Virtual learning has become the norm in these times. Here are some useful tips on How to Manage Online Classes for Kids so they stay healthy and happy!
The Coronavirus is here and it’s not going away any time soon. India is now the country with the third largest number of COVID-19 cases and the fourth largest in terms of COVID-19 deaths. Social distancing, sanitizing and mask wearing has become very much the norm, and we just have to learn to live with these restrictions.
One of the biggest impact of COVID-19 has been on our children’s learning. Schools have been closed for months now, and it’s hard to say whether they’ll reopen this academic year. With so much uncertainty in front of us, we need to make do with the current situation and help our children adjust to the new normal of virtual classrooms.
Virtual learning is a relatively new concept in India, and students, parents and teachers are still getting used to it. The biggest impact is obviously on our children, who can’t go to school, meet their friends, participate in extra-curricular activities or resume any part of their old life. Besides that, virtual learning has adverse effects on their physical an emotional health.
School is not just about learning what’s in the textbooks – it’s also about learning important interpersonal skills and establishing relationships. Physically, so much screen time can hurt them in many ways, and along with being cooped up at home all day, it can also lead to obesity and a lack of exercise. Studies have also shown that some children can get seizures when they spend too much time on electronic devices.
On the other hand, online classes do have their benefits. At least our children have an option to learn without being exposed to the virus! Being at home saves a lot of time on travel, and children are also more at ease with respect to waking up or having their breakfast. Children are less distracted and can focus completely on the class. We have also seen how online learning is better for the environment – it consumes 90% less power and there are 85% fewer CO2 emissions.
So let’s make the most of this time and help our kids learn and keep up with their studies at home – but in a healthy way. Here are some useful tips on managing online classes for your kids, so they don’t miss out on their classes and can still grow up happy and healthy.
1. Get the Right Device
The Ministry of Human Resource Development of the Government of India has released guidelines for digital education which state that ‘schools can hold live online classes for a maximum of 1.5 hours per day for Classes 1-8, and three hours per day for Classes 9-12’. However little time your child is spending learning online, it makes sense to get a device suitable for her.
Larger screens like tablets and laptops or desktops are better than smart phones, for many reasons. For one, if you get a call while the class is live, it might cut off the class. Your phone is also hostage for as long as the classes are on. And most importantly, kids will have to strain their eyes to see any text or small images on a tiny screen.
Another important thing to consider is your internet connection. A network that doesn’t provide any speed or keeps breaking up is a nuisance and interferes with your child’s learning. Check out which network is the strongest in your area, and opt for an internet pack that will be sufficient to handle all those video classes.
2. Ensure Complete Safety
Virtual learning has put our children more at risk of falling victim to cyber crimes. According to the UNICEF, ‘millions of children are at risk of online sexual exploitation and grooming, as predators look to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic’. There have already been several reports of ‘zoom-bombing’ happening, where strangers barge into online classrooms without an invite.
This shows us that we need to be 100% careful when letting our children attend online classes. First of all, make sure all the firewalls and anti-virus tools are installed and updated. Configure ‘safe search’ on your web browser. Be extra careful when you’re using a device you borrowed from someone – their anti virus or firewalls may not be up to date.
Last, but not least, educate your children. Tell them that they should never provide their full name, photo, address or other personal information anywhere on the internet. Just like they have rules for strangers in real life, they should be careful in their virtual lives too.
3. Have a Designated Study Area
Online learning is a new experience for kids, so it can be a little overwhelming. Make things easier by setting up a study area for your child near a power plug, so she can plug in the laptop or tablet if it starts going low on battery.
Make this place a cheerful area, and let your child help decorate it. Make sure there are proper spots for holding pens, pencils and other stationery, a dustbin to hold stray bits of paper as well as a water bottle. It’ll be ideal to have the spot near an open window, but if it’s too noisy outside, keep the window closed.
If you have a keyboard, make sure there’s enough space for them to spread books around too. Let the kids use this space only for study and not for play or other activities. It’ll help them get into ‘study mode’ when they sit down here, and this will help them focus better.
4. Ensure Proper Ergonomics
Since your child will be spending more than an hour in front of the computer, it’s important to make sure that he is sitting with the correct posture with respect to the device. Make sure the screen is 10-30 degrees below eye level; the child should always be looking slightly down than up to avoid neck strain.
Keep the screen at least 1.5 to 2 feet away. Younger kids may drift closer towards the screen, so they need to be monitored. Make sure the child is sitting with back straight and they are not slouching. If using a tablet, get a stand to prop it up. If using a laptop, place it on a table instead of on the lap.
5. Maintain Eye Health
Eye health is the biggest concern of parents when it comes to online classes. When we stare at a screen for a long time, we blink less than usual, and this can result in dry eyes. Encourage kids to blink frequently – about 12-15 times a minute – they can have fun practicing it outside class.
It’s a good idea to get your child’s eyes checked before the start of every school year. If your child needs spectacles, ensure that she wears them during class. Get anti-reflective coating which cuts off blue light from LED devices. For older kids, spectacles are a better option than contact lenses when studying from home.
Get radiaiton-filtering screens for your devices. Adjust the brightness settings on your device before the session. Too much brightness produces unwanted glare, and too little makes the child strain her eyes. You can also use an app like ‘flux’ which will adjust the brightness for you.
