Due to my past work as an Educational Consultant, I have been getting lots of questions from neighbours, friends and family about how to manage this unusual time. So in the spirit of supporting one another, I thought I would write a blog post on the topic. Can you imagine if you would have been told months ago that in March, April and perhaps May you will begin to work from home, care for your children at the same time and see no one else outside of your immediate family? I think we would have all found it preposterous.
The new normal is one in which we are caring for children while trying to manage work responsibilities. I would say firstly try not to get anxious about what is or isn’t getting done. Do your best to think of this time together as a unexpected event and approach it from that perspective:
- Don’t be hard on yourself or your children
- Don’t try to mimic school
- Be flexible in your daily schedule
- Observe your children and be responsive to what they are demonstrating
- Emphasize the importance of reading during this time
- Offer choice and decision-making to children
- Accept that screen time will increase during this time period but review websites, games and apps that are being played to make sure they are developmentally appropriate
- Address your children’s questions and fears through conversation
- Try to embed small moments of joy into your day
During this time, alternative approaches to building knowledge and experience will allow your youngsters to engage in learning but not feel like they are in school. The strategies below will have to be adjusted to meet the needs of your child but a framework that I suggest using for young children (grades K-6) is to divide the day in loose blocks: moving our bodies, play, educational activities and daily household stuff.
Moving our Bodies - Providing opportunity for movement is important and although social distancing means we can’t spend as much time outdoors as we would like, we can still go on short walks and bike rides to enjoy fresh air (adhering to City of Toronto Public Health guidelines). Something beautiful in this time of crisis is the number of rainbows and teddy bears that you might see in your neighbourhood: perfect for children to look out for and count. If you are fortunate enough to have a garden then spending time there is another suggestion. There are lots of fun ways to exercise indoors with children from dance and yoga to tag and hide and seek.
Play - If play is the work of the child, toys are the tools that they require to be successful. Through play children learn about themselves and their world. It is through play that children: figure out how things work and connect, develop new ideas, solve problems, innovate and learn to co-operate and collaborate with others. Make sure your children have access to favourite toys and loose parts such as blocks, LEGO, and recyclable materials so that they can let their imaginations run wild. Encourage them to play for long periods of sustained time. Bring out toys that they may have forgotten about or outgrown and they may be inspired to play with them again.
Educational Activities - This would be the time to prioritize work shared by your child’s teacher, (Zoom classroom meetings, Google classroom assignments or suggested activities) as well any inquiries that have been identified by your child. What are they passionate about? What interests them? Before an inquiry starts, spend time talking to see what your child already knows about the subject, use that as the starting point and let your child be the driver of the learning. Their questions will be the starting points for a study. This can be applied to any topic from ladybugs, to map-making to building bridges to learning about the human body. Not all topics have the same stamina so interest in designing and building towers may last for days whereas studying birds’ nests only lasts for an afternoon. Your role is multi-faceted and will include being a facilitator, materials manager, investigator and supporter.
Daily Household Stuff - There are so many wonderful opportunities for learning that arise during our daily lives that we can invite our children to participate in. From making meals and walking the dog to sorting laundry, depending on your child’s age and interest level, they may be really enthusiastic about helping tackle those daily tasks. Think of ways they can be involved and praise their efforts. Also note that these are rich learning opportunities as well: baking cookies helps teach about the importance of measurements and folding clothes can start a conversation about sewing and where our clothes are made.
There are a multitude of free online resources to help you navigate this time, but I would definitely begin with these ones:
In closing, these are very stressful times for all of us, children included. Their routines have been disrupted, they miss their school friends, are no longer participating in outside activities and haven’t seen relatives and family friends in weeks. They need extra comfort, patience and support as they make sense of their new reality. We are their entire world right now and despite the worries and concerns that we have, our children are looking to us to let them know that eventually things will return to normal and that they will return to school and activities and be able to resume all the things they love to do.