Explore Nueroscience in Education with Dr. Lori Desautels

Coronavirus Edutopia Article

It is an unsettling time for our world, communities, and families as the coronavirus has spiked heightened levels of anxiety with chronic unpredictable stress.  Food insecurity, safety, and connection are deep concerns for many families and educators as communities have been unexpectedly thrown into circumstances that breed the two conditions that are challenging for the developing brain and body!   When faced with prolonged unpredictability and isolation, there is a deep fear with the brain moving into survival responses. Many families and schools rely on the educational environments not only for breakfasts and lunches, but the educational community is a place of safety and connection.  There are many significant efforts being made to provide food and other physiological necessities as schools have moved or are moving rapidly to distance learning and online teaching over the next several weeks and possibly months- but this change to school schedules can also feel isolating and unfamiliar with the rapid surge of media coverage and talk of social distancing. It takes a calm brain to calm another brain. The good news is our brains and bodies are wired for healing, repair, and a return to a healthy homeostasis, producing an improved state of mind and calmness. 

 Although our students are away from us physically, we know that emotions are contagious and even from a distance we can co-regulate one another providing safety and connection through our presence.  Below are a few ideas for educators to share with students mitigating some of the fear and unrest the students are experiencing in this time.  

  1. Brain states will fluctuate often in the upcoming days and weeks! Check in with students through a text, an e-mail or message board – sharing a positive quote, or a specific memory from this school year including a reminder that you are a keyboard away if they need you!
  2. Write a daily or weekly blog to your class sharing what you are doing at home giving students a personal glimpse into your life while asking for students to share their days!  This blog might include suggestions for how to create some assignments in a fun creative way through visual images, recordings, or relating a subject to this new change in our school days.
  3. Create an “amygdala post” for ways to relax and calm our anxiety and frustrations when we are home with ideas such as focused attention practices, drinking lots of water, going outside, exercising, and writing in a journal.  The journals can be a touch point as the entries can be shared when school resumes and everyone returns to class.
  4. Ask students to find an object from around the house, nature or create an image from home that they can share when they come back! This image would encourage connection to you and school giving students something tangible that connects them to a place of safety and connection. When students return, these talismans or objects from home can be part of a class tree that creates a family culture and holds the memories that might have felt so fearful or chaotic. What we can name, we can tame, and what is shareable is bearable as we create these connections in this time of unknown experiences.
  5. Use this time at home to write a letter of gratitude to each student sharing their strengths and bravery this year and a memory of him or her you will always cherish! These letters of appreciation can be repeatedly shared with students during this time while encouraging students to write a letter to classmate expressing gratitude through words or a drawing for something specific they appreciate in that friend.

Below are specific sensory regulatory strategies or practices students can implement at home when they are feeling anxious, irritated or fearful.

  1. Three deep breaths creating a longer exhale
  2. Draw a design to music
  3. Run your hands under warm water and with a little soap, give yourself one-minute hand massage
  4. Hold a push-up pose or use a wall for a seated pose for 30 seconds and then stretch for one minute.
  5. Chew gum or eat a crunchy snack
  6. Find three objects from outside that remind you of spring
  7. Practice writing your name with your eyes closed or with your opposite hand and watch your skills improve with practice!  
  8. Create a poem or picture and add a little bit to your creation every day that you are home!
  9.  Wrap yourself up in a warm blanket and read a book or draw a picture!
  10.  Practice the alphabet backwards or replacing each letter with a word as you can share your new talents when school resumes!   

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