The temporary closure of schools in Jakarta, as well as in some other Indonesian cities, since last week in order to limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has added a new challenge for parents and guardians of the now studying-from-home children.
Kids at this age are remarkably adept at learning. Many kids learn very well from verbal instruction that also includes engaging visual stimuli. Generally speaking, building academic skills during these grades involves:
- Exposure to new material
- Repeated and consistent practice
- Explicit direction about how to use new skills
- Frequent feedback on their work
- Lots of praise!
For most kids, parents have to be more involved during this time than during later grades. As you decide what works best for you and your family, consider the following tips:
- Plan ahead. You don’t need to create rigid schedules, but it can be helpful to plan out the day’s activities in advance, even if it’s just making a few notes the night before. Having even a little information about what to expect during the school day will make life easier for both you and your child.
- Collaborate with teachers. Schools are providing very different levels of service right now, from virtual instruction to the delivery of worksheets. Keep in mind that most teachers have not done this before; they are genuinely trying to figure out how to help kids learn remotely as well. The opportunities for contact with teachers will vary, but when you can, it’s still a good idea to asks teachers for help when necessary, share feedback about the school’s activities, and brainstorm ways to make remote learning work best for your child.
- Remember how powerful your attention is. With young kids, many parents will need to sit next to or across from their children for some of the school day. Focusing your attention on their learning efforts will help them stay deeply involved, and alternating more appealing with less appealing work will help them overcome frustration. If your child knows that reading time might involve cuddling up and listening to you read, or that they get lots of praise from you when they work hard on math, they will be highly motivated. Your positive attention is so rewarding!
- Set realistic expectations. Since so many parents are trying to balance competing roles — jobs, childcare, and now teacher/therapist/coach — it is unrealistic to expect children to be engaged in the equivalent of a full day’s worth of traditional education. Remember that whatever you can manage will be helpful to prevent loss of skill and that a big part of your goal is just to provide structure and some semblance of “normal” for them.
- Be creative. Keep in mind that there are plenty of opportunities for kids to learn and develop new skills outside of traditional schoolwork. Helping with chores provides great opportunities for the development of executive functions like planning and problem solving. Cooking is another way to explore mathematical concepts and to practice reading, following directions, planning and organization, patience and frustration tolerance. Unstructured time is also important for helping children strengthen their creativity, imagination, and self-regulation skills.
- Maintain social bonds. Because kids this age learn so much from their peers, setting up online playdates or even drawing pictures to send to friends can be just as important as traditional academic work.
There’s no right answer here — in many cases, whatever you and your family can realistically manage will be enough to meet your child’s needs. That said, this age group can benefit from a structure that roughly replicates the classroom, where daily attention is paid to reading fundamentals, writing, listening and math skills.
It’s important to have a structure for the day at home, even if it is a list of activities that the child can select from. Ideally, each activity should last about 15-25 minutes. If you learn that your child cannot persist for 15 minutes, recognize that and work for shorter time frames — or allow them to work for longer if they can and want to do so. Try seated academic work, but make a few more physical academic tasks, like doing jumping jacks while answering basic math facts, a scavenger hunt for flashcards with short rhyming words that can be matched, and knocking down bowling pins that have post-its with sight words on them as a reading exercise.