Finding a Distance-Learning Balance: Mental Health and Academics

There’s so much information coming at us from so many different directions right now.  Not only are we trying to keep up with news about this pandemic and how to keep our families safe, but we’re experiencing disruptions to our social lives and our jobs.  The cherry on top of this COVID-19 sundae is that many parents are now being asked to step into what is, for many, a brand new role: distance learning facilitator.  (Make sure you put that on your resumes from now on! 😉)  Parents, students and educators are ALL scrambling to learn new routines and new technologies with very little – if any – warning, guidance or training.

Recently, the Twitter feed for @teachergoals.org posted something that really resonated.  When I feel myself getting overwhelmed by the “tsunami of stuff” coming at from me all directions, I revisit this tweet:

Since this blog is written by a bunch of psychologists, it’s probably no surprise that student mental health is our passion.  However, we’re SCHOOL psychologists, which means that we also focus on supporting the academic and functional needs of our students.

There’s a lot of research out there supporting the fact that learning is interrupted by psychological factors, such as stress and anxiety.  Check out this 4-minute Ted Talk on “How Stress Affects the Brain” (and, if you are interested, there are lesson guides for the video here that could be used with our students):

We’d probably all agree that stress and anxiety are major factors in our lives these days.  While we share the concerns that our families have about the disruption of reading, writing and math instruction for our students, we want to remind everyone that student mental health must be a priority – perhaps now more than ever.  We’re not the only ones paying attention to this right now; here are some additional resources:

  • In this handout, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network offers the following advice: “Modify your daily activities to meet the current reality of the situation and focus on what you can accomplish.”
  • Our National Association of School Psychologists recently updated their information for parents in this “Helping Children Cope With Changes Resulting From COVID-19” resource (available in both English and Spanish).  The organization notes that “none of this easy, but it helps to stay focused on what is possible in order to reinforce a sense of control and to reassure children that they are okay, and that the situation will get better.”
  • Colorado Public Radio shared this piece entitled “Lower Your Expectations, And Other Parenting Advice For The Era Of COVID-19.”  It includes the advice that “parents must focus on what they can control and realize that right now, in the middle of a pandemic, it is not the time for parenting perfection.”  This article also contains some great user-friendly tips and strategies for dealing with anxiety.
  • In this interview with Dr. Jenny Radesky, a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician on Michigan Public Radio, parents are advised: “Don’t try to out-school school.”  Instead, Dr. Radesky advises a focus on ensuring stability and safety, while gaining life-skills about resilience.
  • In this blog entitled “MENTAL HEALTH (KIDS AND PARENTS) COMES BEFORE ACADEMICS,” the author writes: “Protect the emotional well-being of the family first. Academics are secondary to that.”  (Are you seeing a pattern here yet? 😃)  The author, a Licensed Independent Social Worker (LICSW) and mother of 3, references Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs and we’re sharing it again here, because this model from 1954 is very relevant in 2020:

In this new COVID-19 distance-learning world, we hope that our fellow educators, parents and students will all allow themselves a bit of grace, compassion and understanding in knowing that we ARE all working together to do what is best for our children right now – even in those moments when it may not feel that way. These are strange and uncharted waters. Manage your expectations and be kind to yourselves and to one another.

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Virtual Library Card

As you may know, reading is very important for development and learning. Students should read at least 30 minutes a day but with the stay-in home orders, students do not have access to public and school libraries. The Forsyth County Library has created  a way to register for a virtual library card that gives people access to the online database, ebooks, eaudiobooks, and emagazines. Follow this link below to register for a Forsyth County Library Virtual Library Card:
Please allow 1-2 business days for the Forsyth County Library to process the request. Once your request has been processed, you will be able to access the digital books on a computer, smart phone, or tablet. Show us how you read digitally at #wsfcslearnon and #wspsychs. Happy Reading!
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Virtual College and University Campus Tours

Were you planning on taking your high schooler on a few college campus tours this spring or summer? Many of the colleges and universities located in North Carolina have ceased all in-person tours until further notice due to COVID-19. However, colleges and universities have created virtual maps, virtual tours, and FAQ videos to help prospective students navigate their college search during the pandemic. 


We are lucky and blessed to have so many colleges and universities located (practically) in our backyards. If you are interested in staying close to home, check out all of the virtual tours for our local colleges and universities here:


Wake Forest University


If you would like to travel a little further to go to college, The University of North Carolina System has gathered links and information about virtual tours for all of the 17 campuses. Check out these tours here:


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Will Suicides Increase Because of COVID-19?

