By Geetika Sasan Bhandari
Ever since the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19 made its debut in end December, it has become the No. 1 global villain, threatening to destroy economies, hit industries such as aviation and tourism hard, and worst of all become a pandemic. And though it’s not the first virus to hit a large number of people and countries, thanks to the penetration of media — especially social media — it has brought in its wake a flood of fear and panic. Parents, expectedly, are a worried lot.
While young children are currently not in the high-risk category, many parents are worried about their immunity and are therefore not sending them to school. Several state governments have also directed schools to declare holidays till end March, or advance the summer break, starting with immediate effect. So if you have young children at home, bored and hogging up screen time, instead of engulfing them in fear, use the coronavirus to give them a little education—not only in the disease but also on various subjects, and make a fun game of it. Shielding children from fear is important, but exposing them to the reality is also necessary, not just for their own welfare but also to groom them into aware 21st century citizens.
Here are five fun things to teach via the epidemic:
Brush up their geography
Get a globe or an atlas out and ask kids to map the countries where it is most rampant. Can they map coordinates? What are the longitudes and latitudes of these countries? Arm them with resources (bonafide links, such as for the WHO, who.int) and ask them to do a bit of research before they start mapping. This will not only enhance their research skills but also stimulate their curiosity and help them analyse. Ask leading questions such as whether countries most affected lie on similar latitudes/longitudes. Is that a coincidence? Could it have anything to do with the countries exhibiting similar weather?
Throw in some science
Since we are talking about temperature, talk about how the virus is likely to react in increasing temperatures (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site cdc.gov says this aspect is not yet known). However, weather conditions affect how long the virus stays on surfaces. The WHO site states, “Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment.” This is a good opportunity to discuss how viruses react to, mutate, and spread in fluctuating temperature. You can take the discussion further by talking about the correlation between food and temperature — what happens to food when it is placed in the microwave or the freezer, for example. A small experiment: Place a strawberry out in the open for a few days and keep one in the fridge at the same time. Have your kids note the daily changes in both. As it gets warmer, the strawberry left out is likely to catch fungus, whereas the cold temperature and lack of oxygen may prevent that from happening to the one inside the fridge. If you don’t know the answer to something, research it together.
Why should biology be left behind?
What does a virus like corona do to your body? While fever, fatigue and a dry cough are the most common symptoms, says bbc.com, “the virus, Sars-CoV-2 infects the tissues and airways deep inside the lungs rather than the nose.” Talk to children about how people are different (and exhibit different symptoms), and how each person’s immunity is also different. While in severe cases it can progress to pneumonia, and ultimately organ failure, the mildest cases are going undetected. This is also a good way to show them an illustration of the human body and explain to them what the main organs are and the respective roles they play. Do tell them that testing for a vaccine is in the process, and explain how vaccines work (publichealth.org). If you have a picky eater, this is a good time to tell them about the fruits and vegetables that help amp immunity.
Deep dive into the past with some history
Is COVID-19 the most deadly virus the world has witnessed in recent times? What about SARS? Or Ebola? Let kids research the worst viruses mankind has dealt with in the last 20 years, the death rate, and the countries that were most affected (see sciencealert.com). It’s also good for them to search how countries dealt with it (in Africa, some countries had kids study virtually for months). This will help dispel some of the fear (since the fatality rate of COVID-19 is far lower than many of the other viruses), and seeing how nations have worked towards solving similar problems will help them realise that all problems have solutions.
Let’s do the math
Combine the skills of research, analysis, logical thinking and a little bit of art by asking your children to explain COVID-19 in numbers. They can put the info in a chart, or any tabular or graphic illustration or even make a Power Point Presentation. The number of people affected (deaths and those infected), countries impacted, billions of dollars lost, the cost of developing the vaccine, the global events likely to be postponed, the nations imposing lockdowns — almost everything can be processed in numbers. Let their creative juices flow and tell them to get creative with fonts, figures, colours. Finally, get the family together for a presentation and let the kids explain the virus to you via their research. This is great for their public speaking and presentation skills.
We can’t wish the coronavirus away — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has just stated that almost 70 per cent of the German population is likely to be infected by it — but we can certainly become aware, and make our children aware of health and safety precautions and hygiene habits. More importantly, by encouraging them to gather and read accurate information, we can dispel fear and panic and instead instil knowledge. It is unlikely that this is the last of the global viruses our children will see, so teaching them how to deal with it rationally, armed with correct information, is one of the best life skills we can inculcate. Till a cure is found, this is our best solution.