5 Key Therapy Strategies to Support your Distance Ed or Homeschooled Child during learning time.

Kudos to the parents out there who are accessing Distance Education or homeschooling to provide your children with the opportunity to access an education whoever and wherever they are. 

Supporting the learning of your child at home via a Distance Education or Homeschooling program can be challenging. It can be hard to know how to get the learning task mix right, what to include, what to exclude, how to extend your child or how to provide more support.  At Therapy Connect, we have worked with many children who are learning via Homeschooling or Distance Education. We asked our speech and occupational therapists to brainstorm and list the top 5 most successful strategies for supporting a child’s learning.

1) Using special interests to promote engagement

Special interests are highly motivating. Therapists regularly identify what a child’s special interests are and ask themselves “How can I use these interests to meet the goals of this learning task?” They integrate special interests in a range of tasks to promote engagement. For example, if a special interest happens to be unicorns, you could use unicorn bordered writing paper, make a unicorn with play dough for fine motor warm up, colour unicorn pictures together in a language activity, use unicorn manipulatives for math or play unicorn reward games. 

2) Using visuals, routines and structure

Simple tools such as hand drawn icons to tick off after tasks, can be really effective.

If children can be shown what is coming up next rather than relying on lots of verbal information (‘first we’re going to finish our science projects and then we will work on your creative story and if we have time we might look at your maths magic worksheet…’) they will feel less overwhelmed. 

Thinking carefully about your child’s needs, learning goals and preferences can help to guide the sequence of tasks. Our therapists are all very strategic with their activity selection and sequencing of tasks. Using a visual will support the learning routine sequence and may look like;

  • A highly engaging initial task to motivate the learner e.g 5 min drawing charades turn taking on determined topic
  • A more challenging task to work on high priority learning goals e.g 15 min planning a creative writing piece using a scaffold
  • Preferred task or sensory movement break e.g 5 min heavy movement break 
  • A challenging task e.g 15 min writing, language or social skill activity
  • Fun game related to learning goal. 10 min role play
  • Reward task. e.g 5 min game with

Using timers such as www.timetimer are great for reinforcing time passed and time still to go, especially for challenging tasks.  You can then avoid ambiguous language such as ‘in a minute’ or ‘just a sec’. When you need to give children lots of information, reinforce it with a visual. Visuals can help children who have difficulty following verbal instructions and can assist these children to develop their receptive language skills.

3) Adjusting the learning task to your child’s ‘just right’ level.

And while it’s important not to overwhelm a child, they do need to be challenged. What is the ideal challenge?  Therapists describe achieving the ideal level of challenge as the ‘just right” level- not too easy and not too hard. The learner should be stretched enough to notice the challenge but not stretched so far that you might lose them completely with feelings of anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, lowered motivation and task refusal. Sometimes the “just right” challenge level might fluctuate depending on the day. 

The tricks you can use to create the “just right” challenge are to find ways to adjust or scaffold the task to suit their level of performance on the day. Scaffolding may include;

  • Preparing your child for learning. Are their bodies and minds learning ready? Sometimes a quick intense physical activity beforehand can help prepare a body and mind for learning. 
  • Adjusting levels of difficulty of activities. Breaking a task down into its smaller components and achieving the components individually or complete tasks together “your turn to write a word, my turn to write a word”. Another strategy is “backwards chaining”. Here, your child completes the last step of the harder task and experiences the success of full task completion e.g getting them to pull the bow tight on their laces after the first few steps have been completed for them or getting them to write the last three words of a sentence.
  • Using a range of visuals.  Use visual timers “2 more min and then we will move on”….  “Let’s see if we can keep going by ourselves for 8 min”. Use the visual session sequence to show a child what is next. 
  • Adjusting language used. Does your child understand long instructions or require shorter, one at a time instruction? Do they interpret things literally?  Do they have trouble with ambiguous language?  
  • Adjusting the environment: Have you managed the visual and auditory distractions or sensitivities, providing enough movement breaks, checked seating and desk height etc.
  • Build in rewards for motivation e.g a fun game after a challenging task.

So in a nutshell you are flexibly adapting the tasks, the instructions, the duration, the rewards, the environment and sensory inputs to create that “just right challenge”.

4) Sensory Breaks and Sensory Tools as a strategy

Strategic breaks are just as important as strategic routines, tasks, and challenges.  Every child will have a unique sensory profile. 

Therapists talk about achieving a ‘Calm Alert’ state of arousal (ideal state for learning) in a child. We don’t want to be under aroused. We don’t want to be over aroused. 

Some sensory strategies such as “heavy work” (deep pulling and pushing activities) can promote ideal arousal level. These activities can be used to prepare for learning and also ‘during learning’ as sensory motor breaks to help regulate attention and arousal. 

An occupational therapy sensory assessment highlights individual sensory processing differences and then sensory strategies and tools can be individually applied into a learning program to support and extend a child’s participation. Common strategies are increasing the “heavy work” deep pressure/ push pull type tasks during break time. Offering the most intense activities can often act as a reset button. e.g. play dough play, Tug-o-war, trampoline, animal walks, wheel barrow walks etc. 

Therapy Connect has a great free webinar on low cost sensory strategies available on our website.

www.therapyconnect.com.au 

5) Adapting and using the environment

Setting up the learning environment is important to the overall success. A therapist may want to de clutter the work space to minimise visual and tactile distractions placing only the tasks working on at the table. They will think about a child’s sensory needs eg. lights (too bright), noise (too loud), and ensure sensitivities and preferences are met. They will ensure there are enough movement opportunities both at a desk and away from the desk. A child’s seated posture in the chair at the desk is important for ensuring optimal upper limb and hand function. Therapists will determine if the child’s feet are supported and the chair and desk are the right height for writing and computer tasks. 

Trouble Shooting Ideas: 

My Child has great difficulty concentrating what can I try?

  • Try visual schedules with child ticking off, use of visual supports such as timers, activity sequence. 
  • Prepare beforehand with specific sensory tasks and heavy work activities for optimal “calm alert” arousal
  • De clutter the environment and remove known distractors. Consider desk placement away from e.g. windows
  • Manage any sensory sensitivities (lighting, background noise etc)
  • Integrate special interests, build in rewards after short durations, add sensory breaks

My child refuses to compete tasks. What can I try? 

Try to understand what the refusal is communicating and aim to address? (overwhelmed, bored, overloaded, too hard etc)

  • Ensure task success with reinforcement
  • Are more scaffolds needed to find the “just right” challenge
  • Break task down in to shorter components
  • Increase use of rewards
  • Try backwards chaining approach
  • Reward effort not success
  • Use time as the task goal (X minutes then break or more preferred task)

As we said…. Kudos to the parents out here who are committed to providing the opportunity to access an education whoever and wherever they are by Distance Education of Homeschooling. 

Therapy Connect provides online therapy services using videoconferencing technology. We provide families and children access to therapy at a location that suits, at a time that suits. “Therapy Anywhere Anytime”

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