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A Notre Dame College faculty expert in learning and literacy is offering ideas to help parents and caregivers maximize the education and development of youth during stay-at-home orders.

Sue E. Corbin, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Division of Professional Education at Notre Dame, said the key to learning for families who are self-isolating to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is parent or caregiver co-viewing digital resources with youth.

Corbin notes increased screen time can be detrimental to aspects of the developing brain.  Children who passively view multimedia, for instance, can experience decreases in the amount of white matter in their brains. This white tissue connects nerve fibers to organize information and stimulate language and cognition development.

“When this is compromised, children’s expressive speech, literacy skills, working memory, behavior and even appetite can be negatively affected,” Corbin said.

The faculty member encourages parents and caregivers to interact with youth as they negotiate online games and ebooks. Many free digital resources are available to families and caregivers, especially now during a time of social distancing. Scholastic, Exploratorium and Common Sense Media are just a few offering online content to engage the brains of both children and adults in heathy ways.

Conversation between adults and children while viewing educational and entertaining digital programming stimulates a person’s brain schema, which is their prior knowledge, according to Corbin. Children, in particular, then assimilate or accommodate new learning with previous knowledge to advance development.

“It also increases vocabulary usage, encourages the use of questioning to learn and aids in learning how to make social conversations,” Corbin said.

Read and Write Actively

According to the education expert, as long as ebooks and digital programming are educational and high quality, extended screen times during stay-at-home schooling are acceptable. But multimedia should not be an incentive for other behaviors, especially learning.

“I would not make screen time a reward for reading,” Corbin said. “This gives the message that reading is something you have to do in order to get something in return.  Reading good books has its own advantages, and children should be encouraged to read for a lot of different purposes.”

Corbin recommends caregivers read to and with children. Even then, the literary engagement can be made more active. The faculty member suggests youth create artwork based on a book or act out a story together with an adult.

For youth who are able to write, or even just beginning to, they can keep a self-quarantine journal to help promote learning. They record what their days are like, or write stories based on their favorite characters in books.

Journals also are an educational component for outdoor experiences. Corbin said youth who take walks outside while still keeping a healthy social distance from others can then draw pictures or write about what they saw. They also can look up information on the internet based on what they experienced.

Make Space

Another educational option is for parents to create a maker space in their homes stocked with cardboard boxes, egg cartons, yogurt containers and plastic jugs, among other recycled materials. Combined with crayons, scissors, and craft items, this place will enable children’s “creativity to run wild” and promote additional learning, Corbin said.

Youth and caregivers also need to make their own space for self-directed development while staying at home.

“I think one of the most important things is to make sure that children have time to play and create. Just because they are home doesn’t mean that they should be kept busy every minute.  They should be thinking of things to do themselves as well,” Corbin said. “Children need their personal space, too.”

Help with Homework

Corbin recommends parents and young adults schedule a variety of activities throughout the day to spread out schoolwork so it does not take up a long block of time that will tire the student out or turn them off to the learning.

The faculty member suggests short blocks also are better for parents trying to teach. It affords them time to persevere.

“If children make mistakes in their work, help them through it. Try not to correct them or show impatience with them,” she said.  “If they don’t learn it one way, try to think of another way to approach the information.”

Augment Screen Time

The faculty member refers to the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) for general guidelines with regard to the use of digital resources. The association recommends children under the age of 18 months are better with no screen time except for video-chatting with family members.

The AAP also suggests:

  • Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age choose high-quality educational programming and watch it with their children to help them understand what they are seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, parents co-view media to help the preschoolers not only understand what they are seeing but also apply it to the world around them.
  • With children ages 6 and older, parents need to make sure digital media do not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
  • The AAP also advocates parents designate media-free times together, such as dinner, as well as media-free locations at home for youth of all ages.

March 2020

About Notre Dame College

For almost a century, Notre Dame College has educated a diverse population in the liberal arts for personal, professional and global responsibility. Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1922, the College has grown strategically to keep pace with the rapidly changing needs of students and the dramatic changes in higher education. But it has never lost sight of its emphasis on teaching students not only how to make a good living but also how to live a good life.

Today, the College offers bachelor’s degrees in 30 disciplines plus a variety of master’s degrees, certification programs and continuing and professional development programs for adult learners on campus and online. Notre Dame College offers NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletic programs for men and women and is located in a picturesque residential neighborhood just 25 minutes from the heart of Cleveland. Hallmarks of the Notre Dame experience include stimulating academics, personalized attention of dedicated faculty and staff, and small class sizes.

Notre Dame College is located at 4545 College Road in South Euclid. For further information contact Brian Johnston, chief communications officer, at 216.373.5252 or