Supporting Your Student: Four words to remember

As the current events continue to unfold, please know that as always, we keep all of our students and families in our minds and in our hearts. Our precious Focus Academy community means so much to all of us and we miss you all. Our instructional staff has been working to create online learning experiences that will be engaging and fun while still enabling our students to learn and practice important skills.

Throughout the time that our students are unable to physically attend school due to the Coronavirus, I will be providing a message, at least weekly, with information that I hope will be helpful in supporting you and your student through this challenging time. This is new territory for all of us, with things changing from day to day, but we are, and will continue to be, "stronger together."

As we begin this journey, I have identified a few words that I feel are important for us all to keep in mind.

The first is Perspective. For most adults, our varied life experiences allow us to keep the current situation in perspective. The limited life experiences of our students and of most young people in general, makes it difficult for them to put things into perspective in the same way as adults can. In the current situation so many things are different, so much has changed, yet as adults, our life experiences inform us that eventually most things will go back to the way they were. Our students will go back to school again, they will see their friends face to face again; most things in life will be as they once were.

Our students need to hear this message from us; in the language that we use to communicate with them, in our actions and in the overall manner we carry on throughout this time. For example, using a word like “when” communicates that although we might not be able to do a certain thing right now, in time we will. If your student is having trouble understanding the “whats” and “whys” of the current situation use developmentally appropriate language to respond. For example, you can say: “Your school is closed right now so that we can all stay healthy. Your teachers and your friends are home too, just like you. When school is open again, you can go back to school and see your friends.” There are so many challenging concepts related to the current situation and each of our students will understand things differently.

Keep in mind that it’s always best to respond directly to your child’s questions rather than just providing information or explanations. In responding to questions or asking what questions he or she might have, we avoid overwhelming our young people with too much superfluous information, and we are sure to provide information related to the questions they actually have. Asking things like “what are you wondering about ..." or "what questions do you have about …” in any situation, ensures that we are providing the information that is of most importance.

The next important word is Continuity. Continuity and structure allow our students to feel secure. Think of ways to provide continuity and structure for your student despite the enormous amount of change we are all experiencing. One way to accomplish this is to along with your student create a visual daily schedule that includes things typically done each day and try to stick to it as best as possible. Have your student add visuals such as photos or drawings and be sure it is easy to read, developmentally appropriate and readily available so that it supports your student in being as independent as possible. Along with your student identify the things to include on the schedule that are most important to ensuring a successful day. If you know your son or daughter does best when he or she gets at least nine hours of sleep each night, make sure the daily schedule allows for that. Keep bedtime and waking up time as consistent as possible. Don’t forget to include things like showering, brushing teeth, completing chores, etc. Include the tasks/activities that are most important for success and encourage your student to review the schedule daily and throughout the day as needed.

Online schooling can provide an immediate sense of structure and consistency. Schedule school time as close to your student’s regular school hours as possible and try to keep to a given schedule. Designate a specific area for learning. Encourage your student to keep it organized and to keep all needed supplies are within reach. Try to ensure that the area is quiet, away from television and other distractions. Keep in mind that at Focus Academy our students have the opportunity to move around as they transition between classes. They are given breaks throughout the day and have opportunities to socialize with friends. Be sure that opportunities for breaks, physical movement and time to connect with others are built into the on-line school day. Despite the many things that are different, many things that can still be kept the same.

Continuity and Predictability go hand in hand. When our students can predict what is going to happen next they feel more secure and in control. Stress and anxiety are reduced and self regulation is easier to maintain. Although of course the current situation requires flexibility, be sure that the things that are most important for your student’s success are consistent and predictable. For example, be sure your student adds Morning Meeting at 9 a.m. to the daily schedule and support your student in tuning in each day. Morning Meeting is how Focus Academy students have been starting their day since we first opened our doors and we have never missed a day. This is something that our students can count on and look forward to and it’s a wonderful, consistent and predictable prelude for beginning the online school day.

Connection is the final word to keep in mind; as you all know, connection at the heart of everything we do at Focus Academy. Morning Meeting is all about connection – celebrating, sharing, laughing and experiencing the start of each day together as a connected community. Start with Morning Meeting, but be sure to build in opportunities throughout each day for your student to connect with friends and family, despite the fact that you can’t be physically together. This could include communicating online, video chatting or playing on line games together or even regularly scheduled phone calls with family members or friends.

Connecting with family members within the home is of even greater importance. Schedule board game days, make videos to share, share favorite songs, take a walk or play outside together. Identify both new and old ways to connect with your student throughout the day. This is a great time to connect by teaching your a new skill or building on basic skills including cooking and baking. Or even better, have your student teach you a new skill! Ask your student to make a list of four or five things that he or she would like to do with a family member. The answers might surprise you!

Above all, find ways to add moments of joy to each day. Keep connected to those you love and care about.

I hope this information is helpful to you in some way. Sending love and support and wishing you all health and peace.

What the World Needs Now video

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