In the past year, the U.S. has seen the number of K-12 students engaging in online learning grow exponentially with 2.7 million students logging on for their school day. This is largely due to social distancing standards set by local, state, and federal governments, in addition to plans laid out by school boards to help reduce the number of COVID-19 cases in schools. These measures are in place to keep children and faculty safe, but it also means that a majority of our children are now turning to screens for 6-8 hours a day to get their education. While online classes allow students to get the education they need, children are lacking social stimulation and the opportunities for building positive relationships in early childhood in this space. To ensure that our children are gaining the most from virtual learning while we navigate what the future of classrooms looks like, teachers and parents need to take the extra step to help students establish and grow their relationships in an online setting.
Pros and Cons of Virtual Learning
While virtual learning may be new for you and your family, kids have been turning to online schooling for years now. Parents have historically chosen online classes for their child if they have learning disabilities, trouble focusing in social settings or interacting with others, a busy extracurricular schedule, or face any other reason that their child may not be succeeding in a traditional classroom.
In 2021, parents are starting to consider the possible benefits and potential downsides of virtual learning as schools are opening up with the option of in-school or online learning. Here are some things to consider when thinking about virtual learning for your student:
- Flexibility – A huge advantage to online learning is the ability to be flexible within the school day. Instead of following a rigid, hour by hour schedule prompted by bells, virtual learning allows your child to gain an education on their (and your) schedule.
- Increased focus – Being at home instead of school allows for more hands-on learning with your child. Some parents find it helpful to hire a tutor or learning coach to help their children with their virtual learning.
- Save on travel time – Save on travel times and expenses when the classroom is right in your own home!
- Learn anywhere, anytime – One of the biggest benefits of virtual learning is the ability to learn anywhere. So, you can bring school wherever school needs to be – grandma’s house, the beach, the library, etc. Wherever you go (and the internet goes), virtual learning is there. Also learning isn’t just during “school hours” – there are learning opportunities all around, at all hours of the day
- Technology – For online learning to work, the student needs to be connected to the internet. This means that they not only need a device to learn on, but internet capabilities too. This list of telecommunication companies has signed the Federal Communications Commission’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge, which provides free service to students in their coverage areas and/or free public WiFi hotspots that students could access for some portion of each day.
- Independent learning required – Virtual learning means that students need to be participating and completing assignments on their own, without a person physically present to tell them to do so. While some students might adapt to independent learning, others may struggle with the organizational skills and motivation they need to succeed.
- Lacking in social interaction – While Zoom classrooms and Google Meets offer video interaction, nothing can replace in-person socializing. Virtual learning spaces don’t offer the opportunity for students to communicate with each other outside of class discussions like in-person school does.
Building Positive Relationships in Early Childhood
It is important for children to start building positive relationships in early childhood, which normally occurs in a school setting. School is not only where children learn but where they make friends, learn social skills, and start to develop their identity through their relationships with others. And while virtual classrooms may change the ways that students have traditionally built relationships, there are ways to help them feel more connected with their classmates and teachers online.
- Stop the multitasking – Encourage your student to stop multitasking and really listen to what their teachers or classmates are saying. This may be challenging but it will allow your child to really focus and connect with a face and a voice.
- Schedule breaks – Try to make the virtual school day as close to a real school day as possible. After one class or assignment is completed, maybe offer your child a snack break in the kitchen or a walk outside away from the computer. This is also a good time to allow your older children to connect with their friends if they have a phone or tablet. Just remember, they wouldn’t be allowed to talk to their friends or Snapchat during in-person class, so apply those same rules at home!
- Say “hi” outside the screen – Try sending a teacher or a friend a letter or card in the mail. This will not only be a fun arts and crafts activity to do at home, but it will give the recipient something physical to attach to an otherwise virtual person.
- Attend extra online activities – Oftentimes, teachers will offer extra opportunities to connect with themselves or other students via online chat rooms. These spaces offer children the opportunity to connect with other students and their teachers for more informal conversations and chances to get to know each other.
How HAPPÉ Can Help
HAPPÉ Life can help with building positive relationships in early childhood. We are dedicated to helping children develop the social and emotional skills they need to be calm, confident, and positive, even in new environments and situations like virtual learning for the first time. Our free online programs help children learn and understand concepts like respect, gratitude, empathy, personal boundaries, and how to reach out to others through fun, play-centered activities!
Contact us with any questions! Generally, we respond to emails within two business days. And if you found this blog post interesting, please feel free to share it on your social media!