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Foundational Needs for Secondary Learners Grades 7 to 12

Learning+ Lead Mark French shares some important foundational elements for the developmental needs of secondary age learners. These include reminding parents of the physical and developmental needs that their 7-12th grader has beyond the typical academic subject matters.

By Mark French


September 21, 2020

Many of the things your secondary student needs for virtual learning are the same as what they need for in-person school. Proper nutrition, the right amount of sleep, proper physical activity, organizational skills, a comfortable environment, and time management.

Early in a student’s secondary learning journey, an important life lesson being developed is the ability to organize oneself and manage time. Maintaining a routine for sleep, nutrition, and exercise in a virtual instructional environment can be more challenging than attending school in person, however the importance of these basics is just as critical. During the instructional week, establish with your student a schedule for sleep, meals, instructional and study time, and physical activity. A common routine with these key elements will help in preparing your student for the best mental state for learning. Additionally, a formal agreed upon schedule will provide some framework for a specific demarcation of instructional time, study time and personal time, which provides clarity of expectations.

Provide a variety of places or areas for instructional activities during the day. Realize that your secondary students are used to being active generally every 50 minutes for a least a five-minute break. Secondary students also have different instructional environments during a regular school day so having a similar feel for “different places” can break up the day into more manageable segments and help them not feel like they are stuck in one place for eight hours. This can be as simple as moving to a bean bag chair for one class or outside on the porch for another. If you have multiple students in your household you could rotate from one area to another. Empower your student to decide which environment is best for each instructional activity. Allowing your student to have a say in what makes them comfortable for their instructional time is important – secondary students need a voice and choice, and need to know they are being heard and have some perceived control over parts of their lives.

Speaking of having a voice, secondary students need to feel heard. Having an adult to talk with about various concerns, personal or academic, is important. If your student does not have adults that they can discuss their concerns with available in their online instructional environment, then you need to make sure that you or another adult is available to fill that need and your student is aware of that availability.

All students need to feel safe. Secondary students who understand basic life needs can have concerns over financial difficulties and general health and safety at home, which can impact their learning ability. If these issues do exist at home then a thoughtful conversation with your student over these topics, instead of them casually overhearing of these conversations in the household, can help mitigate unnecessary concerns from your student’s perspective, freeing their mind to focus on their instructional activities without unnecessary distractions.

Ensuring secondary students are connected to their peers is important for social emotional development, and simply attending online classes many times becomes “school without any fun”. Social time is as important as instructional time, so creating intentional time for social connections is relevant and should be planned into the instructional day. The same principle holds true for physical activity, creating time for physical activities even if it is a walk around the block. If your student is open to this being an activity you do together, it is also a great way to have a casual conversation on how their day is going and offer your help and support.

Change to instructional activities like the sudden shift to virtual instruction that everyone had to endure in the spring of 2020 is hard and requires hard work from the students as well as the teachers. However, it does get easier over time if everyone does their part to make a positive contribution to the process.

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