TEACHER/CAREGIVER EDITION - What Now? Navigating the Return to In-Person Learning

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a document that specifically outlines the specialized supports and services the student will receive in order to successfully access and make progress in the school setting. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shift in the way that students access their academic curriculum due to distance learning for a variety of reasons. Students have experienced less social interaction, fewer opportunities for peer modeling and physical prompting, and the need to manage learning in the home environment.

As families prepare to return to in-person learning, there are many worries and questions surrounding how to best support a student through this transition. In addition, caregivers may have questions surrounding how the past year has impacted the students’ academic progress and skill development. Your therapy team has put together some tips to help guide considerations and asking the right questions during this unique time.

1. Consider the environment: Has your student been struggling to focus during distance learning due to distractions at home? Does your student require frequent one-on-one support to complete multi-step assignments? Has your student been thriving in the home environment due to less external distraction compared to the classroom? Did you notice that your student benefitted from alternate seating options while learning at home?

Quick tips for caregivers/ teachers:

· Take note (literally!) of how the change in the environment during distance learning impacted your student and provide specific examples/ data so that the school team can use this information to update your student’s IEP as needed.

· Following this unique opportunity to observe your student during their virtual school day, be sure to communicate your observations to the school team and discuss any strategies that worked or did not work so that applicable supports can be put in place.

· Discuss possible changes to the accommodations section of IEP based on these observations. Examples include the use of music through headphones to focus on independent work, close proximity to board to reduce visual distraction, ability to take movement breaks throughout the day, adaptive seating options, chunking of assignments to break into more manageable components.

2. Think about endurance: Due to the nature of distance learning, students have not been engaging in activities they used to such as walking through the hallways while carrying backpacks, sitting upright at desks in the classroom, and completing multi-sentence writing assignments. It is important to consider how this may impact students’ muscle endurance for maintaining a stable base of support while seated at their desks while engaging in writing tasks.

Quick tips for caregivers/ teachers:

a. Incorporate opportunities for movement, heavy work, and core strengthening in the home and community environments to ensure that your student is building muscle endurance in preparation for the return to school. Examples include yoga poses, climbing, and helping push laundry baskets or take out the trash.

b. Ensure that the student is able to plant feet flat on the floor with hips, knees, and ankles at approximately 90 degrees while seated at the desk or at the dinner table. This will support the engagement of postural muscles to build endurance.

c. Talk to the therapy team about related services such as OT or PT that could support building muscle strength and endurance. Discuss the option of ‘recovery services’ if applicable while considering the impact of missed in-person therapy time.

3. Incorporate pencil and paper: While the benefits of technology for learning are vast, students have not been using a pencil and paper as often in the world of virtual learning. Grasping a pencil, visually shifting between the board and your paper to copy, and writing small enough to fit on the lines in a notebook are all important skills for participating in school AND for building developmental fine and visual-motor skills.

Quick tips for caregivers/ teachers:

a. Add in writing at home within activities that are motivating for your student. Some ideas are using a daily journal, writing a grocery list of the dinner menu, completing activities such as crossword puzzles and secret code activities about preferred topics.

b. Provide students opportunities to strengthen visual-motor skills such as origami, crafts, dot to dots, and color by number.

c. Explore options for lengthy writing assignments with the IEP team such as having the opportunity to type assignments in the school setting.

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