Parents Can Help Their Children Adjust to Online Learning
Many young children have struggled to adjust to attending school online. While they are required to spend extended periods staring at a computer screen, they are easily distracted, lose interest and miss social interactions. In a time of nearly unprecedented challenges to childhood education, parents can improve their children’s chances of success by adopting some simple considerations from the perspectives of vision, hearing and occupational therapy.
With children of all ages participating in virtual learning currently, setting up an ergonomically designed learning space at home will go a long way in promoting good posture, better engagement and prevention of musculoskeletal challenges down the road. While it is unrealistic to expect children to maintain the 90-90-90 (elbows-hips-knees angled at 90 degrees with feet flat on the ground) position at all times, it helps to start with an ergonomic setup and provide some alternative seating positions.
Here are some strategies for setting up an ergonomic workstation and some alternatives:
- Chair: Choose a comfortable cushioned chair with lumbar support and armrests. The height of the chair should be adjusted such that the child’s feet reach the floor. The depth of the chair should be such that thighs are supported but the edge of the seat does not cut into the back of the knees and there is a clearance of a few inches (3-4) between the edge of the chair and the child’s knees.
- Desk: Desk surface should be low enough, such that elbows remain at 90 degrees and wrists in neutral position.
- Device setup: The top of the monitor should be eye-level and the distance around 16 inches from the screen.
- Sound: If possible, use either the computer speakers or headphones as two ears are better than one. Try to avoid using earbuds.
- Tip: Hang a picture of an ergonomic setup to remind children of the correct position to sit.
And here are some alternatives you might consider.
- Use a standing desk or create a raised work surface, while maintaining a minimum of 16 inches away from the screen.
- Alternate a chair with a yoga ball.
- If sitting on the couch or bed occasionally, consider using a laptop table, adjusted such that 90 degree elbow position and wrist position is still reasonably maintained.
- Use a slant board to place papers and notebooks, while working on written assignments.
- Incorporate adjustable book stands or holders to angle books and tablets for reading.
- Headphones with a boom microphone to pick up your child’s voice more clearly.
- Add in a captioning app, such as Ava, so your child can read along with the conversation.
Improving endurance and preventing fatigue
Increased screen time for virtual learning may lead to more symptoms of fatigue and reduced concentration. Simple modifications can be made to alleviate additional strain on your child.
- Room lighting should be set at a maximum level and the screen placed to eliminate glare.
- A larger screen instead of a smaller device like a tablet or laptop will reduce the demand on the visual system.
- A blue light filter app, such as night shift or twilight, will help reduce the amount of blue light emitted by technological devices. Blue light has been shown to have a negative effect on the sleep/wake cycle.
- Use an external keyboard with ergonomic pads to support the wrists, instead of using the tablet screen to type.
- Add an ergonomic mouse instead of the laptop’s trackpad.
- Use an anti-fatigue mat while standing for an extended period of time.
- Position a three-sided cardboard privacy folder to reduce distractions.
- Reduce background noise to improve overall sound quality and ability to concentrate.
Establishing routines and setting schedules
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended routines for families and children alike. Most parents are having to balance online learning for children, with their own work schedules. Here are some tips to help families to build structure and develop routines:
- Set consistent times for getting up and going to bed. Some families might find it beneficial to use an alarm clock with daylight simulation, to establish a smoother morning routine.
- Try to limit device use outside of school and work.
- Hang a daily visual schedule near workspaces (use a picture schedule for younger kids and written for older).
- Build in breaks:
- Brain breaks: spend time outside, practice mindfulness or meditation.
- Sensory: physical movement like jumping jacks, play catch, introduce crunchy snacks or chewing gum to bring back focus.
- Visual: Optometry advocates the 20/20/20. For every 20 minutes of near work, take 20 seconds to look over 20 feet away.
- Sound: An easy rule for safe sound levels is the 80/90 rule with headphones. Turning the volume up 80% is only safe for 90 minutes, however 60% of the volume level is generally safe for eight hours a day.
- Daily, disinfect or wipe off headphones and workstations
If you notice your child is struggling after considering these recommendations, it might be time for a hearing and/or a vision evaluation. You may also want to request a quick assessment of their study area by a qualified professional.
Shelly Boelter, AuD, is an assistant professor of audiology who serves on the board of the Oregon Academy of Audiology and is a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology. Shruti Gadkari, OTD, is an assistant professor in the school of Occupational Therapy with a specialty in pediatrics. Paula Luke, OD, is an associate professor of optometry, chief of vision therapy, and a fellow of the American Academy of Optometry. You can reach the authors by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.