Learning Upside Down: Is It Time To Reframe What We Think About This?

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of Twitter posts with adults sharing photographs of their child during remote learning. There are a huge number of tweets with the slight variation of the kindergarten-age student hidden under a table or curled up near a sofa somewhere. The implied message is, “We’re done with remote learning!” I get it. I have no doubt that a handful of our amazing parents need to work hard each day to get their children online. While I’d like to think that connecting with us and with their friends is enough of a pull to show up day after day — and for many kids, I do believe that it is — I’m not going to pretend that this is enough for everyone. But these photographs are triggering for me, and last night, I think that I figured out why. Maybe those little areas under the table or on the sofa are the perfect spaces to learn.

For years now, there has been a move to “flexible seating.” In classrooms, the norm used to be that children sat at desks or tables and on chairs, but now bean bag chairs, wobble chairs, scoop chairs, and pillows are quickly becoming more prevalent, along with the ability for children to decide what works best for them. This was a struggle with some of the COVID classroom restrictions, as flexible seating became more of a challenge, and at times, almost an impossibility. We know that some of our students need these alternate seating environments. Even given our classroom restrictions of one front-facing space per child, having kids lying down or sitting under their desks, standing up as needed, and using Tupperware tent spaces, are just some of the ways that we try to explore flexible seating at school. With this in mind, would it not stand to reason that some kids might be seeking out these same options at home?

Sharing From A Distance

While most of our students sit at a table of some sort for the meeting times, we have a few that don’t. One child loves to use an iPad for our class meetings so that she can move around. Standing up over top of the iPad or even partaking in the class upside down are often the norm for her. It would be easy to assume that she doesn’t take it anything that we’re saying, but this is far from true. She frequently chimes in with questions and comments related to the provocations shared, and even excitedly shares her work with others during class. Yes, Paula and I might get a little dizzy from the iPad movements — especially when we go on a wobbly walk through her house — and yet, we also love them. This child is making online learning work for her, and just as she would find ways to sprawl out, move around, and explore heights in the classroom, she’s doing so at home. Independently. In a safe environment with her peers and educators that care for her and love hearing her many contributions to classroom learning.

So, if I could say anything to the concerned parents that share photographs of their child under furniture or curled up in a corner, I’d love to say, “I wonder if this might support your child’s Self-Reg. What would happen if your child joined the meeting times like this? Would it help your child feel safe? Would it give your child the support that he/she needs to contribute and engage in the class? Could it maybe even spark some wonderful empathetic responses from classmates and educators, and hopefully, a shift in feelings as the meeting time progresses?” And if the curling up and hiding means that kids need a day or two off from online learning, I completely understand. But I would also want to get to why the child is feeling this way, and what could be done to change his/her feelings. Remote learning might not be ideal, or at least not ideal for all kids, but I still believe that there’s a lot that’s possible. Maybe letting go of the need to sit at a table or stay still for the whole online time are good places to start. I’ll happily embrace a little dizziness each day for the happiness that goes along with it. What about you?


4 thoughts on “Learning Upside Down: Is It Time To Reframe What We Think About This?

  1. I love this post, Aviva!

    I think you are on to something – they are trying to regulate and moving around is part of that. Especially kindergarten age children, but I think all children are trying to figure out what regulates them. I have a few that move a lot during the day too, or at least they do on some days, or they did more when we first started. By now they have figured out where they are comfortable. That has included parents having to figure out how the whole family can do their best work. It’s exactly what we have been doing at my house! But some days even our comfortable spots don’t feel comfortable. One day I was too cold sitting here. Another day I was too hot. And of course our physical stressors change all the time.

    I’ve used a tote box on it’s side as an alternate work space in class before and it is amazing how comforting it can be for some kids.

