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How parents & teachers are helping toddlers of pandemic generation take first steps into school

Parents are familiarising children with their teachers & classes in advance, while schools are taking other steps to ease the transition for kids who have only ever attended online lessons.

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New Delhi: Ishika, a 5-year-old based in Hyderabad, will attend her first offline class later this month. Her parents are as excited as they are nervous. Their daughter, who has only seen her teachers and classmates on a screen for the past two years, will finally see them in person.

Like Ishika, lakhs of students who started preschool in 2020 or 2021 have not been able to attend physical classes since the pandemic struck.

However, things are moving offline. Depending on each state’s academic calendar, physical classes for nursery, junior and senior kindergarten students have either begun or are scheduled to begin later this month.

This year’s batch will be different from previous years — schools will see students who are not exactly unfamiliar with their teachers and the school structure, but are still, in a sense, ‘first-timers’.

“Being at home for so long has affected them,” said Ameeta Mulla Wattal, Chairperson at DLF Schools & Scholarships and former principal of Delhi’s Springdales School.

“They get tired easily, can’t walk around too much and some of them do not even have well-developed motor skills. Simple things like opening a door knob, pushing a handle, are challenging for some kids,” Wattal added.

To help with this, teachers at Summer Fields Gurgaon, which comes under DLF Schools, have been giving them tasks to help them develop their neuro-motor skills.

The school, said Wattal, has been adopting the ‘play-way method’, an activity-based learning technique, to teach young children. Their class time includes fun activities, such as using play dough, doing sand work, drawing, singing and going for nature walks. There are walls in classrooms that have doors knobs and handles for kids to touch and understand different shapes.

“Children are also feeling emotionally detached at finding themselves suddenly in a group of so many children,” said Wattal, adding that Summer Fields is pairing children with a buddy so that they can stay together and not feel emotionally strained.

Parents, too, are going the extra mile to ensure their kid feels settled in school.

Mumbai-based Sakshi Prasad Kaul, mother to a 5-year-old who is scheduled to start physical classes later this month, said she had been preparing her daughter for a couple of months.

“I know it will be a very different experience for her to be without me and to be with people she does not know,” said Kaul.

To ease her daughter into physical classes, Kaul enrolled her in an offline phonetics class so that she can learn to sit through a physical lesson.

“But my daughter did not like the way the teacher in her class behaved with other students. She started fearing going to class and eventually stopped. Children have become so sensitive [because of the pandemic], if they see something they do not like, they try to avoid it,” she said.

Following this experience, Kaul is ensuring that her daughter meets her teachers in advance, that she is aware of her school premises and her classroom before school begins. She took her to the school a couple of times to show her around. “I think she is now ready to go to school and is, in fact, looking forward to it,” she said.

Hyderabad’s M. Sridevi, also a parent to a 5-year-old, did something similar. “My son will have to do everything on his own — like carrying his school bag, his lunch. I have been a little nervous and worried. My husband and I have taken him to the school and showed him around to make him feel comfortable,” she said.

Also read: Classmates have grown taller, school looks better, say ecstatic students on return to classes

Adapting to needs of ‘Covid generation’

Kalpana Choudhary, a senior educator at a private school in Raipur, feels that children in her school respond better when they are in groups.

“We have a small class strength of 15 children, hence it’s easier for us to manage them. They mostly stay with each other, eat lunch together and play together.”

She added that the school doesn’t use books to teach classes from nursery to kindergarten, and that the students are taught mostly through play-based methods, songs, poems, art and activities.

Bengaluru’s Narayana Olympiad School is taking a slightly different approach. According to Ramani Valluri, Principal, her school has mentor teachers who work in close coordination with the parents.

“It is important for young students to get comfortable with the structure of offline teaching again. This requires close coordination with parents so that they mirror some of this structure at home,” said Valluri.

“At our school, we have a dedicated teacher who acts as a mentor for a set of 20 students. The mentor is constantly in touch with parents, apprising them of what is being taught in school, and advising them on the activities to conduct at home to ensure learning happens in a smooth manner.”

‘Arrested development’

Paediatricians ThePrint spoke to said that the school closures, and being holed up at home, have affected the little ones in more ways than one.

Dr Rohit Goyal, a paediatrician with Delhi’s Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute, said that he had noticed two kinds of issues in young children because of the pandemic. The first is that they have become a lot more susceptible to infection and easily catch a cold, the stomach flu, or develop a cough, Goyal said. The other, he added, is non-development of communication skills.

“Many parents have complained that their kids are not able to communicate properly in school or are not behaving well… because suddenly they are exposed to a lot of people. The school closure has ruined their immunity and their social and communication skills,” said Goyal.

Apart from speech and language problems among children in the age group of 1 to 3 years, weight gain has also been a major issue doctors have seen.

“We also noticed that some children have missed their vaccinations,” said Dinesh Raj, a paediatrician with the Holy Family Hospital in Delhi. “Because of fear of Covid, people were avoiding hospitals for the past two years, leading to children missing their immunisation shots. All those shots are being taken now.”

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: Delhi schools will promote all nursery students, but parents still unhappy with lost year


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