Recently, we have been hearing concerns about whether the suicide rate may increase as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Right now, anxieties are already elevated because of this novel situation.  We all know that – more than ever before – our focus must remain on facts, not fear.  In order to help our readers consider that very complex question, let’s start by reviewing facts we know about suicide.

In this blog post from 2019, we talked about the World Health Organization’s latest data on suicide, which indicated that between 2010 and 2016, the global suicide rate decreased by 9.8%.  However, the WHO also found that the only region to see an increase was the Americas.  According to the CDC’s surveillance datasuicide is currently the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and suicide rates have shown a steady pattern of increase in the United States:

The CDC also provided a list of risk factors or characteristics associated with suicide, but they clearly indicate that these ARE NOT direct causes. These days, our personal lists of risk factors may look different than they did a month ago. As a nation, we are enduring self-imposed isolation, loss of social relationships, and possible financial hardships.

So, let’s get back to the question of an increasing rate of suicides because of COVID-19. It’s a complicated question with an even more complicated answer. Data tell us that suicide has been an enduring problem in the United States that has progressively gotten worse over time. Following that data trend, it would be reasonable to expect that suicides may continue to increase. Our personal risk factors associated with suicide may be changing during these unprecedented times but, as a reminder, there’s no evidence that any single risk factor or any set of these factors will CAUSE suicide.

In our world of psychology and data, there’s always the caveat that “correlation does not equal causation.” As of right now, there’s simply no way that even the most renowned experts in the field can predict the exact impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our nation’s – and even the world’s – mental health. A combination of individual, relationship, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention summarizes this beautifully in the following quote:
“There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.”

These are the warning signs you should be aware of:



And here are the places you can find help:


We also want to provide you with LOCAL RESOURCES that were shared by Andy Hagler, the Executive Director of the Mental Health Association in Forsyth County:


“If you or a loved one needs help with their mental health concerns and are not sure what to do, where to turn, below are some local mental health resources, available 24/7, that are a phone call away. (Keep in mind that if the situation is a medical or life-threatening emergency then you do need to call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room.)

1. Cardinal Innovations healthcare: 1-800-939-5911. Call this number for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis and/or to access services. Serves the residents of Forsyth, Stokes, Davie, Davidson and 16 other Counties in NC who are uninsured or have Medicaid. However, during this time, anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can call this number for help.

2. Mobile Crisis/Engagement Services: 1-866-275-9552. Operated by Daymark Recovery Services in Winston-Salem and other service areas. Mobile Crisis Services serves everyone experiencing a mental health crisis in the community, regardless of resources or lack of resources.

3. Old Vineyard Behavioral Health: 1-855-234-5920. Call to schedule an appointment or make a referral. Walk-ins welcome and/or referrals from community providers.”

We would encourage everyone to reach out to those who may be especially vulnerable and pay attention to possible warning signs for suicide. We all need to provide support, kindness, understanding, and encouragement wherever we can. We also need to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves, so that we may better take care of others.


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Got Anxiety? Got stress? Help is out there ( and you don’t even have to leave your house to find it).

Got anxiety? Got stress? At this point, I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that we do. In these “unprecedented times” it sometimes hard to know how to cope with all of the changes that have happened so quickly, and in knowing how to cope with our new normal. As parents, it is important for us to know how to facilitate good mental health, for ourselves, and also for our children. We are important too, and if we aren’t healthy, how can we care for them?

For people who are looking for support, NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) has developed a resource guide to helps to address many of the questions that people may have as they cope with the current situation. They are also available by phone to address questions that might not be answered by the guide.

Topics include how to cope with anxiety, how to cope with feelings of loneliness and isolation while sheltering in place, or quarantined, how to help people with mental illness or even what assistance programs are available for people who may be suffering financially due to business closures.

Among the suggestions that they have for helping with anxiety is to remember that knowledge is power (find out the information that is most relevant to you), and Don’t accept everything you read or hear (make sure that your sources are accurate and reputable).

They mention the importance of getting your emotional support system in place. Helpful suggestions include: maintaining familiar routines, take care of your basic needs and employ healthy coping strategies, such as getting enough rest, eating healthy food and engaging in physical activity.

They suggest reaching out for support if needed, and have provided a number of ideas such as a “warmline” staffed by volunteers trained as listeners, online support groups, and even text support!

NAMI COVID-19 Resource Guide

Be well, and remember that we are all in this together.

