PRE-SCHOOLING: THE NEW PARADIGM

The Covid-19 pandemic has necessitated a new way of life for all. The need for change in one of the critical areas is ‘education’.  The effects of coronavirus and the observance of preventive measures announced by the government has changed the entire outlook of the education system, resetting the life of students, parents, and teachers exponentially.

When pandemic started, schools had to shift to online teaching. Many of them have been successful in turning the physical school into virtual school, while some are yet to achieve it for all the grades.

The time spent during the lockdowns & transition to online learning has given parents the direction to adapt and cater to their kids’ learning & development themselves customised with online lessons to the changed scenario.

In India, while the schools are still closed, parents of playschool and preschool going children want to know whether their children’s admission can be postponed by a year or should they be learning online through the classes arranged by the schools. Or just let the children be, not doing anything at all, as far as a formal way of learning goes.

Some parents are hesitant (not wanting to, despite peer pressure) enrolling their children between the age group 2-4 years for online preschool classes as they are not comfortable with the idea of their toddlers spending two-three hours in front of the screens as this being their first time experience and exposure to the formal way of preparing their children. The screen time of many children presently has anyways increased, so to draw children away or to minimize the screen time, some parents feel home teaching is the best way of learning- teaching right now. But one of the big concerns then is, their children are losing the peer group to play and interact with, giving them the important social skills.

For all stakeholders, the safety of children is essential, especially during the time of the pandemic. So, parents and children have options to either choose the new learning environment and make the learning possible through online resources or home school their kids or give the best of both worlds (if possible).

Swati Popat Vats, author and early childhood education expert, says, “Parents need to know that preschool contributes to the foundation of the child. Parents can defer the enrolment into a physical school, but they must not defer the academic year of the kids.  Even if the schools are physically closed, parents are unable to give language stimulations at home, but the brain of the child still needs these invigorations, so parents can defer an academic year, but not the child’s learning.”                                                                                

90% of a child’s brain development happens by the age of five. Children have a natural motivation to learn. Children are curious learners; they like discovering everything around them, and exploring every object under their reach. Just as they learn to stand and walk on their own by trying continually and master their walking, the same goes with learning to read, write, and speak.

Home is the first best place to start the journey of early childhood learning. Parents and teachers can integrate many learning principles in daily life by observing the child’s interest, noticing what they often like exploring & delving into, encouraging their curiosity and guiding appropriately, also setting some ground rules so that they learn to be respectful, can assist in nurturing the child’s uniqueness and, all the while, spending time together with parents.   

Children’s perceptions are built at home; they start learning about objects and things around them with their sense of touch, feel, sight, hear and interaction, to understand and experience the nature of the world. Majority of the activities that children can perform should be physical explorations where they have an assurance that they are safe and have plenty of time.  If children are physically active, they engage mentally fast. No better place than home for this and no better adults than parents to facilitate the learning for a child there can be. Parents can make it possible and provide a well-rounded education to their children with the help of online activity guidance, book kit and preschool material kits.

As a child grows, they start to become explorative, inquisitive and the desire of acing all activities increases. Workbooks and picture books are good companions for a child at this age. In this stage, augmented reality enabled books to deliver interactive content, focused on curriculum-based education are a good resource. With stories, rhymes, alphabets, words, images, storytelling-precisely explained and projected just like physical learning with a teacher, concept building and early childhood learning can be strengthened by parents. Parents get virtual teachers on the pages of the books that provide instant support and guidance on how to teach their children on the particular concept or activity of the book. Hands-on learning also comes with a virtual teacher. This is convenient for the parents to learn the procedure in a few minutes and guide the child to perform the activities correctly.

A good education system always needs an effective, age-wise curriculum that imparts the urge for learning, making it easy and fun-filled. To enhance the child’s ability to apply the knowledge, parents can teach and encourage the activity-based and innovative learning approach. Dr Maria Montessori says “The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence” and that the hand and brain must develop in harmony. 

