Early Learning Resources
You have been given a difficult task – to incorporate your children’s learning into your home. Some of you may also have the added pressure of working, either outside or inside your home, during this time. You may have worries about being without work, wondering how you will pay your bills. You may be struggling to balance child care and self-care while keeping worries – both your children’s and your own – under control. It’s important to recognize that these are unprecedented times and everyone is doing their best.
Although separated right now, the people of the NWT are in this together. This page will provide reliable, accurate and timely information to support you and your family during this time of uncertainty.
Attempts to create new daily routines will take time. There will be some days and some moments that are better than others. Children may be getting more screen time than normal while you adjust to a new normal. That is okay.
In this section
In order to take care of your children, you need to take care of yourself first. This is not selfish; it allows you to be physically, emotionally and mentally able to care for your children. This will be different for every parent and it may look different from day to day.
It may mean taking a moment of quiet before the children wake up in the morning, having some alone time once the children are in bed, asking a friend to drop off groceries for you, or having the children join you on a walk outdoors for some sunshine and fresh air. When you are in a better mindset, you will be able to be present for your children when they are not at their best.
Be gentle with your children during this time, and be gentle with yourself.
During this time of physical distancing, many of us will be spending a lot more time at home with our families. While family time is great, prolonged time at home may become difficult and boredom can set in. Consistent daily routines can help bring calm and predictability to the day for both caregivers and children.
The following information can help you plan your time at home to help make this time together rewarding and comforting for all.
Think about your daily routine
Consistent routines are activities that happen at about the same time or in about the same way each day. Young children flourish when parents and care-givers use consistent routines. Routines are comforting and let children know that they are taken care of. As well, routines can help parents and caregivers manage a seemingly long day if it’s divided into smaller, more manageable pieces.
Routines are predictable and help young children, especially those who have not yet developed their language skills, know:
- what they are supposed to do
- what is going to happen next
When children know what to expect, they can be calm, alert and ready to play. When parents set realistic expectations, they can organize the items they need and will have more energy to spend time with their child; helping them to develop and learn.
Daily routines can involve a regular wake-up time, scheduled meals, nap times and planned play that includes active and quiet play.
Make a schedule for stressful moments
Routines can help you as a parent or caregiver schedule you and your child’s whole day or stressful moments in your day when your child needs a predictable approach.
Certain activities such as meals, toilet time, bed time, and getting dressed can be more difficult than others. Approaching these activities in a predictable way can lower stress and help children learn these independent living skills over time.
Transitions between activities, such as moving from play time to lunch, or cleaning before nap time can also create power struggles between parents and children. Some parents use transition routines such as a timer or a 5 minute warning to prepare their child for a change in activity. Others may use a picture checklist, song, or special game. Special rituals can also help transition a child from one caregiver to the next.
Try to keep up or establish new daily routines during this time at home with your little ones. Children thrive on predictability, and it’s good for their caregivers, too. Routines offer the chance to build self-confidence, curiosity, social skills, self-control, communication skills, and more.
Tips for creating a routine for a difficult moment in the day
Choose an activity or time of day that’s been tough lately.
- List all the steps.
- If needed, create a reminder in pictures. Take photos of your child doing each step. Make a bedtime routine chart by pasting the photos in order to show “what comes next” when getting ready for bed.
- Make your child a part of the routine. Show your child each of the steps as you do them. You can even ask your child to tell you what’s going to happen next.
- Keep it fun!
Keep it up! Your child may be reluctant the first time, but by the tenth time it will be easy – for them and you!
This prolonged period of physical distancing can be hard on care-givers and children alike. The following describes how to set up a routine and a home environment that is best for play.
Play is natural for children. However, children may become ‘bored’ at home and in need of some help from parents to catch their interest and encourage them to keep playing. See what will work for you and your family, remembering it can take a few days for children to settle into new ways of doing things.
Change of scenery
- When possible, get outside every day. A change of scenery can be incredibly helpful when spending prolonged periods of time at home.
- Play in different areas of the house to add variety.
- Choose to spend time near windows with natural lighting. Look outside and comment on what you see.
Follow your child’s lead
Provide activities that match your child’s interest and activity level. Children choose activities based on many factors which are different for different children. These can include:
- The child’s thinking skills: Is your child interested in imaginary play, building, or do they really like sensory play for the sake of how something feels?
- The need for experiences that engage the senses to maintain attention: Some children will play longer in imaginary play and building games when there is a sensory aspect to the play, such as creating mini habitats for small plastic animals out of snow and ice.
- A child’s need to move: Some children need to move so that they can manage their big feelings and you can help to prevent ‘big’ behaviour. If you have a child who is a “mover”, try to make sure they get movement activities throughout your day.
- Personal preference: Does your child like animals or trucks, dolls or dinosaurs?
Take time to create space to play
It can be difficult in smaller homes to create space to play when there are many people living in the home. If possible, you can try to have a regular space to play and store toys as well as think about temporary spaces where you can play and then clean things away.
