Embracing the social in Social Distancing

Dr. LaTonya Barnes, NBCTJune 22, 2020

It’s the first day of summer! This is the time of year children look forward to all year long; however, due to the COVID -19 pandemic, this year may not be what children imagined. Instead of playing Tag, Musical Chairs, or Red Rover, children are now being forced to play Simon Says… and Simon says: Pause!

If anything this “Great Pause” has taught us, is that we should always remember to make our health and well-being a priority, without forgetting that social connections are essential to nearly every aspect of health and well-being. Results from the lack of prolonged social interactions include loneliness, fear of others, and negative self-esteem.

Socialization is an essential part of life. And although social distancing can be boring for children, there are ways social distancing can be fun, and an opportunity to enhance children’s emotional, language, physical, and cognitive development. Below are creative ways to help children embrace the social in social distancing.

Book Club 

In the words of Mason Cooley: “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” During this Covid-19 pandemic, it’s essential to create spaces for children to read, imagine, and engage in meaningful dialogue. Virtual book clubs create opportunities for children to connect with friends in meaningful ways, while still practicing social distancing. Book clubs teach valuable skills, such as reading for understanding, relating reading to personal experiences, meaningful ways to participate in discussions, respecting differences in opinions and perspectives, and much more. For children who are not strong readers, book clubs are a non-threatening way for children to read at their own pace or listen to audiobooks at their leisure. 

PenPals

Have you ever received a letter in the mail from a friend? Did receiving a letter in the mail make you feel a personal connection? PenPal opportunities are a great way to embrace social distancing. PenPals are individuals who regularly write to each other, particularly via postal mail. Creating space for children to connect with other children is essential. children who have a PenPal are able to hone their reading, writing, and presentation skills while improving their social development skills (curiosity, patience, delayed gratification, compassion, understanding). Be sure to receive parental consent, address each children’s individual needs and interests, give student/parent guidelines, and monitor the social interactions. 

Virtual Play

Who has time to play? We all do. Play is more important than you think. Play isn’t all fun and games, but it’s also an essential teaching resource! Through virtual play, children develop cognitive, social, and emotional strength. Play provides an opportunity for children to imagine, explore, think, create, and learn! Play improves communication and language development, social competence, expressiveness, creativity, and thinking skills. Virtual play can include peer video gaming, online Monopoly, word games, and much more. Play and learning go hand-in-hand. 

Physical Activity 

Exercise and physical activity are essential for well-being during COVID -19 pandemic. What better time to create personal physical health goals and group challenges? It is recommended that children and adolescents engage in physical activity for a minimum of 60 minutes daily. So let’s get moving! Create a backyard contest, such as a Roly Polys or Lightning Bugs log challenge. No matter the physical activity, be sure to move within your doctor’s guidelines, and remember to have fun!

Student Voice

As educators, it is our responsibility to educate the whole child, which ensures that each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged, and not limiting the scope of education to core academic areas. The whole child approach isn’t new. From the beginning of structured education, the founders of public education sought to achieve more than just academics, but also teaching children to become responsible, critical thinkers with a sense of social responsibility. Student Voice is imperative for socialization. Student Voice refers to embracing children’s values, opinions, beliefs, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds by providing verbal opportunities for children to freely (respectfully) express their choices, interests, passions, and ambitions. Providing opportunities for children to be able to virtually connect with other children is an effective way of helping them in the area of socialization. 

Student Choice

At times it seems like we have lost control of our world. Being able to make choices in how we are practicing social distancing feels empowering. There are many ways to help children maintain social interactions while providing an opportunity for them to choose the level and way in which to interact. Remember to be patient and compassionate with children, especially during our current pandemic. Not all children will be ready to fully socialize with others. Some children will need to be given progressive social choices (ie. kid-friendly podcast group sessions, virtual field trips, group crossword puzzles). Social distancing doesn’t mean isolation. Provide multiple opportunities for children to embrace the social in social distancing.

Dr. LaTonya Barnes, NBCT

Dr. LaTonya Barnes, NBCT, is a member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Board of Directors and leads as an independent national educational consultant, focusing on influencing positive educational change and improving student achievement. LaTonya is an educator, professor, speaker, and professional educational consultant who specializes in working with other educators to find innovative ways to transform teaching and learning. Her areas of expertise include designing innovative learning experiences, professional learning, and community building within educational settings. She also serves as a Professor of Education at the Alabama State University (ASU) and supports members of the Alabama Education Association (AEA). LaTonya is an active member of several professional organizations, including serving as a founding member of the Alabama Alliance of Black School Educators (ALABSE) and the National Board Network of Accomplished Minoritized Educators (NBNAME). Dr. Barnes believes that all students, no matter the zip code, deserve an accomplished teacher. Connect with her on social media: @DrLaTonyaBarnes.