Finally, last week High Courts of 4 states put the so called ban on Online for Preprimary up-to second grade to rest. Bombay HC even went ahead and quoted, "Anyone opposed to Online classes is anti-India" (Link). However no major publication ever carried this news and the misinformation campaign against schools continues to mushroom.
Tiger parents (more general and liberally used term for protective parents who want their kids to be high achievers) and Authoritative parents who give priority to their children's needs, abilities and encourage them to be independent suddenly seem to have vanished under the cloud of Covid19 related misinformation regarding screen times and online learning. Informally, many preschooler owners have reported less than 30% sign ups for online learning and most of these preschools are in the top 10 cities of India. So if the children aren't online then how are they spending their time?
This article is for parents who are divided in their opinion regards to Online classes, specially the parents of preschoolers. The real sufferers of the lockdown, preschoolers, are quiet and they are increasingly running out of options as the clock keeps ticking. These young children who are supposed to be in preschool and kindergarten suddenly find themselves back home with nowhere to spend the day and no one to play with apart from family members. We need to start thinking about the psychological and other impacts on their well being and developmental needs.
What if we had a super power?
Before we dream of flying off somewhere, there is a prerequisite, we all had this mental and physical superpower from the time we were born to about six years of age. Mental and Physical development peaks between 0-5 of age, Learning and physical growth are faster during this stage than at any other point in a child’s life. Don’t believe it? Click here to know about those powers. That’s why these early years are so crucial to child development and with an increasing awareness, preschools have gained prominence over the last few decades, till the pandemic hit us and now conservatively it looks like preschools won't open till end of Q1 in 2021 or till the vaccine is readily available. Which means taking a years break, in turn taking away 20% of peak learning time away from a preschooler.
How do preschools help child development? Can you do the same at your home? Good preschools, using tried and tested methodologies to help kids learn, have permanent, positive impacts on a child’s wellbeing and learning style. These are some of the key development areas that preschool helps to reinforce:
Physical development – Fine and Gross motor Skills
Social & Emotional Development
Now, what if superman loses his cape?
Did Superman really need his cape to fly? No, of course not. Certainly, most of us feel that the extended lockdown has taken away some of our abilities to function. However, we’re gradually adapting to new realities. As grownups, we have the time. But what about your little super-child at your home? As months pass by, will they be able to fly? Online classes can help but if you are an unbeliever or are busy WFHing you should definitely try to find some dedicated time to works on these areas of your child's needs.
Physical development – Fine and Gross motor Skills
Physical development is just as important to your super-child’s growth as is their emotional, social, and cognitive development. In earlier, “regular” times, children would have ample opportunity to go outside and play with their peers. They’d get enough physical exercise and practice important social skills like sharing. In the present scenario, however, opportunities for physical exercise have been significant constraints. While it might not seem like it at first, there’s ample opportunity for physical exercise right at home, to guarantee your child’s continued physical development. Running and play can't always take place inside the house. But you can incorporate in-place exercise regimes or introduce your kids to yoga. Play, run, jump or dance together that 30 minutes of goofing around with the child will benefit both the child and parent immensely.
Addition, subtraction, learning how to read and write. Learning how to use a fork. These are things we assume everyone just knows. There’s a reason for that: we had ample opportunity to learn and practice these skills during early childhood at school and at pre-school. These are essential cognitive (thinking) skills that we are expected to pick up as young children living in a normal world. We need to know arithmetic to be able to buy things at the store. We need to know how to read in order to ride a bus or order food at a restaurant. The complexity of the skills we learn increases exponentially. This means that what a child learns a year after they start reading, for instance, is far, far more complicated. The lockdown creates a very real risk of children getting left behind on the academic curve. Pre-school kids who should be learning basic cognitive skills are no longer able to. This means that when school resumes, they might end up falling far behind their peers and even stay behind. If nothing’s done about this, millions of kids around the country could fall behind on their studies for years. When these kids enter the formal schooling system, they might end up being completely unprepared. India already has a relatively high dropout rate in primary and secondary school. The lockdown and the isolation of preschoolers is likely to aggravate the issue.
However this is also has the easiest fix, most online classes will be able to provide enough material for the child's cognitive developmental needs, if you choose to be offline, there are enough schools providing teaching materials at a fraction of the preschool cost. No matter what the choice, continuity is the key and prolonged break in learning can make it tough for children to resume formal learning later and they will never even more time to settle.
Children start communicating even when they haven't learnt to speak their first words, when they start going to preschools most of them cannot communicate with teachers and care givers the way they communicate with their parents. They start picking up the language of preschool's teaching medium within a few months, they also learn to communicate with their peers, learn to negotiate and learn to follow instructions. Preschoolers have better vocabulary and can express themselves better.