    I do have some kids who move around too much, then they say, “What am I supposed to be doing? I wasn’t listening.” I am taking these moments as learning moments. Why didn’t you hear? Why weren’t you listening? What can we do next time? At school I am essentially taking care of some of this by giving them a routine and a set place to be (at their chair for this, at the carpet for that, on the bean bag in-between) at certain times. It’s hard to figure it out on your own, especially when in an environment where learning isn’t always the focus! I was trying to write report cards and supervise my own children in the pool last night. They kept splashing on me! THE NERVE! The real problem was that I had chosen a bad place to work because I hadn’t thought it through all the way. Of course kids are going to have trouble with this!

    I’m hoping that in the coming weeks people won’t take an “all or nothing” approach. In fact, I think I’ll put that in my weekly email this week – it’s okay to bounce in and out in the month of June. Don’t come today when it is sunny, but come back tomorrow when it’s raining. Don’t come for the whole day, but pop in for literacy time in the morning, or math time later in the afternoon.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lisa! You’re actually making me think of all kinds of different things here. First of all, you’re having me think more about co-regulation and how we co-regulate kids at school. This includes with helping them determine the best environment at the best time for them. This can be harder for us to do at home, as we’re trying to do this through a screen. Also, the nature of MS Teams, Google Meet, or Zoom is that everyone is always at the front of the room. Everyone can always see and hear everyone else. I’m grateful (in so many ways) for a teaching partner, as then we can also use Breakout Rooms to have some of these conversations 1:1 or in small groups if needed. Then kids can also support each other and we can support all of them. Parents are also trying to co-regulate at home, and that means helping kids select spaces and create environments that work well for them. I wonder if we sometimes need to let parents know that various spaces, movement, etc. are all supported. I think about some suggested materials to send out to parents about ideal learning spaces, etc., but I wonder if sending these out could have parents worried when their kids don’t do well in these spaces or concerned that they’re not “following the rules.” Just as in the classroom, we might have different rules, supports, etc. for different kids, I wonder if the same holds true online. I also worry that by sending out these kinds of notes, we might be increasing parental stress, which can then have an impact on kids.

      This made me think about your comments around spaces that worked and didn’t work for you. When we’re feeling stressed, this can also change how we respond to students. It’s almost like a vicious cycle. While I always work downstairs in my basement as then I don’t have barking dogs interfering with online time, I also have some elements of my workspace which vary day to day. Sometimes I have a fan nearby. Sometimes I vary the intensity of the fan depending on if the basement is hot or cold. I also have a blanket nearby, as I hate getting too cold. This is a stressor for me. Snacks, water, and paper (for doodling and note writing) are also calming options, and I try to have a healthy snack down with me (e.g., fruit or nuts), lots of water, and pads of paper plus markers nearby. One of these choices usually reduces my need to talk as much, which helps with wait time as well as not talking on top of Paula (we are in a groove right now). I wonder if sharing with parents how we vary our workspaces might also make them feel better about supporting their children in doing the same.

      Your last paragraph also resonated with me. This is a note that we’ve added to our classroom schedule for each week that we’ve been online:

      Important Note About Our Meeting Times: We know that everybody has a different schedule and other responsibilities at home. Children are welcome to join any meeting for as much or as little time as they want. We’ll always support drop-in times and any opportunity to connect with kids. Coming near the beginning of the meeting time often helps children with entering the play, but we know that this isn’t always possible, and would love to see your kids even if they need to join later or leave earlier.

      We’ve noticed that almost all of our students login at least once a day, and are even starting to come for part of a meeting time versus none at all. We hope that this holds true in the coming weeks with the nicer weather. This is also why we’ve made some changes to our schedule though. We noticed that our first two meeting times were well-attended, and most students stayed for the entire time (some even longer than that). With the warmer weather, fewer students are attending our last meeting time of the day. We made some adjustments to the other times then in response to what we’ve observed. We’ll see the impact that this makes this week, and then modify accordingly. It’s always a work in progress. Right?! I hope that your note helps with attendance especially as the weather improves. I jokingly wonder if teaching from the splash pad might be the way to go. 🙂


      • I suspect splash pad teaching would start to look a lot like “face to face”. My daughter (age 10) is already trying to convince me she can join her class from the backyard pool. She’s tried a lot of different spaces for her learning too. She was in the basement for a while, and is now mostly in her bedroom. She has tried joining from the trampoline, but quickly had to admit that she wasn’t paying attention there. After a few weeks of online learning, I went back to class thinking about all the ways to accommodate their need for “different” ways to get comfortable. Now, after this longer stretch, I’m thinking about how “sit in this chair at this table at this time” can be equally comforting to some kids.

