“Social Distancing” is the Norm for Some Kids

It is strange knowing I won’t be back at work on Monday. School has been out for this extended spring break for nearly a week now. Last year at this time I was exploring Paris and Amsterdam. This year, I’ve spent the week at home alone, doing my part to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic.

I got through my to-do list pretty quickly. I’m well rested, my house is clean, and I just watched all three and a half hours of The Irishman on Netflix.

Has it really only been six days since I was last at school? The feelings of boredom, restlessness, and irritation are already setting in. I’m not sure how long I can handle this social distancing thing.

One of my former students from a previous school emailed me yesterday. It was a simple note to say hello and let me know how bored he was at home, with nothing to do until school is back.

It isn’t the first time this student has emailed me. He also wrote to me over the Christmas break, and last summer as well.

He is one of the funniest kids I know, and he has a heart of gold. He also has autism, and has great difficulty with social interactions. He struggles to build relationships with his peers, and has few if any friends.

I realized that this was just another school holiday for him, same as the other ones.

For some kids, going to school is as good as their day is going to get. When they go home they have nobody to hang out with, nothing to do, and nowhere to go. No vacations, no friends, no going for lattes.

When they are away from school for extended periods over the holidays, they experience social isolation. Loneliness has negative effects on mental health. Some children have a higher risk of suffering from social isolation, including:

  • kids who have disabilities
  • kids who are English language learners
  • kids in foster homes or group homes
  • kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds
  • kids who experience bullying

So I challenge you, when we all eventually return to school, to create opportunities for your students to be social, and have fun. It can be time structured into your lesson plan, or you can just let it happen spontaneously. But please don’t stop it from happening. You will likely feel the pressure of being behind on our curriculum when school resumes, but that doesn’t matter as much as allowing children to renew relationships with each other.

And when a student gets hyper or silly, don’t assume that they are trying to be challenging or disruptive. After a long time away, they may be so excited to be around people again that they will struggle to control themselves. Instead of punishing them by excluding them from an activity, show you care, and provide them with strategies and positive encouragement to help them learn to self-regulate.

School is about community and relationships. That is what differentiates us from Khan Academy and Youtube.

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