6. Don’t Forget the Ears
Along with the eyes, the ears also need special attention when attending online classes. The World Health Organization says that more and more young people are at the risk of hearing loss because of improper earphone use. Across the world, ever since the pandemic began, ENT doctors have been seeing a rise in medical issues related to earphone use, from ear canal infections to hearing loss.
Start by getting your child good quality headphones, since low quality earphones or headphones can cause headaches and even nausea. Headphones are safer than in-ear earphones, but if you can, go for external speakers. When choosing headphones, make sure they fit the child perfectly.
Noise cancellation headphones are good since they drown out external noise so your child doesn’t have to raise the volume just to hear over the noise. You can also download free apps which can monitor the noise level. Before letting your child wear the headphones, check the sound levels yourself first.
7. Take Frequent Breaks
Most classes are anywhere between 20-40 minutes, and sitting in one spot is not healthy – for the mind or body. If the teacher gives a short break in between the session, let the child stand up, walk to and fro a few times and stretch the body from side to side.
After every session, let the child take a break away from his books – and any other screen! This is a good time to do some stretches. You can also try this ‘5 times’ poem:
Stretch yourself 5 times
Roll your head 5 times
Roll your wrists 5 times
Look outside the window ,and count 5 objects you see
Drink sips of water 5 times
5 times you jump like little Jack
And teacher is here , we gotta run back.
After lunch, let them get some fresh air, in the front porch or balcony. This is especially important if they’re going to have more sessions after lunch.
8. Ensure Screen Free Entertainment
Kids are already spending a whole lot of time in front of screens these days, and all our screen time rules have been thrown out the window thanks to the pandemic! Since they can’t go out and see their friends, their outdoor sources of entertainment have also been cut out, so they’re more likely to turn to a screen when they have free time.
Simply banning screen time will not help; you need to have alternatives in place. Stock up on craft supplies so if your child thinks of making something, he won’t be held back by a lack of supplies. Try out science experiments with things in your kitchen, make crafts or create art.
Even with school work, see if you can cut out screen time by making hard copies of the lesson plans, so your child can then read them and work on them. These will significantly cut down screen time and also get her into the habit of reading from a physical book.
9. Maintain a Regular Routine
With no school, your child now doesn’t have to wake up in time for the bus and eat a hurried breakfast. While enough sleep and a relaxed breakfast are advantages, a lack of routines aren’t good for children. Routines offer stability and build discipline and make children more productivity.
If your weekdays and weekends seem to blend into each other, it’s time to change things! Set a routine that’s as close to school routine as possible, of course excluding the commute. Let kids learn to go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday. Plan out a daily routine that includes exercise, down time, play time and household chores.
If your child is old enough, let her maintain a planner or journal where she can simply jot down all the things she has to do, assignments to submit etc. This will be an excellent life skill for the future too, when she has to manage multiple responsibilities as an adult.
10. Include Healthy Foods
You might wonder what food has to do with online classes, and the answer is – a lot! Even though your child doesn’t have to wake up for the bus, waking up from the bed and jumping straight in front of the screen is to be avoided. Your child now has the time, so make sure he eats a filling, relaxed breakfast before class.
A good breakfast gives your child the energy to sit through class, and it also improves focus, concentration and memory. And with things being what they are, you also want to ensure that your child has good immunity. With decreased activity in general, many children also have constipation, so you need to add more fiber.
In short, ensure that your child has more of these foods, for good immunity, cognitive function and eye health: mangoes, papaya, carrots, broccoli, dry fruits and nuts, spinach, egg yolks and fish.
11. Ensure enough Physical Activity
Have you noticed that kids are getting more and more irritable these days? One main reason for that is that they don’t get to expend energy in their usual ways and they’re feeling stifled. Give them a vent through physical activity.
All children are different, so choose an activity that goes with your child’s temperament. Maybe it’s yoga, maybe it’s dancing or maybe it’s just running freely. Find out what it is and find a proper place for her to do it. Another good option is to let kids watch TV and do something simple like stepping on a step at the same time.
Enough activity ensures good sleep too, and good sleep is the foundation for good health and enough concentration the next day. Make sure kids get at least 8-12 hours of sleep, depending upon the child’s age. Kids are likely to stay up late since they don’t have to go to sleep the next day, but ensure they stick to bedtime.
12. Stay in Touch
As we mentioned earlier, direct tutoring from the teacher is not the only thing kids are missing out on when they aren’t going to school, they can’t meet their friends and this can have an emotional impact on them.
So while classes will carry on virtually, there’s no harm in bringing in some fun as well! Let kids have a video chat with their friends. Seeing them all in the same situation will make your child feel better and the kids can talk about what they’re doing at home and how they’re dealing with virtual classes.
Staying in touch is also for parents! Reach out to other parents and connect with them – chances are they’re facing the same kind of challenges you are, when it comes to online classes. Maybe a group of kids can set up a time and arrange a group chat so they can all ‘hang out’.
Online classes are challenging for teachers, parents and students, so it’s important that everyone is patient and works with each other through this phase. Kids need a lot of understanding and support, so don’t overburden them. Make it as fun for them as possible, while helping them stay on top of lessons. With time you’ll all get into the groove.
With inputs from Dr. Amruta Tripathi, Ophthamologist MBBS, MS (Opthalmology), Consultant Eye Surgeon, Aarogyam Heart and Eye Clinic, Ashok Nagar, Kandiwali East. Contact: 9004260406, [email protected]