After a year of COVID-19 epidemics that closed Canadian schools, children are back in classrooms. Or, at least, most children are. Some parents have chosen to continue learning online, creating a hybrid program for children in certain parts of the country.
Some parents are thrilled.
“They are different people,” says Naomi Braunstein, a Toronto mother, of her three children, who are in grades 5, 7 and 10. “They have missed (seeing their friends) so much that they are even ready to do the job. They are so excited to be back.
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Unable to see friends, visit playgrounds, or do other typical summer activities like a camp, Braunstein says one of her sons became so depressed she had to call the hospital, while his other children got stuck in ruts at home and withdrew.
“They were really like caged prisoners,” she said. Now Braunstein says they have routines again. They are having lunch with their friends and “are so happy to be back”.
But some teachers say the process is “overwhelming,” creating an overload of work for educators already working at an underfunded institution amid a pandemic that has left many young children socially underdeveloped and behind schedule. learning.
“Teachers face the almost impossible task of monitoring and helping students in the classroom while helping students online,” said Leslie Jones-Lissack, who teaches first grade at Silver Pines Public School in Richmond Hill. , Ontario. “It just doesn’t work. “
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Schools reopened in many provinces in September. While many have opted for a return to in-person learning, Silver Pines has developed a hybrid back-to-school session where kids can enroll and learn at home.
Jones-Lissack teaches a “classroom” class, that is, a bit of every subject, from English to physical education. She has been teaching for 20 years, but insists this year is “definitely the most difficult year yet”.
“I wear a mask all day. I have a face shield when I need to be near my students and we are constantly disinfecting, ”she says.
However, “there is always this low level anxiety of being in a public place with unvaccinated people.”
At Silver Pines, Jones-Lissack teaches 15 kids in person and three online. The latter, she observes from a laptop with a webcam pointed at her as she guides the class.
It sounds easier than it is, says Jones-Lissack. Children who learn online cannot participate in certain classroom activities throughout the day.
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Arts and crafts days, hours that would normally be allotted to the gymnasium, recess or classes that involve field trips such as walks to the park are being replaced by interactive videos. In addition, according to Jones-Lissack, children who learn online lose “a great deal” of the social interactions necessary for their development.
“Kindergarten is meant to be play-based learning and collaborative, inquiry-based learning,” she says. “There are definitely, certainly some learning gaps.”
Jones-Lissack said any problems she faces are magnified in classrooms where children with special needs are found.
“In these classrooms, teachers find it particularly difficult because they cannot be (in) two, three, four, five places at a time, especially if they do not have the support of the teaching aid. ‘education,’ she said.
“The educational assistants are already being pushed to extremes because we do not have enough funds to have enough in our schools for the needs that exist.
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A year of learning breaks
After more than a year of educational disruptions, Dr Claire Crooks, director of the Center for School Mental Health at Western University, said the learning gaps and mental health issues were greater than expected.
“We’ve taken kids away from these opportunities over the past 18 months to tackle these daily challenges that help them grow and thrive and test new skills and now they’re back to it, which is a big step. ,” she says.
“Some children seem to more or less pick up where they left off. For others, it will be a very big challenge.
For some children, this can take the form of anxiety or depression. Clinically, Crooks has defined anxiety as a disproportionate response to an ongoing threat.
Crooks stressed that every child is different and that the impact of the pandemic on a child’s development could revolve around a variety of factors, including age and temperament.
Kindergarten and kindergarten children, for example, would have missed opportunities “to learn to be a friend, to share, and to give and receive,” says Crooks.
“We’re talking about these pandemic puppies that aren’t socialized well because they haven’t been around a lot of people. Well, these little ones didn’t have the same opportunities to learn to regulate themselves with the other children.
But it might be different from an eight or nine-year-old, she added, who may have easily adjusted to home life and struggles to make new friends. But children going through puberty will also have different concerns, notes Crooks.
“In this group, depending on their stage of development, they might really feel embarrassed about body image issues if things have changed for them during the pandemic,” she says.
For parents and teachers, Crooks says the uncertainty of how or when the pandemic will end, coupled with the presence of children who are not yet eligible for vaccination or who are struggling to readjust to it. school, could also be a problem.
“I think anyone who is a parent or who works with children has concerns because we all see the impact this has been, very stressful for children and young people, and there is an increase in health issues. mental and delayed reading, ”she said.
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What parents can do to help children learn outside of school
According to Crooks, routine, predictability and stability can make a big difference in a child’s mental health.
She urged parents and teachers to develop routines and a “compassionate stance” for children and families who may have had very different pandemic experiences, which she said is “probably more important than getting away from it all. rush to make sure they are caught up in all of their activities and math.
“The kids will catch up and they will develop the skills they need to develop,” she says.
Jones-Lissack says there are many simple activities parents can do to help continue their child’s development outside of the classroom.
Helping children with tasks like setting the table or sorting the recycling bin and asking them to count how many plates came out or how many pieces of plastic go in the bin are good exercises, she says.
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Reading inclusive books on other cultures, anti-bullying and anti-racism, or books that help children feel more confident in themselves and their bodies can also help alleviate any social anxieties that children may have about. the idea of going back to school.
“If they don’t know how to get along with other people… then it’s a little harder for them to really focus on learning,” says Jones-Lissack.
“Helping them come into the classroom with an open heart and mind so that they can build those kinds of relationships when they get to school – to me that’s more important than even reading and writing. “
Crooks said parents can also do breathing and self-regulation exercises with children to encourage mindfulness.
“The best part is for parents to do them with the kids and take inspiration from that and support that instead of just telling the kids what they should be doing,” she noted.
Parents can also practice teaching and modeling optimism for children, which she says has “promising impacts” on child development. Things like asking kids how they’re feeling and talking to them about topics unrelated to the pandemic could also be helpful, she says.
“Another part is just giving the kids space to be kids and being careful about how much, depending on their age and stage, of the news and bad news that we expose them to and how much. things that make them feel like they have no control over it, ”she adds.
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