The pandemic has bothered many parents around the world, with regards to their child’s education. In India, while schools are still closed, parents are either home-schooling their children, or helping them with their online classes, a curriculum for which has been decided by their schools. But, there seems to be some confusion around the education of three and four-year olds. Parents of nursery and pre-nursery going kids want to know if their online admissions can be deferred by a year, or should they be learning online via the classes arranged by schools, or not be doing anything at all, since they are still pretty young and do not need the same discipline that older kids and teenagers do.
For instance, Pallavi Sarma, a Hyderabad-based parent and homemaker, tells indianexpress.com that she is a little apprehensive about enrolling her two-year-and-nine-month-old son for online classes for nursery, because she is not comfortable with the idea of him spending three hours online, sitting with his headphones on.
“He was in pre-nursery and then he was promoted to nursery, before the lockdown happened. Now, his school has started online classes, but we have not enrolled him yet. I just don’t see the point. He had just started out; he was in pre-nursery for only a month before they promoted him. I don’t think online classes for such young kids make any sense. So, we have decided to stay put, and wait and watch what happens. Besides, kids this young need other kids, and learning alone is not right,” she says.
Sarma says she wants to first make her son understand the concept of school, before she takes a call on his enrollment. That being said, because she is a full-time, hands-on mother, she is able to spend time with him, and engage him in physical activities. “In lockdown, he became addicted to mobile phones, he knows all the functions now. Now, we have started drawing him away from it. There are more books for him, and he is enjoying all that. I feel home teaching is better right now. But, physical schooling helps a lot; kids learn a lot of things, mostly because there is interaction with other kids. That is the one thing that he is missing, and we are worried about that,” she shares, adding, she will encourage her son to interact with other children and play games online, but other than that, she would want him to stay away from phones.
Author and educator Kamala Mukunda agrees. For three-four year olds, she explains, the biggest loss is lack of a peer group to play with. “Children are losing out on play, and that should be of concern to parents. But, there is no solution to this unless you have created a little community bubble, like if you are a part of a joint family, or a tight group of neighbours, wherein children have others to play with. It is also sad that kids are learning about keeping a physical distance and not going near people or hugging them. And at such a young age, it will become a habit; will they unlearn it quickly?” she asks.
Mukunda suggests that parents can home-school their kids and schools can support it by sending them material. “But of course, it has to be imaginative. This is going to be a rough time for parents because they are going to have to juggle work and this.”
But, is it okay for a three-year-old to drop a year amid the pandemic and wait it out?
“Absolutely. What are we worrying about? As long as they are getting quality time at home, as long as parents and other family members are able to give them that time, give them some creative attention, it is okay. In terms of learning milestones, there is no such thing like if you have not started writing till you are five or six, you never will, either. I would say, by age 9-10, this exposure should have happened. So, parents can take it slow for at least a year and do creative things instead,” Mukunda suggests.
Author and early childhood education expert Swati Popat Vats, meanwhile, is of the opinion that while parents can defer the enrollment into a physical school, they must not defer the academic year of their kid(s). “They need to understand that it is not the question of saving fees for a year. It is the question of the SEL foundation, which is your socio-emotional learning foundation. Kindergartens and pre-schools opened because parents were not able to give that kind of language stimulation, etc, at home. Now, even if the schools are physically closed, the brain will still require these stimulations. Which means parents can defer an academic year, but not the child’s learning,” she says.
Vats says if the child would enter junior KG right away, by skipping nursery, they will not have the foundation of ‘known to unknown’. “Everything will be unknown. That would put more stress on children. Parents need to know that pre-schools actually contribute to the foundation of the child.”
“A lot can be lost in a year, unless parents decide to support the child. In pre-schools, language and social development takes place. They learn to wait for their turn before they can speak, impulse control, etc. When these schools are giving these video chats, which many people understand as ‘online classes’, they are given in a developmentally-appropriate manner. It can help a child with social and emotional development and also cognitive development. They will know that the teacher will not speak with them like their mother does,” Vats comments.
Where are schools going wrong?
Vats says when the pandemic started, and schools had to shift to online teaching, many of them misunderstood and tried to turn the physical school into a virtual school. “If a physical schools is for three hours, they ran a virtual school for three hours, too. It does not work that way. For this age group, ideally, you need to have 60 minutes’ video chats with them. Serve-and-return interactions are important. When they watch television, it is a one-way communication, but when they have a teacher on screen, and she is talking and asking them to sing together, it becomes a two-way communication.”
She added, “Then, schools should encourage parent-child interaction. They can be told what kind of games to play with the child. Physical development is key during this stage. And in the absence of it, kids are not sleeping very well, or eating very well, either.”
“Thirdly, schools should send child-independent activity. Which means, helping the child develop autonomy. Parents may not know of these activities, so this is where the schools should be sending selected activities. These three, when combined together, will take care of the pre-school needs of the child,” Vats concludes.
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