Since MCO began, the kids have had 26 days of home learning. As I reflect on those days and the changes that have been made to the home learning program, I feel that it has been a positive experience. Now that we are moving into a conditional MCO, I feel almost regretful that they will be returning to regular school soon.
Here are our thoughts about Home Learning – the good, the bad, and everything in between…
Waking up early to send the kids to school has always been my bane. Schooling from home means that the kids can wake up half an hour before school starts and be ready for lessons. I can get up 10 minutes before school starts to make sure they’re “in school”. For me, that’s almost an extra 2 hours of sleep compared to a regular school day.
Although Primary starts at the usual school time, Secondary doesn’t start until 9 am. That’s another plus to me because I’ve always felt Secondary starts too early. We know that teenagers experience a shift in their circadian rhythm making it harder for them to fall asleep at night. While the recommendation has been to inculcate good sleep hygiene, it hasn’t been as simple as that.
G1 has just hit puberty and I’ve noticed the shift in his sleeping patterns. Even though we enforce a bedtime, he spontaneously wakes up in the middle of the night and struggles to get back to sleep. Because of the disrupted sleep, he has trouble waking up on some mornings. Having the later start with the home learning has helped, but I wonder how he will manage when we’re back to regular school.
In the earlier days, the teachers would set work using videos that they sent to the kids. The kids would then have to watch the videos, do the work set, and hand them in through Google Classrooms. Some parents didn’t like this setup but I felt that there were benefits to having the classes run in this manner. It meant that the kids had to be disciplined about getting the work handed in on time. Admittedly, this doesn’t work so well for the younger kids who still depend on the structure to help them stay on track.
When we shifted towards virtual lessons online, there was a different sort of discipline required. The kids had to keep track of their own time to make sure they were at their virtual classes when they were scheduled. There is no school bell to tell them when their break is over. This was something G2 struggled with initially because he would get caught up doing his own thing and completely forget about the time. He seems to have gotten the hang of it now so I don’t have to keep reminding him to go back to class.
This is one of the main negative factors in home learning. On our first weekend of home learning, G2 asked me for a playdate with one of his friends. I had to explain that there would be no playdates until MCO was over. He was really disappointed.
On the flip side, it hasn’t been all bad. With video calls and online games, the kids can have still been able to interact online with their friends. The part that is really lacking is physical interaction with their friends. When all this is over, we’re probably going to need a few screen-free playdates!
If you’re worried about what all this extra screen time is doing to your child’s social skills, worry not. According to a recent study, it’s not affecting their social skills at all.
In virtually every comparison we made, either social skills stayed the same or actually went up modestly for the children born later. There’s very little evidence that screen exposure was problematic for the growth of social skills.Douglas Downey, lead author of the study and professor of sociology at The Ohio State University
Introverts vs Extroverts
Our personality types affect how we perceive MCO – specifically, whether we are introverts or extroverts. While the extroverts have been crying about being stuck at home, the introverts have been enjoying their party for one. They now have the perfect excuse not to leave home.
In our house, my two introverts, DH and G1, are loving MCO. They’re quite happy for it to extend for as long as possible. For them, the party will end when MCO is over. It is my extroverted G2 who can’t wait for school to reopen so he can see all his friends again in the flesh.
However, being an introvert doesn’t mean we can live indefinitely in isolation. Human beings are social by nature and we need contact with others to thrive. Studies have shown that the brain atrophies when we are alone for too long.
We know how important social contact is, and we know isolating human beings from one another can be damaging. From faster rates of cognitive decline seen in senior citizens with little social contact, to over 50 percent of cases of self-harm in jail attributed to solitary confinement, it is becoming increasingly clear how damaging social isolation can be to a human being.New Atlas
In those studies, the isolation the subjects experienced was extreme. It may not be fair to compare it to MCO where we aren’t really alone. We have the other members of our family around us, and we can still talk to friends on the phone and online. Even so, I wonder. Perhaps the effects are just not as intense as those who experience true social isolation.
There was a time during my school holidays when I spent a large amount of time alone. My father and brother were on a fishing trip and my mother was out a lot because she was taking a course in Computer Science. I had access to friends through the telephone, but I remember feeling like I was going to go out of my mind. It was definitely not an experience I would want to repeat.
During MCO, there are days when I feel really “low”. It’s a struggle to get out of bed and I don’t want to do anything. I recognise these moods for what they are. I know I must break the cycle and do something to change how I feel. Whether I get up to clean the house, do some exercise, play a game with the kids, or cook, I know I must do something. I’ve also noticed that talking to my friends on video improves my mood dramatically.
