As we enter these unprecedented times, and we are likely to be engaging with alternative education provisions, it is important that teachers and parents, more than ever, trust each other, collaborate together and ask relevant questions to ensure that our children’s learning can still continue. Let me address a few topics which may assist in guiding parents and teachers to work together over these coming weeks, and potentially months, while we’re delivering education in a unique way.
First letter me address the use of language. There has been, and continues to be, been countless media reports, various correspondence and communications that come out from government, health and education authorities. These frequently use emotive language when they talk about the crisis, the stress, that affects us all in these new times. May I suggest that if we minimise the use of emotive language, we can minimise the stressful impact that may have on our lives as we start to navigate through these uncharted waters.
It is still important to understand the seriousness of the situation in which we are living. COVID-19 is very serious and it needs to be managed seriously. Our behaviours and habits that we need to practice, and enforce, to keep ourselves and each other safe and healthy, are critical. However, for children we need to be emphasizing that this is a new way of doing things. These times are unchartered and while we are trying to identify ways that we can still provide education and learning experiences, it does not necessarily need to be stressful, but it will certainly be new. The language that parents use, and the teachers use, and education and medical authorities use, needs to be realistic but it doesn’t always need to be emotive and worrying for the general population.
When teachers are communicating with parents and with students, we need to talk about new experiences and we need to talk about unprecedented times. We need to talk about uncharted waters but we don’t need to use words such as ‘stressful time’, such as ‘worrying times’. we just need to talk about ‘new experiences’, a “new ways of doing things”. The good reality is there are going to be some positive outcomes as a result of these experiences. We may end up with more highly skilled teachers in delivering curriculum in alternate ways. We may end up with new ways of communicating effectively. (We may also end up with schools that have had the opportunity to attend to matters that always get put on the backburner, due to the business of our jobs). We can take the opportunity to look on the positive side of what are challenging new times. These positive outcomes may be explored on another occasion.
Let me now address some ideas which might give parents the confidence to guide their children’s learning, if we do need to move towards an alternative education provision. Notice I’m saying ‘if’ as this has not been confirmed as yet. While teachers are certainly planning for alternative education provisions for potentially some of term 2, this has not been confirmed by education authorities at the current time. We are preparing but it has not yet been confirmed that this will happen.
Let’s predict there will be alternative education provision and let’s plan as if parents will be at home, with their children for a period of time, and that they need to be supporting their child’s learning. Parents will be playing a far more active role than they do when their child is at school for 5 hours or day 6 hours a day. So Mums and Dads, how are you going to feel confident to guide your child’s learning, if in fact you’re not a teacher, and if in fact this will be new for you?
Establishing a routine and a timetable for your children and for yourselves is a good place to start. This means that children will know what to expect when they get up a morning. They will go through the usual daily routines of having breakfast and getting dressed and making their bed and then they can expect that we’re going to be engaging with some learning.
Most children value and appreciate knowing the direction of each day. If the children have a time table that can be displayed, be it through pictures or through words, and it’s put in a central place or in a learning space, that you have created, then they can work towards tracking and monitoring what needs to be done. Once something is completed, once the first activity is done, tick it off. It gives the child, and the supervising parents, a sense of achievement. So first – let’s have a timetable. Let’s have a learning space a dedicated space, if in fact they have that area in their home that that that can be set up. I think it’s also important that Mums and Dads understand that when children are at school they are engaged for somewhere between 5 and 6 hours of learning each day it. This will not be the same at home. Let’s be a realistic and aim that children may engage for learning between maybe 2 and 3 hours depending on the age of the child. Certainly, high school children have the capacity to work significantly longer than children in primary school. Children in primary school, between the ages of 5 and 12, can engage with learning activities for between 2 and 3 hours over the course of a day. Parents to be very proud of their achievements and be very proud of their children’s achievements. So much is now going to be relying on Mums and Dads supervising the children’s engagement, even though the teachers will still be providing the curriculum through various platforms.
Speaking of platforms – it is important that parents and carers understand the platforms that teachers may be using to deliver curriculum and to provide feedback. Some schools may have their own e-learning platforms. Other schools will use platforms such as MS-Teams; or OneDrive; or OneNote. Whatever the platforms, parents must be knowledgeable of the relevant platforms their children will be using during this period of Alternative Education Provision.
