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Back-to-school: Balancing health with learning

Officials and parents continue to struggle with plans for a new school year as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues. We compiled expert guidance to help make the most of online or hybrid (part online, part in school) learning.

08/12/2020

Some education experts continue to advocate in-classroom learning. Others look to online teaching or a hybrid model – partly online, partly in the classroom – to help keep children, teachers, and families safe. In Connecticut, school officials in each district will make decisions and may offer parents options for fall.

“We are in unprecedented times, and there are no past experiences to guide us,” says Dr. Beverly Sheppard, department chair for pediatrics at AdvantageCare Physicians. “We all accept that classroom learning is best for most children, especially those with special needs.”

For children learning online at home, here are some important considerations.


Time and technology

Many students will be behind academically in September, according to research reported by The New York Times. For some, it could be as much as a full school year lost.1 That could continue if students have some form of online learning this fall.

The Washington Post reported the effectiveness of online learning can vary, with technology skills and access playing a big role. Many schools and teachers were not prepared to deliver lessons online and scrambled to pull them together. Students faced countless issues, like the availability of technology and adapting to less structured learning environments. 2 Along with difficulty completing assignments, research shows unequal access to devices and high-speed internet connections can increase absenteeism. There is no way to ensure every student has an equal experience but sticking to a schedule may help.

“If your district provides live classes online, have your child on a schedule, up and ready for class,” Dr. Sheppard says. “If the lessons are prerecorded, designate a time for your child to watch the videos each day. Accept that your child may not get through the entire lesson, and it is okay.” She adds that you can review the rest later in the day or on the weekends. 


Start a conversation

Experts at UNICEF say encourage children to talk to you about what they’re feeling. Let them know it’s okay to feel anxious. Explain what will be different if they go back to school (like wearing masks and being spaced apart from classmates).

Dr. Seth Resnick, chair of psychiatry and behavioral health at AdvantageCare Physicians, says some children will welcome a return to school while others may be anxious or frightened. Check in often and keep an eye on their stress and anxiety level.

“Encourage creativity, through play or art, as an outlet for expressing feelings that may be hard to explain otherwise, like anger, fear, or sadness,” Dr. Resnick says.


Fitness, health, and sleep

At home, children may want to do their work on the couch or floor. This may lead to strain on their necks, shoulders, and backs. Sheppard says children should work at a table to reduce back strain. Be sure to schedule breaks and physical activity throughout the day. If weather allows, head outside. “Go for a walk, ride a bike, play hopscotch, or jump rope,” Dr. Sheppard advises.

Age-appropriate health care supports their physical health. Stick to your child’s preventive care schedule, whether they will be home or in a classroom. Sheppard says parents should work with their pediatrician to ensure each child gets all their recommended vaccinations and screenings.

Kids should also have a set sleep schedule. Be aware that technology overload may also affect children’s sleep patterns. Research shows increased exposure to blue light from devices makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Poor sleep may lead to an increased risk of depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

To help kids sleep better, Sheppard says “electronic devices should be turned off at least one hour prior to bed time.” (Check out some other ways to create healthier sleep habits.)


Keep the ‘social’ in social distancing

Socialization plays a large role in a child’s development. Daily interactions with friends and teachers help children develop communication and social skills. Dr. Sheppard said this in-person interaction is important at any age, especially for children ages 3 to 6 who are just starting to socialize with people outside their family.

Dr. Resnick says monitored and limited use of social media, online games, and other technology can help kids stay connected to their friends. “If you can minimize risk, you may want to consider in-person play dates with one or two young children to help with the development of social skills,” adds Sheppard.


Do what’s right for your child(ren)

Even if a school district holds in-person classes, parents can decide what works best for their family. “Nothing is more precious to us than our children,” says Resnick. “Consider the latest data, regulations, and guidelines. Use that to make an informed decision that makes sense for your family.”

Feeling overwhelmed? There’s help available for parents and children. ConnectiCare plans include coverage for in-person or telehealth visits with behavioral health professionals. Check your plan benefits for more information. Or, call Member Services at 1-800-251-7722 (TTY: 711), available 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

 

Both ConnectiCare and AdvantageCare Physicians are subsidiaries of EmblemHealth, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health insurers.

 

1Goldstein, Dana. (2020, June 5). Research Shows Students Falling Months Behind During Virus Disruptions. The New York Times. Retrieved from nytimes.com. Last accessed 7 Aug. 2020.

2Strauss, Valerie. (2020, March 30). Five concerns about the mass rush to online learning that shouldn’t be ignored. The Washington Post. Retrieved from washingtonpost.com. Last accessed 7 Aug. 2020.