Paying attention to child's emotions is key to successful virtual learning, teachers say

When it comes to distance learning, experts say putting a child's emotion's first may be crucial.
Even the best designed online courses in reading or math may not be as enriching as they could be if teachers aren't able to get a sense of how students are coping emotionally.

Distance learning can present even more challenges, especially if a child's family is experiencing hardships. Experts say putting a child's emotions first may be crucial.

Mary Bonilla's dining area is not a classroom, but she wants her 8-year-old Mia Hernandez to feel like she's in one.

"I want to make it as similar as possible," she said.

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Getting a feel for school is important when the only learning that's going on is through a screen.

"The good thing is that I have the support of the school," Bonilla said. "And I am very grateful for that."

Hernandez goes to ISANA Octavia Charter School in Glassell Park, one of six independent K-8 charter schools where emphasis on social emotional learning helps kids adjust to their new academic reality.

Nancy Ramirez, a school counselor with Octavia Academies, described social emotional learning.

"Teaching them how to become self-aware of their feelings and how to manage them. And teaching compassion and empathy for others," she said.

A student's day starts with teachers, counselors and even psychologists checking in with how kids are doing.

"Give me two feelings that you're feeling right now. I feel happy. I feel sad. I feel overwhelmed. And just creating a safe place for them so they can share that," Ramirez said.

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On different days, students receive lessons on various emotions such as empathy.

"We would see how that would apply to them and how they could practice it," she said.

Daily journaling is another way that children can express themselves. And Hernandez's favorite way to express emotions are exercises in hopefulness.

"She'd be like oh! I'm hopeful for this. I'm hopeful we're going to go to the park one day," her mother said.

The simple things matter most. Mia is hopeful that her teacher will let her draw and do more art.

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Ramirez advises parents to carry emotional learning into dinner time.

"What are two things that you liked most about today and what is the least thing that you didn't like," she said, "And things like that create an environment to open up."

A virtual counseling office is another way Ramirez invites kids to connect. Bonilla encourages parents not to be afraid to connect with other parents.

"They're going to have ideas that you didn't even think of and it's helpful," she said.

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