No School, No problem! Take lots of photos

Muscat: The Covid-19 pandemic’s first significant impact on the Sultanate’s society and communities occurred when school pupils were sent home as a precaution, followed a short time later when all other educational and training institutions had their doors closed by the authorities. There can be no complaint either, as both have been proven subsequently to be positive actions in the face of a significant health issue.

One can only empathise with pupils in the basic education system who now, not only don’t have schooling, to develop their knowledge, skills and understanding, but also do not have the interactions with others that contribute so much to the individual, inter-personal and inter-relational activities that are such an integral part of growing up. These are the psycho-social interactions that determine much of who and what we are, and what we will become.

So now, parents must assume the teacher’s responsibility for their child’s education, at least for a time, and expert advice from around the world can make the task easier. Read on, before you climb, blissfully unaware, into the role that you have probably never envisaged yourself playing, that of a teacher, and of making your children understand that their behaviour, etiquette and attention, must be all it is, at school.

Associate Professor Tan Seng Chee, of the National Institute of Education (NIE) at Nanyang Technological University, says: “The home environment is different from a school environment in terms of resources, expertise and the social environment. So, trying to emulate a school environment may not always work”. He touches too on the fact that some parents, quite simply, may not know the subjects, or confuse teaching with lecturing and put themselves under too much pressure.

As parents you should relax and start by explaining clearly to your children why we are forced to be indoors the importance of adhering to this restriction, and the need to keep learning. Parul Ohri, of Momspresso.com says that, “Once they understand the reasoning, you will be surprised at how much more willing they will be to comply”. The kids need to understand this is not a vacation, and that there must be set class, meal, nap and bed (sleep) times.

Of course, the realist in me knows that this is not always going to go well! That’s both human nature and life at work, but maybe with forethought. June Yong, Editor of Focus on the Family, advocates family ‘brainstorm’ sessions, to discuss together ‘rules’ for timings, conduct, behaviour, phones, and even to the extent of creating a ‘cool-off’ zone, where, if behaviour is inappropriate, kids can be sent to calm down. Just think too, how effective it would be, and what a great lesson for the kids, if you sent yourself to cool off at some time!

This is a golden opportunity to engage the kids in time management, and the need to embrace the concept gender neutral chores such as bedmaking and room tidying, at a time that is appropriate to house and home management, and also where to fit their homework and assignment responsibilities. Their understanding of routines and effective time management may, in fact, be their single greatest learning from the situation.

“Don’t fight phones, and screen time”,  says Ohri, “instead, keep to age-appropriate quotas and strategies for integrating digital media into the learning”. Benaaz Irani, a senior school counsellor at Aditya Birla World Academy, agrees, saying it is almost impossible to limit and supervise screen time. Instead, she advises, “Find ways to make screen time more productive such as with virtual classes, reading e-books, virtual museum or zoo tours and watching YouTube videos for easy revision of concepts”.

As far as the ‘teaching’ itself goes, keep it simple. Creativity is the key, so start off with creative activities that involve reading, writing and figures. Maybe cooking a pizza to order? Maybe creating a new pizza? Then serving it and explaining the ingredients. This can be an all-day, family, all-ages, goal-oriented activity that uses academic, soft and communication skills. Just imagine every part of this must be researched, designed, measured, produced, delivered, consumer evaluated, paid for, there is so much in a pizza! You never knew… and so many skills!

Another day can see a recreation of an historic event, with fancy dress. Another day exercising. Another day building something. Another day with music or poetry and another with arts and crafts (so don’t throwaway carboard boxes or toilet rolls). Write, tell and act out stories. Do news reports and interviews, ‘on-camera’ using your phones. Weave these, and the academic skills together in the way of writing reviews of how you did it, and so on. There is no limit to how creative they can be, given the opportunity.

Two other key elements are important in home-teaching: First, ask lots of questions and make sure you get answers, while also getting your kids to ask questions, and answer every single one. Never ‘fob-off’ an answer. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you will “find out and get back to them later”. Then do so. Second, do you have a room you can identify as the classroom/activity room, with another as an agreed ‘Quiet Room’ for study, reading and writing? If so… You’ve got this!

So, you’ve got the kids sorted, what about you? As I said earlier, this will not always go well, and the ‘cool-off’ zone for the kids may need to be mirrored with a ‘chill-out’ zone for you. Whether you sneak to your ‘chill-out’ zone, or tell the kids you need 10-15 minutes to get your ‘balance’, ‘karma’, ‘aura’ or ‘power’ back, you are an important part of the home-schooling dynamic, so a 15 minute ‘chill-pill’ might be a good call!

You need to maintain ‘the love’ throughout, with both parents sharing the teaching duties and empathetic which may mean that Dads, specially, may have to step into a new role, and a new space, for a while. Don’t debate it! These are not normal times, so just do it! “The goal is to raise well-balanced, well-adjusted children with a broad base of knowledge”. says Dr Jyoti Suvarna, Head of Paediatrics, at Holy Spirit Hospital in Mumbai. Embrace that philosophy and take lots of photos! This is a time you will all later remember as a never-to-be-forgotten part of their growing up and your parenting. Live, and remember it all, when you pore over those pics, in twenty years time.