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Fun Activities to Do with Kids during the Virus Shutdown of 2020

The coronavirus has completely interrupted the normalcy of our lives. While eLearning started last week and occupies a significant amount of time, families still have lots of unstructured time to fill throughout the day. It can be difficult to think of things to do, especially when you can’t even leave your house. We have compiled a list of fun activities that you may not have known about or thought of. Some of these can be done online, but others are interactive and meant for families to do together. Let us know if you think of more! Show us your activities by tweeting to us @schoolpsychws. Use #wspsychs and #wsfcslearnon. We would love to add your ideas to this list!

Cultural Enrichment:

  • Google has compiled an extensive list of museums offering online galleries. Examples include the MET, MoMA, and Musee d’Orsay in Paris, just to name a few. You can find this list at Google Arts and Culture
  • Check out Star Trek’s Patrick Stewart reading Shakespeare online each day: Comicbook

Art:

  • Author and illustrator Jarrett J. Krosocka (aka JJK) is offering daily lessons which give young people practical tools to tell stories using pictures and words. He does this every weekday at 2 p.m. EST. Visit Draw Every Day with JJK
  • Baking Soda Art- You will need: a container or tray, baking soda, vinegar, food coloring, and medicine dropper or straws. Lay down a layer of baking soda in the container. Pour vinegar into different cups and add different colors to each cup. Have your child create art by decorating the baking soda with the colorful vinegars (using medicine droppers or straws- for straws, have your child stick the end of the straw into vinegar then plug the other end with a finger). Great activity for fine motor skills and it is fun!
  • Face Hunt- Find 5 objects around the house and make a face using those objects. Make a different face using the same objects. Find new objects and make new faces. The adult can add social-emotional learning to this activity by naming an emotion and having the student make a face with a matching emotion.
  • Natural Faces- You will need: a piece of paper with a large face drawn on it (leave the clothes and hair blank). Go for a nature walk and collect items that can be used to create details on the picture (example: leaves for hair, flowers for clothes, rocks for earring, etc.). When you have finished collecting, attach these things to the picture. You may choose to secure them using glue OR rearrange them to make different images.
  • Art for Kids Hub has lots of great art lessons for kids. They even have weekly challenges to stretch your child’s creativity.

Physical Activity:

  • Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach, is offering daily P.E. classes on his YouTube Channel. Visit The Body Coach   The Body Coach
  • GoNoodle is a great resource for families. Their website has lots of movement and mindfulness videos developed just for kids. To learn more about their offerings, visit GoNoodle
  • How about Bingo? This would be a fun family activity:

  • Here are some ideas that might be fun for kids who are missing out on spring sports:

Science:

  • Mystery Science is providing some of their most popular K-5 science lessons for free, no account or log in needed. For example, there are lessons about weather, animals, engineering, and very timely ones about germs. Visit Mystery Science
  • The San Diego Zoo has an informative and interactive website just for kids. They have all kinds of activities from art to reading to games. Visit San Diego Zoo
  • Take a virtual field trip to Yellowstone National Park! Visit Yellowstone National Park
  • Want to learn more about nature? Here are the best nature webcams from We Are Teachers
  • Missing out on this year’s science project? Mommy Poppins has a list of 63 science experiments you can do at home using household items.
  • These activities can be both science and art. Go for a walk and create “natural jewelry”. You can make a bracelet using tape (turn sticky part outwards). Then go for an adventure and find flowers, grass, leaves to stick to your tape bracelet. While you are on your nature walk, collect sticks of different shapes and sizes. Create a “Woody Windchime” using the sticks and yarn. Hang it up!

History/Social Studies:

  • Want to visit The Great Wall of China? Take this virtual tour at Great Wall of China
  • Want to visit Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas? You can do that from home with this virtual tour that tells you the history of it and introduces you to some “amazing Boeing employees who are preparing to write the next chapter of space history with the launch of the Starliner/CST-100 spacecraft and the deployment of the Space Launch System (SLS).”  Visit Johnson Space Station-Boeing
  • We are in the midst of a historical event like we have never experienced before. Explore ways to help your student document this moment in history. One idea might be keeping a daily journal. If done online, your child could even attach visual reminders, such as pictures of empty parking lots or temporary closure signs. You could even consider compiling everything into a scrapbook to be printed. It would be an interesting keepsake to look back at with their own children one day.

