Written by Mel Sproston, Group Director, Business Development.
You won’t need me to tell you that we are currently living in extraordinary times. In a plot worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, a deadly virus has brought the world to its knees, causing serious illness for some, pain for those that have lost loved ones and fear from the rest of the population. But in addition, it has shut down all but essential services, imprisoned many of us in our homes and caused a global economic crisis on a never-before-seen scale that will be felt for many years to come.
And just when parents were thinking that things couldn’t get any worse, they are now faced with having to keep children occupied around the clock, often whilst trying to juggle working from home.
Different countries, states, regions and even different nurseries, schools, colleges and education institutions themselves are dealing with closures in contrasting ways. With such a short time to prepare, all are at different levels of readiness. Whilst the priority has been stemming the spread of the virus, some schools are more determined and able than others to provide a semblance of continuity for pupils. Indeed, some schools in Australia are asking pupils to don their school uniform, log on to online lessons at the start of the day and follow a daily timetable similar to the one that they would follow in school. At the other extreme, some pupils were sent home on the day of their school shut down with next to nothing to occupy them.
It’s hard to blame schools for being caught unaware, though, given that governments themselves are, at best, being reactive to the scale of the challenge facing them. But there can be no doubt that, in “normal” times, education ministries around the world extol the virtues of ensuring your child’s attendance at school and warn of the serious academic repercussions of missed schooling. In fact, some, particularly the UK, will prosecute and fine parents who fail to ensure their child’s attendance at school. So, how concerned should parents be about their children missing a significant chunk of education and what should they do about it?
It is important to remember that, whilst there is currently huge pressure for parents to provide education, most of you are not teachers and everyone, the world over, is in the same boat so you need to be realistic about what you can achieve. Social media has turned into a teacher appreciation society with countless tweets outlining the (often hilarious) challenges of home schooling. So, just do your best. Nobody is expecting you to deliver the entire curriculum, least of all your child, for whom watching ‘Despicable Me’ for the 47th time whilst using your sofa as a trampoline, is far more important right now. So, here are some tips to keep your children (and you) safe, happy and educated in the current situation:
- This is a difficult time for all of us but can be particularly unsettling for some children who will also pick up on your anxiety. So, try to stay calm and turn the current situation into a learning experience for everyone. Useful guidance for managing children’s anxiety can be found at https://youngminds.org.uk/blog/.
- Whilst for older kids, this is an opportunity to support them to develop independent learning skills, younger children need routine. However, merging their normal school routine with their home-life can cause confusion and anxiety. So, introduce some structure to each day and set aside a particular space for ‘school’, but be flexible, when required, if only to maintain your own sanity. Don’t get frustrated or lose your temper. Instead, be prepared to move on to something else and return to the issue causing angst later.
- Focus on important key areas such as and numeracy and literacy. There is an abundance of free online resources. Websites such as BBC Bitesize (https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize) offer resources for all school phases aligned to the National Curricula across the UK, The New Zealand Ministry of Education has launched Learning from Home which offers advice and resources to support learning at home (https://learningfromhome.govt.nz/home) and Cognition Education Group’s own Begin Bright is offering free activities to keep preschool and early primary children entertained and their brains active (https://www.beginbright.com/beginbright-bytes). Whilst these are aligned to specific country systems, they are useful resources in their own right, regardless of where you live.
- Also remember that all sorts of situations can present learning opportunities and there is a great range of educational programmes and games available online. Creative play is also a fantastic way to keep little ones entertained and Save the Children have provided some guidance and ideas (https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/what-we-do/coronavirus-information-advice/keeping-kids-entertained-during-lockdown).
- Monitor learning in fun ways such as asking your child to draw what they’ve learned and try to reward progress appropriately.