For toddler group, aged up to 3 years, lot of well-crafted hands-on training materials are available online; parents can use these training materials to train a few activities such as music and movement, language, arts and crafts, hand-eye coordination. For children, 3 to 6 years, parents can teach languages, phonics, numbers, read bedtime stories, practical life exercises with the help of online materials.  Besides, parents can give their children pretend play items, building blocks, hand-eye coordination materials and many more items that reduce the screen time and keep the child actively involved for a longer duration. Some of our favourites for early structured age-wise educational supplies & programmes are from firstcryintelli kit and flintoclass@home.

Today, homeschooling is also largely accepted by many parents, and they are more comfortable with the alternatives of imparting education to their kids. All thanks to the Internet! The Internet has revolutionized, parents and children can access all the knowledge in the world.  There are some brilliant educational websites for kids like National Geographic kids, STEM works, Exploratorium, how stuff works, science buddies and many more that provide an excellent way for kids to learn.

Children need the right age-related learning resources. Digital resources are available on an easy to navigate portals where parents can teach a child with just a click. Learning resources are set up in a clutter-free form and are available age-wise. As children progress through the curriculum, level-by-level, lessons become challenging, exactly the way it happens in schoolroom learning. This is called adaptive learning.

Online learning helps the parents, teachers and children learn-teach, whether on an aeroplane trip across the country or on a quick ride in the car. Wherever they are, parents can take the preschool with them on the laptop, tablet or even on the smartphone, if required.

Although parents have busy schedules and many both working, they can fine-tune their timings; can swap shifts or work from home, so that one of them can supervise the child when the other is at work. Children’s academic schedule when well-planned in advance, a day prior or weekly or even monthly overview can help in channelling resources in a better way. Also, parents keeping themselves flexible and open to the changes that may come uninvited in the schedules would serve a multitude in maintaining one’s peace and harmony.

Children need holistic development, they must be in a safe and secure environment, and all this can happen harmoniously only if there is genuine understanding, cooperation and support from the family and all participating members in the education of the child.

Happy parenting and happy schooling!

6 things to consider for Virtual classes

One day, after one of his virtual summer camp classes in June (2020), Pratham came over to where I was sitting, jumping & hugged me. With sparkling eyes, he said “Thank you, Mumma, for bringing the school at home. Thank you, now I get to spend the whole day with you & Papa. I don’t have to go to daycare anymore”. His ‘thank yous’ of ‘school at home’ filled me with astonishment. That entire day he carried on feeling happy, thanking me, repeating the same lines.  With a grateful & stirred heart, I started researching and reading about how to create a successful school-at-home atmosphere, how to help & manage the learning of children from home, how to don the cap of a co-educator, what safety and social measures to keep in mind etc. etc.

After a successful dry run of below-mentioned points for one month, I am ready to share my happiness & learnings with you. Point number – 4 is optional for me at the moment because my son is too young to go down a rabbit hole on the internet. He only watches ‘YouTube Kids’ or ‘Khan Academy kids’, and between my husband Prakash or I, either of us is usually around our little kangaroo, Pratham, when he is near the screen.

Down to six! Here are six (6) things to consider:

Parents and caregivers as co-educators: Children-the virtual learners are in a transition phase, both socially and academically. So, parents’ & primary caregiver’s involvement- is crucial at this time. In fact, the well-being of parents and immediate caregiver’s is equally important. We too are in our transition phase work-wise, responsibilities-wise, and socially. But kids’ modelling us through our verbal and non-verbal cues doesn’t stop. So, let us gently, consciously and intentionally co-operate with one another in the ever-changing process.

  1. Separate study and play area

The first step in improving the learning of the child at home is to dedicate a peaceful space at home with least distraction from outside. This way, the child is able to understand and maintain the clear boundaries between ‘school’ and ‘home school’ environment at home. For my son, I also ensure the following:

  • He carries a backpack to his dedicated school space.
  • Separate school space, study corner and play area.
  • The table is not wobbly or crowded. It is safe for keeping multiple items, including the desktop/laptop.
  • There is plenty of natural air, light and cross-ventilation of the room.
  • If possible, the space is colourful, clutter-free and clean.
  • It is a good idea to keep ‘Mommy-me’, ‘Teacher-me’ and ‘Working-mom-me’ hats different. I wear different colour-coded badges to remind my little one of the role that I am in.
  • For some kids keeping a squishy ball in hand during the class helps them de-stress. When I am working, I keep a happy smile slow rising squeeze ball or colouring pages to manage my stress level at work.

