The digital transition to online learning platforms casts light on common issues that transcend academic learning. These issues include difficulty concentrating in a virtual classroom, learning barriers due to psychological constraints, and problems with poor living habits related to remote education. These challenges call for the assistance of clinical social workers who can help children adapt to the changes in distance learning without feeling out of place. Clinical social workers are equipped with specialized skills and empathy to guide children through the complexities of these changes.
One notable pathway for acquiring the expertise to support children in these challenging times is through a Master of Social Work (MSW) program at a reputable institution such as Florida State University. Available online, students can study from a convenient location. For instance, even students completing their MSW in Alabama will be provided with comprehensive training that empowers them with the required skills and knowledge. This program will help students to ensure they are prepared to address the complexities of children and assist with their academic excellence. Available as a part-time program, students enjoy a clinically focused curriculum and gain practical experience through at least 400 hours of field education.
Social workers influence lives at all levels of society. Here are some of the ways your knowledge and experience can help young children cope with remote learning:
The transition to online learning comes with feelings of isolation and the absence of social interaction. While the change is crucial for children’s academic development, it can affect their social and emotional lives. These kids need support, and clinical social workers can help by providing emotional support and recommendations to help them form and maintain social relationships.
Disconnection and frustration are commonplace in remote learning. Many American students developed anxiety and felt isolated during the COVID-19 lockdown period as their school life had been rapidly altered. Clinical social workers can provide individual counseling sessions to these children and offer a safe space to allow them to express their feelings.
Using therapeutic techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help children develop coping mechanisms to deal with their emotions. For example, a lonely child who misses daily interaction with classmates needs to be able to articulate their feelings. Mental exercises can help them to develop strategies to manage these emotions. Another way to support such a child might be to establish a routine for regular virtual meetups with friends.
These virtual group sessions will allow children to relax and unwind with their friends. It’s a structured yet free environment where they can talk about their experiences with online learning, play games, and reestablish connections.
Advice can also be provided on creating a more profound sense of community among children. When children explore activities such as art-sharing sessions where they share their designs or virtual book clubs where they read and summarize what they learn, they are supported in achieving healthy development. This will help to minimize their feelings of being disconnected as they can still interact with their friends.
Children can easily experience anxiety and feel more stressed because they’re not used to distance learning. This isn’t because distance learning isn’t good; it’s because there may be some self-imposed pressure due to online learning. Also, they lack classroom support systems, and these stressors can affect students negatively.
Teaching children coping strategies to build resilience can help reduce anxiety and stress. Firstly, teach them how to identify stressors individually or as a group and share practical ways to build strength. For example, a stressor could be their lack of time management skills to organize their study schedule, techniques for breaking down large assignments into manageable tasks, or methods for setting realistic goals. Students can be taught to break large tasks into small bits to complete tasks faster. This way, rather than trying to complete complex assignments in one sitting, they can start with the simplest tasks and proceed to the hardest.
Clinical social workers can also help them allocate sufficient time for study, breaks, leisure activities, and other means of relaxation. This can help the child feel more in control of their day and reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.
Students’ abilities can also be enhanced through mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness exercises teach children to focus on the present moment and become more aware of their thoughts and feelings. A simple mindfulness exercise could involve guiding children through a breathing technique where they focus on their breath for a few minutes. This practice can help reduce anxiety and improve concentration. These exercises can be introduced in virtual sessions, teaching children how to use them whenever they feel stressed or overwhelmed.
Addressing learning barriers in online learning
The shift to online learning has highlighted various learning barriers that can impede a child’s educational progress. The walls should be identified and addressed to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed in a distance learning environment.
The first of these barriers is language difficulties. There are non-native English-speaking children with limited English proficiency. These students’ academic progress can suffer as they must simultaneously learn a new language alongside the subject matter.