Music:

  • Another great resource from NPR: “NPR Music is compiling a list of live audio and video streams from around the world, categorized by date and genre, with links out to streaming platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Some will require registration or a subscription, but most will be free, often with digital tip jars and opportunities to directly support artists by buying music and merchandise.” Visit NPR Music
  • The Metropolitan Opera Each opera will be streaming live operas each day that are available on the  Met’s website at 7:30 p.m. EST and will remain available to stream until 3:30 p.m. EST the next day.
  • This website has great resources for kids missing their music teachers! Visit Classics for Kids

Brain Breaks:

  • In an earlier link for physical activity, we shared about Joe Wicks, The Body Coach, and his daily P.E. classes. He also offers “5 Minute Move” videos for kids. These are a perfect way to get up and give brains a break during long online school days. Visit 5 Minute Move for Kids
  • Lemon Lime Adventures Lemon Lime Adventures has compiled a great list of activities for sensory breaks and why they are so important for children. To see these ideas, visit Sensory Break Ideas
  • The folks at Minds in Bloom have a list of 20 brain break activities. A few of them might be difficult to do without a class, but most can be adapted for family use. Visit Minds in Bloom

Social Emotional Learning (SEL):

  • This school psychologist does weekly (sometimes daily) SEL lessons using music. Check out his YouTube channel: SEL Lessons
  • Check out this google doc for a daily SEL challenge. Great for kids, and even adults! Visit Daily SEL Challenge
  • You are probably familiar with Class Dojo as a way to communicate with your child’s teacher; however, did you know they also offer lots of great videos on SEL topics? Visit Big Ideas Class Dojo
  • The folks over at Everfi are providing families in the Piedmont-Triad region with free SEL resources to use at home. It also has some great career exploration activities geared at STEM, math, science, financial wellness, and much more. If your student doesn’t already have an account, you’ll have to go through a simple process to create one. Visit Everfi

Family Activities:
Being stuck at home can be difficult. I have a friend who has coined it “Forced Family Fun.” In all seriousness, families can take this opportunity to spend quality time together doing things other than school. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Family Scavenger Hunt
  • With “Shelter in Place” potentially coming for us, consider getting creative with your family. I found this idea on a friend’s Facebook page. How about making a family chain? One link for each day of the quarantine to record your thoughts and activities. Hopefully the chain won’t get too long, but it will be fun to look back one day and think about your days in isolation.

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Self-Care During a Pandemic: A Marathon, Not a Sprint

We recently discovered this article on the Psychology Today website entitled “Self Care and COVID-19: Getting Ready for the Marathon.”  Planning and preparing for the long-term is such a great strategy in uncertain times.  The author, Dr. Doreen Dodgen-Magee, writes that “intentional planning goes a long way to staying mentally healthy amid a crisis.”

Our educators, parents and students are scrambling right now to establish a new “normal.”  Support systems that may have been in place through family gatherings, religious services, athletic teams or other social opportunities have been severely limited in this new era of social distancing.  Now is the time to make sure that your self-care toolkit is well-stocked, as none of us know exactly how long this crisis may last.  As Dr. Dodgen-Magee writes, “Just as we’re washing our hands, resisting touching our faces, and keeping 6 feet between us, it’s important to tend to our mental hygiene.”

The CDC has published an article on “Managing Stress and Anxiety” during this COVID-19 outbreak.  The advice to “create a menu of personal self-care activities that you enjoy, such as spending time with friends and family, exercising, or reading a book” aligns perfectly with Dr. Dodgen-Magee’s idea of developing a self-care plan NOW that you can turn to later, if events begin to feel even more challenging.

In this article, you can find some tips on “bite-sized acts of self-care” (what a great phrase!), including the following:

  • “Number one: Take five minutes in quiet to just breathe. Focus on your breathing and nothing else; let go of any unwelcome thoughts that pop up. 
  • Number two: Play a song and just dance. No further explanation necessary, just enjoy it. 
  • Number three: Take a longer than typical shower and relish the sensations it provides. 
  • Number four: Practice the DBT technique of half-smiling and willing hands. Sit or stand with your arms relaxed at your side and your palms turned outward. Relax your face and turn the corners of your mouth slightly upward. Now notice that it becomes more difficult to hold on to frustration, anxiety, and other difficult emotions. 
  • And lastly, number five: Turn off your phone.”

That last bullet refers to a “conscious uncoupling” (to borrow a phrase from Gwyneth Paltrow) from the neverending stream of information that surrounds us.  It’s important to stay informed, but it’s also important to take digital breaks, so that we can safeguard our emotional well-being.  Perhaps scheduling media updates can help with finding balance.  For example, have a plan to visit one or two trusted websites or news apps only at a certain time of day and resist checking those “breaking news” updates every time your phone pings.