2. Time management

While studying online and depending greatly on online resources for all academia, children are jointly operating with varied sources of distractions too, e.g. social media, for say. Thus, conscious control of time becomes all the more important. While adults can depend on the 4Ds (delete, delegate, defer, and do), the same doesn’t fit children. How about the 3Cs?

Consistent Sleep: Our mind and body need time to wind down, and a night of restful sleep is a must. Studies support that a fixed bedtime and wake-up time can help set the mind frame right for a productive day ahead. Not to forget, it supports good health too. For children, a mid-day nap after classes too might be necessary. Try experimenting with different routines to find the right one for your child, without affecting the wake time.

Cut the Clutter: When an area is dedicated for a particular task, it helps us get the instant vibes we want and enhances our productivity. Thus, for online classes, set up a separate study zone, where there is a minimum disturbance for the child and s/he can study in peace and comfort. No extra gadgets in the dedicated room!

When we talk about clutter, we often ignore the mental clutter. Winding down is an essential exercise for our mind and body. If screen time during the day disturbs the child’s sleep routine, simple practices like deep breathing and conscious noting can help achieve restful stillness. If you want help with these to begin and be consistent, kid-friendly apps like ‘Headspace‘ might be the right kind of aid. Parents-Children activities are worth a try!

Checklist: Week-long plans might be useful when you plan for yourself or your child, but to inculcate the habit of planning in your child and encourage them to adapt to the life-skill of time-management gradually, a daily checklist is a way to go! Sit with them and make them write all they feel that needs to be done in the day, and don’t forget to add ‘free-time’ as something they can look forward to after a few hours of work. Little breaks during the day work like magic. And if something on the list is not ticked off by the end of the day, there’s always the next day to complete those and plan better so that it fits their lists, time and space. While later in time, apps like ‘Evernote‘ can add to the convenience, I suggest starting with a basic pen and paper to avoid extra screen time and plausible distractions. Also, playing around with colours can make the whole process so much fun! Where are the colour pencils?

3. Parent’s participation

Parent’s participation is necessary in:

  • Encouraging independent learning online by teaching them how to raise hands, how to mute and unmute themselves, how to turn on and off the video and how to answer through the chat options. For parents whose kids are 9-10 years old, training them on how to upload the school assignments and how to download the study materials can also be considered.
  • Keeping the kids motivated through physical, mental and fun exercises plus their intrinsic motivation through journaling in progress planners or watching a fun movie together. 
  • Enlightening the child on online safety measures like keeping online profiles secured with unique credentials, not sharing passwords, informing them of fraudulent etc.
  • Moderating the screen time of the little ones with 10-5-1 minute gentle reminders followed by simple movement activities soon after the screen time helps in healthy disconnection from the screen. 
  • Helping a child cope up with feelings like loneliness, boredom, frustration, anger etc. through pep talks, patient listening, deliberately guiding them with meaningful questions, or handing them a glass of water to calm down works.

4. Online Safety with AI-powered parenting ‘Bosco’ app

While the internet is the home to knowledge and resources, it is also the place for predators, cyberbullies, age-inappropriate content, malware, and more. Thus, discussing online safety with our kids becomes elementary as they are already adept at technology in all forms. Barring them from using technology or being by their side all the time is practically not an option, but making them aware is! If we cannot bar the technology age, we can upgrade our parenting to the technology world. One such app is ‘Bosco’ – an Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered parenting app which predicts the threats and keeps the kids safe online. It combines advanced machine learning algorithms based on child psychology & cyberbullying researched data collections. 