For example, a child who speaks Spanish at home might struggle to follow English-only instructions in an online math class. Collaborating with educators to provide additional language support, such as English as a second language (ESL) resources or arranging bilingual instruction can help. This targeted support bridges the language gap and ensures the child can access the curriculum effectively.
Another difficulty may come in the form of learning disabilities in children with dyslexia or ADHD. These kids face unique challenges because they may lack the traditional support of a physical classroom. For instance, a child with dyslexia might struggle with reading-intensive tasks. Likewise, a student with ADHD might struggle to focus during virtual lessons. Clinical social workers can work with educators to tailor learning experiences to these kids’ needs. Providing dyslexia-friendly reading materials or incorporating interactive, movement-based activities for children with ADHD is a good place to start. By adapting the learning environment to accommodate these disabilities, these children can receive a more equitable education.
A third challenge children may encounter is the lack of access to technology. Children need access to computers, stable internet connections, supportive hardware, and software to enjoy distance learning. A child from a low-income family might not have a personal computer or reliable internet, making virtual classes a hassle. They may not be able to complete or submit online assignments. Working with children with limited access to resources involves connecting them with opportunities in the community. Community resources can provide access to loaner laptop programs or free Wi-Fi access. This intervention will level the playing field and ensure that all children have the tools to succeed in a distance learning environment.
Encouraging healthy habits
Six months into lockdown in the US, only 15% of children who qualified for free or reduced meal prices received meals. As children were no longer physically attending school, they no longer had access to this opportunity. Clinical social workers can help support online students by promoting healthier behaviors and routines to protect children’s nutrition, mental health, and physical activities.
A good place to start is by promoting regular physical activities. Children learning remotely do not experience as much locomotive movement as their counterparts going to school. This sedentary lifestyle means children need breaks to stretch, engage in yoga, or play a quick outdoor game. The goal is to counteract the physical inactivity often accompanying prolonged screen time and boost overall energy levels and concentration.
Clinical social workers should also advocate for proper sleep, as adequate sleep promotes functional and emotional well-being. Educating families that children ages 6–13 should sleep for 9–12 hours while teenagers require 9-10 hours of sleep every day is a good start. Sleep is important in allowing children to enhance their cognitive activities, rest their brains, and have a positive mental mood while studying. Lack of sleep will affect their cognitive abilities, health, and academic performance.
Also, children need a balanced nutritional life. Clinical social workers can collaborate with families to share more resources on nutritious meal planning, including educating families on healthier snack options, fruits, and meals for their children to boost mood and energy levels.
Tailoring support to individual needs
Children need personalized support because they have different experiences of distance learning. The only way to determine the support children require is through one-on-one counseling sessions. This will allow the child’s emotional and psychological needs from online learning to be assessed and provide a private space to express their feelings, concerns, and struggles.
For instance, a child experiencing anxiety due to isolation can be assisted in building social connections within the accessible virtual environment. Clinical social workers can also help children understand their learning styles. Working with educators and families to create flexible daily routines can also be helpful.
Students can also use specific educational tools to align their learning preferences to their study preferences. Online tools like Quizlets let them take tests on topics they’ve learned. Many other tools can help them create an accurate to-do list or break down assignments into manageable tasks to reduce the risk of becoming overwhelmed. Easily distracted children can learn to utilize timers to create short, focused learning periods followed by breaks.
This kind of specific intervention can help them focus and increase motivation. It can also help improve learning from home and promote academic excellence.
Promoting digital literacy
Digital literacy educates children and their families about internet safety, digital etiquette, and effective online communication skills. This is important because these skills help children navigate and succeed in a distance learning environment. Starting with internet safety, it’s important to guide children on protecting their personal information online. They must also be aware of online risks such as cyberbullying and inappropriate content. Education can be provided via workshops or sessions on ensuring password security, privacy settings, and the importance of privacy online.
Children should also understand digital etiquette. This means they should understand the use of appropriate language, respect others’ opinions, and understand the impact of their digital footprint. This education helps children navigate online platforms responsibly and respectfully. They should also be supported in developing their online communication skills. This is important because they must be able to participate in virtual discussions, learn to write professional emails or messages to teachers, and articulately express their needs.
