Coronavirus: Parents don't have to be teachers, but learning doesn't have to stop

WATCH: Education expert Kate Winn explains how you can still keep your kids’ education on track even when they’re out of school over the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, millions of kids across Canada are out of school for an indefinite period of time.

Some parents fear that their children’s progress will be stunted by the missed time.

But according to education expert Kate Winn, your kids’ education can stay on track even when they’re out of school.

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“I’m a teacher so, of course, I think education is important, being at school every day is important, but having a break like this isn’t going to be the end of the world,” Winn told Global News’ The Morning Show. 

Winn has two daughters in Grade 6 and Grade 8, and she says she’s not worried about their academics right now.

“Social distancing … is the priority,” Winn said.

If teachers didn’t send home any work for your children to do, Winn suggests waiting to see if the teacher gets in touch and, if not, getting in contact with your child’s teacher yourself. Many teachers share email addresses or have class apps, she said.

“I surveyed a lot of teachers on this, and the overwhelming response was not to worry too much about sitting down at the table, paper-and-pencil kind of work,” she said.

She adds that teachers will always encourage more reading, but other ideas include going outside, going for walks or baking with their parents.

“There’s really no expectation overnight, parents are going to morph into teachers,” she said. “Don’t put that pressure on yourself.”

She said one thing you can focus on is routine. Children really get used to the routine of going to school, taking breaks and coming home. She said at home, parents can create the same type of routine. Start with breakfast, go into a learning topic and take a break or recess to play outside.

You can even include “things that can’t get done during the day, like chores or music lessons” in your daily schedule, Winn said.

And as a reminder to all parents, you can always find your child’s curriculum online.

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Other activities for your kids during the break

With public settings like museums, science centres and community centres on the list of places to avoid, how else can parents fill the time?

There are a few things to consider, according to Jennifer Kolari, parenting expert and founder of Connected Parenting.

“If these days at home don’t have structure or texture, your kids are going to get pyjama fever,” Kolari said.

“As much as possible, you need to keep the structure looking very much like school.”

Just because your children are home from school doesn’t mean they should be allowed to sleep for as long as they want or watch TV all day. This will, said Kolari, result in chaos.

“Wake up at the same time every day and go through a similar routine where you’re getting dressed, you’re getting ready, you’re having your breakfast and then you begin the day,” she said.

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She also advises going out and buying a large piece of paper, like stock paper or bristol board. Use this to plan your day visually, so your children can follow along.

“Put your wakeup time, activity No. 1 … activity No. 2 and then lunch,” she said.

As long as no one in your house has COVID-19 and has been quarantined, outdoor play is a powerful way to keep your kids stimulated.

“Any time kids can be around trees, water and birds is a very good thing,” Kolari said.

How to talk to your kids about the novel coronavirus

As people stockpile groceries and schools across the country temporarily close, children may feel anxious about the novel coronavirus pandemic and what it means for them and their family.

The fear and uncertainty around COVID-19 can be especially anxiety-provoking for children.

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“Kids speak energy long before they speak words, which means that kids are picking up on the adults’ energy around all of this,” said Vanessa Lapointe, a B.C.-based registered psychologist and parenting educator.

“It is upon us as adults to clean up our energy, our thoughts and our actions in order to communicate the belief that we have got this.”

Before you talk to your kids about the realities of the novel coronavirus, it’s important that you educate yourself first, said Cassie Brownell, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Reading reliable sources of information, like government websites, is key to combating misinformation and correcting any misconceptions kids may have, Brownell said.

“Kids are seeing empty store shelves or people in masks… and they’re worried about that or they’re worried about their own family getting sick,” she said.

“I think we need to create a really open space where we can talk about the facts, correct misinformation and be honest.”

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Brownell suggests opening the conversation around COVID-19 by asking your children what they know about the virus. That way, you can gauge their knowledge level and answer questions.

Try to avoid over-exposing your child to the media, and stress that people are working hard to contain the outbreak.

“The bottom line is to act as your child’s north through all of this, communicating the message that the adults — from parents on up to government officials — all have a plan in place and are doing their jobs,” Lapointe said.

The new coronavirus was first identified in Hubei province, China, in December 2019 and spread rapidly. While the outbreak has begun to level off in China, it seems the virus has found a foothold in a number of countries around the world, and it continues to spread.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

— With files from Global News’ Laura Hensley

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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