via text if I needed something from them.
I want to end this post with discussing the importance of routine and structure, especially during these uncertain times. Knowing what to expect from their day and what will be expected from them will help children feel more in control of things. If your child does well with visual instruction, set up a visual calendar for the week with when they will be going to school (online or in-person), what therapy sessions they have and any other extracurricular activities that might be involved with. If your child will be mostly remote learning, I can't stress the importance of adding body and brain breaks into their schedule. Whether it be having a dance party between sessions or doing some kind of obstacle course in your house, movement helps with learning.
The last thing I want to say is that we are all in this together and we are all doing the absolute best we can. This is not easy and none of us could have expected when 2020 started that life as we know it would come to a screeching halt and we would need to make all of these lifestyle changes. Parents, it's okay to feel overwhelmed and nervous about what lies ahead but know you are not in this alone. Find yourself a friend who you can vent to when necessary. Us parents need to support each other now more than ever. This is a whole new adventure and I too am nervous about what will be, but I also know that we all know so much more than we did months ago and that's making me feel a little less anxious for this new school year.
Good luck to you all! I am here to answer any questions or provide any support I can this school year. I am only a click away and love hearing from everyone.