Covid-19: Keeping children busy

Some schools have given work to their pupils to complete during the Covid-19 school closure and others haven’t. If your child has been given work to do, this may have been completed in a day, it may still be ongoing, or it won’t be completed at all. Each of these scenarios is perfectly acceptable.

What can you do if you’re looking to keep your child busy? If you’re a teacher, you’re in the privileged position where you have the appropriate qualification to teach your child from home. If you’re not a teacher or you don’t fancy trying your hand at teaching your child during the closure, there is plenty of busy work that can be done. You’ll need the following:

  1. Preferably a desktop computer to work from. I prefer this over tablets as I assume the long-term use of tablets could lead to issues with posture, or the neck, depending on how the child is seated and how the device is held. Sitting at a desktop computer in an appropriate chair with a good posture will be easier to stick with in the long-term, in this teacher’s humble opinion.
  2. Some colours – any will do: crayons, colouring pencils, markers, etc. Make sure you have plenty of paper.
  3. A printer. It’s not that important whether or not it’s a colour printer.
  4. Internet access. has given free access for a limited time to help parents with keeping their children busy. There are plenty of PowerPoints, amongst other content, on a variety of topics that will keep children fascinated if they are interested in doing a bit of research on topics that interest them.

If you find yourself with no work from the school (unfortunately schools had very little notice of the closure) then you may consider allowing your child to pursue their own interests through an academic lens. Try not to impose project work on them that they have very little or no interest in, instead let them choose a topic that they can relate to, then let them do the research, put it into their own words and put together a project or an oral presentation on the topic. It’s an enjoyable way to practise their existing literacy skills. Don’t forget to remind your child about the importance of not plagiarising! It’s also a good idea to remind your child about proofreading/self-correction.

If you have a recording device (most smartphones have a voice recorder), consider encouraging your child to keep a log, or record a podcast, or both. You can use Audacity to edit the sound files and it’s available free, here. Just make sure to check your child’s content if he/she decides to publish the content. Keeping a log or recording a podcast is an excellent way for your child to practise their oral language skills, while practising their digital skills.

I won’t provide a list of educational websites here because a quick Google search would serve that purpose. However, you’ll easily find websites that have a massive amount of maths games and literacy games. Encourage your child to explore these.

It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but try not to let your child neglect Gaeilge. If you have cúpla focal, use them and encourage their conversational use with your child.

Don’t forget about your child’s physical education. Exercise will provide your child with the balance required so that they won’t get fed up with their academic activities. You can set up a free account with GoNoodle and allow you child to explore these physical activities. Chances are your child is already familiar with this website. If your child has a bicycle, now is a great time to do a bit more cycling, provided a safe ‘social distance’ can be kept from other people.

Read. Read read read. This is an unprecedented opportunity to get loads of reading done. It would be a shame if this opportunity was wasted. If you don’t have a great selection of books, check out Libraries Ireland. The page I have linked will show you how to access a vast selection of ebooks, for free.

Try to give each day some variety. It’s unknown as of yet how long schools will really be closed for, so it’s best to get into good habits now. And when you finally see your child’s teacher again, give them a knowing nod.

The Aistear Fallacy

The idea behind Aistear, in a nutshell, is that children will learn through play. I have no problem with learning through play. I have no problem with play as a spontaneous, child-led activity – where children set their own rules and decide on what they want to do. I have no problem with developing skills through play – as children have always done this. I have no problem with facilitating an infant class at the beginning of the school day (reception time) with a selection of toys and activities, where they can choose what they want to do with them and pretend on their own terms – or not pretend at all.

The issue I have with Aistear (the thematic and play-based learning approach in Ireland) is that it is, at its core, an imposed form of play. Continue reading

Literacy – don’t do too much, too soon

It has been my experience that any of my pupils’ parents with whom I have interacted have always had the best intentions for their children’s education. The importance of supporting a child’s education and development outside of, and in addition to formal schooling can’t be overstated. There are many ways that parents and guardians can support their child’s learning. A quick chat with your child’s teacher should shed some light on this.

However, there is one particular issue that I think needs attention. Some children are being exposed to letter formation activities and phonics activities before they begin their primary schooling. This could be at home, or in a preschool setting. The idea behind this may be that a parent would like to give their child a head-start for when they begin school, and in some cases this may be what happens. In many cases it is not what happens due to a number of reasons.

  1. Keeping in mind that all children develop at slightly different paces and will reach their milestones at different intervals, it is often (but not always) the case that the child is not developmentally ready for these sort of activities. At the preschool age, a child should be engaging in play-based and socio-dramatic activities, they should be exposed to stories and they should develop their social skills (this is not an exhaustive list, rather it is a list of three areas which have come to mind as I type). There are always going to be children who will be ready at an earlier stage/age for expanding further with literacy development activities. What’s important is that these activities are carefully planned and delivered by someone with the skill-set to do it properly.
  2. Some children are being shown how to write with capital letters before they begin primary school. As well-meaning as this may be, it can prove to be unhelpful for a child’s writing as these letters may often present themselves in the middle of words and take away from the overall presentation. Capital letters are taught in the infant classes at a particular stage, a time when it makes sense to introduce them and with the appropriate teaching in place to remind the children when or when not to use them. Using capital letters instead of using lower-case letters during writing will slow down the process.
  3. It is the case that in some (not all) preschool settings, children are being “taught their sounds” (phonics). This is not a good idea and further, this should be left to a qualified primary school teacher. The preschool experience for a child should not include lessons on phonics (or writing letters), there is time enough for that in the infant classes. What’s important in a preschool setting is that children have the opportunity to explore through play and to develop by building on these experiences and interactions.

It may sound like a cliché, but the best advice I can give to parents is to make reading a regular activity outside of school, whether they haven’t started in school yet, whether they’re in school or whether they’re coming to the end of their formal education. During the early years, model reading for the child by reading a variety of stories out loud to them. Stop at appropriate intervals and ask a range of higher-order and lower-order questions. Ask the child about the words they hear you read – are there other words that mean something similar? Do they know a word that rhymes with the one you’re talking about? Ask the child to summarise what you have read. Ask if the child can predict what might happen next.

As the child gets older, these reading activities will develop. Gradually, as the child undergoes early years schooling, the child will work towards becoming an independent reader.

Reading should feel like a normal activity and should not feel like hard work if it is encouraged in the appropriate way. Children will work hard enough in school (believe me, learning is hard work and don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise!) so it is best to let them enjoy reading and literacy activities without it becoming a task.

Parents are constitutionally the primary educators of their children. I think this is a great thing. The next big question linked to this – how can teachers support parents?