Hey parents! Don’t panic

Home education Facebook groups have been inundated by parents suddenly at home with their children and unsure what to do. Newsroom asked the creators of a new Facebook page their advice for Kiwi caregivers.

With the closure of all New Zealand schools from today, many parents and caregivers will be searching for ways to keep their kids from climbing up the walls as well as continue their learning. Home education groups here and abroad have been flooded with parents asking for advice, with people coming up with resourceful ways to connect and educate.

A new Kiwi Facebook page to support parents at home with their children due to Covid-19 has been set up by two friends who saw what was happening overseas.

Jackie Procter and AJ Pipe started Activities for NZ Kids at Home just over a week ago as a place for parents looking for ideas to educate and entertain their children while at home. As an indication of its growth, yesterday afternoon there were 57 members and by today there are 450.

“We could see what was coming. We like to keep abreast of what’s happening and we could see overseas countries were starting to do home schooling and there were a lot of comments in Facebook groups from parents saying they don’t know what to do and we thought ‘right, we’re not going to let Kiwi parents be in the same boat,’” says Procter.

Jackie Procter is a Taranaki-based former primary school teacher and business owner who has two children, seven and nine. She has never home schooled, but befriended AJ Pipe through their businesses. Pipe, a business consultant who lives in Hawke’s Bay, has home schooled her two boys, eight and nine, for five years. She says this situation is just as challenging for home educators as it is for parents of children who go to school.

“There are a lot of people turning to us in the home education community at the moment but the fact is we are not home all the time with our kids – we meet up every day with other home ed families so this is not a normal situation for our families either. Our children are going to be climbing up the walls as much as anybody else’s,” says Pipe.

“I think there’s a lot of anxiety and panic. A lot of people are going to realise the children are looking at us for the right way to react to this, and of course we don’t know, this is a new situation for everyone involved. So I think the answer is, take a deep breath, count to ten and just go with it.”

She says parents shouldn’t worry about trying to replicate a school day.

“People are worried they have to keep up with schooling the way it is done in schools. I’ve seen a lot of parents try to do things like schedule workloads for them and I think they probably need to look at this as being not a normal situation and just enjoying each other’s company as a more important focus,” says Pipe.

Procter agrees: “A lot of parents are quite stressed about having to jump into a teacher role but they’re already a teacher of their child, it’s just redefining things.”

They say there are many things everyone can do to make things easier, even if a parent or caregiver is still working from home.

“I’m self-employed but again this is not a normal situation. Usually my kids do independent learning, like reading, and I get to work on my computer then – and again when they’ve gone to sleep. But there is no reason your PE class can’t be boogying around the house to 90s music – it doesn’t have to be what you would see as normal schooling,” says Pipe.

She suggests having a family meeting as soon as possible to discuss each person having a safe space to go to when things get heated.

“Everyone needs to respect each other’s space, so if they’ve got a cubby hole, or their own bedroom or a tree, I think it’s a good idea to have a family meeting at the start and say ‘if we’re feeling angry or needing space, you can go to the space no questions asked.’”

Pipe also says not to feel guilty about giving the kids screen time, and for those who do have access to the internet to make use of Facebook and online groups.

“Use the groups available, we’ve got one but there are hundreds out there. They have live streaming from zoos and tours around museums, so you can still get out and about from your home.”

Procter says they are planning to have scheduled online get togethers as well as adding cooking demonstrations, origami, gardening, knitting and other activities children can try.

“We will probably do get togethers through Zoom and people can join in if they want. Our aim is to get people working together so they don’t feel isolated.”

But one of the simplest and easiest tips is, for those who can, to spend time outside.

“My rule is my kids have to spend an hour outside a day, no matter the weather,” says Pipe.

Most schools have sent children home with links to school work they can do online, however more than 20 percent of New Zealand children have limited or no access to the internet at home.

As one sage piece of advice floating around online says: "It’s important to remember this is not an academic emergency. Children will learn no matter what."

AJ Pipe’s list of the top 10 tips for Kiwi families:

1. Don’t panic.

2. Stop scheduling and keep it simple.

3. Keep in touch with their friends.

4. Allow things to settle.

5. Have fun with it.

6. Board games are fantastic, and YouTube is a wondrous thing.

7. Don’t worry too much about screen time – this is not a normal situation.

8. Allow each other space.

9. Use the Facebook community and groups available.

10. Spend time outside.

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