If you would not do it face to face, don’t do it online.”, says Shelagh McManus, an online safety advocate for Norton. This simple advice can serve to be the ground rule. It acts as a guideline for your child, discouraging any sort of conversation with strangers and abuse of any form. Also, you don’t need to spy, but you can try monitoring wherever you can. Simple steps like:

  • Discussing online safety and making our children comfortable, yet aware is one way.
  • For younger children, allowing them to browse only under your supervision can be a basic rule.
  • Making our kids realize the importance of a unique password is a must.
  • No matter how much kids resist, parent’s presence in the list of friends on the social media platforms can ensure online security too.

To make the entire process smooth is by developing a friendly relationship with our child where s/he finds us trustworthy, where we can talk about anything and everything, and s/he can confide in us at ease!

5. Brain-Breaks

It is important we bring in versatile activities, repeated pauses and timely breaks depending upon the age of the child for effective learning. Interacting with our child during study breaks is better than letting the child spend time over phones or gadgets. So the online learning, when tailored with physical, mental, behavioural and social activities, can help them in:

  • Internalizing and absorbing the concepts, lessons, and tutorials better
  • Boosting cognitive functioning
  • Stimulating curiosity and creative thinking
  • Consolidating retentions and finding innovative connections

6. Duration of study

According to a psychiatrist, Dr Colette Poole-Boykin, parents should multiply the child’s age with 2 or 5 (minutes) (child’s age X 2 or 5) to find out the attention span of the child. When parents get worrisome thoughts concerning their child’s concentration & attention span, this rule can give respite to parents. This guide is also essential for parents to fare better with their kids’ study plans at home and sail well with their virtual classes, during the COVID-19 period.

Further to this rule, she suggests that elementary school kids should spend from one to two hours of instruction based learning per day, middle school kids two to three hours and that of high school students three to four hours of instruction based learning per day, maximum.

After actively engaged in so many activities, being with the child for his virtual classes, managing the school work, and office work along with household chores, losing calm is quite natural. I lose my calm sometimes, to be honest. So, I want to close this blog by saying:

  • If you also lose your sanity, remember you are not alone, and it is not forever. It is okay to feel the feelings but bouncing back empowered is the key.
  • At this time, we are all firming up our resilience, and gratitude muscles in the whole process.
  • Keep me-time every single day. Even 5-minutes a day can be enough. YOUR PEACE IS IMPORTANT TOO.
  • Acknowledge and praise yourself every day, in the mirror or through journaling or gratitude prayers. Also, acknowledge and praise your child as they move through the new way of learning.
  • Some days may look like ‘No work done’ day, or ‘Not according to how I had planned’ day, trust me when you would sit down to reflect each & every activity with fine details in the journal, you would start feeling thankful for those days too.

Happy parenting and happy schooling!

Reflections & the generic New Normal- Part 1

In this blog today, I am reflecting on my experiences of staying home from Ides of March 2020 (15th March 2020) till the culmination of the fourth-phase (i.e. on 31st May 2020) of the nationwide lockdown period. I am also reflecting on what was the NEW work-life amidst the stressful pandemic period. We also have a definition and an acrostic on ‘new normal’ in this blog, a term that has again become generic in our conversations these days. Towards the end, we have a list of requisites on behavioural changes to keep-up with, after the pandemic quake. We close this blog with gratitude to all the essential co-workers who have always served us selflessly. So, stay tuned till the end!

I begin by asking, haven’t we all discovered new things about ourselves, looked out for new ways of healthy adaptations, discovered new ways of running businesses, customized the delivery/deliverables by virtual means, orchestrated to new-work-life balances?

Many of us also learned new skills, indulged into long-lost hobbies, leaned into our creative talents, explored different work opportunities, experimented new ideas, looked for ways to grow spiritually etc., isn’t it?

Precisely! This period was and is about being resilient, anti-fragile yet lively-spirited in adapting to the new ways and protocols, most wanted, even after the coronavirus quail.

