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Challenge: Back to School 2020

School Desk Hack for Distance Learning Success

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Beyond creating a calming workspace for your child, how can you improve their environment for success with virtual learning? Look to what the corporate world has known for years — muscles and exercise can enhance output!

Fortune 500 companies have known this secret for years and used it to their advantage. Now you can too, because let’s face it, we need every tool in the toolbox for distance learning survival. (It’s not actually a secret, but sometimes it feels that way.)

MOVEMENT MATTERS. The stand-up work desk, computer on a treadmill, on-site gyms and corporate fitness programs. Industry uses movement to not only keep their workforce healthy but to also enhance productivity.

Now more than ever there is the need to apply what we know helps adults to help our kids!

Everyone agrees that distance learning is far from ideal. Add to that stressed-out parents trying to juggle too much all at once, and the situation goes from bad to worse. Quickly.

For working adults, the stand-up work desk has been all the rage for the years, and not just to reduce low back pain. Standing up requires using your muscles to keep you upright. Using your muscles engages your brain — waking it up! It’s why we stretch when we wake up in the morning. Stretching a muscle fires input into your brain, telling your brain, “Time to wake up and function.”

As parents we often find ourselves harping, “Hold still. Focus.” The reality is that the younger you are developmentally, the MORE you need to move to engage your brain. That’s why many learning strategies exist that utilize movement in learning. Especially for our little ones. Remember singing Wheels on the Bus and the Itsy Bitsy Spider? It’s one more way to engage the brain, helping to encode memories so content can be retrieved when needed.

Rather than fight it, go with it. Let your child stand and even wiggle (as long as they are still engaged with the content). Standing engages muscles and the brain and burns more energy than sitting slumped in a chair for hours.

To better understand how movement impacts your ability to focus and retain information, picture reading before bed. The sleepier you are, the more likely you are to have zero recollection of what you just read. A sleepy brain does not pay attention. Add to that, you can’t remember what you didn’t pay attention to. A double whammy. Standing up to engage both your brain and body and has been shown to increase both attention and memory! Who doesn’t need more of that?

If improving attention and memory aren’t reason enough to let your kids stand and move more while they learn, there is also the mental health aspect. Sedentary behaviors (like sitting for 6 hours on a zoom class) are related to adverse or negative mental health concerns. In a time with adult rates of depression and anxiety at triple the norm, we don’t need to add any more fuel to the fire for our kids.

I’m not suggesting you go out and buy new desks for your kids (using one of the many amazon boxes delivered to your house daily works great), I am suggesting to add more opportunity for movement throughout the school day and allowing for greater flexibility in your kid’s learning spaces. Movement just may help you all feel and function a little better in your day!

Keeping a cardboard box or two nearby to prop their tablet or monitor on can allow your child to change their learning set up throughout the day. Shifting from sitting to standing between classes or as they find themselves getting bored or distracted is a simple but beneficial change.

“Sometimes it just feels good to do something different for school,” says Morgan, a 7th grader in North Carolina. “There’s no way our teachers would let us stand to learn in class, so that can be one good thing about virtual school.”

Add a pair of headphones to help block out the background noises of a household full of virtual work and school and your kiddo will be set for a (hopefully) productive day!

This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.