Your Kids aren’t ‘Zoomed Out’​- They’re Sensory Deprived

Written by Adrian Cohen

As a parent of a 5 year old (TK) and 7 year old (first grader), and as a drama teacher, I have been experiencing the teleconferencing world our kids are being put through every day. Whether it be Zoom, Skype or some other platform, schools have taken a while to effectively shift to online learning leaving us parents inundated with various zoom links and the dreaded passwords that go with them. My kids are struggling, and from what I hear from other parents with elementary school age kids, their experience is shared.

It’s not just the online learning they find challenging, it is the calls to friends. There are feelings of profound sadness and frustration after some of these calls despite any number of apps to vamp it up. And perhaps these calls give us a clue to more effective video-conference teaching

My first grader’s social group struggles with FaceTime chats, and a “talking-head“ lesson from any one of their school teachers can leave them enervated and frustrated. Some parents and experts are saying that kids are “zoomed out” but I think they are sensory deprived.

As an actor and drama educator I’m very aware of the importance of experiencing all the senses when communicating and receiving information. This young age group relies on their senses for almost all communication with the outside world. Language is still very new and crude, and conversations don’t really go very far. But look how much they love each other and love playing together. Think about how they greet each other in the morning, it’s subtle, but they’re engaging through touching, seeing, smelling, hearing, and even at times tasting. Their whole bodies are expressing how they feel, and think, putting forward their thoughts, emotions and point of view.

To this end, perhaps online classes should encourage kids to use as many of their senses as possible to communicate and receive information. At Upstage we’re now running live online classes every day. We’ve been experimenting with different approaches and we’re finding that getting the kids to communicate through their senses can bring a fuller engagement. By giving simple, yet direct instructions such as, “show everyone the room you’re in and show us some objects and explain any meaning behind them” we’ve got a class of very focused and excited kids. With prompts from the instructors, the child can describe what the room or object feels like, what it smells like, how it sounds. The kids on the receiving end can begin to imagine and experience those same feelings, smells and sounds and liken them to things in their own world. The class goes from being one-sided instruction to a level of personal interaction that the kids are craving. 

Another example is the “Invention Game” where kids pick up objects and pretend they’re used for a completely different purpose, they must describe to the class this imagined new use and the product by physically demonstrating, tactically imagining their new instrument and it’s uses. A third experience could involve the teacher instructing the students to find three things in the kitchen (now they must be on the move away from the device for a few minutes) that have different smells and then describe those in detail to the class and what makes the three things the same and different – fully evoking their sense of smell.

We’re also looking at ways we change environments, setting assignments like a treasure hunt which again gets the kids going outside.

Whatever the exercise, it’s vital that teachers of elementary school children, whether they are classroom teachers, or drama teachers, are basing their lesson plans on what brings the most engagement, and involving the senses in a deliberate way may just be one key to avoiding “zoomed out kids”.

If you are interested in how we are doing this in our online classes, join us here!