Dreading Virtual Learning? How to Bring in Some Joy: Weave connection, movement, and joy into your kids’ long e-learning days
By: Fr. Stan Bosch
Brothers and Sisters of St. Raphael,
With the challenge of distant learning, as we begin this school year, we want to be present to and supportive of you. Learning from home is causing real anxiety and depression in many here and around the world. I will attempt to offer various ideas, strategies and emotional skills to complement our prayer and outreach as a community. Please know that we are here to support and love you! Peace, Fr. Stan
While virtual learning may be necessary for safety, there are good reasons to hesitate about it.
Too much screen time can wreak havoc on kids’ bodies, brains, and moods. Research suggests that extensive screen time can lead to eye problems such as eye discomfort, fatigue, blurred vision, headaches, dry eyes, and other symptoms of eyestrain.
Hours of daily screen time can also stunt kids’ brain development. A 2018 NIH study indicated that children who spend more than two hours a day on screen activities scored lower on language and thinking tests. Some who spent more than seven hours a day on screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to processing sensory information like vision, hearing, and touch.
Perhaps most concerning is that increases in screen time have been found to be associated with depressive symptoms. One study showed that adolescents showed an increase in depressive symptoms for every increased hour spent using social media. Another study showed that adolescents who spent more time on new media (including social media and electronic devices) were more likely to report mental health issues, and adolescents who spent more time on non-screen activities (in-person social interaction, sports/exercise, homework, print media, and attending non-religious services) were less likely.
Boosts for children’s mental and emotional health:
During e-learning, parents can be intentional about giving children specific types of breaks from screen time—breaks that bring in laughter, creativity, fun, connection, purpose, nature, relaxation, and movement. Breaks build joy and balance the impact of screen time on kids’ bodies, brains, and moods.
While parents may view these ideas as “breaks” from screen time, they are also “boosts” for children’s mental and emotional health during this difficult time, a time when (according to a recent Save the Children survey) 27% of children report feeling anxious, 23% report feeling stressed, and 22% report feeling unhappy. Breaks can help kids secure the “feel good” chemicals of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin that they’re normally able to get from other things, such as being a part of a classroom community or playing sports at recess.
Types of breaks include:
Exercise (e.g., walk, bike ride, shoot hoops). Service (e.g., bring food to a pantry, make get-well cards, write a friend a surprise chalk message, rake a neighbor’s leaves, write political postcards, make muffins for a friend). Creativity (e.g., art, poetry, writing, singing, music, sculpture, crafts). Joy (e.g., dance party, sprinkler run, blast favorite music, build a fort, listen to music, etc.). Social (distanced visit with a grandparent, talk about your day, write a pen pal, distanced visit with a friend and one-on-one time with parent). Real reading/writing (e.g., read real books or magazines, write a pen pal, write a story, write a personalized note). Nature (e.g., gardening, walk, bike ride, picnic, lunch outside, etc.). Adventure (go somewhere new, do something new, make something new, play something new).
If you involve kids in the process of thinking of activities, they’ll be much more excited to do them. Gollwitzer (1999) suggests that when you add an implementation intention (exactly how you’ll do something) to a goal intention (what you want to do), you’re much more likely to be successful. Determine how you want to weave non-screen breaks into your kids’ days.
A few examples:
Have kids write ideas. Put strips of paper with each idea into a jar and have kids pick one when they’re ready. Have kids make a visual schedule/calendar with planned breaks/boosts between work sessions and zoom calls.
Examples of Mini Breaks (five to 10 minutes): Scooter around the block, play foosball, play ping pong, shoot hoops, play catch, do a dance video, do a pogo stick, color a picture, stretching, do a stamp set, blast some music and freestyle dance, do some tumbling, do an obstacle course, give a hug, bounce on a yoga ball, blow bubbles, kick some goals, read a book outside in a lawn chair, pick some flowers, write a get well or thinking-of-you card, do sidewalk chalk, color, call a relative and say “hi.”
Examples of Medium Breaks (20-30 minutes): Go to a park, recess free play in the yard, bike ride, scooters, kick soccer goals in the yard, play catch, do a longer dance video, roller skate, garden, paint a picture, collect and paint sticks and pine cones, make a craft, read a comic book, read a regular book, do yard work, play a game, play Dominos, play cards, play Uno, rake leaves or shovel snow, call a friend, call a grandparent, call a family member, run through a sprinkler, romp in the snow, make a bird feeder, writing political postcards, write thank you notes, write thinking of you cards, choose food items to bring to a food pantry, FaceTime an elderly relative, make a gingerbread house out of graham crackers and cream cheese, make a sculpture out of toothpicks and marshmallows, write a neighbor a surprise chalk message, make cookies for someone who needs them, bake something, climb a tree.
Examples of Big Breaks (two hours to two days): Make your own pizza lunch or dinner, go golfing, go kayaking, go fishing, go camping, have a BBQ, make s’mores, visit friends in their driveway, kids make dinner night, Monopoly or game night, play baseball at park, go to a new forest preserve or natural space, go apple picking, go biking, go skiing or snowshoeing or hiking, a weekend getaway for fall break, go out for ice cream, picnic at a park, camp in the yard, sleep in a fort in the basement, do a big Lego set, or a project such as woodworking.
With help from:
Erin Leyba, LCSW, Ph.D., is the author of Joy Fixes for Weary Parents: 101 Quick, Research-Based Ways to Overcome Stress and Build a Life You Love, and is a therapist in Chicago’s western suburbs.