Distance learning for pre-schoolers gives new lessons for parents in UAE

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pre-school, covid19 in uae, coronavirus, distance learning uae

Dubai - Teachers and curriculum coordinators are striving hard since amid Covid to ensure continued learning.

By Nandini Sircar

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Published: Sat 25 Apr 2020, 3:23 AM

Last updated: Sun 26 Apr 2020, 9:14 AM

Providing support to parents on the distance learning programme, nurseries in the UAE have been rolling out innovative and fun learning platforms to keep little ones busy at home.

This comes after all nurseries in the country have been shut since March 1, a day after the Ministry of Education issued a directive to this effect over concerns of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Teachers and curriculum coordinators have been striving hard since then to ensure continued learning is carried out using simple yet engaging techniques while being indoors.

However, several parents of younger kids aged between three and four feel it is difficult to implement these virtual learning methods with children in early learning years.

But it's said, the first three years of childhood play an important role in 80 per cent of brain development, while another 10 per cent is gained in the following years.
Structured learning is important
Experts feel a structured programme in the formative years is important for the social and emotional development of a child.

Vandana Gandhi, CEO and founder of British Orchard Nursery, said: "I personally feel distance learning is fully possible for nursery children, especially for those in the age group of 2.5-4 years and who are in FS1 and KG1. With planning and video calls, every child has the ability to absorb what they're being taught. We mustn't forget that these children will be going back to schools hopefully in September and a break from structured learning for five to six months is just not feasible."

Meanwhile, some nurseries feel that distance learning is fully possible and even an hour or two of online and offline classes can go a long way in developing a child's brain. Susan Roberts, director of nurseries, Children's Oasis Nursery, said: "Children under five years are in their most formative years and it is vital that they are provided with stimulating and enjoyable opportunities for learning and development. Providing this is a big task for parents, especially during a lockdown period, we feel it is the role of nurseries like ours, with teams of world-class early years experts, to provide the needed expertise to support parents through this."

She added: "Nurseries must work in partnership with parents and carers, with teachers creating learning experiences that'll enable the child to remain as part of the nursery community."

Reflecting on how eLearning among toddlers can help in improving their knowledge, Rachel Lloyd, centre manager at Amity Early Learning Centre, said: "Since children are unable to go out and play or meet any friends, engaging nursey activities like short daily lessons and fun projects will keep them occupied, while also ensuring that learning continues. Maintaining a daily structure where children are occupied with educational online and offline activities will relieve the burden on parents and benefit the children."
Nurseries tailoring needs
Admitting that distance learning doesn't always work for pre-schoolers as they learn through play and exploration, Nyla Khan, who has been associated with building early learning years at a refugee camp in Greece, said: "We wanted everyone to have access to the early years and a true Montessori curriculum, not just those who could afford enrolling in one. You must use resources that parents have at home. It needs to be affordable, covering basic costs. We also have webinars with specialists and child psychologists."

The founder of Kids World Nursery and cofounder of Willow Tree Kids, further added: "Around early years, the major part of the child's brain develops. So, this is the foundation upon which we build their future self, self-esteem, emotional regulation and academic lives. Therefore, unlike older children, every single month is a significant milestone of our little ones' lives."
Parents have financial constraints and need to proritise
Many parents who've been financially hurt by the pandemic also feel the Term 3 fees even if discounted, is not a reasonable demand by nursery schools.

One such parent who recently lost his job said: "Kids aged 3-4 year old have short attention span. My son barely sits for five minutes in front of the laptop. What's the point of paying any fees? I have withdrawn my child from the school. I am now focusing on downloading learning material from the Internet and we teach our child at home."

Arijit, whose child goes to a nursery that is part of a big school group, said: "We have taken our younger kid out for the time being. I feel the big nursery chains can give blanket waivers to parents, especially for toddlers. So, I am discontinuing my child for Term 3 and I've instead made an alternative programme. It concentrates on reading, counting and writing. I also have an older child in a higher class. At this point, I rather pay for her distance learning."

Independent nurseries flag concerns
While parents have complained about pre-schools charging them in the absence of classes, the overnight shutdown of the nurseries also meant that the school fees since March remains unpaid for many.

This puts them in a spot, leaving them struggling to sustain and even compelling a few to completely shut down their business.

Siog Moore, who runs Little Land Nursery in Dubai, said: "We've waived off the Term 3 fees for parents but that means many of my staff who'll put in lesser number of hours to work from home, have agreed to take a salary cut. Others, who have no other means to support themselves, are still getting paid fully. But I am concerned about my overhead costs. How can a small business like ours survive for long?"

Another (anonymous) independent nursery owner said: "We tried online learning for some time with toddlers, but it wasn't working as many parents seemed dissatisfied."

The proprietor who runs three nurseries in the UAE, added: "Without any rental relief from my landlords, I am forced to shut down one nursery, as the tuition fees is a key funding source for paying overheads."

Meanwhile, Dubai's education regulator Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) advised parents to seek a mutually agreeable solution with their children's nursery.

"Nurseries do not come under the jurisdiction of KHDA," it said on its website.
Tips to handle your pre-schooler at home

1- Keep yourself calm
Despite Covid-19-related stress, we need to ensure that we are calm and don't allow our anxieties to reach our little ones. This is a time which might confuse them as they don't understand what is happening around them. In order to avoid this, the tip would be:

- Have calming music in the house

- Give them a routine

- Create an environment in which they can keep themselves engaged and busy

- Kind words and words of affirmation, along with physical touch make them feel safe and secure
2- Development-specific learning
(Don't fall into the marketing trap of early years activities)

These are very critical periods of the children's lives and must not stop their development, but neither should we just follow art activities online. They are often what we like, and do not necessarily contribute to their development. So, work with early years teachers who understand childhood developmental theory, or try and research it yourself to understand better how to help your child grow.
3- Design a space in your home
This does not have to be grand and can be designed anywhere. All it requires is a shelf that children can reach, on top of which you can put the activities they are working on. Those activities should be aligned to both their interests and development. For instance, if they enjoy water play and it is their time to work on the pincer grasp (finger position needed to later hold a pencil) - an activity like a water bowl with soap and different objects can be placed in it. The child is to pick the objects, name them and use their pincer grasp. Again, this activity can be placed on that shelf and they can use it whenever they like.
4- Story time
This is such an important part of a child's growth. It develops their imagination, creativity and ability to communicate. You can either play an audio version or even just read a few lines. Even 15 minutes of your time makes a world of a difference in your child's development.
5- Music, movement and gross motor skill development
Even if they are at home, working on their physical development skills is crucial. We must pay attention to their flexibility, their muscles and movement. Two beautiful movement-based activities to follow is tai chi and yoga. Children love this and it creates a sense of calmness and peace in their minds and bodies. You can find options for this online for free.

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