1, Do it your way – we are all different!
First off, remember that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to approach your child’s learning journey at home – and it certainly isn’t a competition. Dr Emily W. King recently posted, ‘It’s not hard because you are doing it wrong. It’s hard because it’s too much. Do the best you can.’ Very few of us expected to have to navigate situations like this when we embarked on parenthood. It’s tempting to fall into self-doubt and parent-guilt when we see social media and are confronted with an overwhelming amount of content and advice, but everybody’s situation is different, whether they are juggling working from home with caring for their little ones, looking after elderly relatives, have support from family members or otherwise, or are finding this time overwhelming for other reasons.
Just as we don’t all have the same resources or inclinations, our little ones are all different too. It’s important to adapt to what is going to work for your family, so listen to your instincts. By all means take inspiration from others but don’t let yourself get bogged down in spending hours searching for the best resources or ideas. Try things out and be kind to yourself – some things won’t turn out the way you hoped, but that’s ok, you are doing your best.
2, Take a little time to plan but use trial and error and be flexible.
We recommend drawing up a loose timetable to help you manage your time and take some of the stress out of your day. Just as we do with your little ones at our nursery, try to echo their natural routine using meals, snacks and sleeps to break up the day. Your little one will feel secure in a familiar routine and you can plan your own time around their schedule. Planning in advance will allow a good balance of activities, including physical activity, reading, creative activities and technology time.
The key point to remember about a timetable is to be prepared for it to change! Don’t stick to timings if they are not working – if your little one is not engaged with an activity, change to something else and try again another time, or if they’re super-engaged, let them carry on with it for longer. Remember that little ones don’t need to be ‘entertained’ all the time. Don’t ‘over-schedule’ – not only will your little one need some down-time to rest or pursue their own free play, but you may need buffer slots if some activities take longer or get off track.
Try not to be tempted to tidy up as soon as your little one ‘finishes’ with an activity – it’s helpful for them to return to activities to explore further adventures and bring new perspectives.
3, Let your little one lead.
Our Maggie & Rose learning method allows little ones to choose their own learning journeys. Our nursery spaces are designed to be interactive and inspire imagination, and during free play time little ones can use the environment around them in a way that is meaningful to them. If possible, set up in a way that allows your little ones to access activities independently and choose what they want to engage with. This might entail setting up two or three small activities in the morning and letting them engage with each in their own time – this is of course a process of trial and error, and will help you to see what your little one enjoys the most.
Make sure there is diversity in the choices, including small world, sensory and role play. Our online classes at YouTube/MaggieandRoseUK are great to start learning off together and you’ll find further inspiration on our @Maggieandrose Instagram and Facebook pages. Remember, while it may not seem like they are ‘learning’, when playing little ones explore their world, test what they already know and see what happens when they do one thing or the other. They are also developing their concentration and motor skills, learning focus and patience and practicing problem-solving. These skills will stand them in good stead to continue in their development when they do return to a more formal learning environment.
4, Listen, talk to them and join in when invited.
It sounds too simple, but one of the most valuable things you can do to facilitate your little one’s learning is to listen and talk to them while they play. Just as our Maggie & Rose nursery team do, observe your little one at play and join in when they invite you to, being careful not to lead but to let them show you which direction they want the activity to take. Interact with them, ask them questions to help them consider what they are seeing and experiencing, and why they are making the decisions they are making.
As well as giving little ones opportunities to reflect and make new connections between their play and the world around them, asking them about their play will help them to feel that what they are doing is valuable and important, which, crucially, will translate into greater confidence for trying things out and testing their theories. It will also help you understand how they play and in setting up more meaningful invitations to play in the future.
5, Role model and get them involved.
While it’s important to give opportunities for independent play, during lockdown it can be valuable (and also convenient!) to invite your little one to ‘help’ with chores such as cleaning, cooking or gardening. Joining in with these activities not only gives little ones exposure to real-world objects and helps them to practice their motor skills by copying their grown-ups, but it also gives you an opportunity to encourage them to be active learners, helping them to figure out what is happening around them and why.
By continuing to ask them questions in real-world scenarios, whether that be cooking a meal at home, taking a walk in the park or shopping in the supermarket, you are helping your little one to make sense of these environments, understand them in relation to themselves and feel confident in expressing what they see. You can then encourage them to ask questions, cultivating their curiosity and interest in learning.
6, Keep it simple.
At present, it’s unclear when life will return to normal but it’s unlikely to be for a while. However you spend the days at home with your little one, we recommend you focus on what you are able to do and to sustain over the course of the lockdown. This is likely to vary depending on the day but try to make sure each day contains a nutritious meal, some physical activity and some time spent reading or playing together. This time at home won’t set your child back academically but healthy habits during these weeks will mean they are best placed to pick up where they left off.
If all else fails, channel your own childhood memories and fall back on the classics. Den-building, running through sprinklers, banging on pots and pans with wooden spoons – these never fail to inspire and delight little ones, and may even serve as a balm to grown-ups. Ultimately this won’t last forever – and above everything, we must find joy where we can.