Now this doesn't mean a child growing up without preschool cannot communicate, infact a child growing up in an environment where multiple languages are spoken instinctive pick up all of them. So lockdown won't pose a great risk to the fundamental development in this area however children attending some sort of online classes which have more language options will definitely benefit, specially since majority children speak in their native language at home.
There is no doubt that preschoolers especially the youngest who were suppose to join preschool in June 2020 may not necessarily feel any difference in the environment and may be coping with the lockdown situation better that the children who were attending the preschools. Adaptive skills doesn't just mean adapting to current situation, for preschoolers this skill has a wider connotation. Taking care of themselves independently like feeding themselves, trying to dress themselves through role play games, learning importance of personal hygiene all these skills are taught at preschools through various fun activities and stories, while some of them can still be done through online classes but online classes may not be able to help children with all their adaptive skills for instance Potty training. Parents can include children in basic chores like putting their toys back in a box, or arranging their books, etc. Adaptive skills are learnt through modelling and parents will have to more aware of their own personal hygiene and clothing as most parents are at home and are working in their pyjamas.
Social and emotional
Our parents and family teach us our very first words. We have our very first social interactions at home. But human beings are social animals by nature. So much of what we learn as young children comes from socialising with other kids at preschool and interacting with teachers. Socialising is critical because it’s what enables children to learn basic skills like sharing and having conversations, as well as understanding the social norms that keep society running. It’s through socialisation that children really pick up their native language. Beyond what they hear their parents talk about at home, children use language to make friends, learn and grow. Moreover, socialising is how children get acquainted with ethics and morality. How do you learn what’s right and what’s wrong if you’re living in complete isolation? When children socialise with each other at school and preschool, they learn about sharing, caring, empathy. A continued lockdown runs the risk of taking all this away from an entire generation of young children. No one knows the full extent of its impact on children's emotional development. Will we have to deal with a generation of emotionally stunted problem-makers 15 years from now? We simply do not know at this point. All we know is that the longer isolation at home continues, the fewer opportunities children will have to learn those valuable social skills.
Being a parent is not easy, even more during this lockdown
Children aren’t the only ones having a tough time, parents are having a tough time right now, too. Many are out of work and finding it hard to make ends meet. This is especially true when you step out of better-off urban regions of the country. In small towns and in rural areas where job stability isn’t ideal at the best of times, millions of parents are suddenly finding themselves with no jobs. We cannot digitalise the jobs of all small businesses neither can every job be done from home. Adults at homes around the country are dealing with dire, existential issues. Their stress is immense and, undoubtedly, it will have an impact on their preschoolers. Even in well-off families, parents will be forced to split time between work and caring for children, leaving them tired and tense. There has been a considerable rise in the number of domestic violence incidents, both in India and across the world. In the worst cases, parents are taking out their frustration on children. Even in milder situations, parents are stretched thin. Many are just not able to give their children an adequate level of attention. This has an impact on just about everything: children’s diets might suffer; they might not get the help they need to finish schoolwork; they might not get an adequate amount of social exposure from their only source parents as they are busy. Parents need to understand that stress is a reality and plan childcare accordingly. They need to hold onto their sanity while ensuring that their kids lives are minimally affected by the lockdown.
Children and learners of all ages, from pre-school to college, are taking classes remotely, either through video conferencing solutions, or by watching and responding to pre-recorded lessons. Some kind of formalised education is a must in this period, and eLearning definitely fills that gap.
We already have a generation of young people who are stuck to their smartphones. The next generation seems even more predisposed towards this. eLearning definitely helps to meet social and educational needs to an extent. Video calls can help kids meet their friends remotely. Teachers can still impart valuable lessons, even if they’re not teaching in person. It’s difficult to pick up on and learn subtleties like body language and cues when meeting digitally. Moreover, eLearning doesn’t change the fact that physical contact is no longer possible. Play activities are still necessarily solo. But some exposure is better than none at all.
Finally, your super power is to let your children find their own.
There’s no telling how much longer the national lockdown will continue. There’s no way for us to know when the world (if ever) will come back to normal. In the meantime, it’s up to us collectively to understand and empathise with the challenges preschoolers are going through right now. Never in the history of the world have so many young children been locked at home for such a long time. If we want the next generation to have better lives, we need to ensure that their quality of life is as good as possible right now. Through online Learning, or by being better, more attentive, available parents, we can minimise the impact of COVID-19 on our preschoolers and ensure that they have the skills to tackle anything the world throws at them once the crisis lifts.
Tiger, Authoritative or any other style of parenting, these are tough times, our choices with regards to our children's developmental needs will collectively decided the traits of our next generation, choose wisely.