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In March 2020, schools everywhere moved from face-to-face instruction to online learning from their homes, complete with Zoom and Google Meet classes. Teachers, students, and parents had to adapt and learn new technology, while managing daily lessons. Overall, it was a success, despite a few learning curves and glitches.

2021

This year, many families chose to continue virtual learning. They found it fit their child’s learning styles and needs. When we homeschooled, we used both online and hard copy lessons. Both of our sons needed movement, hands-on learning, and sensory breaks. Here are some tips for students who thrive in a sensory-friendly, moving environment you can use!

Always remember, KISS – Keep It Simple Silly! Enjoy this precious time with your children. It’s time we’ll never get back!

Social Stories

When my son was younger, transitions were a challenge. We used social stories for everything from the first day of school to dentist appointments. Social stories about familiar situations helped prepare him for what was to be expected. When we switched to digital learning last school year, I found some amazing social stories on the Autism Little Learners website. 

Here’s one that helps with students returning (or transitioning) to virtual school: 

Going Back to Online School

Routines and Schedules

Routines are important! When digitally learning, I ensured my sons’ schedules were similar to their face-to-face school schedules. We woke up at a certain time and made sure school started at the same time, each day. I printed visual schedules and taped them in a noticeable place. I made sure they understood tasks and checked items off when completed. We also use simple checklists, as well.

Here’s an awesome free visual schedule site that might help:

Free Schedules

Simple Sensory Tools

Parents of special needs students might feel overwhelmed and incapable of online, virtual school from home. But it IS possible! Believe me, you can do it! Our occupational therapists always used sensory tools/toys/fidgets. They have helped us a lot. Wiggle seats, squeegees, fidgets, medicine balls help students get those wiggles out and focus. Movement while learning keeps student’s brains on task. You can create similar items with simple objects around the house. 

Here’s what we’ve used:

  • Medicine ball or balls at desk for feet to fidget
  • Dish detergent and glitter in a large Ziploc baggie
  • Play Doh
  • Silly Putty
  • Legos and K’Nex
  • Rubik’s Cubes
  • Water bottles filled with water, glitter, food coloring, beads
  • Homemade slime – PVA School Glue; Slime Activator (must contain some form of borax, sodium borate, or boric acid); Shaving Foam; Food coloring, glitter, confetti and other fun mix ins
  • Thread beads
  • Color or draw
  • Write ABCs in shaving cream on desk
  • Small sensory bin full of rice & buttons

Nurturing Friendships

Friendship
Friends

Encourage children to FaceTime or Skype with friends during breaks. They can even eat lunch together! I know they’ll miss socializing with friends, but thanks to technology, they can keep up with each other super-easy. You might even encourage them to WRITE an actual letter with paper and pen to friends!

Get Up and MOVE

Now, this might be the most important tip for this school year! Students need to move. We learned the hard way that “without movement comes MUCH rage!” We scheduled movement breaks between tasks each day. We also had to move during schoolwork so our sensory overload calmed down and we could get the wiggles out. 

Some simple ideas are:

  • Bear crawls and crab crawls
  • Wall push ups
  • Walks or runs outside
  • Nature scavenger hunts
  • Obstacle courses
  • Hopscotch
  • Jumping jacks
  • Walking stairs
  • Squats, sit ups, push ups
  • DANCE DANCE DANCE!

Family Time Together

I believe during these crazy times, children and parents are drawing closer. They’re working, schooling, and living together and learning more from each other. Parents have a better understanding of what teachers actually DO with our children on a daily basis. We MUST work together with teachers, administrators, school boards, and staff to continue to see our students succeed. 

When things get a little stressful this school year, remember these things:

  • Read together
  • Write a letter to someone who’s lonely
  • Look through old pictures together
  • Plan vacations together
  • Draw and paint together
  • Sing and dance together
  • Enjoy being together in this fast-paced busy life we lead

Marnie Witters is a Writing Coach at The Academy, as well as a guest blogger.