We all have plenty to learn as we get used to social distancing – especially families engaging in learning at home. Here are some hints about balancing expectations.
It's so impressive to see how schools, parents, and a range of education providers, such as galleries, zoos and museums like ACMI, are coming together to support learning continuity for children and young people. Yet, the amount of content can be overwhelming, so too the expert advice about how to solve all of our learning-at-home problems.
Rather than add to this noise, this short article aims to help parents balance expectations around learning with the stresses and delights of family life during COVID-19. Here are my thoughts as an educator experienced in the design of outstanding online resources at ACMI, and as carer with my partner of an eight-year-old, six-year-old and five-year-old, all learning at home while we both try to get some of our own work done.
Every family is different
There are many approaches to learning from home and each family’s number one priority is to find a balance that works for them. After all, no matter how much you try to shield children from the trauma surrounding COVID-19, the break in their familiar routines will inevitably create distress and uncertainty.
So, take the time to invest in relationships – whether in your home, or online with family, friends or school. In my previous article, I provided tips for promoting wellbeing while working at home with young kids around. This time I’d like to offer ideas to help you capitalise on valuable everyday learning via the screen.
Find new solutions to familiar routines
We’ve found a new twist on daily reading. Every few days the children’s great grandmother listens to one of them reading, while the other two enjoy listening to the story. Sometimes she will read them a favourite story too. We plan to encourage the kids to extend their video chats with Granny to find out more about her life when she was a child. This huge change in their lives is making them more aware of other forms of experience and other kinds of childhood. We hope this will inspire some self-directed inquiry and encourage the kids to write questions for Granny – and perhaps push “record” while she’s telling some of her stories.
If you have older children, this focus on oral history can be formalised, as they can also think about editing and publishing their findings. They could create a digital story or short film to share with others. ACMI’s Film It resource provides support for beginner filmmakers or those with a few more skills.
Screen time is an opportunity
We are hearing a lot from parents who guiltily confess that they have relaxed rules around screen time while holed up at home. If this is also true of your family, we suggest you approach it as an opportunity to cultivate active and connected viewing and playing. In our case, we are thrilled that Granny is fostering active viewing because she has the time and patience to ask the children about what they have been watching – and to attentively listen and respond. We’ve already had a couple of successful at-home movie nights like those suggested in this ACMI Re/commends article.
If you want to build skills around active viewing and critical thinking, you could encourage your young family members to create and share video reviews with their friends or teachers. Take a look at Flynn’s review of the Studio Ghibli film Ponyo.
If you have older children in your household who enjoy playing videogames, ask them to explore “What makes a good game?”, a resource that promotes criticism and analysis.
Encouraging your kids to think about how TV shows, films and videogames are made is a great way to learn about screen and digital media. And maybe they could have a go at making their own screen stories. To inspire your kids, watch the 2019 winners from ACMI’s Screen It competition with them.
Watch, play, make
An excellent approach for supporting young creators is to break up the creative process into bite-sized chunks. For children who like to write, you could focus on screenwriting tasks, while tech-savvy young people might like to try visual effects or videogame character creation. Explore ACMI’s Film It and Game Builder resources, or keep an eye out for more self-contained activities such as this one on Jump Cuts.
Most kids love cooking (and eating) and seem to enjoy watching cooking shows even when they’re not the target audience. An online search will reveal lots of cooking sites. As with all videos, preview to ensure appropriate language and content. Some have short, simple recipes that kids can play and re-play as they cook, like this tasty banana bread. These are lots of fun and provide more together time for relationship building – and afternoon tea! They might also like this sweet animation about how NOT to make an omelette.
Watch quality content and play good games
Thanks to the ABC and the ACTF (Australian Children’s Television Foundation) there’s plenty of great Aussie content for children to watch and enjoy. In our household, kids and adults really enjoy watching Bluey and trying out the imaginative games the canine family and friends play, and doing the related activities on the program website. Australia’s most beloved animated dog has also inspired a handwashing poster.
If the young people in your household like the interactivity of videogames, help them to make good choices. You can get some suggestions around games that are fun and age appropriate in this extensive list but it is also good to ask for recommendations from other families.
If you're looking for educational programs to support at-home learning during school hours in term 2, you'll find that ABC TV Education is a great source of curriculum-focused content. But you can mostly leave it up to your children’s teachers to work out what will best suit the learning plan they have developed.
Film, television and videogames have the power to foster curiosity and critical and creative thinking. Screen time is all about quality not quantity, something that you can actively model through your own engagement with screen and media content. Nor is this a one-way process, as young viewers and players have valuable opinions about media and screen content. If you have teenagers in your household, their recommendations and cultural commentary is often pure gold, while younger children can be acutely observant and insightful. This is called "parallel learning".
Screen, media and digital literacy are essential life skills and the next few months offer you the challenge and the opportunity to connect with your children’s digital lives and in the process learn a few things yourself.
– Christine Evely, Head of ACMI Education