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.
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.
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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!