Laxmi Subedi, a ‘mother’ to 20 adopted children at Mahila Tatha Balbalika Sewa Kendra, Hattigaunda, is worried about her wards’ mental and physical health during the novel coronavirus pandemic. “The virus has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide. As a measure of protection, I too have not let my children out,” she says. Yet Subedi wonders how she will keep them all engaged during the lockdown.
As most of the world has been shut down, parents and children have been confined to the four walls of their homes. In Nepal, too, schools are shut, as are most workplaces. For parents who rarely got an opportunity to spend quality time with their children, this is the chance to make up for lost time.
More often, the children are hooked on to their gadgets. When the devices are confiscated, they start grumbling. But it’s hard to blame the little ones as well. They have been forced into their homes and have had to adopt a completely new timetable. Without their friends, they also feel terribly bored.
“It is exhausting to live without my friends,” says 9-year-old Aarav Tandukar. “On the top of that, my parents don’t give me a mobile phone on which I can play games.”
According to the UN statistics as of March 20, around 1.25 billion children and youths were being deprived of education during the lockdown—and the number must surely have gone up in the interim.
Children are struggling to understand what is going on. “The impact on children differs according to their age. For young children [under 11], they can get irritated when they can’t get out of their homes, which in turn can lead to restlessness and belligerence,” says Kripa Sigdel, a psychological counselor and lecturer at Padma Kanya Campus. For children who are a little older (11-16), TV or mobile phones are their favorite company. “In general, these children are curious, but they can as easily feel lonely, even outraged.”
Without nothing else to do, most children sleep in the day during the lockdown. They then have sleepless nights, which harms their mental health. As the schools are shut, their reading, writing and critical thinking habits are deteriorating. “Idleness hampers with creativity and intelligence of children,” says Sachin Acharya, a teacher at Disneyland Academy, Pokhara.
But this time can also be used to explore creative and productive pursuits. Save the Children in Nepal suggest for the parents of young children collective dancing, turning physical activities like house cleaning into a fun game, and limiting screen time.
“There ought to be clear communication between parents and children. Instead of restricting them, parents should try to make children understand why they cannot go out and why it is important for them to maintain cleanliness,” adds Sigdel, the psychologist.
Following the closure of schools across the globe, the James Dyson Foundation, which encourages children to take up engineering, has come up with a series of online challenges to help kids learn during home isolation. They have challenges like making a ‘balloon car’ with the use of Newton’s third law of motion and forcing an egg into a bottle.
There are also children-centric online libraries like OLE Nepal’s E-Pustakalaya, the Curriculum Development Center’s library, and the International Children Digital Library (ICDL). Meanwhile, UNESCO is leading a global coalition of over 80 partners to find alternative solutions to ensure learning never stops during the lockdown.
MiDas eCLASS, working in partnership with the Private and Boarding Schools Organization Nepal (PABSON), has designed a teaching and learning software that has tutorial videos and interactive games. It offers free e-learning facilities for children for a month. The app can be downloaded from Play Store.
The problem is that most of the parents are unaware of the availability of these innovative learning solutions for the lockdown.
Physical activity is also a must for children. “If they engage in physical activities during the day, they will be worn out and sleep well during the night,” adds Sigdel. The World Health Organization recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous daily physical activity for children aged 5-17.
In terms of physical activities, “we can involve children in activities like singing, indoor sports, and dancing,” adds Subedi of the children care center at Hattigauda. “We also teach our children kitchen activities and gardening.”
Another important thing is to ensure children stay connected with their friends and colleagues occasionally, and the parents should arrange for it. Otherwise, children may start feeling lonely and develop mental problems.
Likewise, to protect them from pedophiles, it is vital that parents monitor their children’s online activities.
There is no easy way to keep children engaged during these troubling times. But the task need not be impossible either.