This sudden change in the ways that we will have to live our lives brings enormous challenges to us all. The adaptations needed are no respecter of age, income, or culture. All of us will have to make changes, beginning with children at home.
While the internet and visual technology will be a saviour in acting as the medium for communication, work and source of education, entertainment and communication, constant use of screen technology can be visually tiring and stressful. Remember that this is also an opportunity to nurture some of the things that as former busy parents and grandparents, or children restricted by a national curriculum, we have not had time to attend to.
Audio books and being read a story encourage the development of a very different imaginary world from the one provided by films and visual entertainment. When we read or listen to a story, we form our own mental pictures of what characters look like, the scenery in which they live. Reading not a just a short bedtime story to your children, but a story that can be picked up from day to day and continued, can help develop a love of reading in your children and is also relaxed time spent together.
As a small child growing up in the early 1960’s, I suffered from recurrent bouts of bronchial asthma and missed an entire year of schooling when I was nine. I became a voracious reader but also spent many hours engaged in imaginary play, often based on some of the books that I had read. These were surprisingly happy, not lonely hours. I was also lucky enough to have a weekly history lesson with someone who taught me at home for two hours a week. My love of history began with the history stories she told to me and which we drew and wrote about together.
When my father retired and lived alone for many years after my mother had died, he decided that his day would be entirely dictated by the weather. If the sun was shining he would go for a walk or work in the garden for as many hours as it continued to shine. This is a dictum I have longed to follow during the course of a busy working life, and on days off, have partly succeeded, but for children facing many weeks out of school, it is one way of ensuring fresh air and exercise.
If you are lucky enough to have a garden, use it not only as a place to play or relax, but a place they can help you to cultivate. While it is probable that we will soon face further restrictions on how far we can roam, make the most of the sun while you can.
The generation that survived the second world war became highly adept at developing economical and nutritious meals. Societies of plenty tend to have become greedy and wasteful, and this is an opportunity to teach our children (and remind ourselves) how to live differently: How to shop for essentials; to make meals from what is available and not to throw away anything that can be used again. Involve your children in these decisions and processes.
Ironically, those subjects that have tended to be squeezed out of the national curriculum – art, music, dance etc. – are the very ones that lend themselves to remote teaching. We are hoping to start with my partner, who is an artist, providing painting lessons via Skype to my grandchildren.
From a professional perspective, if parents want something more specific that they can do at home on a daily basis for about 10 minutes per day with children aged 3 – 6 years, the narrated stories, songs and suggested movements contained within my book, Movement. Your Child’s First Language, have been designed to develop children’s physical readiness for school.
Several schools in South Yorkshire have used the songs and stories with children from 4 – 6 years as a class-based activity and reported not only significant improvements in children’s balance and coordination, but also in their vocabulary and use of language. This was designed as an informal play-based programme to help develop the underlying vocabulary of brain and body to support all aspects of later learning. While atthe moment it is only available in book form containing two audio CD’s, I will be discussing with the publisher whether an on-line format could also be made available. Irrespective of the medium, it is a shared parent and child activity.
Finally, as adults, be kind to yourselves. This is our second week in isolation after my partner developed a chest infection. The first week was depressing and extremely stressful for several reasons: a sense of loss of the life I was used to; imposed helplessness because it was impossible to access online shopping for nearly three weeks, to get through to telephone banking or a pharmacy, and anxiety for my partner. Without the kindness of neighbours, we would have struggled accessing some of the basics. These feelings of loss, disorientation and rising panic are normal during a period of adaptation and it is important to acknowledge this distress. Find joy in the little things and remember that, at the moment, we are the lucky ones.