The following article on Growing Leaders is also a worthwhile read: An Astronaut’s Advice on Living in Isolation.
For the reasons above, I am glad for the online classes. They give the day some structure because there is a schedule that the kids must follow. The kids get virtual interactions which are good for them.
My only issue with online classes is the audio. Aside from connection issues which can be disruptive on their own, I find that I have a hard time with auditory instructions. Having experienced a few Zoom sessions myself, I’ve noticed the following problems:
- Some voices are piercing and difficult to listen to. Turning down the volume helps, but then I need to turn it back up again when someone else speaks.
- Some voices are muffled and difficult to decipher. I don’t know if it is because I have an auditory processing problem or if those voices are just difficult to hear.
I guess video calls are no different to a telephone call. Voice quality is inevitably altered because certain frequencies aren’t transmitted.
The voice can and typically does make sounds at very high frequencies in the “treble” audio range (from about 6,000 Hz up to 20,000 Hz) in the form of vocal overtones and noise from consonants. Your cell phone cuts all of this out, however, leaving it up to your brain to “fill in” if you need it.ASA
The other problem with audio occurs when you can’t see the person speaking. We lose information when we can’t see facial expressions and body language. These are the non-spoken forms of communication that contribute to our overall understanding of what is being said. While I cannot say what effect this has on a child’s learning, I do wonder about it.
Some time back, I listened to a TEDTalk by Patricia Kuhl explaining to us how babies learn a language. What was most interesting was that they needed interaction with a live person to learn. Watching a person on television speak or listening to a person talking on the radio was ineffective. Admittedly, we’re talking about babies and learning languages which is not the same as school-aged children learning a variety of subjects. But it does make you wonder, doesn’t it? Perhaps not having zero effect on their learning but a diminished response compared to live interactions. Food for thought…
Auditory vs Visual Learners
This was something else I was worried about – whether my child is an auditory or visual learner. It turns out that this theory is rubbish.
…there’s no good scientific evidence that learning styles actually exist.
The problem is not just that trying to learn in your style doesn’t help — it can cost you. Learning style theories ignore the fact that one mental strategy may be much better suited than another to a particular task.New York Times
The reason we are inclined to believe in this concept is that we do have a preference in the way we prefer to receive information. For instance, I would rather read a transcript than to watch a video or to listen to a recording. I know that there are plenty of people who are the other way around. This indicates a preference but it doesn’t mean we are better at absorbing information in that manner.
Of all my concerns about Home Learning, I think screen time is one of two concerns that bug me the most. I don’t deny that I like my technology and that I spend more time on it than I should. It might also seem like the pot calling the kettle black when I complain about my kids being on their screens.
I’m not a screen-time Nazi (although I’m sure my kids would beg to differ). I think I give the kids quite a lot of slack when it comes to screen time. My general rule has been this: if you can’t manage your screen time and take breaks on your own, then I will set them for you. There is no screen time after 6 pm because blue light affects sleep. Other than that, I haven’t set any other restrictions and it has worked pretty well for us.
Now that they’re home learning, screen time has gone up significantly:
- They get screen time when they’re doing work for school.
- It’s screens again when they video chat with their friends and play online games together.
- When they want to unwind and relax, they’re back on their screens.
It’s worse because I can’t send them to the swimming pool or to exercise outdoors. I find myself stepping in a lot more to set restrictions and to remind them to take breaks. I also need to be conscious of my own screen usage so I am not constantly on it.
See also: New Rules for Screen Time
My other main concern about home learning is a significant drop in physical activity. During regular school, they get to run around during recess and lunch breaks. They’re also walking between classes, taking the stairs, and moving around more. Now, none of that is happening because they only need to walk from their bedrooms to the kitchen, dining room, living room, and bathroom. In our little apartment, that’s hardly 20 steps between rooms (sometimes less).
Children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 years should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day, including daily aerobic – and activities that strengthen bones (like running or jumping) – 3 days each week, and that build muscles (like climbing or doing push-ups) – 3 days each week.CDC
We’ve made it mandatory for them to exercise for at least 30 minutes every day but it’s not really enough. According to the CDC, it should be an hour every day.
…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.Hamlet
After that long-winded grandma story, I think it really boils down to one point – Shakespeare had it right. If there is one thing I would hope my children learn from this experience, it is to be able to see the good in every experience they have. Learn to make the most of the situation and figure out how to turn the negatives into positives. If you can do that, you can face anything life throws at you. That, to me, is the most important lesson of all.