“Learning from a Distance: Focus and Follow-Through in the Time of COVID-19”

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We are all doing our best right now to do our best.  We are trying to create structure, routine, and a feeling of safety for our families.  It is in that spirit that we are launching a new webinar and blog series: “Learning from a Distance”.  We want to share our best tips and resources and do our part to help you get through.  

Online School is Starting: Replacing Natural Cues

With schools starting back up online, we have some tips we hope will create the structure and routine that is so helpful in creating the “cues” for focus and follow-through for our students.  

In the best of times, school taxes students’ executive functions.  Skills like initiation (the ability to take action and get started) and shifting ( the ability to easily switch from one task or thought process to another) are made more difficult because we don’t have the natural cues of walking into a classroom (time to focus!) or coming home from school (time for homework!).  

And now, with all of this free time, kids naturally default to their preferred activities. So, what can we do to help?

  • Make their preferred activities the “stars of the show”.  We know that kids don’t know how to structure their time.  They even fight structure, which is the very thing that will help them the most.  They worry that they won’t “ever” get to do what they want with all this drudgery, so structure is the enemy.  To avoid this, create a “favorites first” structure:

    • Schedule IN the time that they get to do their preferred activity first, and then schedule the rest of their activities around that.
    • Eliminate their worry of “If we *only* schedule academics/non-preferred activities, when will I ever get to do <my preferred activity(ies)?>
    • Create goals and clear guidelines about what needs to be done first, but having a “favorites first” scheduling structure alleviates their concern of not doing their preferred activity(ies) at all.
  • Use the (updated) KISS principal:  Keep In-home Schedules Simple (or don’t call it a schedule at all). Create your routine with the “pockets” for preferred activities first and keep it fluid. We like the idea of using a “FAMS” approach to structure routine. Pick your daily pocket(s) for:

    • Fun = art, outdoors, music, anything that feels fun to them
    • Academics = learning goals, online school, or educational activities 
    • Mind/Body = exercise, mental and physical health.  This is how we stay positive and strong.
    • Skills = cooking, musical instruments, brain teasers, anything that helps us practice.

  • Build in transition time and tools.  Let’s remember that moving from a “preferred” to a “not preferred” activity is hard for all of us.  So, when asking kids to get off their iPads or move from lunch to homework, try a transition activity instead of a hard stop.  What works for a great transition?

    • Activities that are time-bound:  Coloring sounds great but remember to set a Timed Timer or stop-watch. “Coloring” can mean a lot of things 🙂
    • Activities that are specific:  Activities that are specific and have a “natural end” are ideal.  Instead of “exercise”, try “2 walks around the block” or “a 15 mins exercise class”. Find 5 differences in these pictures is better than “work on a puzzle”.  
    • Activities that are “semi-preferred”:  Coming in from outside (preferred) to do homework (non-preferred) is hard. Instead, put a step in the middle, e.g. a crossword puzzle or any activity that can help ease the transition and change their focus.

And throughout all this, remember giving our kids agency is key.  Letting them choose their preferred activities, the order of things or whatever they can gives them a sense of buy-in and control.  Something we all need a little bit more of right now.

In closing:

Even with the new world order, good things go on.  Creativity.  Patience.  Forgiveness.  Unity. From McLean, VA to Wuhan, China.  We’re all in this together.

For more resources and ideas, check out our 1:1 Remote Executive Function Coaching Page and Webinar.