Lockdown lessons (Illustration: Toby Morris)
Lockdown lessons (Illustration: Toby Morris)

ParentsMay 7, 2020

Children don’t need to be in a classroom to learn

Lockdown lessons (Illustration: Toby Morris)
Lockdown lessons (Illustration: Toby Morris)

In the third part of a new series sharing the stories of families learning from home during lockdown, Jessie Moss observes her daughters learning at each step of their lockdown journey. 

As Covid-19 began to sweep the world, our family started looking for a new house. We finally moved on March 20 and a few days later, we decided to bubble-down with my parents for support and company during level four. These were two big moves in one week for my two young daughters. 

Being five and 10, they understand Covid-19 and its implications. They feel and see the effects in their day-to day experiences. However, moving house and then going to live with their grandparents days later was far more significant. 

These weeks of rāhui have thrown the world into one big social, medical and scientific experiment. For those of us with children, we’ve suddenly been tasked with taking on the role of teacher with little warning or time to prepare. Very few of us were already home-schooling or teachers ourselves. Many of us are also attempting to work at the same time and do everything else that a household with children demands. 

While schools have said to parents “we do not expect you to be a teacher”, this might feel easier said than done. We all carry unconscious images of what teaching and learning should be from our own experiences and backgrounds. We worry that our children are somehow missing out right now, or wonder what real learning even is. We may feel uncertain or untrusting of ourselves to do right by our children. 

But we can trust in this: learning happens everywhere. It happens in connection to people and the environment. Children do it all the time. There is no perfect place or time for learning to happen. They don’t need to be at school to learn and they won’t suffer academically as a result of being at home. In fact, they can thrive. 

As a primary school teacher, I know I’m in a fortunate position. I get to wear both teaching and parenting hats. But first and foremost I’m a mum, and it’s from this primary role that I’ve been able to watch and guide my daughters’ learning during this rāhui. 

We don’t need particular materials or resources. We don’t need to be trained. How we connect and relate to our children is what counts. Once this is understood, it will become second nature and will happen any time, anywhere. 

We’d barely unpacked our bags at their grandparents’ house when my youngest, five-year-old Irihāpeti, began moving and setting up a house for herself. She moved into the living room. It was elaborate and no one else stood a chance of using that space. She was resourceful, creative and technical in her approach. And through the whole process she was learning. 

I was working away nearby at the kitchen table preparing reading and maths resources for the days of homeschooling ahead. I was also quietly observing her. I watched intently over the course of the morning as her house and its garden slowly grew. 

It was one of those rare times when children do not bother us for several hours, content in what they’re doing and at peace with their siblings and surroundings. These are all good signs that deep learning is taking place. 

She came to me a few times to request an item or demand assistance to fetch tape or prop something up. To be clear, she was the manager and engineer. I was the occasionally hired labourer. 

Her house had rooms, a dog kennel and a backyard complete with a washing line. In the bedroom, the clothes were folded. No kitchen would be complete without a compost, some snacks and a container full of soapy water (the sink). I intervened once when she began talking to herself about “getting real grass from outside to cover all the carpet”. She settled on bringing in some small rocks, drawing grass, flowers and trees. She even included a feature pond with frogs. 

I was amazed at what she achieved. Her ideas, her planning and her accomplishments. It was easy enough to notice what she was doing, acting out what she was seeing and experiencing moving and setting up a house. 

The next step – recognising what that deep learning is – can sometimes be elusive and harder to grasp. It’s important to remember that this practice is a cycle. We notice something, a theme of play that we see in different settings or certain toys and materials being used over and over again.

We left Irihāpeti’s house intact for as long as we could. We explored it and asked her to tell us about it. I recognised many strands of learning in her play which were interconnected. Each needed the other to be meaningful and helped her understand her world as well as participate in it. 

She wrote a sign, showing her understanding of the power of text. She compromised by drawing vegetation rather than damaging real plants. She experimented with physics and materials to create a washing line.

The deeper learning I saw across her construction of a house was that people create homes. In an ideal world, we can have some say over what our homes look like. We choose them, collect contents for them, and arrange them. There are particular things all houses need to function and become homes. 

For Irihāpeti, the very personal learning was that things change, even our homes. Perhaps she was exploring whether or not she herself had any say over aspects of her life that may have felt completely out of her control.

My simple response has been to engage with her, at her invitation. To offer ideas and materials. To be on hand if she needed me. And to talk. It turned out the most important response for her was our subsequent discussions about moving houses. That was where I was able to contribute to her learning. 

Being at home together for long periods of time has in many ways allowed me to notice and recognise even more about my children’s learning. Of course, I can’t always be this present. 

Usually, we’re busy. We’re distracted. But I do know that if we can recognise and respond to those moments throughout our weeks, we’ll see that our children are always learning, everywhere. And time is important. The themes and trends we notice in play often happen over days and weeks, and not always in 30-minute linear lessons. 

They might be setting the table, making a picnic for their toys, or getting knee-deep in mud out the back. These are lessons as valuable as any classroom.  

The best we can do right now for our children is to recognise where they’re at, not where they sit against other children or on any arbitrary standard. We understand them best by observing them quietly. Their reactions to our responses are the only cues we need to take the next steps in their development. In doing so, we take their lead and trust that learning happens everywhere.  

Keep going!