Tips on Socializing Your Child While Being Socially Distant
Virtual learning and homeschooling can be a lonely time for some children, especially during this unique time of social distancing. For them, it can truly feel like existing in a bubble. On one hand, as parents we must ensure we are doing our part in protecting the health and safety of our children (and those they are around). On the other hand, children not having outlets to speak and engage with their peers can by stifling to their socio-emotional and academic development. This time can be particularly difficult for those who are an only child or children with siblings in quite different age groups.
I fall into the category of the parent with school-aged children in disparate age groups: I have a daughter in 3rd grade in our district’s virtual learning program, a two-year-old who I am homeschooling, and a newborn. My greatest concern for socialization was for my two-year-old, who had no peers to communicate with daily. Yet, I was also worried that the Zoom-based class sessions were not going to be enough socialization for my 3rd grader, as those are often so academically structured. So, what are our options?
Assessing the goal of the social encounters, beyond simply engaging with peers, is the key to choosing meaningful social experiences. Along with my husband, I reflected on both of their individual talents and needs to determine what we felt they were not getting enough of currently. I hoped to see if some of those needs were mutual, so that I could possibly use the same resources/businesses to accommodate their needs. Areas to consider, but not limited to, are:
The three areas I needed to target for my girls were opportunities to exercise, to engage with nature, and to develop and expand their individual passions for the arts.
Assessing the goal of the social encounters, beyond simply engaging with peers, is the key to choosing meaningful social experiences.
The next step was to determine where I would begin my search to fulfill these needs. I started with my 3rd grader. I knew I wanted to consider how she could have more engagement with her classroom peers. When this group of children finally go back to class, it would be fantastic if they already had a sense of bonding that naturally occurs when children are present for class. I came up with a few ideas to that could be developed and managed by us (parents) and could also include her teacher and/or the other siblings. I began with a list of a few options, then we allowed the students/families to vote.
The idea of coming together for drive-in style workout sessions was a definite hit, as many parents were concerned about the level of physical activity done by their children, especially in comparison to how they are eating at home. Movie night was also an exciting idea for children. Some prep required for these activities are clearing with school use of parking lot, pre-marking the lot for social distance parameters, movie screen and projector (if needed), and having a simple sound system (such as, a portable Bluetooth speaker with microphone, or FM transmitter). Each family should bring their own snacks and water. The goal is to not have to share any touched resources, minimizing contact exposure.
The Caravan Zoofari, like the Drive-Ins, provides opportunities to be in nature. This field trip usually costs per vehicle, not person, and is a lot of fun. Children can even feed the animals. Our children also enjoy viewing from the sunroof. Children can make homemade posters/banners or decorate their vehicles to show school pride as they join the caravan. The Drive-ins and Caravan were activities that the entire family could love, allowing for socialization of my two-year-old and 3rd grader.
While, I generally am tired of the amount of time we have to spend on-screen, there are some true benefits to using virtual video platforms, such as, Zoom. Zoom Parties are a fantastic opportunity for children to participate in some of their extra-curricular activities that they would normally have. Pizza and Paint, dance classes, virtual martial arts, virtual acting classes, virtual chess, and more are all possibilities for learners. Zoom parties have allowed my 3rd grader to engage with her classroom peers, as well as meeting other children from different platforms. She takes piano lessons, acting classes, and art classes through Zoom. I lead the Zoom Pizza and Paint parties, and send out the list of resources needed a couple weeks ahead of time. These are extremely low cost, typically $0-$10 for families. Children follow along with instructions for drawing, then are free to chat as they finish their masterpieces. They also chat over pizza (or whatever meal they chose). Our 3rd grader’s piano and acting classes are still with the companies she used prior to social distancing, allowing her to keep in contact with her long-time friends and mentors.
The Zoom platform has also been useful for my two-year-old. She takes online Tinkergarten classes, allowing her to play in nature and learn with her peers (ages 2-5).
Tinkergarten provides her with a consistent group of peers to engage with, as they tend to join each season together.
Zoom is also used in many of her pop-up Outschool.com classes. Outschool.com is a fantastic website for children to join classes for a variety of topics/interests. Our two-year-old has even joined Trolls World Tour Dance Instructed courses. These classes are tons of fun with high engagement.
Assessing areas of need, using my daughter’s school as a resource, and allowing virtual learning to provide elements of fun completely changed my outlook on my children’s socio-emotional development during this time. I based my children’s socialization opportunities on the three areas that were important for our family. Making that simple decision, allowed our family to plan meaningful, engaging, and structured support for our children. Socializing with peers helps with communication skills, conflict resolution skills, sense of belonging, friendship development, citizenship, and more. If you are concerned that your child is lacking in any area, I encourage you to walk the same path for your learners. If you would like any support with locating opportunities in your area, please connect with me, your friendly neighborhood teacher, at freewright.com.
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