- Regular spaces – If possible, try and have 1 or 2 spaces in the home that are dedicated to play where you can store toys, and a child can play independently. Try and use corners in larger rooms, the space beside the couch and the wall, or any little nooks that may not be used for something else.
- Temporary spaces – This means setting up play in different parts of your house to play. For example, this can be a blanket thrown on the floor to define a play space or a blanket over a table to make a fort. As these are temporary spaces, they are great opportunities to include your child in clean up time when you are done.
Catch your child’s attention
Sometimes kids will ignore the toy in a toy box, but will stop and play with the toy if it is set up for them. Knowing what your child enjoys can help you choose play activities for them when they need help settling in to play.
- Set out an activity in a new way or place – try using a place mat or cookie sheet on a table or a blanket on the floor to focus the child’s attention on the activity.
- Combine things in new ways. Provide popsicle sticks and play dough, put real cookies out for a tea party, scissors with bubble wrap, place dinosaurs with your train tracks or blocks, etc.
- Put out activities in different areas for them to discover.
Play with your child
Little ones need your attention. You can play with your child and give gentle guidance to help expand their learning while having fun within a play activity.
- Be face to face. Get down to your child’s level.
- This allows you and your child to see and read your facial expression and feel like you are in the moment together.
- Take time to OWL: Observe, Wait, and Listen to your child.
- When adults take the time to OWL, they learn about their child’s interests and this lets the child know they are important.
Just like it’s hard to hear in a loud environment, it can also be hard to find things if there is a lot of visual clutter in the way. This is especially true for children. You can help your child to find and choose toys to play with by reducing the clutter.
- Go through the toy box and throw our broken items or toys with missing pieces. As well, identify toys that your child has out-grown. For example, if you child is getting older and there are a lot of infant toys you can box those up so they don’t create clutter.
- BINS and BAGS! Organize toys with the pieces together so that a child can find the pieces to use them. Having BINS and BAGS also encourages regular clean up to keep the clutter down and develops great life skills with your child.
- Rotate toys. For some families, toys can accumulate. Birthday parties and holidays can sneak up on us so that toys are spilling out of the toy box. When this happens, you can organize toys so that some are stored out of sight while others are available for play. Sort toys into categories: ones that get kids moving, toys where kids use their hands, pretend play toys and favourite toys that your child never gets tired of.
- Create toy sets. Choose 2-4 toys from each category (moving, fine motor, pretend) for 10-12 toys to keep out at any given time
- Rotate sets about every month so that one set is out and the other is in a bin in the basement, garage, crawl space or closet.
Be creative with play materials
In the NWT, especially for families living in small communities, it is not always easy for families to access toys and play materials. The great thing about young children is that their creative minds can turn the most ordinary household object into a fun toy!
Fancy toys are not essential to play and learning. Objects you have in your home and the play ideas you give your child can keep them busy and learning.
During this time of physical distancing, many of us will be spending a lot more time at home with our families. While family time is great, prolonged time at home may become repetitive and children may need new activities to keep them excited about play.
For young children, don’t worry so much about structured learning.
Play is how children learn and how they express themselves. Play provides young children with the learning they need through fun and motivating activities to develop their thinking, social, movement, and problem solving skills.
The following information can tell you more about the importance of play and how it can help you to plan this time at home.
What is play?
Play is natural for children. However, during this extended time of physical distancing, even young children may become ‘bored’ at home and in need of some help from parents to catch their interest and encourage them to play.
Play is fun, flexible, and motivating. It involves active engagement and interest.
Play is the best way to learn
When play is chosen by the child and involves imagination, exploration, delight and a sense of wonder, rich learning can happen.
Research tells us that play is the most effective and efficient way to support learning in young children. So, during this time of physical distancing, creating opportunities for children to have a variety of active and quiet play activities will continue their learning and development.
During the physical distancing that is required to protect our communities from the spread of COVID-19, it is expected that screen time may go up as you try to balance extended periods of time at home with your young children. That is okay.
While screens are becoming an increasingly big part of our lives, young children with developing brains grow best when they are actively engaged with activities while moving their bodies.
The Canadian Pediatric Society provides guidance around screen time for children:
Minimize screen time:
- Screen time for children younger than 2 years is not recommended.
- For children 2 to 5 years, limit routine or regular screen time to less than 1 hour per day.
- Ensure that sedentary screen time is not a routine part of child care for children younger than 5 years.
- Maintain daily ‘screen-free’ times, especially for family meals and book-sharing.
- Avoid screens for at least 1 hour before bedtime. The blue wave light given off by screens suppresses melatonin, the sleep chemical in our brains. Screen time before bed makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Reduce the risks associated with screen time:
- Be present and engaged when screens are used and, whenever possible, co-view with children.
- Be aware of content and prioritize educational, age-appropriate and interactive programming.
Here are some links to help you and your family manage this time together.
Coping with COVID-19
Early learning activities in the home
Try to schedule in one play activity per day, especially if you are trying to balance work and child care at home. Remember that as a parent, you are your child’s first and most important teacher. Whatever you are able to do is enough.