We’re all feeling the effects of increased screen time as we find ourselves interacting virtually with a wide range of audiences. Students, especially very young students, may find so much screen time to be particularly challenging, leading to tired, achy eyes and stress. It’s important for children of all ages to take a break from the screen from time to time. Here we offer some ideas for virtual wellness activities for students that can help keep kips active—and healthy—between Zoom classes.

1. Make a Schedule

Taking a more active role in their children’s education can take a toll on parents. Having a schedule can help children be more engaged with Zoom classes and remote learning, suggests Joe Loch, brand president of College Nannies + Sitters + Tutors. “Start with the child’s favorite subject early in the morning to get them hooked into learning right away,” Loch recommends. Families with multiple children, he suggests, may want to consider planning common subjects at the same time. “For example, if a first grader has a reading assignment and there is also a toddler in the home, provide age-appropriate books to keep the toddler engaged in reading as well. Or ask the older children to read to the younger children.”

Being organized is important, but so is being flexible, Loch says. “Recognize when the child’s energy is fading—they may need a snack or a brain break.”

2. Take Deep Breaths

“One simple, but effective, brain hack that teachers and students can do anywhere is to take long, slow deep breaths,” says Tonya Crombie, PhD, the author of Stop Worrying About Your Anxious Child and a certified life coach. It’s something that can be done anywhere and, she says, “deep belly breaths actually do help students feel calmer.” Take this to the next level by practicing “square breathing,” Crombie says—inhale, hold the break, exhale and hold the breath again for equal counts.

3. Sing!

Singing is a great way for kids of all ages to have fun and take a break from remote learning. Parents can encourage their kids to put on some music and sing at the top of their lungs, Crombie suggests. There’s actually good science between this, she says. “There is increasing research on how the vagus nerve works to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.” Your children probably already have some favorite songs they know well, but it can also be fun—and educational—to introduce them to new music that they may enjoy.

Singing really loudly, and even humming, says Crombie, are two things students can do to help them feel calmer. Laughter is another she says.

4. Laughing—Long, and Loud, and Clear

Mary Poppins popularized the idea years ago, but it’s a sentiment that can be especially powerful now. Despite the pandemic and other stressors that students, teachers, and parents are feeling these days, a good, hard, belly laugh can be very therapeutic.

Verywell Mind, a website focused on providing information about mental health, and a partner of The Cleveland Clinic, offers a number of ideas for how parents can add some humor to the day to help ease the stress of COVID-19 for their children—and themselves.

5. Guided Imagery

Anita Chari, PhD, founder of Embodying Your Curriculum and an associate professor of political science at the University of Oregon, says that she has found it useful to lead students through what she calls “an orienting practice.” This can be done at the beginning of class, or at any point during the class when it feels like students could use a break from the screen or Zoom class, she says. It works like this:

  • Have your students sit back in their chairs, disengage from the screen for one minute and look around the room.
  • Guide them to take a few moments to pay attention to their own physical space, rather than focusing on the screen.
  • Guide them to push away the screen, turn off the video, or turn down the light on the screen to allow their gaze to relax.
  • Prompt them to make a conscious effort to listen to your voice while not watching the screen.

It’s an exercise that can work well for instructors and parents, as well, Chari says.

6. Take a Break

Regular breaks from Zoom classes or screens throughout the day can help students restore energy and gain perspective, especially when dealing with difficult material. Weather permitting, taking a break outside—to go on a walk or bike ride, engage in some other physical activity, or simply to sit and enjoy nature—can be a welcome distraction from the screen.