Over the Easter weekend I tried very hard to focus on and enjoy ‘the present’, the ‘here and now’. It wasn’t easy and I’m not sure I succeeded. Speaking with members of our family based in London, in a flat without a garden and in lock-down for 12 weeks, at least, due to an on-going health issue, there was an element of guilt that we were able to enjoy the beauty of the countryside from our windows and garden. However, in their apparent adversity, their resilience, good spirits and optimism was an inspiration and it was me who was left to feel I should be doing more and coping better.
I suspect that many folk feel equally overwhelmed as they try to ‘keep up’ with what is being expected of them, or, more accurately, what they feel is being expected of them. There are so many families sharing all of the wonderful activities that their children have enjoyed and milestones that have been achieved; equally, I expect, there will be a similar number who are despairing that they are not ‘keeping up’.
I was interested to read a thread on Twitter by Dr Janet Goodall (@janetifimust) who posted the following thoughts:
“Can we all just STOP worrying about students 'falling behind'? Who exactly are they going to fall behind? Yes - they will all be at different places than they would have been had there not been a global pandemic. There is, however, a global pandemic therefore we should not, cannot, must not expect things to ‘carry on as normal’. No-one will go back into a classroom unchanged. Many will have lost family members and friends; all will have been impacted. Relax about ‘falling behind’; think instead about ‘picking up again in vastly different circumstances’….because they will be.”
The responses Dr Goodall received were from a wide range of people, including many parents, and highlighted the need for a balanced view of what home-schooling actually means and what it can achieve. “Each and every child will be affected. No child will fall behind. In the meantime fill their time with skills for life. Cooking, enjoying the outdoors, and engagement.” Another commented “This is a health crisis not an educational crisis. The health and wellbeing of children (and parents) is what is most important during this period of time.”
Dr Pam Jarvis (@Dr_Pam_Jarvis) responded and counselled for the need to “look after your family's mental & physical wellbeing, first and foremost.” Dr Jarvis also shared her blog on this matter, extracts of which are copied below:
“First and foremost, families should focus on safeguarding their health and wellbeing over this period; schools need to recognise that this is a priority and ensure that they do not send out demanding or critical communications to parents, children and/or staff. By all means ask members of staff to provide useful exercises for families to access, and to be available on email or a virtual learning interface at some points of the day to answer questions; but the core focus should always be what the school can do for their community, rather than what members of their community should be doing for the school. Myriad issues may impact on children’s ability to complete schoolwork or upon staff availability, from the serious illness of a family member to a poor internet connection. It is extremely important for the fact that stress has a weakening impact upon the immune system to become general knowledge at this time, and for senior managers to filter communications to parents, children and staff accordingly.
Children under seven
The first point to make here, with respect to Reception and Key Stage one is that the vast majority of the world’s children do not start formal education until they are six, and some do not start until they are seven. So, parents should not worry about young children ‘falling behind’; they have many years of education ahead of them. The ways in which children of this age group most effectively learn is through play-based learning which is relatively easy to provide at home, particularly if you have access to both outdoor and indoor areas. There are a growing number of sites offering free ideas for activities, see for example EYFS Home.com. Barbara Rogoff, who carried out much of her research in non-industrial societies developed the concept of ‘guided participation’, in which parents provide ongoing instruction and narrative whilst they carry out everyday tasks such as baking and gardening as joint activities with their child. Some further explanation, including video examples form part of this free Open University resource.
Children aged seven to twelve
Children in this age group can also benefit from guided participation in rather more sophisticated tasks around the house and garden. There is an old proverb which proposes that ‘to teach is to learn twice over’, so if there are younger children in the house, reading to them and helping them with counting or construction tasks can also be useful for this age group, and possibly also remove some stress from parents. In terms of online tasks, there are many education resource providers across the world currently making online content available free of charge, some offering free access to books and maths activities online. No doubt schools will also be sending activities for children to complete. The key point is to find activities that the child enjoys (or at least does not find too boring/ difficult) and to allow children to take ‘short bites’ at them, ensuring that there is plenty of time for physical activity and play.
Teenagers are beginning to emerge as the most difficult group to manage in a social distancing situation, given that a core feature of this developmental stage is an inherent urge to socialise with the peer group. Recent advances in developmental neurobiology have pinpointed adolescence as second only to the first three years of life as a period of rapid neuronal development and even in normal times, it has been argued that teenagers’ particular developmental vulnerability is not widely recognised, or taken into account in national education and services planning. While some manifestations of teenage development may seem challenging, particularly in the current situation, Blakemore and Mills make the very useful point that ‘what is sometimes seen as the problem with adolescents… is actually reflective of brain changes that provide an excellent opportunity for education and social development’. Again, trying to encourage enjoyable activities that the young person does not find too boring/ difficult, and allowing plenty of time for physical activity and talking to friends (preferably on interfaces like FaceTime or Zoom, rather than spending long periods of time on social media) will avoid unnecessary tension.
The main motivation for families at this time should be above all to avoid the creation of additional stress in the home. Children of all developmental stages have a vast capacity to make up for lost time when it comes to intellectual development-given a supportive environment, which will inevitably become an important imperative for post Corona Virus education leaders. In the meantime, smoothing the path for families suddenly pitched into a situation in which they are isolated together for long periods of time must involve minimising the rise in stress that is inevitably going to occur within such environments, rather than ramping it up by the imposition of impossible demands upon their current emotional capacity.”
Blakemore, S., and Mills, K. (2014). Is Adolescence a Sensitive Period for Sociocultural Processing? Annual review of Psychology 65: 187-207.
Whether we are in agreement with the views expressed in these blogs/tweets or not, I suspect we may all concur with another contributor to this original thread that “a global pandemic calls for a global stance on the wellbeing of our children and their families.”