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Your Guide to Keeping Kids Enriched During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The speed at which our lives have changed since the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic  has been fast enough to give most of us whiplash. From the ​arrival of the first case in  Australia in January​ to most of the country going into various stages of lockdown by March,  this has all happened within the blink of an eye.

Within a matter of weeks, many of the places that play a pivotal role in our lives were shut  down: cafes, restaurants, retail shops, places of worship, and even schools. For many  families, these changes meant a sudden switch to working from home while also helping  kids with remote learning. This presented some stark and obvious challenges, with many  parents finding themselves in an impossible juggling act. Meanwhile, kids were confined to  their homes, cut off from their social circles, except online, and unable to take part in many  of the enriching activities they previously enjoyed.

While kids are now slowly making their way back into the classroom, life is still far from  ‘normal’. The Government and medical experts have made it clear that until there is an  effective vaccine or treatment available for the COVID-19 virus., we will be living with the  ‘new normal​’.

For now, this means social distancing, extra hygiene measures, and many activities will  remain off-limits. This means that kids will most likely still be spending a lot more time at  home, with limited access to activities, while many parents will also still be working from home.

To help families navigate through this unchartered territory in what is being described as a  ‘once in a hundred-year pandemic’, Noble Oak has spoken to nine businesses and  organisations who specialise in education and enrichment for kids to get their top tips.

The challenges for families during the COVID-19 pandemic
Put parents and kids together — living, working and learning all in the same space, and it  can be a minefield. How can parents focus on work when their children, especially younger  school-ages ones, need constant attention and guidance? And how does it make kids feel  to be physically cut off from their friends and teachers at a time like this? What happens  when everyone goes a bit crazy with ‘cabin fever’!?

The juggle is real!
If we cast our minds back to before the coronavirus, life was already pretty stressful for  many families. The Good Foundation, the organisation behind ​Jamie’s Ministry of Food  Australia​, recognises how COVID-19 has made a hard situation even worse. “All parents are  familiar with the ‘juggle’ — trying to balance kids, family, work, life and home, but throw a  global pandemic into the mix and parents are facing a whole new world of challenges.”

While kids are now slowly coming back to classrooms, many of the pressures and  uncertainties around this pandemic still remain. “A key struggle faced by many parents is  the ability to not only meet the educational and physical needs of their children but their  emotional needs too. On top of this, parents need to juggle their own work commitments,  household chores, and somehow maintain and preserve their own wellbeing. This has  naturally led to stress levels soaring”, explains ​​Speaking Schools Australasia​​, which runs public speaking and debating courses to help kids build their confidence.

Money matters
With so much financial insecurity, It’s never been more important for parents to keep their  jobs but harder than ever to get their work done. “Keeping the children occupied is  important, not only for their learning but also for the parents themselves, with meetings to  attend and deadlines to meet,” says ​​WeTeachMe​​, the online hub for discovering and  booking the most popular classes in Australia.

While working from home with kids is stressful, it’s a more fortunate situation than the many  thousands who are now unemployed. “Many have lost their jobs, been stood down or been  made redundant, so there are extra challenges for families to face as they prepare for what  life looks like post-COVID-19,” says the team ​Sport Star Academy​, the award-winning  provider of quality, skill-based sports training programs.

In times of uncertainty, making plans to protect yourself and your family can reduce stress and offer some comfort. Knowing that you have a safety net in the form of life insurance and income protection insurance can provide some much-needed reassurance. For more  information on these products and how they apply to COVID-19, visit our ​website​ or speak  to our friendly team.

Distractions are everywhere
It’s true to say that distractions are all around us, but this is especially true at home. “At  home, there are pets that need feeding, kids wanting food and drink, or help with a task, and  chores that need to be done, which are all an interruption to your concentration,” says  ​Wendy’s Music School​​, a leader in musical education. Maintaining focus to get anything  done, no matter how big or small can be tough, so bear this in mind as you navigate through  this period.

