School closures have sent thousands of Jewish parents scrambling for new ways to entertain and teach their children at home while schools get their online learning management systems set up.
Speaking to Jewish News on Thursday, Volunteers at Jewish Interactive (JI) said they had been working round-the-clock to prepare online opportunities for schoolchildren while warning of “anxiety” in the days ahead.
The charity, which facilitates Jewish and Hebrew education using modern tools, said they had been working 18-hour days to get things ready for their new one-hour ‘daily bytes’ from Monday, designed for primary school children.
“It’s a very anxious time for children, parents and teachers, they are all looking at what’s offered online, but expectations need to be lowered because school cannot be replicated online,” said JI chief executive Chana Kanzen.
“We must recognise that it is going to be less structured. Children are used to the structure of a school day. Also, parents cannot suddenly become teachers overnight. It’s about finding the right tools and the right sites.”
Children should strike an online-offline balance, she said, adding that platforms offering experiences such as videos or games were better able to facilitate learning and engagement. “Think about project-based activities, such as creating e-books.”
Schools have had “almost no time to prepare for this,” Kanzen cautioned. “Over the next few days and weeks they will come up with learning plans but for now parents just need to let their children breathe.
“Step back. It’s OK if they don’t learn from the curriculum for a week or two. This is a good opportunity for them to learn something else such as coding or musical instruments, which will help in their wider development.”
She added: “We are in a high state of anxiety at the moment, so try to agree a timetable that gives structure to the day. For instance, it may be that children are tasked with making lunch or preparing dinner.”
Chana’s Tips for Online Learning
The first issue to get right is safeguarding. Online teachers should know to gain parental consent giving permission to contact children directly online, while children should only child-safe sites. Look for kidsSAFE seals or COPPA compliance.
After that it’s about access to computers and WiFi. This can be an issue if households only have one computer or laptop and more than one child has an online session at the same time. Work out if phones or tablets can be used. If not, ask if teachers record sessions so children can access it later.
Seek out opportunities for children to do practical projects to create things, which they can then photograph and upload when ready. This gives them valuable “screen-free” time.
Teachers can also use annotation tools to highlight areas on the screen that the teacher wants the students to focus on. It’s the digital equivalent of writing on a chalkboard.
Teachers will have limited time to record a lot of content, so many will rely on sharing links to other sites with relevant content. Some sites charge but a lot offer quality free content, and there are some good learning videos on YouTube, which should be viewed using restricted filters.
Asking children to create (rather than passively consume) content is by far the best bet. They can create videos, slideshows, digital books or posters.
Finally, remember that engaging a child in learning online is difficult and not healthy for long periods. Children should be at a screen for a maximum of one hour. For young children ideally a session should last 15-20 minutes. Fun exercise videos or dance videos can get children moving which is helpful if they are stuck indoors.