The rising number of COVID-19 cases in Australia has sparked discussions as to whether schools should be closed. However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this is not an option, warning it would cause a ‘severe’ disruption to society.
Meanwhile, parents and educators are preparing for the possibility that the government could change course, should medical experts make this recommendation to the National Cabinet.
With this in mind, two education experts from the Australian Catholic University (ANU) have provided a comprehensive guide for parents on how to ensure their child’s learning isn’t interrupted if the government decides to close schools.
Below, Associate Professor Miriam Tanti, the ANU’s Acting Head of School of Education (NSW/ACT) and Chrissy Monteleone, Lecturer in Curriculum and Teaching at the University’s Faculty of Education and Arts, outline some helpful tips including establishing a routine and schedules and setting rules around technology use:
1.Don’t panic and hold steady in these times of uncertainty
Our children, including teenagers, need to see that we’re not panicked; that we’re coping well and resiliently with the information being presented.
Do be critical of the information you and your child and teenager are accessing.
Don’t leave the TV news on, even if in the background. It’s important that you control the narrative and have open non-catastrophic conversations – giving just enough information to reassure your child, but not too much.
You can help guide your child and teenager to access credible information sites such as government health websites. This may present you with a great opportunity to have discussions around the validity of information presented on the Internet and the importance of being discerning.
2.Find out what they’ve already started in class
Early learning settings often share learning visibly on the walls or via an online portal explaining what the children have been exploring and engaging in. Primary schools often share with parents the themes and topics being covered each term. Knowing what they have been learning means that you will be able to use and identify lots of incidental opportunities to engage in conversations with your child about what they have been learning and ask questions. For example, if they are learning about measurement, get them to measure how much water they drink each day or identify each of the measuring devices used in the kitchen and what units of measure they use.
Most high schools have learning management systems where unit content, helpful resources and assessment information has been uploaded by teachers and can be accessed by students. It is important for you to ensure that your teenager has working access to these resources.
Access to these online resources will mean the majority of teenagers will be able to self-facilitate their own learning. Their teachers will upload work for them to complete, deliver online classes and establish online forums to facilitate discussions.
But managing this new way of learning will require some guidance and direction.
Both children and teenagers need structure and routine. We know that a lack of structure and routine can lead to unproductive or troublesome behaviour. And with a smartphone, tablet, laptop and gaming device easily accessible during this period, the temptation to spend their days glued to some form of screen, mindlessly scrolling, viewing or gaming, is at an all-time high.
So how do we establish a routine that works for your child or teenager? Don’t begin by locating a ready-made schedule that you downloaded from a website - it won’t work. You know your child best so it’s probably best to work through the following:
Goals should not be imposed upon the child or teenager. Start by co-constructing weekly and daily goals. It is important to work with your child or teenager to set goals because goal setting allows them to visualise their week and days and will then provide the motivation to turn these goals into a reality.
Weekly goal setting should occur on a Sunday night, in anticipation of the week ahead. Goals should be large and overarching.
For example, with younger children you could define weekly goals with the following sentence starter: By the end of the week I will … read the first three chapters of Once by Morris Gleitzman or By the end of the week I will … draw a bird’s eye view of our house.
For teenagers, weekly goals may be: Complete the 2018 HSC Maths Practice Paper, finish writing Macbeth essay or complete Design Portfolio.
Daily task setting should occur each evening. Use the large goals to establish smaller, prescriptive and specific tasks for the following day and that will help you work to achieve your weekly goals.
Using the goals set above, a child would set a daily task of reading ten-pages of Once by Morris Gleitzman.
A teenager who is working to complete their essay on Macbeth would identify a daily task such as write a 200-word introduction to the essay. Other tasks may include: answer 20 practice multiple choice maths questions or complete one extended-response for History or Geography.
Chunking tasks down this way is critical because it makes tasks doable and will prevent your child and teenager from feeling overwhelmed – and we know that when we are overwhelmed there is a danger of feeling like a failure before we have even commenced – this can lead to excuses as to why we shouldn’t start the task at all.
Once each the task is complete your child and teenager can cross them off their list. Ticking things off a to-do-list is a particularly satisfying tool to use, which also powerfully motivates.
There are two important points to note about scheduling:
Time allocation: Once you have identified the daily tasks it is important to put these into a daily schedule. Allocate realistic periods of time for each task and it’s also better to over-estimate than under-estimate because you want to set your child up for success. Failing to meet a deadline can really derail their daily progress.
Don’t forget to also allocate time for meals, exercise, outdoor, quiet and social time into the schedule too.
Batch the day into ordered time chunks: Get your child to identify the more cognitively challenging and creative tasks and schedule those for the morning – because that is when the brain is more proactive, focused, alert and highly capable. And in the afternoon, as cognitive fuel dwindles, get them to set the more routine and monotonous tasks eg: complete a series of maths questions using an online maths program, using the Internet to research design ideas for a project they’re building or creating an artwork inspired by shapes.
Perhaps the hardest aspect to regulate during this period will be technology use. Balance and the establishment of clearly defined rules, which you reinforce and stick to, will be the key.
- Firstly, it is important that when your child or teen has a scheduled activity that doesn’t involve technology that you encourage them to make the decision to turn off notifications and/or pop their phone on aeroplane mode and/or leave it in another room. A small ‘ding’ or a flash of light from their screens is enough to break any moment of ‘learning flow’.
- Get your child and teen to use technology in creative ways, and parents may need to ask teachers for advice here, but they can do more than just watch videos via YouTube or undertake online quizzes. Turn that science experiment into a stop motion animation, create a website to document your family tree or instead of writing that English essay turn it into a podcast for radio – encourage them to be more than just passive consumers of technology. If they enjoy what they do, they will be more likely to work on it without your supervision.
- Children and teens are social beings and they will need to interact with their peers whether via social media, Skype or gaming. You are going to need to provide them this opportunity. But schedule social time in, just as with the other activities, and preferably later in the day or early evening. Be sure to set limits. Remember that your child will be expending less energy during these times and the last thing you want is to have them socialising late at night and into the early morning because they’re not tired. As this will most definitely have a flow on effect the next day.
6. Creating authentic learning experiences by example
Show how you care for others by buying just enough at the supermarket without stockpiling unnecessarily. Be sure to discuss with your child and teen why this is important.
Consider different ways to communicate and support family and friends. You could co-write a letter to your vulnerable and at-risk neighbours, who have been forced into isolation, to let them know you are both available to help pick up their groceries, medication or even available for a phone chat. Get your child or teen to drop the letter into their letterbox. What a wonderful way to demonstrate kindness and empathy.
Ask your child or teen what other ways you can display acts of kindness and work together to plan, develop and implement the act.
7.Use the time to connect with your child
View this time as a gift and not an inconvenience. Go outside, go for a walk, enjoy the sunshine, laugh and play together – just be present in the moment and each other’s company. Show and tell them how much you love and care for them and enjoy the opportunity to reconnect with your child, free from distraction.
8.Be kind to yourself
These are extraordinary times. Know that you’re not alone. Reach out to teachers, other parents, friends and family. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself.