Since schools in Singapore first moved to remote learning, it has been a period of uncertainty and change for parents, teachers and children alike. But for younger children, who thrive on a predictable routine and can be thrown off balance by transitions, there is particular parental concern. How they are coping with recent changes? What can we do to support them through the upcoming transitions?
To gain a teacher, parent and classroom perspective, we spoke to Rebecca Whelan, Head of Year 2 (ages 6-7), whose own son is in the same year group. Rebecca talks us through the challenges and opportunities that came with the transitions into remote learning and blended learning (rotation between offsite and onsite learning). She also offers insights into how to approach the changes ahead – the holidays, the return to school and the extra transition from Infant to Junior School for Year 2 students.
How did the children cope with the return to school and the changes in the classroom environment?
Children's natural instinct is to give each other a hug when they see each other and share if they don't have the right equipment. Explaining to Infant children that we have to keep to our own bubble and use our own resources has been quite a change. But the children have adapted far quicker than anyone could have predicted, even with regard to social distancing and masks – the idea of the personal bubble has resonated with them, they have picked up the language and made it their own.
Challenges and opportunities that came from the remote learning phase. While the challenges have been individual to each family situation, they have been felt across the board. But as we move into the next phases, now is a good time to reflect on the opportunities those challenges have brought, and how we can build on them.
It has definitely been an opportunity to model how we, as adults, manage transitions. When we get our children involved in our processes, we communicate that they are part of our team and give them agency over uncertainty.
If I am not sure whether a remote learning task will be clear enough for the children to access independently at home, I ask my son to read it through, to check he understands what he needs to do. We both benefit from the teamwork.
This is something we can take beyond this current situation. Over the holidays, if you put the 'power of routine' into your child's hands by letting them plan activities, this will boost their feeling of ownership as well as surety. You could create a 'wish jar' of activities for when favourite places reopen. This will give them a sense control over the increased pace of life, and help to compensate for the lack of overseas travel.
Another benefit has been that parents now know exactly what their children are learning. At the end of a normal school day, children don't tend to give much feedback – they are tired, they don't want to rehash the day. Parents have seen what their children are doing in 'live time' and are understanding more about their child's learning style.
Feedback from parents is fundamental in supporting a child's development and we are finding that home-school communication is stronger now than ever. A strengthened parent-teacher partnership can be a real springboard for a child.
Keep the communication with your child's teacher going on the return to school, as there will be a lot more development over the holiday period.
Learning progress through transitions. Although a challenge to plan, Tanglin returned with half classes for Infants and Juniors. This presented opportunities to keep progress on track. In-class teaching concentrated on the core areas suited to direct instruction. For the remote learning days, the activities followed on directly to strengthen learning, giving continuity and enabling children to work independently at home. Teachers could focus in on progress when children are in school and precision teach where support was needed – the lower teacher/child ratio allowed this extra attention.
There has been global discussion about 'learning gaps' and 'catch-up', but in Singapore we are in a fortunate position as the remote learning period was relatively short. We are very pleased with the progress we are seeing in class at Tanglin, and our Learning Support Team has been ever-present, even though working remotely.
Rather than thinking about young children's progress in terms of stops and starts, it is more helpful to understand it as a continuous journey. Each child's learning journey will naturally move at different speeds throughout its course, even in normal circumstances. Some children will have been affected by recent changes more than others, but the support process should be the same: dialogue between home, school, the Learning Support Team and the Counselling Team is crucial.
Given the current context, it is more important than usual to keep children engaged with fun learning activities over the holidays. Reading for twenty minutes a day with your child, across a range of fiction and non-fiction titles, is one of the best ways to keep your child engaged in a relaxed way. Make use of online library resources such as Epic! and Sora.
Do you foresee any possibility of longer-term impacts?
It's really hard to say as this situation is unprecedented. Personally, I am most concerned about the physical and social interaction children have missed. As we move into the next phases, it is key to seek out as many opportunities as possible for our children to socialise with peers and enjoy free, imaginative play. If you are a parent of an only child, that could mean becoming your child's playmate on occasion – you may feel awkward, but take a deep breath, get down on their level and get stuck in!
How can parents support children during this phase and the next?
Children take their cues from adults – whatever we say and do, they notice. Try to shift your mindset to the positive, there are lots of positives to take from the time at home, and many more exciting possibilities coming into view with the next phases.
Paint as bright a picture as you can, but be mindful that children do feel difficult emotions, just as we do, and that's normal. Allow them the space to feel frustrated, angry, anxious or annoyed and give them time to recalibrate. Stories are a lovely way to engage children and get them to focus on how they're feeling. If you haven't already, try 'The Story of Why We Can't Hug' or 'The Colour Monster'.
If you are worried that your child is showing signs of increased anxiety, do seek the advice of a counsellor.
Finally, how can we support the transition from Infant to Junior School?
At Tanglin, we have shown children aspects of the Junior School through videos from the Head of Year 3, story time videos from the class teachers, virtual tours and challenges set by the Year 3 Heads of Curriculum.
Talk to your children about the transition to the Junior School and encourage them to ask questions if they are unsure of something. Many children will be excited by the idea of new teachers, new classrooms and new uniforms. Get children involved in looking at the extra-curricular opportunities and choosing their canteen lunch from the menu options.
Our graduation party was in the first week of July, in Phase 2. Being together to celebrate, although socially distanced, was appreciated more than ever – another positive!