Now, I want to acknowledge and share my experiences here. Like many of you, I too found myself being more purposeful and productive. I too witnessed the change. I was also handling both my personal & professional life- all happening under one roof- much differently. I’ve also customized my day to day chores- resized my personal and professional boundaries. As a freelance writer, I re-defined my work commitments, revisited my work proposals, redrafted all the templates.

Sometimes, it feels so surprisingly resplendent, and then I pinch myself to ask was it the magic wand tool*, the one that I use in the Adobe Photoshop for pixel selections, played out its role in real-time! Joking! When I reflect today, at the dawn of the containment period, I see that I was choosing only important chores in the past three months to stay happy, calm, and resilient in the new setup of life. My endeavours are to keep at it to the best of my abilities and capabilities.

My blessings served me too! My partner has been a prayer answered, domestic bliss, in helping me manage the household chores.

Besides, there are a few practices and rituals that I kept maintaining (religiously since 2018) helped me bounce back quickly and miraculously. There are some of the habits I eliminated (or cut-down on) from my everyday routine and lifestyle because they were not serving me in my highest good then and at present. You would find those reflections here.

I remember, initially, it was like alternating between mixed feelings of anxiousness and spur, in adapting to the new lifestyle of working from home and doing the household chores without helpers. Also, the fearsome thoughts were tiring my mind and body unseeingly. First 15-20 days, I wasn’t able to bring myself to any positive or comforting thoughts. I was mostly choosing to sleep through the days. I’d hear the affirmative songs of Karen Drucker and 101 power thoughts by Louise Hay, play them on, and go off to sleep listening. After almost a week, I slowly seemed to pick myself up. I started journaling twice a day (sometimes even more), re-joined the book reading members, started meditating, and so on.

Now, as we have almost come to the end of this blog, I’d like to quickly take you through the definition of ‘new normal’ with an acrostic. We all know that we have completed our 4-phase of the nationwide lockdown, and the business operations other than the essential services have also picked up its pace; let us be more careful and self-reliant now.

Here’s, the definition-

New Normal is a term used in a business which refers to new norms and new financial state of affairs to adhere to after the depression phase of a business. This term became standard after the global economic turning point in the fiscal year 2007-2008, followed by a recession period of four years. This phrase has become generic again, during this time of COVID-19 pandemic. This term is used in a variety of contexts. During the financial crisis, the term new normal is used by the economists and policymakers of the industries and companies to discuss the new state of affairs. In the COVID-19 situation, the term New Normal refers to the human behavioural changes adopted after the pandemic quake to live self-reliantly safe, and healthy.

Reflections & the generic New Normal- part 1 - image 1

On behalf of my, She Narrates writers’ team; I take a moment to salute the healthcare workers, bankers, our police departments, all the essential care workers who were helping us day in day out to keep us safe at the cost of their lives. Jai Hind! And a prayer to those who have transitioned!

Reflections & the generic New Normal- part 1 image 2

Now, every individual, post 31st May’ 2020 is wearing the title of a warrior, front-liner, unsung hero etc. along with our essential care workers, isn’t it? Such a proud moment for all of us! So, let us co-operatively continue to live and maintain our physical, mental and social well-being. Here is a list of human behavioural requisites as our new normal, after the pandemic quake:

  • stay home as far as possible,
  • rework your ‘essentials’ definition,
  • avoid travelling, especially those in the state-wise containment zone
  • wash and sanitize hands frequently,
  • wear face-mask correctly,
  • wear the mask while outside and at work
  • keep up at healthy eating habits
  • drink water frequently; hot water helps
  • follow the Namaste culture of greeting people,
  • maintain a safe hand-distance in public,
  • diligently follow the grocery sanitization process to contain the spread.

The number of corona positive cases in India is still rising. Yet, together we can contain the spread by choosing to stay indoors and maintaining our safety.

Please feel free to share your experiences adapting to the new lifestyle during the quarantine period of last three months. I would be happy to hear from you and extend my help if I can, in any manner.

Thank you! Be blessed! Always remember that the Universe has your back!

P.S.- *Finding the closest tolerance value is the key function of this tool in Photoshop.