By Heather Norris Nicholson
School’s out, literally!
As politicians everywhere discuss how, when, and whether or not to ease the lockdown, the dates when children may return to school in the UK remain unclear.
Meanwhile children face a huge disruption to their education which may take a long time to overcome. Covid 19’s impact on children’s learning, as with so many aspects of how this virus has affected society, is both uneven and troubling. We have become a nation of home-schoolers. Or have we?
Figures already suggest that up to two-thirds of pupils have not taken part in any online learning while at home since the lockdown began. It’s no surprise that pupils from independent school pupils are coping best. Teachers and social workers are concerned that the most vulnerable children will suffer the most as the schools stay shut for most pupils. They know that only some of the most vulnerable children are currently attending.
The government’s decision on educating children at home puts an enormous strain upon many families. Parents and carers have new roles as teachers just as they face other uncertainties about work, health, family, and the future. No easy task despite the valuable range of online resources available from schools and elsewhere.
As warnings about new online threats to children grow, many families lack online access, space and the will or interest to help their children learn at home. This affects thousands of children who are losing out and will switch off. At the best of times, teaching combines so many roles and isn’t everyone’s dream job. As time goes on, keeping children at home may become even harder so how might parents make it workable?
For a start, learning at home doesn’t have to imitate the school day. Some parents focus on school activities in the morning followed by a walk. But, like any novelty, that soon loses its appeal if it’s the same old route. It’s just become another part of the new normal. Routines offer stability, shape the day, and help to replace chaos with order. Advice on staying well is often full of such reminders, particularly when feeling anxious and under stress. It is a fine balance but might we gain more than we lose by being more flexible, particularly in the current crisis?
Easing off on the routines may even be beneficial. Might we let our children’s interests, moods, and strengths affect how we enable their learning too? Try to get them out, even on to the doorstep but ideally beyond at some point each day. Let there be some time for talking, listening, ideas, and energy. Their world view is different and changes with each new encounter and experience. Let children relax, play, construct, design, problem-solve, and invent in hands-on ways with the stuff we have in our cupboards and recycling bin. Let’s be creative – without waiting for schools to reopen.
Let’s get to know our children better! We often miss special moments in the school day – good work, being original, thoughtful, or showing kindness. Currently we are freer to be flexible and spontaneous than a teacher in charge of thirty plus children. We can be imaginative and individual. Easing off the pressure helps the whole family. We can see our children through different eyes.
It’s not easy for them either, adjusting to life without direct contact with friends, school, wider family, and familiar places. Their world has closed in too, but having them at home reclaims a time before they started at school. When schools reopen, everything will be different, including our own children. Helping their growth into active, engaged, self-confident, and motivated individuals is a precious task usually handed over to professionals when children are very young. In these strange times, let’s reconnect with young energy, go beyond the parent-teacher role, and offer children some freedom to grow and learn differently.
For some children, there is no family space, support, and resources to keep them busy, stimulated, and active. Adults aren’t there to listen or talk to about fears and worries. Ways to stay connected with friends and other relations have gone. Support from school, friends, and teachers is out of reach. Spending so much time together in limited indoor space makes the vulnerable more vulnerable. Risks and concerns about many children’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing have spiraled.
Children may be less at health risk from CoVid 19 than other age groups, but this crisis is impacting on their lives in other ways. Without turning into a society of vigilantes, we must be alert to how the present lockdown is putting some children at great risk. As a society we must be mindful of its effects on our youngsters now and also in the months and years ahead. Let’s all do what we can to help.
Here are a few other sites and resources to look at when it comes to helping children while at home: