Learning online
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Learning online: Protect children’s mental health

Switching from physical school to learning online has brought about positive and negative reactions from children but where mental health is being affected, it is a cause for serious concern.

Although the change is a dream come true for some children who enjoy the benefits of a peaceful environment, for many students, it has eliminated almost every opportunity that allows them to become well-rounded individuals in the real world.

Children no longer experience the mixed emotions involved in physical school. They miss interacting with friends and teachers, being involved with hands-on subjects, playing competitive sports, taking part in extra-curricular activities, and dealing with social and cultural differences of others on a daily basis.

How children cope with learning online

Children who enjoy physical interactions at school now live in a quiet world filled with uncertainty, worry and boredom while learning online. They stare at a stationary screen in their online classroom with a combination of emotionless faces and icons that represent persons who do not turn on their cameras.

The school’s workload remains the same while there are no small breaks of classroom humour and intercom announcements to arouse the senses of students and keep them alert.

Since their lives now revolve around selecting and minimising tabs on devices, they cope with the new normal in the best way they can.

They switch from school tabs to friendly chats, lose themselves in music, watch videos, play games and use any app or website that will keep them occupied for as long as possible.

Mental health issues in children

While it may seem like some children are coping well with online learning, studies have shown that the mental health of many children are being greatly affected. HealthyChildren suggests that parents should check with children for signs of stress. Children may have problems with fussiness, falling asleep, feeding issues, constipation, being clingy, withdrawn, acting aggressive, wetting the bed and having mood swings.

Furthermore, they may lose interest in activities previously enjoyed, have problems with memory or concentrating, show a drop in academic effort, changes in appearance and care for personal hygiene, an increase in risky behaviour and may show signs of depression. Here are 5 recommendations for adults to consider to protect the mental health of children during the pandemic.

5 recommendations for children to cope with learning online

1. Be patient and understanding

Some children may not feel emotionally ready for learning online on certain days and simply need adults to be patient and understanding with them. They rely on grown-ups to make them feel comfortable so parents and teachers should always cooperate. Teachers should avoid getting hasty with students who do not sign in, turn on their cameras or submit assignments on time.

It is best to deal with their parents about these issues, give second chances, assist with more explanations and extend deadlines for projects. Parents should consistently talk to their children calmly and listen to the reasons for their behaviour carefully. Communicate your child’s concerns with teachers and try to come to a mutual agreement on how to move forward as learning online continues.

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2. Keep lessons engaging

Remote school already lacks the environment that allows students to experience the world with their senses so it is important to keep them engaged while at home. They are unable to see students, teachers and school personnel in all their shapes, sizes, styles and mannerisms.

They do not hear the different sounds of voices, tones and melodies of their fellow schoolmates in the cafeteria or schoolyard. They are denied the various smells of body sweat, perfume and meals across the compound, and most importantly they do not play with their friends.

Teachers and parents must collaborate to create engaging lessons for children. Tech&Learning recommends that teachers should discuss with students, norms that support effective learning, create accessible content and strengthen relationships.

This includes asking students to make a short personal video, doing show and tell or having weekly chats, use existing online resources, foster lively interaction, connect with experts and families, have a schedule, teach digital literacy and citizenship, allow customised learning for students and rethink learning spaces.

These suggestions should be supported by parents to keep children’s interest as they cope with learning online.

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3. Ease up workload

The workload for a school year has always been a lot to cover for teachers and students in a physical setting. Since they must do additional tasks to make online learning possible, the time becomes shorter to cover the set workload.

In many instances, the job gets done, but at the expense of the mental health of children, teachers and parents. Education administrators and teachers have been discussing the issue of easing up the workload for a while. TheGuardian offers tips from experts to help schools reduce the workload of teachers.

While these issues are being dealt with, teachers can find ways to ease up the current workload on students to help protect their mental health. Teachers should avoid using too much software to conduct lessons or sending out numerous emails and notifications.

Keep tasks simple enough to evaluate the student’s performance. Allow re-submissions bearing in mind that the children are not performing under normal circumstances. Send video links to watch rather than load up students with reading material to read or write out all night. Be considerate and extend deadlines or give extra-credit assignments.

4. Break up screen time

In an interactive classroom setting, students will sit around a table, move around the room and experience learning at a 360 degrees angle doing a number of activities. However, when learning online, many of them sit and stare at a screen for a very long time.

After school, they continue to stare at this screen to do their homework and to entertain themselves with online chat, using social media and playing their favourite games. This occurs every day which takes a toll on their eyes, physical condition due to lack of movement and their mental health.

Teachers can break up screen time for students by using several approaches. A simple strategy is to give short breaks in between sessions to allow them to move away from the screen for a bit.

You can make lessons more interactive by allowing students to get up and search for items around their homes that relate to the topic. Also, you can ask students to get creative with reading material such as turning it into a song, poem, rap, game or short movie that they can perform for everyone.

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5. Allow sick days

Calling in sick to physical school or work has the benefit of protecting everyone else from catching the flu. However, getting sick while learning or working from home is different. It raises the question, why do you want a sick day when you are already home?

Unfortunately, during the pandemic, the mental health of adults has deteriorated as they struggled with reduced incomes, loss of homes, closing of businesses, pressure of getting vaccinated and the deaths of loved ones.

According to Healthline, “Even though we know taking a sick day has always been stressful, the pandemic has really escalated that stress even more,” says Dr Cynthia Zelis, chief medical officer of MDLIVE.

The article explains that working from home adds more stress to the matter as sick day stress was found to be higher among people working remotely than those working in-person. 

Children are no exception during a pandemic. They are deprived of the freedom and childhood that they once enjoyed and are bombarded with changes that are too much for even adults to handle.

This affects the mental health of many children causing them to get sick if they do not stop to recuperate. When children become sick, asking them to attend online classes is counterproductive because they may not be focussed enough to concentrate.

Their sickness only worsens and their mental health declines causing them to go into depression. Give students their sick days without judgement. Let them use the day to sleep and be prepared for another challenging day.

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