Residential Practice in COVID

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E-Learning and Recreation


 Distance learning has been a drastic transition for both young people and staff in residential programs. By partnering with residential and local school districts and by working closely with school personnel, residential programs can ensure that children engage and excel in their school work as best as the situation permits.


The program’s director of education should maintain daily communication with residential administrative staff to evaluate ongoing distance learning needs as the situation progresses.

It is also recommended that residential programs initiate and disseminate daily progress reports for all youth to track attendance and assignment completion.  This ensures that all staff and families are aware of each student’s daily progress and can intervene quickly should any barriers arise. 


For all children and young people, individual e-learning devices should be utilized to continue schooling remotely. Departments of education and local school districts are often able to provide children with devices such as Google Chromebooks for distance learning purposes. With these devices, students are able to interact virtually with their teachers and classmates via Zoom and other platforms, and are able to access school assignments via platforms such as Google Classrooms.  Residential programs should ensure that all students have such devices and do their best to provide dedicated, private space for school to continue remotely.  For students who visit family on weekends or for any extended period of time, residential programs should do their best to provide hot spots in order to ensure school continuity.

 After-School Academic Support:

Because the ease of communication with teachers is hampered when learning remotely, it is important that residential programs work to provide after-school academic support for students.  The development of a structured after-school program can occur in collaboration with local districts or residential schools.  Extra tutoring and/or access to teachers after hours can make a big difference to ensure that students do not fall behind.  This programming should occur from at least 3-5 p.m., Monday through Thursday, either by virtual means or social distancing outside. 


Throughout a pandemic, changes must be made to the usual recreational activities in order to ensure the safety of all through social distancing and the temporary closing of shared spaces. While a recreational team may typically send out monthly calendars, they may be unable to do this during a pandemic.  As physical, environmental, and policy guidelines shift rapidly, the team will have to constantly adapt their recreational programming. 

 Recreational Space:

Residential programs must continually revisit the use of recreational space.  There may be opportunity to rotate the use of shared space so that social distancing requirements can be maintained.  Programs who use this method must ensure that proper sanitizing takes place in between rotations.  Programs may also have to close down recreational spaces completely in order to avoid groups of youth congregating together.  Because the use of these spaces may change rapidly, it is important to have the use of recreational space on the agenda at regular administrative check-in meetings so that programs can adapt quickly.

Cottage-Based/Unit-Based Recreational Activities:

When larger recreational spaces must be closed for safety reasons, it is important to enhance recreational activities that are unit-based.  Some ideas for unit-based recreational activities are as follows:

  • Arts and Crafts
  • Board Games
  • Polishing nails; doing make-up; hair-dressing.
  • Cooking and baking activities/instruction/contests.
  • Sidewalk chalking/outdoor mural projects.
  • Music lessons and jamming.
  • Team challenges and experiential learning activities.

 Outdoor Recreation:

While it is important for youth to get fresh air and exercise, it can become challenging to keep them from gathering in large groups outside when the weather becomes warmer. Increasing small-group outdoor activities can assist with ensuring social distancing while providing youth with opportunity to get outside.  Here are some ideas:

  • Increase walks around campus for youth.
  • Small outdoor sports games (such as basketball or softball) that can be managed with social distancing and mask-wearing can be arranged.
  • Outdoor yoga or martial arts.
  • Develop a modified schedule (a “block schedule”), in which only a certain number of youths are engaged in activities outside at any given time. These “blocks” can be scheduled in a rotation so that while a certain group are outside, other groups are participating in equally engaging indoor activities.


Programs should anticipate the need for additional recreational supplies as the pandemic progresses.  Items can be purchased on-line, but bear in mind that the rush for on-line purchasing can slow shipping times.  Make sure that you have ample supplies on hand for distribution:  construction paper, markers, paints, board games, general sports gear, etc.  Obtain gaming devices such as PlayStation or Xbox so that youth can stream music and movies in addition to playing video games.


Increased communication throughout units, recreational teams, and other departments is essential in order to manage the challenge of consistently shifting recreational schedules.  It is also extremely important to have open, transparent communication with youth.  Constant conversations with youth need to be scheduled and held to inform youth of the pandemic’s progress, efforts being made to keep them safe, and the need for them partner with staff to ensure that social distancing and other safety protocols are followed during recreational activities.   

 Communication with youth should also stress the importance of hand sanitizing and mask-wearing as well as the proper use of PPE. Additionally, recreational and youth care staff can engage youth in the recreational planning.  Elicit ideas from youth regarding what recreational activities can be enjoyed while also ensuring that social distancing and safety protocols are enforced.  Youth can also be provided ample opportunity to request individual and group recreational supplies.  When ordering these, staff should honestly inform youth regarding expected shipping delays.  The more that youth are engaged in planning, the more likely that your efforts to enhance recreation for them during these challenging times will be successful.



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