School closures, self-isolation and occupational deprivation

Occupational Deprivation: being precluded from participating in activities that are important to us due to reasons outside our control.

We’re living through strange and unprecedented times. The latest government advice on Coronavirus will mean greater social distancing and more pupils and families being asked to self-isolate. And with school closures seemingly inevitably on the horizon, these times are going to be challenging for children, families and school staff.

Schools have rightly stepped up their planning for home-learning; exploring workbooks, online resources and web-based lessons. But school is about so much more than academia and education is not the only thing pupils miss when they are not in school.

“Education is not the only thing pupils miss when they are not in school”

School offers pupils opportunities to play with friends, to interact with a range of adults, to participate in extra-curricular activities and to engage in physical activity. For one it provides safety. For another it provides structure and predictability. A valued role of being a learner, an opportunity to achieve, an avenue to a future career. School holds a different meaning to each pupil and this meaning extends far beyond academia. And by the same reasoning, self-isolation and school closure takes away far more than just academia.

“Self-isolation and school closure takes away far more than just academia.”

The impact of self-isolation and school closures will extend far beyond educational attainment. This has the potential to impact massively on social isolation, mental health and physical health. Just imagine two weeks without being able to contact your friends. No phone, no social media, no email! Just imagine two weeks without being able to participate in the hobbies most meaningful to us. This is what Occupational Therapists term occupational deprivation and its effects can be massive.

Occupational deprivation is when we are precluded from participating in activities that are important to us due to reasons outside our control.

At times like this, communities need to come together to support each other. As major players in our school communities, families need us to support them not only academically, but holistically. This means minimising the risk of occupational deprivation and its impact on social isolation, mental health and physical health. But what can we do?

Here are 4 things we can do as school communities:

  • Routines: Many families will want to introduce a routine at home. This will look different to your timetable at school – they might intertwine academic, social and play activities differently – but the children will still benefit from the same structure and predictability. How about providing a blank timetable, with tips for what activities to include? Or provide visual activity cards to be cut/stuck onto the timetable?
  • Social Isolation: Social distancing and restricted visiting in care homes and hospitals will make it harder for families to visit their relatives and friends. Why not challenge pupils to explore a new way of communicating? Has their family used email, Facetime or Skype before? Perhaps they could list which relatives and friends they want to contact and identify slots in their timetable to do this?
  • Occupational deprivation: Many pupils will struggle to fill their time or will fill it solely with sedentary activities like gaming. Why not provide a list of active leisure activities and challenge pupils to try a new activity each week? They could allocate a 30-minute slot each day on their timetable for active activities.
  • Feeling like a learner: Motivating yourself to learn outside your classroom (or workplace!) is hard work! Why not explore creative ways for pupils to evidence their achievements and for staff to give them feedback? What about pupils creating a blog or vlog? Families posting photos on the school’s social media? Or regular webinars with school staff?

I’m hoping to create some resources over the coming week to support families to minimise occupational deprivation. As ever, I’m happy to share any resources with schools and families – just contact me @DanWaldronOT. Keep safe and look out for others.

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