Virtual schools have now become a new normal Image Credit: Supplied

A year on, with Covid-19 cases still rising, many parents are struggling with challenges of home schooling and anxiety amongst kids. The pandemic has resulted in monumental changes to education throughout the world and a massive shift to digital and distance learning. According to Unesco, as the pandemic continues, more than 826 million children worldwide still have either no or only partial access to physical schools. In the UAE, we have been fortunate that all educational institutions, including nurseries and early learning centers, have reopened. However, many parents remain cautious and a large number of children are still participating in virtual early education.

Fruzsina Benyei-Anirudhan, head of curriculum and training at Kïdo Education, says, “We know that young children learn best through interaction and the meaningful relationships they build with their educators, peers, and the environment surrounding them. The current global situation has dramatically restricted children’s access to physical interactions and learning opportunities in a physical nursery environment. Virtual preschool programs must be based on live interaction between experienced educators, children, and peers to ensure that young children benefit from online learning. Learning activities should be multisensory, engaging, and meaningful, and grounded in and supported with research and child development, and of course, a lot of fun. In the UAE many of the virtual preschools with such online learning programmes have already shown extraordinary resourcefulness, dedication, and creativity in keeping children engaged and their learning curves sustained and progressing. Parents of children enrolled in such programmes have reported that their children continued learning and developing. Kids have, in fact, started building a community with a sense of belonging with their classmates and educators in virtual classrooms.”

Research shows that during the first five years of children’s lives, the brain develops incomparably faster than at any other time and is the most malleable it will ever be, making the early years a critical period.

How can a virtual preschool programme help?

Fruzsina Benyei-Anirudhan is the head of curriculum and training at Kïdo Education Image Credit: Supplied

Fruzsina explains that if parents are hesitant to send kids back to school, participating in a structured virtual preschool programme will help your child maintain a sense of normalcy and support their emotional well-being. “Virtual preschool programs give your children a safe and reassuring place where they can build nurturing and secure adult and peer relationships in an environment that offers them routine, structure, and opportunities to learn self-regulation. High-quality virtual preschool programs will support your child’s all-round development with a holistic and multisensory approach that will also have mindfulness and emotional well-being elements integrated. With consistent support, children can become incredibly resilient.”

Jacky is a UAE-based transpersonal regression therapist Image Credit: Supplied

UAE-practicing transpersonal regression therapist, Jacky says confusion during the pandemic has created even more anxiety amongst kids. “Educate your child about the pandemic with modesty. Even give modest information about your own financial circumstances. In the current crisis we are further challenged with either furloughs or job losses and as a result many of the expats with their families are compelled to make a decision to return to their country. Whatever be the situation, it is imperative that you talk to your child of that is happening but without feeling stressful or anxious yourself. It is best to have simple, in a ‘matter of fact’ way of conversations keeping emotions at bay. Also talk at an age appropriate level, don’t volunteer too much information with too young children as it can cause their imagination to run wild and scare them easily. Instead look for their questions and answer them. Always acknowledge their concerns and fears calmly and reassuringly, for example you can say that “I can see that you are scared and it’s natural to feel that way”, that you understand, and to emphasize that we are in this together. That taking the necessary precautions will keep them safe.”

Social distancing, Jackie says, can have a negative connotation on the child. “There are hidden dangers that comes with the perceived notion of social distancing, especially to children vulnerable to feelings of loneliness and isolation. And therefore it is crucial to explain to the kids that it is only a physical distancing that they need to adhere to. That their emotional bond with their friends and loved ones remains unscathed. This understanding of a ‘spatial distancing’ instead of social distancing brings about a relief with children, impacting their overall health and wellbeing.”

How can Parents cope?

Many parents who have opted for online learning for their kids, can feel overwhelmed. “You may get a sense of filling in too many roles and having to perform well in all of them. It is important to remind yourself that we are in unique situation of a global health emergency that neither had we anticipated nor have we experienced this before. We are all working out the best possible way forward on a trial and error basis. And it is not our best performance that is of mandate but simply safety. So don’t beat yourself up if you’re not performing to your usual standards and remain flexible to accommodating what suits you the best. For example, it is okay for your child to take a break from their academic year if you are unable to afford education in the current situation.

“It is vital that as parent you take care of yourselves. To deal with your own anxiety, practice breathing and mental exercises that brings your focus back to the present moment. When you are fully present in your body in the here and now, bringing your attention back from the emotions of the past and the fear of the predictable or unknown future, in your fully aware state you are fine. Remember to shower extra love and affection to your children, in this time when they are not being able to connect physically with others, they will appreciate your extra attention and moments of undivided attention from you,” she says.