Experience in US shows virtual learning not working for kids

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For Morgan Compton, 7, who has attended school remotely for nearly a year, the stress of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic manifests itself in meltdowns.

On one particular day, Morgan “threw a fit and decided to go upstairs,” said her mother, Tracy Compton. Hearing the sound of his daughter’s tears, Compton’s husband, John, who also works from home, got involved.

Meltdowns are familiar to any parent of young children, but when they occur during a school day – with other young siblings trying to learn through a screen and two parents working remotely – chaos ensues.

“Now we’re all yelling, she’s crying more, and I’m trying to encourage her to go back into class because now she’s missing learning,” Tracy Compton said. After 45 minutes of cajoling their tearful child – plus putting in a call to the school’s counselor – they were able to calm her down and get her back to class.

Almost all of the more than 180,000 students in the Fairfax County, Virginia school system that Morgan and the Compton’s 9-year-old daughter Lucy attend have been in remote classes since March.

Morgan recently joined a pilot program that allows some students to experience in-person instruction for three hours a week.

Compton said the program is for “kids who are kind of struggling in remote learning,” which begs the question, how could a 7-year-old not be struggling to stay focused through a computer screen?

Compton, who elaborated on her experiences during a Healthday Now interview, knows that her daughter’s experience is only a drop in the ocean compared to the upheaval the pandemic has wrought for kids around the United States.

Nearly a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, studies examining the pandemic’s impact on kid’s mental health and well-being are scarce, but troubling.

Sobbing during class

Based on one recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children across the United States visited emergency departments for mental health-related issues at higher rates during 2020 compared to the previous year.

And another study, published recently in the journal Pediatrics, found that suicide attempts and thoughts of suicide among children and teens were higher during some months of 2020 than they were in 2019.

However, parents and educators don’t need data to tell them what they already know. Millions of kids across the United States are not able to attend physical school, and their parents, teachers and experts in child psychology will tell you that it is affecting more than just their education.

Kids express their stress and anxiety in varied, and sometimes surprising, ways.

As they move through developmental stages, these reactions are likely to change, said Shawna Lee, an associate professor at the Michigan School of Social Work, in Ann Arbor, who focuses on parent-child relationships, child abuse and neglect.

While children’s behaviors are highly variable and difficult to predict, toddlers and younger children are more likely to show their stress through temper tantrums, crying and acting out, while older elementary school children may become withdrawn, lethargic or uninterested, Lee said.

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