April 7, 2020Print | PDF
The end of the winter term is in sight for Ontario’s college and university students, but elementary and high school students have three months left in their school year. With traditional classroom learning on hold throughout April as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents and caregivers are seeking ways to keep their children engaged in meaningful learning at home.
Professor Maria Cantalini-Williams, dean of the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University, shares some practical advice about keeping elementary students engaged in learning during these unprecedented times.
“Children cannot focus on learning in fearful situations,” says Cantalini-Williams. “They need to feel safe and supported. Responding to their immediate needs is priority.”
In addition to providing comfort and reassurance, creating a sense of routine at home is one way that parents and caregivers can ease a child’s fear and uncertainty. At-home routines do not need to mimic those in the classroom, says Cantalini-Williams. A simple routine of reading, writing and an online activity or outdoor play geared toward your child’s interests and skill level is sufficient.
To create a conducive learning environment at home, children should have a dedicated workspace. Cantalini-Williams suggests a desk, if possible, and learning tools such as pencils, markers, crayons, paper and, if available, some recycled materials for art and creative activities.
For students with access to online learning materials, Cantalini-Williams advises that parents vet resources first, then select one or two to focus on, as students will need time to experiment and adapt.
“Online learning is less effective when students are passive recipients of information,” she says. “Look for online resources that are interactive and engaging, well-paced and responsive to your child’s needs.”
While independent online activities can afford parents time to tend to their own work, Cantalini-Williams says they don’t have to be the sole learning tool.
“Involving children in activities we normally do at home is just as important as activities that happen in a classroom, whether it’s a traditional or virtual one,” says Cantalini-Williams. “When cooking, encourage your child to read food labels. Have them sort toys and create patterns or measure objects around the house. There are lots of opportunities to integrate math, science and literacy into everyday tasks.”
The coronavirus pandemic has changed people’s everyday lives. While it can feel frustrating and disruptive, Cantalini-Williams says the current situation offers an opportunity to encourage an innovation mindset in students of all ages.
“We know that students want to apply what they’ve learned to real-world situations and the current situation is an opportunity to do that,” says Cantalini-Williams. “We can challenge students to create new ways of doing things.”
Hosting virtual birthday parties and creating wearable hula hoop-inspired designs that ensure physical distancing are examples of student innovations Cantalini-Williams has noticed online.
Parents looking for online innovation resources can visit Canadian Innovation Space, a multi-disciplinary learning platform dedicated to building a resilient culture of innovation in Canada. Canadian Innovation Space is supported by the Rideau Hall Foundation, where Cantalini-Williams has chaired the education for innovation committee since 2016.
Physical activity, time for play and fresh air are necessary for the physical, emotional and cognitive health of children. Cantalini-Williams encourages parents to get children outside in safe ways.
“Focus on independent activities such as skipping, bike riding, hopscotch or walking. Measurement and classification activities also lend themselves to the outdoors, as will reading and art as the weather warms,” she says.
Living through a pandemic is undoubtedly wrought with stress and anxiety – and working with children at home can add to those feelings. Cantalini-Williams encourages parents to make the most of what is a challenging situation.
“If you are fortunate enough to be working from home, make as much time for your children as you can. Employers seem to be more flexible with remote working situations as we all adapt to this new normal. This can be a special time with family.”
Parents can also involve children in aspects of their workday by adapting The Learning Partnership’s Take Our Kids to Work Day, an annual program for Grade 9 students, to their child’s age and abilities.
Looking for at-home teaching and learning resources? Laurier's Faculty of Education has created a list of Canadian resources for educators and parents.