In summary, it’s important to understand that not all children have the same skills or access to online learning tools. By helping students gain access to the necessary tools, they will be more likely to enjoy learning from home. This includes providing access to a free Wi-Fi connection and supplying the software or hardware that makes learning more accessible.
Facilitating parental involvement
Clinical support workers can help parents become more involved in their children’s lives and support their wards in providing a conducive learning environment. It can be helpful to offer tips for monitoring and keeping their children’s educational progress.
Firstly, clinical support workers can help parents see how they can create a conducive learning environment for their children. This could include providing advice on creating a dedicated learning space that minimizes distractions and is conducive to concentration and learning. The study area should also have adequate lighting and enough space to accommodate notes and textbooks.
Secondly, parents can be assisted in recognizing the need for consistent routines and schedules. Guidance can be provided to create a balanced program that allocates class time, homework, breaks, physical activity, and leisure time. This structure helps children manage their time and reduces the stress of juggling multiple tasks. A schedule like this supports children in being more productive, creative, and alert.
Thirdly, clinical social workers can educate parents on monitoring their children’s educational progress. Parents can be encouraged to track their children’s learning platforms, communicate with their teachers, and ensure they submit assignments when due. All these tasks help parents become more involved in their child’s academics.
Promoting social interaction helps children enjoy opportunities to build and maintain friendships. A good place to start is by organizing online social activities. This could be a virtual game night, online art or music classes, and interactive story sessions. The key is to create engaging and fun activities that enhance interaction and friendship among children.
Peer groups or clubs can also help to promote social interaction. Children can be paired with other like-minded students to form a study group, art group, music group, drama group, or science group. It’s all about finding ways to bring students together to help them grow into adults who understand the value of relationships.
Clinical social workers can be involved in suggesting collaborative projects, too. This might mean bringing the group together to participate in talent shows, science experiments, and related collaborative projects, which can help develop student camaraderie.
Encouraging extracurricular activities
Children can cultivate interest in a skill or hobby when participating in extracurricular activities. According to WebMD, activities such as team sports, individual sports, martial arts, dance, and clubs focused on exploring the outdoors motivate kids to do physical activities. Encouraging children and helping them identify the activities that could provide a rounded distance learning experience can be helpful in this regard.
A good place to start is by identifying their interests and strengths. This could be through conversations or general assessments to learn what activities or subjects spark enthusiasm and engagement in each child. Knowing their interests helps in guiding them toward suitable extracurricular activities.
Clinical social workers can then explore virtual extracurricular activities they could do. Since they cannot participate in physical activities, virtual programs could include music lessons, coding clubs, or virtual sports training. After identifying the options, facilitate access to the exercises so families can find free, low-cost alternatives to explore technology opportunities.
After this, ensure they participate in these activities regularly. Most importantly, children should have fun and build relationships.
Developing emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is about understanding and managing one’s emotions. It’s also about recognizing and responding appropriately to the feelings of others. Online learning requires emotional intelligence, as children must be able to understand social cues and respect other people. To help children, speak to them about basic human emotions, why people exhibit some behaviors, and the healthy ways to express and manage their attitudes.
For example, explain why children get furious at each other and let them know what to do to avoid making their friends angry. Also, discuss how children should learn to engage in positive discussions. This can help them manage anxiety and is critical to emotional intelligence. Lastly, children should understand the language of empathy. Apologizing doesn’t mean they’re weak; they recognize that someone is hurt and needs to be consoled and supported.
A clinical social worker’s role in society is complex; one part of this role is implementing a multifaceted approach to children’s health when they start distance learning. Providing emotional support, advocating for social skills development, and offering educational guidance all support children as they embark on this journey. This multilayered assistance helps to address the nuances of online learning environments to reduce the impact of such isolation on children.