Currently, with the majority of the world under some level of stay at home measures, families are having to adapt quickly to a new way of life.
Children are greatly affected by the sudden shift from in-person learning, to digital learning platforms, and in some cases, no structured learning materials at all. As a school-based Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA/L), we have shifted to a telehealth model and one of the most important tips we can give our families is some of the primary visual-motor hygiene considerations when adopting this new model of learning.
While it’s understandable that not all families will be able to find the ideal set up location for students, it is important to consider the environment in which the digital learning station will be set up. A room with some level of quiet, proper lighting, preferably a window to look out of (for visual accommodation shifts – relaxing the eye muscles from the strain of looking at a screen for extended durations) are some of the prominent ones to factor in.
It’s no surprise that prolonged use of digital media will cause a level of strain on our children’s visual systems. The window in the room is a great tool to help facilitate “visual breaks." Every 10-15 minutes, encourage children to look far out the window – this will help to relax the muscles around the eye and shift their “visual accommodation." Some children may be working on tablets and in these cases, it’s important to create an ideal visual angle by propping the device up at a 20-degree angle to provide proper visual input. Placing a tablet flat on the table will create poor posture and poor visual angle resulting in more fatigue. Slant Boards such as the Visual Edge board are great to maintain proper posture. An easy DIY version would be to take a 3-inch binder and use it as a slant board.
Another important visual consideration is clutter. Clutter surrounding the learning station can cause significant distractions for some of our learners. In most cases, students will perform better when there is less clutter, making it easier and more comfortable to focus on the learning material being presented.
The ideal seated learning posture is the 90-90-90. 90 degrees at the foot, knee, and hips. In order to create this, a table and chair at the proper size according to the child’s height is important. Families who may have multiple children in the household, some tables and chairs can be easily adjusted using household items such as books and toys so that you can adapt it to each child’s ideal posture.
Shifting from an in-person learning model to an at-home digital platform can create a lot of challenges for students and their attentional capacities. Being at home but being expected to focus on school work may be a challenge. Sitting in front of a screen to learn materials may not be a student’s strong suit. All of these considerations are case by case depending on the type of learner you may be working with.
Some things to consider are, when available, printing out worksheets so that they are still getting the pencil to paper motoric component, allowing for flexible seating when appropriate (switching from seated at a table to laying prone on the carpet, sitting on an exercise ball or bean bag, standing at the kitchen counter, etc.). Brain breaks will be very important – going outside and running a lap, doing a few yoga stretches, etc. Instead of squeezing the entire learning materials into a “typical” school day, try to break the lessons farther apart in the day may help some of the students retain the material better.
While we are all under a great deal of pressure and stress to continue life as usual for our children, these are unprecedented times and remembering to be kind to yourself and knowing you are doing the best you can as a parent/caregiver, having patience with our teaching staff as they have all been thrown into a new platform, and most importantly, allowing our children time to adjust to their new normal are all important in providing continuing learning opportunities for our children!
I was compensated for this blog post but the opinions are my own.
Lina Awshee is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant with a background as a Pediatric Vision Therapist. Currently, Lina is practicing in the school systems where she works with students of all ages. When she isn’t working, Lina enjoys sharing purposeful ways to include skill development into daily playtime. You can find fun suggestions by following her on Instagram @motormommy.co.
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