        My biggest stress at this time has been prosocial – I’m constantly thinking about equity and how to meet everyone’s needs in an equitable way. There are so many of these things that are automatically dealt with at school – they have the supplies they need, they can be given snacks, they are more likely to have social needs met, etc. Every lesson I plan I have to seriously think about every child through an academic lens and an equity lens. Will they have the soil they need for science? Will talking about safety at home bring up some inequities? Will everyone be able to access this or that website? My son, who is in my class, has found this overwhelming too. He thought certain things were the same for everyone and this has shown him that they are not – he has his own room, but other kids have to share; he always has the paper and scissors he needs (somewhere in the house!) and others do not; we have multiple tech devices and others have to share with siblings, or us a parent’s phone. It goes on and on. I suppose that’s something that will still be beyond the notice of many kindergarten kids, but in grade 3 it’s been on his mind a lot. I’m not sure about the other children in the class because there is no way to bring it up! Sorry…this whole paragraph is way off topic. 🙂

        • Thanks for the reply, Lisa! Your first paragraph makes me think a lot about the “self” component in Self-Reg. I think that’s as true here as it is in-person. While I don’t sit at a desk at home, I certainly have a more contained space than I do at school. I did find though that sitting at the desk made me too apt to just jump in and talk, instead of observe, play along, and listen. This table space that I set-up in January is the spot that I still use now, but I sometimes bring my computer a little closer to make it easier to share the screen when needed: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CJ1gNiUHTHs/.

          You make some great points here about equity. Paula and I have been thinking about this a lot. Knowing our kids, we tend to provide a few different provocations, but welcome students to bring/do whatever they want. We figure out a way to extend and the link to the expectations much as we would in the classroom. This note at the top of Friday’s plans is similar to the one that we share for each day of the week.

          Suggested Materials For The Week: Paper and/or cardboard for writing and drawing, Writing and drawing materials/Art Supplies (crayons, markers, glue, tape, paint, pastels, ruler and/or something with a straight edge, etc.), Recyclable Materials (cardboard items, plastic items, little lids of containers, etc.), Blocks and/or LEGO – Please see the note about Friday (separate document) for some special material suggestions.
          Important Note: No specific materials are required, but the special suggestions for today (in the note about Friday) would be great. We will always provide provocations that can connect with whatever items your child brings with him/her to our online classes. A piece of paper or cardboard and a drawing/writing material will always be enough for our meeting times. If possible, having choices of materials slightly off to the side will allow your child to participate in any class discussions before selecting items that he/she wants to use for the day. We’re always trying to support independence.

          We try to give a minimum of a few days’ notice — and usually at least a week — for any special material options, and still try to provide options. Usually we add in the caveat to email us if they don’t have these options, and we’ll provide some other choices. We don’t want anyone to feel as though they can’t participate due to a lack of materials, or that they have to purchase certain materials to participate.

          In our Board, kindergarten students don’t qualify for devices if they don’t have one at home. There’s a calendar of suggested activities instead. While almost all of our students have access to devices so can partake in online learning, I know that the same isn’t true for students at other schools. There have been a couple of children in our class that are choosing the asynchronous options online, but in some classes, half- to three-quarters of the students have to select the asynchronous choices due to the lack of devices. This might mean that educators haven’t seen these children since the beginning of April and vice versa. Equity issues are certainly evident here, and I can tell why this would be a stressor for you. It’s something that we think about often too.

          I’m reminded of a tweet that Doug sent me this morning after I commented on his blog post.


          Lisa, I appreciate how you’ve taken this in some unexpected — but oh so valuable — directions too!

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