Trauma Informed Education in the Age of Covid19

Emily Santiago, LEP
5 min readMar 19, 2020

Lesson plans for online instruction that promote agency and meaningful participation

Parents and teachers are scrambling to create lessons and engage children in activities while they are out of school. The challenge is to make activities meaningful and affirming in a time of disruption and uncertainty. Trauma is defined by Psychiatrist Bessel van Der Kolk as an experience that is ‘overwhelming, unbelievable and unbearable.’ This pandemic and the subsequent economic and social impact has the potential to be traumatizing to a large portion of the population. As an Educational Psychologist, my focus is on trauma informed practices in education. We have a huge opportunity in this moment to create innovative and compassionate lessons that feel relevant to children and help them cope with change.

I haven’t taught math since 2006 but with my 11 year old daughter at home, I thought I could dust off my lesson plans and adapt them to help children process the current pandemic. Our first class brought together children I knew from Oregon, Guatemala and New Jersey over Zoom.

Lesson 1: Graphing Our Home Population before the Corona Virus and after Corona Virus School Social Distancing

Goal: Graph changes over time and reflect on the impact of the pandemic on our everyday lives

Time: 45 minutes

Age range: 9–12 years old, fourth through sixth grade

Materials: Zoom, colored pencils or markers, graph paper or lined paper

Curriculum: Adapted from Investigations in Number, Data and Space by TERC

Zoom considerations: As the host make sure all guests microphones are off before they join the call. Talk children through how to unmute themselves when they want to speak and then mute themselves again. Also have them practice saying ‘hi’ in the chatbox so they can answer questions. Talk to children and use their first names so it is not confusing about who should speak.

  1. Welcome everyone and review why we are here and go through how to use Zoom.
  2. Do a mental math problem and have them show you the answer on their fingers or using chat. Here was mine: Take the number of sides on a square, multiply by 3, double it, combine the digits together, add the number of days in a week and subtract 4. They should get 9.
  3. Next I modeled how we use graphs by surveying children on their favorite activity while home. I made a chart and graphed the data. It isn’t pretty but it is community building for children who don’t know each other and models pretty quickly how to create a simple chart with two variables.

4. Then I showed them the chart and asked them to tell me what they noticed. They shared what was surprising and what they learned.

5. Next step: graph the population of our home during a typical school day and then graph the population of our home during the Covid19 closures. Script from the TERC curriculum:

“Today you are going to take information about who is in your home at different times of day and make a graph. Your graph should be clear enough that someone else can tell how many people are at home at any given time when people go in and out”

I modeled that we would graph time of day by the hour starting with 6 am as the suggested times and then discussed that the number of people varied by family size. I tried to be inclusive and say it could be 4 kids and their mom and dad or it could be 1 child and their mom. Families are different. Take the average population and add two in case you have visitors or other people in your household.

6. I created a rough model and then gave them examples from the book. They then had 15 minutes to create their graphs and ask questions.

7. We then created a new graph or added to the current graph with the data from the current week. How have things changed in a week in your home? Here were a few examples:

8. Children shared their graphs over the camera which is a little tricky to see but it required them to explain how the graph worked and tell a story about their family. They are learning math in this moment and documenting a current event but most importantly they have time to feel seen and heard and to feel they are not alone.

9. After they completed and shared their graphs we took time to have show and tell which was amazing. We saw baby brothers, pets, life size vampires in living rooms, volcanos, and instruments.

10. While we may be hesitant to teach lessons online to young children, it can be surprisingly connecting and accessible. You can bring together children from around the world, share pieces of our lives we never get to see and use technology to make us all feel connected.

It is strange how quiet an online classroom is when you can turn microphones off and have students turn them on when they need to ask a question! They can make noise and move around and sit in a comfortable chair. It is pretty accommodating. The big question is how to make online lessons accessible to more students who may not have internet in their homes or receive the email invite to the lesson.

In the Trauma Informed Educator program I run at the Center for Cognitive Diversity we discuss how focusing on the needs of children impacted by trauma will drive us to create more innovative and compassionate schools for all students. Now that we are all impacted by a worldwide event, we have a responsibility to empower children and make learning meaningful. This event will fundamentally change our world, let’s embrace the possibility for positive change!

Hope this was helpful!



Emily Santiago, LEP

Ed Psych/Educator/Entrepreneur/Mom to a rad daughter. #TraumaInformed founder fighting for a more compassionate, equitable, and innovative world.