This year, school readiness takes on a whole new meaning. Some children are being prepared to start school virtually. Others are preparing for a hybrid model, while a third group is preparing to be in school full time. Each experience presents its own psychological, physical and cognitive challenges. Heidi Eckstein, Pediatric Physical Therapist and school library teacher at Our Lady Queen of Peace School addresses three areas that are important to explore.
“As a school library teacher and pediatric physical therapist, I am grateful for the opportunity to observe how children move and learn in two different environments. I cringe when I think back to all of the recommendations I gave teachers while only wearing my physical therapist hat. But now that I am in the classroom, I have a whole new appreciation for what teachers and students go through and accomplish every day.
Here are a few observations and ideas I would like to throw out there as the new school year approaches:
1. Sitting endurance
This is a biggie. This area is very noticeable at the beginning of the school year. The students come and sit down at their desks or on the carpeting and within minutes, the fidgeting and movement begin. It does not take long before fatigue sets in and the students are unable to hold this upright posture. The problem is that at that very moment, the students are no longer learning. Their focus has shifted to how uncomfortable they are.
Recommendation: When your child is doing a sitting activity at home, encourage him or her to practice sitting upright on the floor without any support or in a chair (preferably a chair that allows his/her feet to rest on the floor). Take note at how long they are able to hold that posture and encourage your child to do this activity a few times a day.
2. Writing endurance
One of my favorite exercises I love to do in the first week of school is to have students write or draw for five minutes straight. I ask them to write about what they did over the summer. Within a few minutes, students are letting go of their pencils and shaking their hands out. Their brains are full of ideas to write down, but their hands are too tired and sadly, cannot keep up. With the increased use of electronic devices, we are seeing less and less use of the pencil and paper. This change means less writing and use of all of those beautiful muscles in the hands and forearms.
Recommendation: Encourage your child to write throughout the summer (or start now)! This summer, I encouraged my daughters to get into the routine of writing for five minutes in a journal after breakfast. Surprisingly, after we started the journal writing routine, I noticed them open up more about how things were going. You could also give your children sentence starters. Other writing ideas include writing a friendly letter to Grandma and Grandpa once a week. Or start a travel log notebook in the car. Make an elaborate scavenger hunt. The sky is the limit…and pencils and paper are cheap (and don’t require a wi-fi password).
3. Best Learning Environment
How, when and where do children do their best learning?
Recommendation: At the end of the first week of school, check in with your children by asking some of the following questions. How did school go this week? When did your day go well and when was it difficult to focus? Where were you most comfortable today? Observe where your children prefer to read when they are at home. How are they sitting or lying? What time of day do they prefer to read? Some children assume what looks like very odd positions when reading or doing their homework. But, those positions are very telling about their needs. Look at how your children support their head, spine, pelvis, extremities, and feet. Are they lying down, semi recumbent, or sitting up with their head and neck unsupported? All of these observations are a great way for you as the parent to assess where your children are at and what needs they may have.
One area that I don’t address in this article that deserves consideration is vision. We know children are spending more time than ever on their electronics (especially those starting with virtual learning). As a teacher, I will definitely be giving my students “eye ball breaks” during virtual learning sessions. I will ask them to get up and move around, sing their favorite song out loud and proud, do some push ups and jumping jacks and look at objects far away. I will tell them about the 20-20-20 rule (for every 20 minutes of screen time look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds).
Students deserve to enjoy their learning experience without being distracted by tired and achy trunks and limbs.
So here’s today’s challenge…
Sit with your child on the floor (oh heck, make it criss cross applesauce) and read a story. Start your stop watch and make a note of the time elapsed when you or your child make a shift in sitting positions. At the end of the story, ask your child a few questions about the story. Then take a few moments to reflect on how the exercise went. Repeat the exercise tomorrow and observe the changes.”