In a world of quarantine you have got to adapt
Since this morning Spain is in lock down. We knew that this was going to be strict and pretty severe, but on the other hand it felt good that something was happening. Not only are shops, restaurants, schools, colleges and sporting facilities shut down, there is a night curfew and you are only allowed onto the streets with a very good reason. Otherwise you will be fined. Now it has actually happened, there is something quite eerie about it. The streets are still, but from the occasional police helicopter flying over us. Never in my lifetime have I experienced something this serious. The sun is shining, but people are dying and all you can do about it is to stay at home. Quite a strange concept to come to terms with.
I am going to write this piece with the optimism I address my kids with. Thank Heavens they aren’t fully aware of the impact of all of this. I might be overwhelmed with contradictory news items, but they felt quite happy to do without school and probably imagined long days on the PlayStation. I don’t know if you have experience with this, but PlayStation sounds like any parent’s dream, but mine fight over it and are much better kids for not being online endlessly. So never mind the Spanish lock down, I created world war 3 by stating that PlayStation wasn’t going to be part of their day and learning was. So, in talking to my three kids, I have created a mini curriculum to get through this Lock down situation. It’s aimed to make learning more fun, but also based around the art of negotiation. Doing schoolwork enables them to earn PlayStation time.
Personalised learning not ‘educating’
I believe that everyone is talented and that this doesn’t necessarily need to be measured through regular school topics. Kids have so many interests and this is a perfect time to stimulate their personal interests. There is learning in every subject and it doesn’t always have to be on a conventional school curriculum. Find out what your kids are into, what excites them and what stimulates them to learn. The whole learning process is so much more fun if they have the ability to dive into a subject that genuinely interests them.
Also, if you have older children ask them what they are currently working on at school. Are there areas they could do some more research on, or get better understanding of? School books are somewhat outdated if you ask me, this could be the time kids can learn using their favourite methods through being creative, watching YouTube or discussing it with you.
The above gives you three starting elements.
- The conventional school stuff which we can’t ignore but can approach much more innovatively: Languages and Maths (in our case this means English, Spanish, Maths/Algebra and times tables for the youngest one)
- Topics kids are already working on at school. For my three kids this was the Middle Ages and the French Revolution, as well as CO2, trebuchets, caring for the planet, algebra and how the universe began?!
- Areas of personal interests- topics your kids love to learn about, even if this isn’t a regular school subject.
I figured I was going to demotivate my three (boys) immediately if I was just to talk about schoolwork. So, to begin with I put together a few base elements for every day with the assurance I would not touch the weekend, ha! I think it is important to mention that instead of ‘prescribing this’ to them, as the adult ‘who knows best’, I actually think it is important to discuss and negotiate with kids. It results in much better engagement. We settled on the following daily activities, which would be done outside their “home-schooling’ hours:
- Watch a TED talk of your own choice everyday Mon – Fri (This is for the older ones. The younger one watches some Spanish TV)
- Make sure you/we exercise every day (in the garden, trampoline (this might be hard for me but I will try), circuits devised by me, yoga?- not too many options in a lock down scenario!)
- Help cooking (the older ones will do two evenings and the youngest will do one evening) and learn to make a dish from scratch
- Read 30 min before bed
The school day
Now they might dread going to the ‘School of Mum’, so how to mitigate this? Make use of learning materials they love (VR headset, YouTube), short sessions and a generally short school day. Use the element of surprise, because they might not expect you to say that watching a film is a great learning opportunity. Depending on which film of course, it can definitely be part of their day! Again discuss and negotiate and do really take their suggestions on board.
My kids start at 9.30am. We are in a lock down scenario; I don’t think you get the best out of kids by ruling with the stick and 9.30 is for us a generally good time to get working. They will be dressed and have had breakfast. Wondering around in PJ’s doesn’t really work well. I asked the kids if they would go to work in PJ’s and they decided this wouldn’t work well.
“Sessions” are 45 min long. So in the morning they do 3 sessions back to back until 11.45. we then all meet up in the kitchen for a drink, snack and a debrief. At 12pm they do two more sessions, until 1.30pm after which they revise something new they have learned until 2pm. This is our lunchtime. We relax and discuss our mornings together. If the kids have done something creative, or written something then they share it (this wasn’t planned, but they wanted to do this and was really great to hear!).
Yes, I write a schedule of what they are supposed to do. I make sure it’s varied and holds all the elements previously discussed. So, it includes some researching, watching something on YouTube, being creative, and just simple practising something with an online tool. I write it out for the three boys before 9.30am so they have some structure and I have some clear working time for myself.
This is all generally one big experiment, so be flexible to change. Do what works for you and your kids and trust them. I certainly don’t believe kids are trying to get out of doing some work all the time. If they are engaged, they will really get into it.
These are the tools I am using or would recommend:
- Tynker.com which is coding for kids
- Dragonbox App which covers maths and algebra in a great way. If you have kids of different ages, I would recommend getting the pack with the different Apps in it.
- Rockaligua for young kids wanting to learn Spanish and Academons.com
- For Dutch children Squla.nl
- Quiz your English App by Cambridge English
- Kids national geographic.com
- TED app
Then, the big debate. How to assess if the PlayStation has been earned? Well, they score themselves on attitude, effort, initiative and quality. I quickly added to that this scoring was to include the overview of the whole day and not just the School of Mum! This led to some interesting discussion and boy, kids are positive about their own work! Yes, I let them win but we talk about what would could be changed or improved. After all, in a lock down situation the PlayStation is their connection to the outside world.
The successes? They enjoyed it. They read out their English stories with pride and although they could do with improvement, I loved the fact they were excited to show their work. They told me about the TED Talks they watched, how a trebuchet works and a theory on the start of the world. In a lock down situation, could I ask for more? Isn’t it learning you should make kids excited about, instead of worry about ‘education’?
Any concerns? Yes, I would have done the downloads of various things earlier, as it took a long time. And of course, you have to have a device, or -with more than one child- more than one device to play with. Other than that, I think we will get through these two weeks. More than anything, recognising how vulnerable life is, should I not just be grateful to be here with these special, young people?