We asked Dr Josephine Bleach, Director of the Early Learning Initiative here at National College of Ireland, for some advice and tips for parents during this particularly challenging time.
We have all been asked to social distance until at least March 30th, for the good of all the nation. We now know that restrictions may go on for longer and may become stricter before the Summer.
Making memories out and about
Social distancing still allows you to go outside – just keep your distance from other people. For this reason, it may be easier to avoid play parks. Take a trip to a big open park or visit the beach. Of course, if the park or beach you decide to visit turns out to have a crowd already there, you shouldn't stop and join in. Social distancing means avoiding crowded areas. Your children can scoot and run and jump and play, just not with other groups.
Create good memories by doing fun things together that you would not normally have time for. Kick a football. Fly kites. Blow bubbles. Have a water fight. Play hide and seek. Take time to notice nature all around you.
Go on a bear hunt. Take a walk in the woods: you and I know that there are no bears, but do your children? Use your imagination and creativity! Have fun pretending to be the bear. When your children are not looking, growl loudly and pretend to be afraid. Linger back, sneak behind the trees and then jump out suddenly. Encourage your children to do the same to you.
While you are in the woods, take a good look at the different trees and plants. How many can your children name? Collect any loose leaves, twigs, stones and cones you find. You can do lots of creative activities with them when you get home. You can encourage your children’s Maths skills by counting, sorting and categorising these items.
To get in the bear hunting mood, I suggest reading the following books before the trip: Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Over in the Meadow by Ezra Jack Keats and Olive A. Wadsworth. These books have lots of actions that you can role play on your walk. To create a really, scary atmosphere, read Where’s My Teddy? by Jez Alborough. You can repeat the words from the story as you creep through the woods. Libraries Ireland have made it easier than ever to join online, if you’re not already a member. They have a host of online services, that will let you access these books and many more.
Slow down and chat to your children. Talk through scenarios that might be worrying them: am I going to get sick? Will mam or dad or my friends get sick? Reassure them as much as possible. Remind them of a time they felt bad, then had medicine and got better.
Some children might not be aware of anything that’s going on, and that’s okay too.
A straightforward way to engage with children of all ages without worrying them is simply to talk about hand washing and about covering your coughs and sneezes. Explain to them what viruses and germs are; how they are all around us and how we have used hygiene, soap and water every day to keep us from getting sick, long before this virus arrived.
There are lots of picture books, songs and stories about getting sick, going to the hospital and recovering. Take some time to read and discuss these with your children. Seeing healthcare staff in scrubs and gowns in reality won’t be as scary if you have talked about it beforehand and your children have seen the pictures. You can also role play being sick and getting better. This helps children adjust to the situation.
CYPSC (Children and Young People’s Services Committees) has compiled a great list of online resources, which will give you ideas and structure for keeping your children happy and busy. These are stressful and confusing times: CYPSC’s list also includes links through to support for anyone of any age who may need to talk to someone, including parents.
Your children may miss contact with their older relatives. In bad weather, video chat might be an option, but take the opportunity for as much real-world time as possible.
Visiting through windows, where your child can wear a costume or face paint, or do a dance or a tumble, while their relative looks out at them, lets everyone connect without face-to-face contact. Make a phone call while the children are outside the window, so they can chat.
One of my neighbours had a wonderful tea party with her grandchildren. She set up a table in the hallway, while her grandchildren had a small fold-up table about 2 metres away on the street. They each brought their own drinks and food and had a wonderful chat with each other and everyone else who passed by – keeping their social distance, of course.
The Early Learning Initiative (ELI) provides parent and child learning support programmes in marginalised communities, helping families achieve their educational, career and life goals.