How can you manage screen time?
Deciding what content kids access online, for how long, and how often, is a question on  many parents’ minds. Screen time is already a contentious issue in many homes and the  coronavirus pandemic has now put devices squarely at the centre of the family. While  technology is a lifeline to stay connected and keep working and learning during this period,  it also has its pitfalls. ​Screenwise​, Australia’s leading film and TV school explain: “Although  there are endless opportunities to access online entertainment, the challenge remains as to  how the digital world can offer alternate avenues for children to acquire new skills  throughout COVID-19.”

Kids are bored & miserable
As more public places open up, kids can start to enjoy some of their favourite activities, but  it has been a tough few months for them and the threat of another lockdown is always  looming. “In many ways, this situation has been especially difficult for our children says Mega Music​​, a retailer of musical instruments, who has seen an uptick in sales during the pandemic. “With skateparks closed, parties and sleepovers cancelled and a limit placed on  the normal freedoms we all take for granted, it’s definitely harder for young minds to  understand why this is happening.”

The emotional wellbeing of their children is a big worry for many parents at the moment. Dr  Jane Williams, Director of Research and Education at ​Toddler Kindy GymbaROO​ explains how to tackle this with younger children. “The trick is to try not to let your concerns bleed  through in your interactions with your children. Even very young children will know that  things have changed, so it’s important to provide them with the reassurance of a loving  environment, as well as establishing a new routine and sticking to it,” she says.

How to create a productive and harmonious home  environment
Despite the challenges of this pandemic, there are ways families can establish healthy new  habits to make this period more enjoyable. In fact, there are many opportunities for families  to grow and learn together, coming out the other side of this stronger. Here are some expert  tips.

Establish a routine
Experts have said it time and time again — routine is so important. “Routine can ease some  of the mental and emotional load, particularly on weekdays,” says Speaking Schools  Australasia. “This will help all the family know what to expect and can be exceptionally  beneficial for children — granting them a sense of security and helping foster positive  habits. It will also help distinguish the weekdays from the weekends so everyone has  something to look forward to.”

The team from WeTeachMe agrees. “Families need to have a daily or weekly timetable of  activities to establish a routine that everyone can commit to and understand,” they say.  “While the schedule may be fixed, it’s also important to have a variety of activities so kids  don’t get bored easily. They can try anything from games to physical exercise, and even  chores!”

Don’t forget about nutrition 
The temptation to just snack can be strong at home but eating a healthy and balanced diet  throughout the day is incredibly important. “You wouldn’t raid the fridge in the middle of a  maths lesson at school and the same applies at home,” says the team at Jamie’s Ministry of  Food. They have some great ideas for incorporating food into your daily routine.

“Tackling some math in the afternoon? Why not use some grapes as counters and sneak in  a nutritious afternoon snack at the same time? Kids getting restless and need a break from  school work? Keep the education rolling and set up a hands-on cooking demo with a new  recipe – entertain the kids and prep dinner at the same time.”

Create spaces for work & play
Working, learning and living all in the same space has its challenges. Creating separate  ‘zones’, even in smaller living spaces, can help parents and kids to stay focussed. “Set up  learning areas for children where it’s quiet and they can concentrate, as well as a work area for you if you’re working from home, says Sport Star Academy. Could you repurpose an area  of your home, like the garage or entry hall as a temporary learning space?

Fresh air, exercise and ‘offline’ time are non-negotiable
The benefits of exercise on physical and mental health are well-documented, and this is  important now more than ever. “Ensure everyone is being active every day. Go for walks,  bike rides, a scoot or a run — whatever your family is into. Aim to get out for at least an hour  every day — your body and mind will thank you,” says Sport Stars Academy.

Dr Jane Williams from Toddler Kindy GymbaROO agrees. “Where possible, make sure that  there’s a timed period of work followed by a similar amount of time in other  movement-based activities.” While exercise and physical activity periods are essential  during this time, not every break has to be intensely physical — she also suggests some  other ‘offline’ breaks could be spent reading, doing puzzles, cooking or drawing.

