As a mom and a pediatrician, I have been worried about the impact of virtual school on our young kids. Virtual school has some unavoidable developmental downsides for children, including less in-person interaction with teachers, a smaller range of visual focus (a side effect of increased screen time ) and less physical movement throughout the day.

Virtual learning is the reality for many families right now, as we all do our best to responsibly curb the spread of coronavirus. How can we help our children thrive during virtual school?

We know children need to move and play as part of their learning . Children can't concentrate for hours on end in one position. That's why screen breaks can be an important way to fill the gaps both in children's daily school schedule and in their developmental needs.

Here are 24 brain break activity ideas for making the most of screen time breaks during remote learning.

As part of planning brain breaks during remote learning days, identify your goals. You know your child best—what do they need?

Is your child bouncing off the wall and needing to get energy out?

Is your child upset and struggling with their mental and emotional health?

Is your child not progressing academically as you'd hoped?

Is your child out of sorts from all the screen time?

Knowing what your kids need most can help you pick the right break time activities. Remember that kids, like adults, have good days and bad days, tired days and energetic days… and the weather affects everything. So needs will change.

Movement brain breaks

To facilitate movement, you can plan an obstacle course using whatever you have in your home. Mark out the course with painters tape. Encourage kids to jump, crawl, spin, hop, run and roll. Jumping jacks, bear crawls and crab walks can help further challenge your child's strength. You can time your child or offer a surprise after the third completion of the course. Hide and seek, tag, races or dance parties are also awesome ways to get children moving.

Mindfulness brain breaks

To help a child who has been struggling emotionally consider activities that help build them up. You can do mindfulness exercises where you encourage your child to be present in the moment, focus on their surroundings and feel some mental clarity. Sometimes chores for kids , like folding laundry or preparing snacks, can be restorative breaks and simultaneously facilitate fine motor skill development, provide sensory play and knock out some of a parent's work.

Yoga can bring attention to our breath and foster emotional resilience. Some children like playing with a breathing buddy: lying on the ground with a stuffed animal on their stomach and focusing on using their breath to give their friend a ride. Box breathing is a similar activity for older children where you breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, breath out for a count of four and hold for a count of four.

Other more everyday activities like a snuggle on the sofa while reading a favorite book, listening to music or making some artwork may fill your child's cup. Consider that changing positions for break time is important and encourage children to move away from their desk—if they want to draw, doing so at an easel, paper on the floor or taped to the wall will activate different muscles.

Brain breaks that teach skills

If your child is struggling academically to grasp key concepts, it's important to still allow academic breaks. Children need time off to learn, just like adults do. But you can find ways to reinforce literacy or math skills in your play. Choose board games with number concepts like Battleship, Monopoly or Blackjack. Send your child on a flashlight guided hunt to find letters or words in the house. You can hide 10 post-its each with a word to make a secret message for your child to read—something fun or silly. Your child's teachers are great resources, too—ask their advice on concepts to reinforce at home.

Screen free brain breaks

If children are negatively reacting to all the screen time of virtual school , they may be under- or overstimulated. Being bored or overwhelmed undermines learning. Some children may experience eye strain and complain of headaches, excessive blinking or rub their eyes. For all of these screen-associated problems, getting unplugged and outdoors is really critical. Going for a walk or bike ride, gardening, outdoor chores like raking leaves or picking up trash can all be cures for too much screen time. If you're stuck indoors, a sensory experience like working with playdough, kinetic sand or water play can help children recalibrate their level of stimulation.

Let's not forget that kids should be encouraged to have ideas and opinions about how they spend their off time, too. If you can, find a compromise where some of the breaks are used towards goals you think are important and some allow your children to choose. For example, if you want your child to get energy out, write down four active ideas and let them pick. When children get to decide, the activity will be more engaging and fun for everybody involved.

Finally, remember that your needs as a parent matter too. If your child needs to just fend for themselves while you work, that's okay. Free time is valuable for children's well-being too. But on days when you have the bandwidth and energy to offer brain break activities, or you are just trying to even out a lopsided day, these ideas can help you and your child get the most out of your precious break time.

Brain break activities for virtual school days...



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