WHAT’S IN STORE FOR THE PRIMARY STAGE CHILDREN?

India has made remarkable progress in access to enrolment & schooling at the primary education stage.  The role of primary education (grades 1-5 in India) is to develop the cognitive, emotional, physical, cultural, and social skills of children. The academic subjects taught are mathematics, science, history, geography, and social sciences.

For primary stages, virtual learning was never explored. But the current pandemic has made it the need of the hour. Due to the current public health worries and to contain the spread of virus, educational institutions moved online, some yet to achieve for all the grades. As per a UNESCO report, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected more than 157 crore students across 191 countries.  In India alone, the number is more than 32 crore students who have been affected by the lockdown.  Nearly 1/5th of the world’s numbers.

Parents’ concerns about their children’s academic year and how to prepare their children for the next level/next grade during this period is genuine. Another group is that of the teaching staff where some teachers are working remotely from their educational centers and some imparting knowledge virtually aiding children in adapting to the new mode of education seamlessly. Furthermore, our children-the virtual learners are coping up in the transition phase too, adapting both socially and academically. So, virtual learning & teaching is a bit challenging & demanding for all- parents, teachers, and children. The shift towards virtual learning ensures a shift towards cooperative and guided learning as opposed to the routine learning of the classroom. Teachers can guide the parents about various assignments, important notices through calls or emails or WhatsApp or virtual tours, etc. Parents can guide & help the children in independent learning by teaching them how to navigate the school portals, respond during the virtual classes, access study materials, and upload assignments.

One line: We (parents, teachers, and children) are all adapting collectively, so co-operating in co-creation with one another can help us emerge magnificently.

For improved learning, a calendar based list of activities prepared with the help of teachers (or any parenting expert) for the children is a great approach.  This will ensure school readiness and sustain early learning of children at home. Also, refer to our blog on the duration of study and the importance of brain breaks here.

To engage the children usefully ‘National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT)’ has come up with an alternative academic calendar. This calendar guides the teachers on the use of social media and technology tools available for education in interesting and fun-filled ways.  The calendar also guides the parents and advises the teachers through mobile phones where there is no internet connectivity.  The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) together with NCERT, has launched e-Pathshala online portal and mobile app for students to understand the NCERT chapters.

Besides academic studies:

Children in the primary stage need stimulating and engaging activities. There are plenty of DIY art projects available online for children that help bust boredom for good, giving a fun twist to learning which keeps them engaged and entertained for hours. When studies get too much, children can download coloring sheets for coloring. A number of videos available online teach origami, navigational charts, and mosaic painting. However, parents may make the best out of this situation by using this time to make their kids play independently with blocks, Legos, solving puzzles, Sudoku, coloring, etc., anything to keep kids engaged for longer duration productively.

Safety skills are essential at this age, and this time can be used perfectly to learn some of these.  Children can learn to write their full name, address, and phone number, make calls on emergency numbers. Children can learn to identify money denomination and how to handle and manage money. Allow your children to help you with simple household and cleaning chores, and activities like cold cooking. Also, activities like reading (e-books and storybooks), listening to audio stories, writing (letters, poems, stories), dancing, exercising, meditating, playing with board games, Legos, blocks, and puzzles can be a great way to combine learning with fun. Communication with friends, classmates, and teachers is a good way to keep the children involved and in reassuring them that it will all be fine and everyone is together in this!

At a time like this, when we are all confined within the walls, virtual field trips are the best way to absorb different cultures and feast the eyes on some fine arts. Visit the museums in India such as the National Museum, New Delhi, Indian Museum, Kolkata, Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, and even the world’s largest museums via the internet.

Children can learn all about genetics, archaeology, or astronomy in the most entertaining way through the Ology science website. Learning about space and other planets becomes more fun with the Discovery center of space learning. There are some brilliant educational websites for children like National Geographic kids, STEM works, Exploratorium, how stuff works, science buddies, and many more. Early childhood coding can also be initiated for primary stage children and enrolling them to live online coding classes by WhiteHat Jr can be considered. Learning how to code is helpful in developing abstract thinking.

To prepare the child to be independent, teaching life skills is not only important for self-sufficiency and self-care but also a vital step towards developing healthy self-esteem and a sense of empowerment.  Age-appropriate skills will help the child from preschool until they complete high school.

Every parent and teacher now understand that every child is different from one another.  So, some children may easily adapt and adjust to the new learning environment; others may find it difficult.  It is essential to devise a customized learning format for the child to make it work constructively.  We need to allow our children to grow through this situation at ‘their own pace’, and a supportive environment built together by schools, teachers, parents, and friends can be a foundation towards personalized learning, helping them sail through the present unprecedented times.

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!