Let me suggest that it will be important for Mums and Dads, and children, to have breaks during the day, both physical breaks, (get up, walk around, stretch their legs, go outside), as well as a mental breaks, (switch off from the activity that the children have been doing). Once the activities are completed, Mum and Dad need to provide some feedback for the student, or be able to send it back to the teachers, via technology. Parents don’t feel obliged it has to be done instantaneously. Have a mental, and a physical break regularly throughout the day. This is a whole new world and parents and students and teachers need to be kind to each other so that together we can continue the child’s learning, while looking after our mental and physical well-being.
Why we have to socially isolate and are working from home, it’s important that we can maintain social contacts as best we can with the use of technology. Mums and Dads need to ensure they can allow their children access to their friends via technology, be it via video conferencing and the various platforms that are available to families or be at via telephone you. Similarly, Mums and Dads also need to maintain regular contact with their own parent networks. Whether or not school parents and friends still maintain contact, parents just had their own social networks it will be important for the parents mental and social well-being to still keep in touch with parents, because whatever is happening at home for them and their children, something similarly may be happening to children and other parents in other families around their communities.
Let’s explore the learning opportunities that will be available at home that parents may have not considered as valuable learning opportunities. These opportunities may be above and beyond the curriculum that the teachers are delivering. Literacy learning must continue every day, as it ordinarily does. Children should be reading everyday. It doesn’t really matter what the reading so long as the material is age-appropriate. It could be the newspaper, it could be a comic, it could be a recipe book, it could be a magazine, it could be a novel, it could be an encyclopaedia or other non-fiction material. Whatever the children enjoy reading, encourage them to read and then you can encourage them to respond to that reading through writing, or, if of age appropriate, a drawing. Give the children the opportunity firstly to be reading everyday and then to do some form of writing. They may in fact like to keep a diary. So long as children are reading every day and they can have a written response to their reading, then they literacy will continue to develop. Mums and Dads can always listen to them read out aloud. They can always give them feedback about their writing, including spelling and grammar. So it is very important that children maintain their English literacy throughout this period of alternative education provision.
Some other basic household activities which will provide fantastic learning opportunities for families will include things like cooking. The amount of maths that is involved in cooking is tremendous. They will be able to engage with measurement, with counting, with estimating, with geometry (shapes), all these important mathematical skills that cooking incidentally provides. While it might be a challenge to think I’m going to have my 7 or 8 year-old helping me in the kitchen to cook, please embrace the learning opportunities that can go with cooking. It may also encourage children to have a healthy lifestyle (and may also give them an appreciation of what Mums and Dads have to do in preparing meals).
When children want to get outside explore the garden and explore around the house, there are numerous opportunities that will encourage some of their science learning. Go into the garden and track the growth of a plant. Go and explore the insects that are in and around the garden. There are various opportunities that nature can provide which will enhance the children’s learning. Make sure children have mental breaks and when they do get them outside and engage with nature. If they’re asking questions, that’s fantastic. If you don’t know the answer that allows them to go and explore further and search for answers.
While parents may be somewhat fearful, or cautious about the amount of time their child may be spending online the during this time of alternative education provision, the reality is that they will need to limit the child’s amount of screen time, as they should do every week. There is no doubt that being on screens will provide some opportunities for learning. Let’s not deny the reality that our families will face in having technology available to their children. Teachers will be delivering the curriculum and other messages via on-line platforms. There are significant learning opportunities available online for children, so Mums and Dads may need to embrace that opportunity. Parents can still limit the amount of screen time while reminding children they can have some fun on screens.
Finally, it is during this new time, this unprecedented time, that teachers and parents and students need to trust each other more than ever. We need to collaborate more than ever. We need to be asking the right questions more than ever so that we can continue to provide learning opportunities for our children. May I suggest that parents need to monitor their own levels of calmness and if those levels of calmness deteriorate, then I would encourage you to share the workload around. If children have two parents at home then the parents will need to share the responsibility. If children only have one parent at home, then single parents may need to network with others so that they have a break for themselves. During this time parents will still remain parents. While they are adopting the role of pseudo teacher they are still the child’s parents and the teachers will still be providing the curriculum even though it will be through a new mode of delivery. So parents remain as parents, teachers remain as teachers and work together collaboratively. If there are any issues let’s ask the right and relevant questions. We must continue to trust and collaborate so that we can still provide a high quality learning for our students, our children.
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