Power Up Kids’ Home Learning Skills for Now and Later

Although we all hoped that the pandemic impact on kids’ schooling would decrease for the new school year, it has not. As I wrote in my post, Coping With Your Kids’ Transition to Home and Online Learning, “The transition from classroom-based to full or partial online remote instruction and other home learning was abrupt and unexpected. Parents, along with kids and teachers, are facing new challenges and opportunities.” Indeed, as this school year progresses, these challenges and opportunities accelerate.

Strengthen the ongoing developing tools in your kids’ brains for now and their future

In that previous post, I promised to provide more suggestions about increasing kids’ motivation and joyful connections to remote learning. Let’s explore some of these challenges and options. Most remote learning situations require even the youngest kids to take more responsibility for their learning, planning, and attention focus and for longer periods of time. For the many kids who previously had parental imposed limits on their independent screen time, “school on computer” screen time requirements create a mental conflict.

Screen time was a candy store

Screen time should be a privilege upon which one imposes important limits. Within boundaries, how to use that time offered them candy store like choices. Now, they are required to follow specific zoom school destinations that likely don’t hold the desirable excitement of progressing on an action game or strategic puzzle.

Quasar/Wikimedia Commons

Source: Quasar/Wikimedia Commons

New challenges and more demand on their highest brain control system

Even academically successful and computer-literate kids are unlikely to have the executive function networks and skills to take charge of the more self-directed remote learning. Their neural networks of executive functions, such as organization, sustained attention focus, distraction resistance, judgment, and prioritizing are still developing.

In addition, the emotional connections they had, through face to face interactions with teachers and peer classmates have dropped away. With less face-time with teachers, there is a loss of immediate feedback or timely help when they are confused or when they want to express their new insights and ideas.

Many kids (and their parents) have become anxious about whether they are falling behind now further manifesting upon returning to class. Such anxiety further reduces the optimal emotional brain state needed for successful, motivated learning. It is not unreasonable, or even surprising, that many kids, even with best effort, computer access, and parent and teacher support, are indeed falling further and further behind.

What you can help them build … now and for the future

Our kids need even stronger executive function brain networks for their top-down emotional awareness and self-management. Fortunately, the executive functions skills they need now, more than ever, are now in their rapid development phase in their prefrontal cortex. These needed skills, especially for the increased demands of remote learning, are particularly accessible to boosting. These networks are strengthened each time they are used and applied. Despite the frustrations and limitations of the present state of affairs, the opportunities for building their skills for success at remote learning will generate even more powerful skills to serve them throughout their lives

Building their skills for remote learning and beyond

Research correlates the strength of children’s executive functions as high predictors of school readiness, including social-emotional and academic competence and the development of reading and math skills. Below are some of the executive functions primed and ready for boosting with your kids.

At this stage of development, your children’s brains are highly responsive (neuroplasticity) for executive function network building, in areas such as sustained focus, organization, prioritizing, goal planning, adaption to change, tolerance for others, and delay of immediate gratification.

Even in toddlers, these networks for attention focus, delay of gratification, emotional self-awareness, empathy, goal-directed behavior, adaptability, and self-management skills grow with each experience.

You can help them build these critical skills now needed for remote learning and promote their development into self-directed learners. When you help them link the use of these skills to achieving their current challenges, their brains will indeed strengthen these neural networks to apply to future opportunities and challenges.

Ease them from Frustration to Focus

Self-calming experiences let kids build skills to maneuver through their own frustrations and those that occur in interpersonal situations. You can help them build the needed skills to self-manage and override their immediate, involuntary reactions.

Help them build skills of emotional management for stress and emotional self-management. By practicing with them such self-soothing strategies as calming breathing, stress-busting visualizations, thinking optimistic thoughts, or other mindful strategies, their brain networks for these skills become stronger and faster. Their brains’ neuroplasticity will boost these strategies into stronger, more automatic responses. They become stronger and more available to access when they start falling into a high-stress state.

Do less rescue so they build frustration tolerance

All children must learn to tolerate frustration. Allow them more and more time for them to struggle before jumping in to ease their distress and solve the problem. As you stand by them, giving them time to work out their challenges, they experience the emotional lift from your confidence in them. This is hard when you want to rescue and want them to feel good and happy in the now., but delaying your jumping in in those situations will promote their own resilience and self-directed control networks.

For younger kids, lead them to more thoughtful rather than impulsive responses

  • Games like Follow the Leader, Red Light, Green Light, and Simon Says can also build resistance to impulsive behaviors for attention focus. Finding the difference between two very similar objects or pictures, finding Waldo, or following an ant on its trail build focused attention.
  • The game of Tic-Tac-Toe is a great way to build executive functions of thoughtful planning and decision making. If these practices are followed before each move, they won’t lose a game!
  • For all ages, opportunities to help children build their goal-directed focus/ delay of gratification and resist undesirable impulses are abundant when you are on the lookout for them as opportunities beyond the challenges.

Develop their Thoughtful planning, decision making, and goal-directed actions

Again, resist your impulses to jump in to give them answers or solutions.

  • Help your kids think about, predict, anticipate, and plan in advance to counter situations that push their impulsive buttons.
  • Encourage them to tell you how they make their decisions, resist trying to redirect them, but invite them to consider what other choices could be available. These can start with giving them choices (perhaps between two that you offer) about clothes to wear or which assignment to do first.
  • Beyond just schoolwork, give them opportunities to plan for things they are highly interested in. For example, have them make plans in advance about supplies they’ll need to keep a new goldfish healthy and decide how they will remember and keep track of their plans.
  • Extend their skills of planning by guiding them to set up daily and weekly schedules for completing tasks they plan so they will reach their goals for school, skills, family, and community.
  • As they progress, you can incorporate communication skills and self-awareness by encouraging their journaling (written, verbal, dictated, or drawn). Inspire them to journal their day relevant to time on school and other tasks, when are they most focused, how long before they need to have a break, what distracts them, what helps them get back on task.
  • Avoid nonspecific praise, like “great job,” but rather offer specific praise and positive feedback about attempts they make to improve skills such as time management, attention focus efforts, and positive attitudes to persevere and learn from mistakes.

Your influences will have a lifelong impact

Your influences on your youngsters will have lifelong impacts on their attitudes toward learning and persevering through challenges. As kids discover their self-efficacy to control their actions, these self-management tools continue to build and increase their tenacity and sustained efforts, even though setbacks.

As you guide them to build skills to engage with emotional and academic challenges, the pathways you ignite will continue to grow, as they become increasingly aware of and empowered to influence their emotional states, decision outcomes, and empathy for others. You’ll be helping their brains build the powerful neural networks containing these valuable skills they need now in this unsettled period and in their future challenges and opportunities.

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