As I am writing this article, Malaysia has moved from its Movement Control Order (MCO) phase to its Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) phase, but some businesses such as the education sector remain closed. Hence, parents continue to navigate through the maze of online learning and homeschooling.
I reached out to a few friends of mine—parents to young children between the ages of one to upper primary school—and asked them about their experiences thus far. Consequently, I was able to summarise their experiences into four main lesson points.
Lesson #1: Routine
Creating and keeping a routine is said to be important to our physical and mental health, pre-COVID-19 and more so during a global crisis. Hence, designing a visual schedule board for your young children is a good first step. The idea is to identify the inflexible activities such as work meetings and class timings and create a daily schedule of house chores, meal preparations, nap times and any other activities around the non-negotiable tasks.
Encourage your children to participate in the creation of the schedule board, as this will give them a sense of ownership and duty. For instance, if your child(ren) expresses the desire to make their own snacks or meals, encourage their desire by allowing them to do so but with their safety and security in mind.
A downside of creating a routine is the pressure to tick off all the activities on the schedule board and the unnecessary guilt or shame we might feel for not having completed our daily tasks. This is why the second lesson point is to celebrate ALL the wins!
Lesson #2: Celebrate all the wins!
Be it a small win like your child(ren) sitting through a virtual class, participating in that virtual class, completing an activity, playing well with their siblings, or a massive win like having the time to cook a whole meal uninterrupted because your children were asleep or played well with one another, celebrate them all!
It is important to remember that the idea of a routine is to help your family navigate through your busy schedules in a more orderly manner. More so, we are living through a global pandemic, so it is important to remember to do what is achievable for yourself and your children and not fret if your day does not go as planned.
Lesson #3: Encourage Curiousity
Occasionally the virtual classroom can become too mundane, or your child(ren) might want to learn something beyond the syllabus, so what can you do as a parent?
Tap into what your child(ren) is curious about. For instance, if your child is curious about plants or gardening, encourage them to do some seed planting of their own. Do not discourage them from planting seeds of fruits that do not grow well in our climate; instead, allow them to discover for themselves (and maybe with some help from you, their teachers or Google) why some plants flourish while others do not in this climate. If your child(ren) enjoys cooking but you are concerned for their safety in the kitchen, why not try a classic Malaysian playtime activity, ‘masak-masak’ (imaginary cooking)? Not only is it an excellent sibling-bonding activity, but it also expands your child(ren)’s imaginative and creative capacities as well.
It is important to remember that learning is a lifelong journey and should not be limited by the presence or absence of physical or virtual space and a fixed timeline. Having to stay home for an extended period of time can be daunting, but it does not mean your child(ren)’s learning process is on hold. The practical skills and knowledge that they will acquire when you encourage their curiousity include creative thinking, problem-solving, healthy communication and good hygiene—all of which will make them even better human beings.
Lesson #4: Be Empathetic
During this arduous time, our usual work and familial responsibilities may feel more burdensome with the stress and uncertainty that the pandemic brings. Therefore, one of the most important lessons my friends have shared with me is to be empathetic, to be kind, and to be understanding with your children, spouse and even your child(ren)’s educators. It is probably the hardest lesson to practise, but it is probably one of the most necessary ones, especially during a global pandemic.
Your child(ren) may not fully grasp the gravity of this pandemic, and your spouse and your child(ren)’s educators are most likely experiencing similar levels of stress and uncertainty as you. Hence, empathy, kindness and clear communication are necessary for the betterment of your children.
As Malaysia celebrates Teacher’s Day this May, let us not forget a new group of educators - parents who are superheroes themselves - and our existing community of educators who are striving to deliver an impactful online learning experience for the future generation. Welcome to the club! You are all doing a fantastic job.
Michelle Low is a Research Assistant with the Global Asia 21 Multidisciplinary Platform of Monash University. Her research comprises the topic of “Vulnerable Communities in Asia”. Prior to her current role, she spent the last five years as an educator and had actively worked towards redefining the way Humanities and Social Science subjects were taught in her classroom.
This is #RedefiningEducation with Michelle Low