Context Focus Method
Findings Implications Gallery
Our focus was to discover how effectively we can mitigate students' stress over the COVID-19 pandemic using strategies that promoted mindfulness.
Our objective was to measure how successfully we could reduce students' stress levels using three different strategies related to self-regulation.
Students practice self-regulation through daily mindfulness strategies to help reduce stress.
Students spend part of their day outdoors. The purposes are twofold, to reduce the possibility of transmitting the COVID-19 virus and to have students work in an environment conducive to reducing stress.
Students will be empowered to take some ownership of their classroom routines and school practices to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, surveys have found that people are experiencing a significant increase in stress (Public Health Ontario, 2020; Pollara Strategic Insights, 2020; Chanchlani et al. 2020). Outside of a pandemic, those stressors include financial stress in the household, food insecurity, maltreatment, and/or inadequate housing. In the context of the pandemic, additional stress for individuals and families also includes barriers to supports due to COVID-19 restrictions. For example, child welfare agency visits have undergone restrictions and cancellations (Chanchlani et al. 2020). Fewer families are also accessing health services (Chanchlani et al. 2020). For some children, school is a place to cope with at-home food insecurities, find their sense of belonging, and access school counseling services. However, during school closures, these children had to rely on other sources or experienced an increase in trauma or witnessing trauma (United Nations, 2020; World Health Organization, 2020).
Research is currently investigating the implications of the pandemic on the health of children. The safety procedures and protocols set in place have resulted in families re-thinking how to access multiple services including those that provide physical activities. School closures, social distancing, quarantining, and other socio-behavioral adaptations have all impacted the activities children and adolescents access (Bates et al. 2020; Chanchlani et al. 2020). Evidence suggests that safety measures and social restrictions have led to an increase in sedentary behaviour and disrupted sleep patterns (Bates et al. 2020; Chanchlani et al. 2020). A study by Roberts et al., (2017) titled Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth: An Integration of Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour, and Sleep, found that under 20% of Canadian children and youth met these guidelines. This study was completed pre-COVID-19. Moore et al. (2020)'s report, based on a sample of 1472 Canadian families one month after WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, found that 2.6% of children and youth met the 24-h recommendations. Currently, research is being done on the connections between mental health, screen time, and sedentary behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research gathered during the initial stages of the pandemic has found that children are not only less active but also spending less time outdoors. This decline is significant because physical activity and time spent outdoors is connected to mental health (Moore et al. 2020; Lannoy et al. 2020; Public Health Ontario 2020; Roberts et al. 2017). The decline in physical activity and time outside was already a concern pre-pandemic due to societal shifts that have contributed to the decline in children's physical and outdoor time (Tremblay et al. 2015; Moore et al. 2020; Shahidi et al. 2020; World Health Organization, 2020). To illustrate this shift in how children spend their time, a brief note on screen-time is important. According to Moore et al. (2020), children and youth are spending as much as 6.5 hours a day on leisure-screen time. This excludes screen time related to school work that would be done through the use of a device like a tablet or a computer. Other factors that have contributed to children spending more time indoors include increased comforts in the home, increased indoor entertainment such as electronic devices, and concerns around child safety (Tremblay et al. 2015 p. 6477). In the context of a pandemic, the spring and summer restrictions at community, provincial, and federal parks hindered outdoor play which resulted in a nationwide decrease of time spent outside (Lannoy et al. 2020). Unfortunately, it has also been found that "Active play indoors does not seem to replace active play outdoors resulting in a net decline in reported play-based activity (Moore et al., 2020 p. 7).
Physical activity plays a large role in our overall health, including stress management. A healthy level of physical activity in youth is associated with many positive outcomes including improved cardiorespiratory fitness and musculoskeletal fitness (Tremblay et al. 2015; Moore et al. 2020). Physical health is also connected to cognitive function and academic outcomes (Bates et al. 2020: World Health Organization, 2020). According to the World Health Organization (2020), children and adolescents should obtain an average of 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous-intensity across the week. The Gov't of Canada published guidelines for healthy living. This document recommends:
At least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous intensity of physical activity
Several hours of light physical activity
5 to 13 year olds should receive 9 to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night
No more than 2 hours per day of recreational screen time and to limit sitting for extended periods of time.
(CANADIAN 24-HOUR MOVEMENT GUIDELINES FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTH: An Integration of Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour, and Sleep PREAMBLE, n.d.)
Benefits of Being Outside
There are many benefits to spending time outside. During COVID-19, when a child's routine is more likely to be disrupted due to stay at home orders, sunlight exposure may be an issue. Sunlight is required for circadian regulation (Bates et al. 2020). Outdoor play is also connected to greater physical activity, improved sleep, and other benefits such as mental health and immune function (Moore et al. 2020). Children also play longer and sit less when they play outside (Tremblay et al., 2015).
There are several possible benefits from taking classes outdoors. The first is the health benefit of students working outdoors instead of in the classroom. According to Health Canada to avoid contracting the virus Canadians are advised to, “avoid closed spaces, crowded places, and close contact,” (Gov’t of Canada 2020). The Toronto Hospital for Sick Children has also issued a report that recommends outdoor education as a measure to deal with COVID-19 (Science, Bitnun, et al. 2020). The second benefit is the possible stress reduction from exposure to nature (Louv 2008, Beute & de Kort 2020). By taking students outdoors it will offer an opportunity for interactions without masks even if social distancing must still be observed. Louv and other researchers suggest the act of being in nature reduces stress and helps with self-regulation. Mindfulness
The explicit teaching of self-regulation strategies in the classroom has become imperative. The implications for children growing up during a time of social distancing is unknown, but it is clear that opportunities for children to learn and practice self-regulation strategies have decreased. According to Stuart Shanker, self-regulation “…refers to the manner in which an individual deals with stress, in all its many forms, and then recovers from the energy expended” (Shanker, 2017). The world is a “proving ground” that allows children opportunities to practice and express self-regulatory skills (Kaufman, 1997). Unfortunately, the typical strategies that individuals use to distract themselves from trauma are less available and therefore trauma is more likely to surface (Mate, 2020). At this time, we cannot go and visit friends as easily, go shopping, or watch a season of baseball or hockey (Mate, 2020). An investigation into assessing and addressing student stressors as they return to the classroom during a pandemic is important.
Mindfulness and self-regulation are inter-connected. Self-regulation requires the person to be aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Ackerman, 2020). It is important for people to take time to observe the fear, anxiety, or anger that they are feeling and be with it (Mate, 2020). It is the present moment that is most manageable (Adair, 2019). This is especially true during a time when students are coming to school with feelings of uncertainty and many ‘what if’ factors. An example being, what if the school closes again and we move to distance learning? What if a classmate gets COVID-19? For students to self-reflect on the self-regulation strategies being taught, they will need to learn to be mindful of their own thoughts and feelings.
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