It would be a gross understatement to say that 2020 has gotten off to a rocky start. First bushfires, then floods and now a global pandemic that has forced kids out of school and into the home to learn.

If you are feeling hugely overwhelmed you are not alone. Everyone (especially the already vulnerable children and young people we support) is worried, everyone is anxious, everyone is scared. This is an unprecedented situation and there is no immediate solution. 

Our adult nervous systems are overloaded, so you can only imagine how stressful it must be for our little people who are struggling to understand this latest crisis, who have lost their daily structure and routine, who are missing their friends and social connections terribly and who have had their extracurricular activities cancelled.

It is a lot to cope with and difficult for us to get our heads around. But the only thing we can do is our best. We are all muddling through this work/home school juggle. We are all struggling to adjust to an online learning system that we may not understand. And we are all worried about the long-term impact this may have on learning outcomes for children and young people.

But underneath that layer of worry and anxiety is love, kindness, and resilience and if we model these things each and every day to the children and young people we support, then we are doing exactly what we need to be doing to get them through such tough times.

Two other essential tools to survive this crisis is structure and purpose. We all thrive on routine, especially vulnerable young people, and we all need a purpose to get out of bed each morning. For kids this is school. So encourage the children and young people you support to treat each weekday like a normal day of school, but with a more relaxed learning load. It is difficult to get children and young people to sit still for prolonged periods when their amygdala is triggered. Stressed brains don’t learn well (adults included!) so try and create calmness, safety and predictability in your home. 

So be patient and kind to yourself and the children and young people you support and choose a minimum of three key tasks each day – for younger children this might be maths (times tables), reading (a book of their choice) and writing (about anything they are interested in) and for older students focus on research skills (again choose a topic that piques their interest), one or two class assignments and time management skills. And always allow lots of brain breaks in between.

Here at CareSouth we are passionate about literacy so in a bid to keep kids reading, and to keep them connected to us, we have been sharing a video on Facebook every Tuesday at 3.30pm with Buster our reading dog. We will continue to do this throughout Term 2 to encourage children and young people to continue improving their literacy skills. Children and young people who come to CareSouth’s Homework Hub know Buster well and each week they look forward to reading a book to him. Buster is a very attentive listener, he is not judgmental and he loves a scratch or a pat (this is also therapeutic for the kids, with research showing patting a pet lowers a child’s heart rate and anxiety levels) while listening to a story. We are asking children, young people and carers to tune in to Story Time with Buster and to continue to read a book with their own pets (or stuffed toy if they don’t own a pet) each day if possible.

We all know how difficult it is to get resistant learners to engage (and no doubt we all have a newfound respect for the incredibly difficult but wonderful work that teachers do). Finding creative ways to make learning fun, like reading with a pet, can take some of the stress out of home schooling. For example if a child or young person enjoys cooking, use this as a maths and science – baking is all about chemistry – lesson. If the child or young person is struggling with multiplication or sight words, ask them to write these out on post-it notes and stick them on the wall. If they have, and are allowed to use, a NERF gun they can ‘shoot’ each post-it note and recite the answer. This is a great way to make rote learning fun. At the end of the day we can only do our best, so try to redirect children and young people back to their set tasks but if this isn’t working find a creative alternative, or ask them to come up with one themselves.

To try and maintain routines ask children and young people to pack their lunch (or help you pack their lunch). If you are able to (not forgetting the work/home school juggle) sit down and have a picnic with them and check-in to see how they are feeling. Discuss the tasks they have completed and any upcoming ones in the afternoon.

Schools are adjusting their own expectations of the normal academic year so we need to adjust ours too. Don’t add to your stress and that of your child or young person by being too rigid in your home school efforts. And as much as we all try to set limits on screen time, these might go out the window in this tricky new reality we are navigating, as the majority of learning is online. Lower the bar a little but remain vigilant around cyber apps and safety.
Try to keep a balance that allows creativity and imagination to be as important as more academic pursuits.

Here are a few tips to put some structure into each day:

  1. Read a book daily, preferably with a beloved pet.
  2. Take lots of brain breaks that involve movement and some fun; hula hooping, skipping, trampolining, totem tennis – the possibilities are endless, just use what you have at hand.
  3. Get kids to cook and bake (supervised if necessary), this can be considered as a literacy, maths and science lesson and snacks and dinner for the day are sorted.
  4. Improve their vocabulary with a new word each day that they find and share!
  5. Watch live streams of animal feeding sessions from Taronga Zoo and Sea Life Sydney Aquarium. Who doesn’t feel good when they see a cute animal.
  6. Visit the Wollongong Science Space for virtual science lessons sciencespace.com.au/virtual-science-space/
  7. Try and encourage kids to do a little bit of mindfulness and yoga each day. Cosmic Yoga Kids is a good site, as well as Go Noodle and the Smiling Mind – all of these are free www.smilingmind.com.au
  8. All school systems will need to create allowances for learning gaps and delays after this pandemic is over. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your children and young people to complete all set tasks. Some days they will achieve more than others, just aim for some maths, writing and reading every day. 
  9. CareSouth has put together a library of resources to make this tricky time easier to navigate for carers, children and young people. We are here to support you so please reach out to your caseworker or CareSouth Connect and we can work together to ensure the best possible outcomes for everyone.
  10. And finally, if you need some inspiration to keep kids occupied there are loads of online learning resources out there. This in itself can be overwhelming so we’ve put together a list of our favourites:
  • Harry Potter fans will love Harry Potter at Home, the new website launched by J.K Rowling to bring some magic into our lives. The website, available at wizardingworld.com, will have puzzles, quizzes and games. It also features Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for free on Audible.
  • David Walliams is reading a free audiobook each day at 11am: https://www.worldofdavidwalliams.com/watch-and-listen/
  • Khan Academy is a non-profit organisation that offers free lessons in everything from maths, science, history, grammar, storytelling, coding, computer animation, economics and business, across the preschool, primary school and high school curriculum.
  • WooTube is a fabulous YouTube channel run by Australian maths teacher Eddie Woo with free maths lessons.
  • Maths Rockx: We know music is magic for the brain and we use this app in the Homework Hub. It is 415 but a great investment to gets kids singing their times tables to popular songs. They also have some simple, helpful resources on their webpage (many of which are free).
  • Scholastic’s Learn at Home provides 20 days’ worth of active learning journeys designed to reinforce and sustain educational opportunities.
  • Lots of zoos around the world are live streaming their animal feeds, ones close to home include Taronga Zoo’s Taronga TV, https://taronga.org.au/ and SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium , https://www.sydneyaquarium.com.au/
  • ABC Education brings you thousands of free, curriculum-linked resources for Primary and Secondary students and from Term 2 will host dedicated lessons online for all students.