Sept. 8, 2020Print | PDF
Will my child be safe at school? How do I ease my child’s anxiety? What can I do to support my child as a virtual student? These are just a few of the many questions parents and caregivers are grappling with this school year.
Four experts from Wilfrid Laurier University – Todd Coleman, assistant professor of Health Sciences; Kim Roberts, professor of Psychology; Julie Mueller, professor of Education; and Steve Wilcox, assistant professor of Game Design and Development – share their expertise on issues such as viral transmission in children, how to ease COVID-19 anxieties, and how playing games can enhance virtual learning and contribute to socialization.
No, not in a Canadian setting. A recent report from Public Health Ontario highlighted that while children, defined as 19 and younger, make up just over five per cent of Ontario’s total COVID-19 cases, they represent a higher proportion of asymptomatic cases – 23.9 per cent – compared to adults. Asymptomatic cases, in general, are tricky. When people are asymptomatic, they don’t experience symptoms, but viral shedding may still occur. As we know, one case can lead to thousands, so that’s why wearing masks and physical distancing remain important to cut off transmission.
We lack the historical precedent in Canada to see how the virus behaves in schools with hundreds of students, teachers and administrators interacting with each other. While there have been a low number of children contracting COVID-19 in Ontario, we know that any connection added to our social networks increases the probability of transmission. However, the virus isn’t circulating in Ontario like it is in parts of the United States, which makes a big difference in its ability to transmit from person to person. Low infection rates in the general community is an important consideration in keeping the virus out of schools.
Lean on the systems in place. We’ve been dealing with this situation for nearly six months, and our government and public health units know what to look for – and that's a good thing. Watch for symptoms in your children, test for fever and other key symptoms regularly and emphasize the importance of physical distancing and handwashing. This is especially important to instil in younger children, not in fearful ways, but in ways they will understand. Teachers and school staff will also be reinforcing safety measures and messaging, and you can always ask about the exact protocols and procedures that your school has in place.
Put good practices in place for when your children arrive home from school, such as hand- and face-washing, changing out of school clothes and checking temperatures. We know that it can take, on average, five to six days, and up to 14, for COVID-19 symptoms to manifest, so it is wise to distance from grandparents and immunosuppressed contacts for the first few weeks of the school year until we can see whether there is an increase in cases.
I think it’s likely, but to what extent is unpredictable. It will depend on public health units and the education system to really enact protections, and to clamp down when cases are identified.
Remind your child that it is normal to feel anxious and that many people are feeling this way right now. Feeling anxious is how our brains and bodies try to prepare us for what’s to come. But we don’t want the worry to take over. Encourage your child to verbalize what’s bothering them. Naming the source of anxiety allows you to talk it out and work through it together. It’s also important to instil confidence and security in our kids. Yes, these are uncertain times, but they have experienced uncertain times before, like when the pandemic began, and they’ve made it through. And as always, it’s critical to let your child know you’re there for them. You’ve got their back now and if the situation changes.
It is helpful to put things in perspective. This can be a scary time, but if your child is following the rules – wearing a mask, washing their hands and physically distancing themselves – then they are the doing the best that they can do. For children participating in virtual schools, encourage them to ask their teachers questions if they don’t understand something, and take breaks when needed. This is new for everybody and we’re all learning this for the first time together.
Empathize with your child. This is a confusing time and things may change. Let them know you get where they’re coming from. Check in with your child regularly, whether it’s at the end of the day when they get home from school or after their virtual lessons and ask how they’re doing. If something seems amiss, follow up with their teacher.
The hovering parent is a good role model at this point – not being too intense but checking in and observing how they’re doing. Parents who make themselves available increase the likelihood that their child will talk to them if they are experiencing difficulties. Any drastic changes in behaviours are certainly worth checking out. It doesn’t mean there is always an issue – it could be age-related – but signs of apathy and boredom suggest a lack of motivation and interest and could be cause for concern.
JM: It is important to make activities social for children. When it comes to social media, embrace the social aspect of it and adapt it to your children. If parents enjoy messaging on Facebook, for example, they can let their children use Facebook's Messenger Kids to stay connected to their friends or other family members who also use the platform. Let children play online games with their friends. Remember that play is children’s work, and it influences many aspects of their development. So, while it may seem that they are ‘wasting time’ online, they’re doing what kids should be doing – playing.
SW: Commerical games, such as Monopoly or Pandemic, demonstrate the fact that we learn by doing and, in the process, create situated knowledge – knowledge that is situated in and relevant to a certain topic. When children play games, they aren’t studying them or poring over facts and figures; they are playing and, ultimately, learning. Games make use of the ‘roles-and-goals’ approach to learning, whereby players perform a role to achieve a goal. Learning works in a similar way; children have the role of learner with the goal of learning new knowledge and skills. Teachers can use the roles-and-goals approach to student learning across a variety of subjects.
JM: Look for digital games and online experiences that are authentic and make connections to the child’s world, in addition to being appropriate in age and topic. Take the game Minecraft, where players build a village and find their own food to survive. Parents can complement the skills learned in the game and apply them in other ways: go outside and build a village in the yard or make one using arts and craft supplies.
Parents can also use what I call ‘The Sandwich Approach,’ where the game or online experience is all the good stuff in the middle of the sandwich, and the pieces of bread serve as the introduction and reflection on the game content. A Facebook live event to see the turtles at the Toronto Zoo could be sandwiched with reading books about turtles and then followed up with activities like looking for turtles at a pond or, for older children, debating the ethics of zoos.
SW: Games and play can help players and learners translate knowledge and skills between situations. Gamers do this all the time. They become proficient at one genre of game and then translate that knowledge and skills to learning new games and new genres. When playing commercial games with their children, parents can set the scene for learning with some pre- and post-play questions to draw out the learning and help translate the knowledge and skills to real life.
Monopoly is a great game for learning about fairness, equality, money and power, and the impacts these things have on individuals and society. Fortnite lends itself to learning about planning and resource management. Ask your children how they could use these skills in real life and explore what that could look like. Playing a variety of games allows parents and their children to discover learning connections to numerous topics.
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