While online instruction has become a necessity during COVID-19, the question of how much screen time is a healthy amount for children has been replaced at the top of the list of our concerns. Many parents are just trying to get used to hybrid schedules, working from home while keeping an eye on their children’s learning progress, and— let’s face it— trying to stay sane.
Beth Barrow, Executive Director of Student Services at Toledo Public Schools, weighed in on how to maintain a healthy balance when it comes to technology usage, emphasizing that structure is key to getting through this complex period of your child’s education. “COVID-19 has made it so much harder,” Barrow said. “Our statement before the pandemic was ‘we need to reduce screen time and limit kids’ exposure’. With our students being online for quite a long period of time for virtual learning, that can be tough.”
TPS has adopted a hybrid schedule, segmented by student groups with two days of in-person instruction, two days of supplemental virtual instruction, and another virtual day for teachers to interact with students who need extra assistance with lessons. Parents also have the option to enroll their students in a completely virtual academy.
Advice for virtual learning days
For virtual learning days, Barrow recommends keeping a schedule and avoiding scenarios where your child has free-reign to explore online. “It’s okay for students to do something they enjoy online that also happens to be educational, but it’s also really important to interact with the people in your family,” she explains. “All of the things to concentrate on to increase socialization and take a break from being absorbed on the screen— playing games, doing puzzles, coloring— it’s important to focus on those things to strike that balance.”
In terms of socialization, Barrow acknowledges that in-person interactions with other children and adults is key to development. Children model the behaviors they see from their instructors at school along with the behavior they see exhibited by adults at home.
In person interactions are key
“In-person interactions are different — you can read emotions and body language — an email or a text make it easier to not account for someone else’s feelings,” says Barrow, adding that students with developmental challenges are especially affected by isolation. “With the disconnect caused by COVID, it’s very easy not to take into account the emotions and feelings of others. Learning to connect and interact with people is still so critical.”
While virtual learning has become a valuable tool to keep students safely engaged in an educational setting, children thrive most when they have balance and structure. It’s not easy to keep your child on task when they’re in front of a computer screen, but by concentrating on the issue, it is an adjustment you can make. Stay on schedule, go for socially distanced outings, and make sure your child maintains safe in-person contact as much as possible.