At HomeSphero Staff
A girl looks frustrated at the kitchen table as she looks at he tablet while her mom leans in to assure her.

As the pandemic has shaken up the way we’ve done things for the past year, students have been under more pressure than usual. With remote learning being implemented by school districts across the country, many students are having a difficult time focusing on schoolwork, struggling with long periods of social isolation, and spending far too much time looking at screens. That’s a whole lot of stress-inducing situations.

With at-home learning likely continuing for the foreseeable future, there’s a growing concern that the current state of education is having a negative effect on our learners. 

In fact, in a recent survey conducted by the Sphero team, we asked our community of parents and real-world teachers what problems they’re currently facing with at-home learning. Responses showed that the average parent is very concerned about this semester’s effect on their student’s overall well-being. 

To help reduce stress for students in the new year, we have compiled top recommendations from our community of educators that cover the challenges inherent to remote learning, how to recognize school burnout and many of the different ways you can keep learners positive and engaged.

Increased Stress and the Challenges of Remote Learning 

Similar to adults working from home for the first time during the pandemic, students who are not used to learning in a remote environment have faced a unique set of challenges, including:

Lack of Social Interaction 

Social interaction (the cornerstone of social-emotional learning) is a crucial element of a student’s education, especially when it comes to young learners. Unfortunately, the transition to remote learning has left students without face-to-face interactions with their peers or teachers for months. 

While it might seem impossible to implement social-emotional learning into an isolated learning environment, this guide can help you learn how to include social-emotional activities in your virtual classroom

Reduced Levels of Engagement 

Many remote students are experiencing reduced levels of engagement as they wade through virtual assignments that are far less hands-on than in-class assignments.

To help remote students stay engaged with their coursework, Sphero has a few tips on how teachers and parents can master hybrid learning.

Heightened Screen Time 

Learning in a remote environment means more screen time than ever before. In our survey, we asked parents just how many hours their child spends in front of a screen each day. The most common response we received was 5 to 8 hours.

While young people who spend seven hours or more a day on screens are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety than those who use screens for an hour a day, remote learning has forced students to adopt screens as their primary source of education — and that leaves parents with only one choice: control what’s on their student’s screens. Fortunately, with these 3 steps, you can improve the quality of your student’s screen time.

3 Signs Your Student Is Experiencing Academic Burnout 

A frustrated girl and her mother sit at the table looking at a lesson on a tablet.

Recognizing the signs of academic burnout is critical in keeping your students happy and healthy while learning from home. A few of the most common signs of school-induced burnout or stress include:

Expression of Negative Emotions 

When your student expresses negative emotions more than normal, they are likely dealing with school-related stress. Whether they are becoming easily frustrated with everyday assignments or expressing sad thoughts about their current situation, it’s important to pay attention to their moods closely. 

To help you keep tabs on your student’s moods and support their social-emotional development, check out this free, printable mood tracker worksheet

Lack of Focus

Difficulty focusing is another telltale sign of school-related stress in a remote learning environment. Some of the most common red flags include:

  • Staring into space when they should be looking at schoolwork
  • Difficulty maintaining a train of thought
  • Needing directions or instructions repeated

Pay attention to how your student behaves during a typical school day, and make sure to ask them how they are feeling if you notice any of these signs or others that are similar or out of character for them. 

Exhaustion 

Exhaustion is another clear sign your student is responding negatively to remote learning. Exhaustion can be both physical and mental, so you will be able to recognize this symptom of burnout more easily than others. 

Watch for your student to complain of headaches, dizziness, or abnormal bouts of fatigue. Additionally, if you notice they are no longer interested in their favorite subjects or activities, they are likely experiencing emotional exhaustion from the extended isolation. 

Manage Stress Better With These 9 Ways to Reduce Stress for Kids

Through our in-depth survey with our community of parents and teachers, we discovered nine tried-and-true methods that help to reduce student stress in current remote learning environments, including:

1. Rewards

Giving rewards is a classic method to help remote students stay motivated. Extrinsic rewards (such as giving a student a small prize or a favorite snack after completing a challenging assignment) are great to use with larger, more complex tasks. Intrinsic rewards (such as verbal praise) are great for smaller, everyday tasks, such as being on time.

2. Brain Breaks

Allowing your student brain breaks throughout the day helps them recharge and reset before starting work again. One surveyed educator recommends having your students go through a guided meditation course from platforms like Mind Yeti. Other brain breaks suggested include listening to calming music, doing kid-oriented yoga practices, or dancing. 

3. Daily Emotional Check-Ins

Checking in on your student’s emotional well-being daily is an easy way to get ahead of school-related stress. One surveyed educator recommends having your students pick an emoji that represents how they feel at the beginning of each day so that you can be aware of their feelings. Then, have them take turns saying one encouraging comment to each other. Another educator suggests having your students exercise their social-emotional strengths by having them discuss what makes them feel happy, like their pets.  

4. Personalized Supplies 

Students love to feel special, which is why providing them opportunities to personalize their everyday school supplies is a great way to keep them stress-free and engaged. Allow them to pick out and personalize their school supplies, and give them the opportunity to share what their supplies look like with their peers.  

5. A Change of Scenery 

One of the easiest ways to keep things interesting in a remote learning environment is to change up the scenery. For example, when the weather is nice, set up a makeshift classroom in the backyard to give your student a break from the confines of their room or home office. One educator enjoys decorating outdoor areas with educational materials to mimic the movement between classes they would experience in school. 

6. Study Groups 

Virtual study groups and social groups are a great way to get your students to interact with their peers. Whether you establish study groups based on each subject or simply add extra time in the day for social-emotional interactions, it’s important your students engage with their classmates as much as possible while learning from home. 

7. Flexible Schedules

With remote learning comes newfound flexibility. Rather than giving your student a fixed schedule, ask them what they would like to work on first. Students may be more motivated to work on a task that they’ve chosen. Also, find new and unique ways of sharing information, such as having guest speakers join virtual meetings or incorporating at-home assignments that feature hands-on, play-based learning

8. Teacher Office Hours

Many surveyed teachers have virtual office hours in place and expressed a desire for remote students to take advantage of this time. During student-teacher 1-on-1s, students can ask for additional support or direction that they might not be getting otherwise. 

9. Asking Students What They Need

Sometimes students know what they need better than anyone else. Our community of educators suggests simply asking your student how they are feeling and what they need to succeed. They might surprise you once you open up the conversation. 

The Importance of Parent-Teacher Communication in Remote Learning

It’s important for parents and teachers to have open, regular dialogue so they can work together to find the best path and approach for a stressed student. Parents, teachers, and students shouldn’t have to feel alone even when kids are learning at a distance. A daily, weekly, or bi-weekly check-in (depending on the level of attention needed) between parents and teachers can create a unified approach in assisting a student who is feeling overly stressed right now.

Create a Stress-Free Remote Learning Environment for Kids

The 2020 school year was unlike any other due to the pandemic, and the first half of the 2021 school year likely won’t be much different. Fortunately, remote learning can be successful when parents and teachers work together to find solutions. With this guide, you will be able to start implementing measures in at-home classrooms that help students cope with their current situation.  

Looking for more ideas to keep your kid engaged while learning from home? Check out Sphero’s range of ridiculously cool programmable robots and STEM kits geared toward learning through play today!

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