Social Connections During COVID-19 

During times of COVID, State of Emergency, and online schooling restrictions, students across the world are grappling with how to connect with one another. These days a large portion of student communication comes in the form of chats, social media posts, or the anonymous viewing of someone else’s Tik Tok video.

Impersonal interactions like these can result in atrophy or loss of students' verbal communication skills and feeling detached from human connection. This lack of connections also can affect the development of empathy, the ability to understand another point of view or perspective. While all these things are understandable, ISPS continues to work on ways to help our students connect and continue to grow prosocial skills. 

Guidance classes have been doing a variety of activities to learn about taking another person’s perspective.  In a culminating activity, special guest Tricia Conyers joined our Grade 6 Guidance classes to introduce a great interactive activity using The Empathy Toy.  A packet of 5 wooden block puzzle pieces were used by students selected to be “builders” of the puzzle. The remaining students became “Guides” and worked together giving instructions to the builders as they tried to recreate a pre-established shape using the blocks.  The catch was, Builders couldn’t see Guides, Guides couldn’t see Builders, and Guides couldn’t see Guides.  For an added degree of difficulty, different Guides had photos of the same object, but from different perspectives.  With only their words, teams had to figure out how to finish the puzzle build.   

As time expired, we turned on cameras to see how close each team came to the model build.  Some teams came closer than others, but the real value came from the experience.  We processed with the students what the experience was like. How was the experience different for the Builders compared to the Guides?  What did the groups do that helped or confused the process? Why did some students talk more than others?  How did individual personality styles affect the experience? In the next class, students looked at how the same dynamics during the puzzle game also play out during regular classes, group work, and breakout rooms.  They further discussed how they could use the Empathy Toy experience to help improve connection, cooperation, and inclusion of all group members.

How can you help your student continue to develop prosocial skills and strengthen empathy?  Consider having a designated “no device” time at home each night or even just once a week. This is when adults and students turn off their phones and do a non-device related activity together.  Play a board game together, games like Pictionary, Heads Up, Charades, or Monopoly encourage discussion and interactions.  Read a book together a chapter at a time and then talk about it or read it out loud each taking turns reading a chapter.  Go for a family walk (or drive) and talk about life or just random things.  Pick a topic to talk about and then a great question to ask is “What was that like for you?”  and then sit back and listen.  Watch a movie together and talk about it afterwards trying to focus on what the different perspectives were from the different characters.  The key here is connection, talking, and listening. 

John Steinbach