Top Tips for Teaching Children Online and Ideas on How to Include Mindfulness in a Virtual Classroom
In what has been a whirlwind of a year so far, teachers and students have been torn away from everything familiar. And now they have been left in limbo, uncertain whether schools will stay open or whether lessons will be held online.
But don’t panic, there is an abundance of advice and countless resources out there to make teaching online easier. This article will bring together some of those top tips for virtual teaching, and it will discuss how mindfulness and wellbeing can be incorporated into an online classroom.
Let’s get started.
1. Set the expectations for the online classroom
Just like any classroom, boundaries need to be set and expectations made clear. Allow students to take ownership and empower them, when it comes to setting rules.
There are some considerations specific to teaching online; internet lags can cause difficulties when everyone speaks at once. So draw your attention to some of the features within online platforms, like Zoom or Google Classroom, that enable students to virtually raise their hand. If that fails, don’t forget the all important ‘mute all’ function found on many of the meeting platforms. Another important thing to consider is attention, where possible ensure the students have their cameras on. Explain to them that in a live classroom they wouldn’t sit with their back to the teacher so the same applies in virtual classroom. “Look like your listening!”
2. Keep lessons short
It’s not natural or healthy for children and young adults to be sat in front of a screen for long periods of time. As educators, we need to remember this. Once you have delivered your teaching input, set the students a task to do away from the computer and check-in with them next lesson.
3. Utilise the functions on the platforms
Spend time really getting to know the platform you are hosting lessons from. Each platform differs, but most have some pretty useful functions. It is surprising how many real-life classroom actions can be replicated in a virtual way. Most platforms have a virtual whiteboard function, it’s just like using a whiteboard in class. Students can also have access to draw/write on the virtual whiteboard. Writing on the board is always a big hit with students, even virtually. The share screen mode is very handy if you have an e-book, game or online resource that you want your students to see. Some platforms have the option to create ‘breakout rooms’. These are virtual rooms were small groups of students can be sent to work on a task away from the whole class. It is the virtual way to enable group work. Teachers can join the different ‘breakout rooms’ while students are working. The online equivalent to floating between workstations as you would in a classroom.
4. Make it fun!
Virtual learning can be great fun. Giving students a special event to look forward to each week can help maintain enthusiasm. Consider, fancy dress days, storytimes in bed with their pyjamas on, guest speakers/puppets or with the help of parents, cookalongs. Treasure hunts around a teacher’s home are a favourite with curious students. For older learners, making use of online quiz applications, such as Kahoot, is a fun way to end a lesson and assess students’ learning.
Incorporating Mindfulness and Wellbeing
Mindfulness and wellbeing principles are featuring more and more in school curriculums. Therefore, it is important to include these practices in our virtual classrooms too.
Here are seven ideas on how to include them in your online teaching:
Homes can be busy places. So, with the support of parents, encourage families to build tranquil learning zones where students can focus and relax. Learning dens and home-made tipis could be a popular option for younger learners.
Many devices are portable. If your students are connecting to lessons using tablets, laptops or mobile phones, why not encourage them to find a relaxing place outside.
It can be very exciting at the start of online lessons, as students wait to see which classmates are connecting. However, when the buzz of excitement takes a while to simmer, you may need to use some calming strategies. Breathing activities are a useful technique to settle the students and create focus amongst the group. For younger children, a great breathing strategy is ‘Baby Shark Breathing’. An example of how ‘Baby Shark Breathing’ works can be found by clicking the link to ‘Baby Shark Breathing on Youtube’. The book ‘Baby Shark Saves the Day’ by Christian Bergstrom, is also a great tool to introduce the breathing strategy. Older students, might prefer the more subtle approach to ‘Take 5 Breathing’.
When students come to school they are often eager to greet their classmates and share news with them on the playground. This is no different in virtual classrooms. However, due to time constraints, it is easy for online teachers to jump straight into teaching the lesson content. Remember, social interactions are really important, especially when students aren’t able to have face-face connections in the real world. So, try to build time into the online day that allows students to share and listen. Perhaps a virtual ‘Show and Tell’ session or just an informal, unstructured, You could also incorporate ‘Gratitude Practise’ to the start of each lesson. Students can share one piece of positive news. This helps sets the mood for the lesson ahead. More information on gratitude practise and ‘Gratitude Buddies’ can be found here: ‘Mindful Games for Kids and Teens – Gratitude Buddies’.
Mindful lesson starters. Keep them short and regular. That way you can remain mindful throughout the day without eating into lesson time. Students may enjoy creating a ‘gratitude sun’ as a lesson starter. Each lesson they could add a ray of sunshine (something they are grateful for). Students can either write these down or just thinking about them while they are colouring is enough.
Stories are a super tool to help students switch-off and tune-out from the chaos of the world around them. This is important now more than ever. Online storytime sessions are great. Another idea, try reading a small part of a story at the end of each lesson. This gives students a moment of relaxation after a busy lesson. And by sharing small parts of a story each time, students will have something to look forward to next time.
Group art activities are great way to create calm even when teaching online. Simply ask the students to come prepared with the resources and get creating. You can even play some relaxing music through the audio share options on many virtual platforms. It is surprising the sense of calm and togetherness you feel when everyone is focused, even when you are connected virtually. One idea could be junk modelling challenge. Ask the children to gather recyclable materials from around the home and some tape before the lesson begins. Then challenge them to create something using the junk they collected. If parents are not present, stress that part of the challenge is to create without using scissors. Also, leaving the task open-ended allows students to use their own undirected imagination. At the end of the session, allow them time to share their creations. It’s great fun seeing some of the abstract pieces.
Finally, teaching online can be stressful especially when technology fails so make sure you invest time for you own mindfulness and wellbeing. A healthy teacher will equal happy students!
Good luck and embrace the challenge!
Written by Sophie Hurford for Blissful Kids
Chris here :-)
I’ve been asked to write Mindfulness Lessons for Virtual Classrooms and the curriculum is almost ready. The curriculum consists of 10 fun Distance Learning Mindfulness Lessons. If you’re interested in our online distance learning mindfulness curriculum you can sign up here to get to know when it’s available.
Wishing you many fun mindful moments with your children :-)
Chief Mindfulness Ninja @ Blissful Kids
If you are new to mindfulness with children OR you want to make practice easy we recommend our online mindfulness courses.
Chris Bergstrom is a bestselling mindfulness author, a leader in the field of mindfulness, the founder of BlissfulKids.com, a blog dedicated to children’s mindfulness, and a dad who is thrilled to practice mindfulness with his son. He is a certified mindfulness facilitator and trained to teach mindfulness to students in K-12. He’s also known as “the dad who tried 200+ mindfulness activities” and has taught meditation for more than 15 years.