UPDATED March 23, 2020
In a matter of months, the novel coronavirus has rearranged the lives of children and families around the world. Schools have closed in 188 countries, disrupting the educations of more than 1.5 billion children and youth. In the U.S. alone, at least 54.8 million students have been affected by school closures.
Many school districts with internet access are shifting into online instruction. As more and more children are adapting to learning from home, it's important to establish healthy routines so kids can keep their spirits up and their head in the game. Children look to the adults in their lives for cues on how to respond to situations as disruptive and scary as the coronavirus pandemic. Modeling resilience, kindness and good humor in a stressful time is one of the most important gifts we can give our children. Below, some best practices to help children and families cope with the new realities of life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tips to help children stay healthy and get the most out of online learning
- Create a schedule: Stick to routines or create new ones. Wake up in the morning at the usual time: shower, get dressed, have breakfast.
- Set up a place in your home where your student can focus on schoolwork: a desk, a quiet corner.
- Treat online school like real school: homework and attendance matter.
- Show respect for teachers: They've been tasked with shifting to distance learning virtually overnight.
- Get some exercise: When online school is over for the day, encourage children to play outside if they can. Enjoy the sun.
- Stay connected: Playdates are out for now, but kids can still keep in touch with friends and family by phone, Skype or FaceTime.
- Share your feelings: Encourage children to open up about how they're feeling and ask others how they're doing.
Watch 12-year-old CB in Rome share her advice on adapting to online learning
Explain social distancing to kids: it's how we all do our part to slow the spread of the virus
In a situation like this, it's normal to feel sad, worried, confused, scared or angry. Having dinner as a family and discussing the day can help give children a comforting sense of normalcy. According to the American Academy of Pediatricians, it's best not to keep the news on while kids are in the room. If they do listen to the news, talk together about what they're hearing, give them the facts about the coronavirus and correct any misinformation or rumors.
Learning from home presents many challenges, but you can support your family's mental and physical wellbeing and face them together. "Remember, lots of things have not been cancelled, like music, family, reading, singing, laughing and hope," says UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "Make sure you enjoy them together."
Students around the world are rising to the challenge of distance learning
Learning how children and young people in other parts of the world are continuing their educations despite COVID 19 can be an inspiration — and yet another reminder of how we're all in this together.
"When I first heard about school closures due to coronavirus I felt stressed, because I wouldn't be able to see my friends, and because it's harder to learn when you don't have your teacher in front of you," says 13-year-old Daniela, who lives in El Salvador. "I keep learning with online homework, through our school online platform. I read books, make handicrafts and play musical instruments to keep my mood up. What I would tell other students going through the same situation around the world is to try and do the things you enjoy; this is an opportunity to try new things and not only your homework."
In Iraq, 19-year-old Mustafa arranged a schedule so he can study at home, with materials from teachers and help from YouTube. “This will be an exceptional year for every student, and the first feelings that come to mind are frustration and tension, but I have to overcome them," he says. "I became responsible for my own learning, because there’s no one really to advise me. Everything is available online and we must be responsible for our learning to create something out of nothing.”
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Read more about how UNICEF is working to keep every student learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
Top photo: A student learns with the help of a computer tablet provided by UNICEF in Baigai, northern Cameroon in October 2017. © UNICEF/UN0143510/Prinsloo