Make time to talk 
It sounds silly when we are together with our families so much, but with work and school,  the days can get filled up very quickly. Make sure you take the time to check in with each  other. “These are unprecedented times so encourage conversations on how you are all  feeling — we all have bad days and it’s perfectly normal,” says Sport Stars Academy.

Manage your own expectations
With so much going on in the world, could you be putting too much pressure on yourself?  Managing a job, kids, schoolwork and a household during a pandemic is no easy task. Some  days you might smash through your to-do list while other days will be less productive. Try  to manage your own expectations and give yourself a break when things don’t go to plan.

Great ideas for educating & stimulating kids at home
Thanks to the power of technology, there are now endless ways for kids to learn, play and  connect, even during a pandemic. There are also plenty of ‘offline’ activities for kids to enjoy  with social distancing measures still in place. Here are some to try at home.

Take up a musical instrument (or just make noise together!)
“Many a successful musician will tell you of their years locked in a bedroom practising their  craft, so this enforced period of isolation may well spark the same passion in many of the  young people now picking up an instrument for the first time,” says the team at Mega Music  “The benefits of music have been well-documented over time — the combination of  learning something new, the discipline of practising, and achieving a minor goal of playing  those first few notes, can instil a sense of satisfaction in our children,” they say.

You don’t need to be a budding musician to make some noise either. “Make some of your  own “junk percussion” music instruments at home,” says Wendy’s Music School. “Make  bucket drums, bottle shakers, and chopstick rhythm sticks to play along to favourite songs”.

Whip up a storm in the kitchen
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that we’re eating out less and cooking more at home.  “This is a great opportunity to get the kids into the kitchen to learn some new skills and  discover a love of cooking,” says Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia. The organisation  recently launched a series of online classes, including our ‘Learn Your Fruit and Veg’  program for children aged 3-12, and for those over the age of 12, they have a new series of  online cooking classes, which feature delicious nutritious meals using Jamie Oliver recipes.

Learn a new skill online
There are seemingly endless courses for kids to engage with online. From STEM activities to  painting tutorials and online craft classes, there is something to appeal to every child’s  interests and passions.

Sites like WeTeachMe are a great source of learning inspiration. For aspiring artists, there  are online workshops where they can learn the style of Masters like Vincent Van Gogh and  Henri Matisse, or for budding writers, they live stream classes where kids can create their  own fantasy world and imagine wild adventures in the comfort of their homes.

For kids with a passion for performing arts, a number of stage and screen schools are  currently offering online versions of their normal courses. Screenwise Film and TV Acting  School offers Screenteens acting classes for teens aged between 12 and 16 years old, who  are interested in learning the foundations of acting.

Don’t forget to play! 
In times such as these, do not to lose sight of the importance of play, and that goes for  adults too! With kids spending a huge amount of time on screens, it’s important to step  away from technology and engage in some good old fashioned play. For younger children,  Toddler Kindy GymbaROO suggests trying an outdoor treasure hunt. “Children can exercise  their long-distance vision while being challenged to collect a range of items,” says Dr Jane  Williams. “Any activity that requires repetition helps the brain connect the dots super-fast  and they gain a skill — whether that is catching a ball, skipping or climbing,” she says.

She also advocates for exploration play. “Let them climb over the furniture (within reason),  build cubbies with blankets and chairs and discover what works, what moves and what the  outcomes of actions are. This sort of activity stimulates the senses, curiosity, imagination  and creativity.”

While this is a truly exceptional time in our lives, there are also many opportunities to slow  down and connect with our families in new ways. By establishing healthy new habits in our  homes, we can foster a renewed sense of curiosity and belonging with those we love. When  we emerge on the other side of this pandemic, many of us will have a stronger bond with  our families and have discovered many new things about each other!