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COVID-19 comment: Homeschooling anxiety can be eased by play – University of Reading

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COVID-19 comment: Homeschooling anxiety can be eased by play

Release Date 23 March 2020

COVID-19 expert comment

Professor Helen Dodd, professor of child psychology at the University of Reading, said: 

"Today the majority of children across the country are not in school. Instead, they’re at home, many of them under the care of parents who are expected to work from home. Schools are sending home learning activities and social media is full of ‘home school’ timetables for the day.

"I am concerned about the pressure this puts on already stressed parents and children at a time when many are struggling with their mental health. Most parents are not trained educators and most children are not used to doing formal educational activities at home. There is potential here for significant parent-child conflict.

"Instead of enforcing a rigorous learning schedule, parents, particularly those of primary-aged children, could be encouraged to support their child’s play. Play is any activity that a child does for enjoyment, where there are no serious or practical consequences; Piaget described play as ‘the work of childhood’. Free play is led by the child and facilitated, if necessary, by adults, it allows children to follow their interests and, at a time when they are likely to feel very little control, will allow them a sense of control and autonomy.

"When children have more opportunities for free play, they have better physical and mental health. Outdoor play, especially play in nature is particularly beneficial. Whilst the guidance is to stay home, or outside in family groups, children’s play opportunities will necessarily be restricted. But when children are under stress, they need play more than ever. For example, research has shown that children’s stress significantly decreases when hospitalised children are given time to play freely (Potasz et al., 2012).

"Play is often the way that children make sense of things they find hard to understand. This means that parents might observe children playing coronavirus games or games with a theme of illness or death. This is normal; children use play as a means to understand their experience and to make sense of the world around them. Often the content of play is a subject that is salient to them and that they are trying to understand.

"Children can adapt very well to change but they need play to support them in doing this. Some routine and structure to the day will be useful for children and for parents, but within that structure time and space for free play will support children’s mental health during this difficult time and may ease the pressure on parents. There are a lot of brilliant ideas and lots of guidance online about supporting children’s play during this time but these are only useful if parents aren’t expected to recreate school at home."  

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Professor Helen Bilton, Institute of Education at the University of Reading, said:

"Take it slowly. Whatever the school has given you for the child to do, it doesn’t all have to be done in the first week or ever. The child nor the parent/carer is going to be tested on their schooling or abilities to home school when they get back to school!

"Have a routine, try and decide on it with the child(ren), it will take time to bed in a new situation so be patient.

"Have some fun! Fun and play are very important ways of learning. Keep active, go out in the fresh air and get the windows open to let in air in the house regularly."

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