We love this Twitter post of “Daily Quarantine Questions” from @teachergoals:

To help you develop your own COVID-19 Self-Care Toolkit, here are some additional resources:

We will leave you with a quote from that last article:

“Self-care is not selfish or indulgent – it’s how we keep ourselves well to ensure we are physically, emotionally, and mentally capable of being there for our young children.”

…and some excellent self-care advice from the CDC! 😀

Read more

Self-Care During a Pandemic: A Marathon, Not a Sprint

We recently discovered this article on the Psychology Today website entitled “Self Care and COVID-19: Getting Ready for the Marathon.”  Planning and preparing for the long-term is such a great strategy in uncertain times.  The author, Dr. Doreen Dodgen-Magee, writes that “intentional planning goes a long way to staying mentally healthy amid a crisis.”

Our educators, parents and students are scrambling right now to establish a new “normal.”  Support systems that may have been in place through family gatherings, religious services, athletic teams or other social opportunities have been severely limited in this new era of social distancing.  Now is the time to make sure that your self-care toolkit is well-stocked, as none of us know exactly how long this crisis may last.  As Dr. Dodgen-Magee writes, “Just as we’re washing our hands, resisting touching our faces, and keeping 6 feet between us, it’s important to tend to our mental hygiene.”

The CDC has published an article on “Managing Stress and Anxiety” during this COVID-19 outbreak.  The advice to “create a menu of personal self-care activities that you enjoy, such as spending time with friends and family, exercising, or reading a book” aligns perfectly with Dr. Dodgen-Magee’s idea of developing a self-care plan NOW that you can turn to later, if events begin to feel even more challenging.

In this article, you can find some tips on “bite-sized acts of self-care” (what a great phrase!), including the following:

  • “Number one: Take five minutes in quiet to just breathe. Focus on your breathing and nothing else; let go of any unwelcome thoughts that pop up. 
  • Number two: Play a song and just dance. No further explanation necessary, just enjoy it. 
  • Number three: Take a longer than typical shower and relish the sensations it provides. 
  • Number four: Practice the DBT technique of half-smiling and willing hands. Sit or stand with your arms relaxed at your side and your palms turned outward. Relax your face and turn the corners of your mouth slightly upward. Now notice that it becomes more difficult to hold on to frustration, anxiety, and other difficult emotions. 
  • And lastly, number five: Turn off your phone.”

That last bullet refers to a “conscious uncoupling” (to borrow a phrase from Gwyneth Paltrow) from the neverending stream of information that surrounds us.  It’s important to stay informed, but it’s also important to take digital breaks, so that we can safeguard our emotional well-being.  Perhaps scheduling media updates can help with finding balance.  For example, have a plan to visit one or two trusted websites or news apps only at a certain time of day and resist checking those “breaking news” updates every time your phone pings.

We love this Twitter post of “Daily Quarantine Questions” from @teachergoals:

To help you develop your own COVID-19 Self-Care Toolkit, here are some additional resources:

We will leave you with a quote from that last article:

“Self-care is not selfish or indulgent – it’s how we keep ourselves well to ensure we are physically, emotionally, and mentally capable of being there for our young children.”

…and some excellent self-care advice from the CDC! 😀

Read more

Sesame Street Responds to Coronavirus

We want to continue to bring you resources for both academic and social-emotional learning as we enter this new era of virtual learning.  We love the new “Caring for Each Other” initiative from Sesame Street, which is described as follows:

“Your friends on Sesame Street are here to support you and your family during the COVID-19 health crisis. We understand that these are very stressful times; our daily lives have been disrupted, and we are all coping with uncertainty. As we create a new sense of normalcy, it’s important that we take care of ourselves, so that we can best care for our children.”
We first discovered the Sesame Street initiative in this article from the PBS and NPR parent company, GPB.  The article notes that PBS is working to expand offerings of free on-demand episodes of Sesame Street on PBS KIDS digital platforms.  
In the “Parents” section of PBS KIDS, you’ll find resources on how to manage both the physical and emotional health of children during this stressful time. The free apps found in this section offer educational games and videos. PBS Kids also has a great article on “How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus” that includes videos, games and activities related to hand-washing and staying healthy.  
Be sure to check out the upcoming free webinar activities, as well.  On 03/25/2020 at 10:00, a “Cat in the Hat” webinar is geared toward building science inquiry skills in early learners.  On 03/26/2020 at 10:00, you can join a webinar for building early literacy engagement.
Finally, since this can be a stressful and uncertain time for all of us, we wanted to share a virtual hug!