Mumbai parents of preschoolers explore home-bound, activity-based learning during Covid-19 lockdown

A few months after schools in the state closed in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown, Navi Mumbai-based journalist Amit Srivastava’s daughter Saani was just a few days away from going to Senior KG. While the Srivastavas continued online learning prescribed by the preschool where their daughter was enrolled, they soon met with several challenges.

“The school asked us to download a mobile app where they would upload videos and activities. My daughter, who is only four-and-a-half years old, could not navigate the application. A young child that she is, when we would give her the phone, she would start playing games. We realised that this was not working. At the same time, the school continued to charge the entire fees and we were not benefitting in any way. Thus, we decided to stop her school lessons for a few months and teach her ourselves at least until physical schools begin,” said Srivastava.

As schools remain closed, parents of pre-schoolers (children aged between two and five years) are now exploring alternatives to playgroups and preschools. Teaching children at home for the interim, using activity-based material available on the internet, supplementing everyday activities at home with learning kits offered by schools and private players are some of the ways that parents are finding solution in the absence of physical classes.

Anamika Saha, a parent from Dadar, had planned to send her three-year-old daughter Anaya to a preschool this year. However, due to the current situation, she has decided against it and has stalled her plans for at least a year. “Most preschools in the city are charging anywhere between ₹50,000 to ₹1 lakh for half-a-year which is a lot to pay, especially at a time when children are not physically attending school. Right now, schools are only taking 30-minute live classes in which most kids are not attentive as they are too young and have not mingled with their teachers or peers yet. Hence, we decided to teach our daughter at home with the help of various learning kits available on the internet,” she added.

Saha was initially worried about how she could manage her job as an accountant at a private firm and teaching. “But it turned out pretty okay. We have set a schedule of our own and this way, both my daughter and I can do things at our own pace,” she added.

Hemali Gada, a Malad-based entrepreneur who designs flash cards and activity kits for young children, said the demand for such material has grown during the lockdown. “Parents have realised that children of this age group need developmental simulation, something which online classes will not be able to provide. While children are usually conditioned to learn from teachers, during the pandemic, as everyone is cooped up in their homes, parents realised that teaching their young children is not such a difficult thing to do,” said Gada.

Arunprasad Durairaj, CEO of Flinto Learning Solutions which promises to deliver a preschool programme at home, said that every month, the demand for self-learning kits created by his company has seen a steady growth over the past six months. “In May, we came up with the idea of Flintoclass where parents get one kit every month consisting 12 days of activity and eight days of bonus activities, and it was an instant hit. Every day parents can just take out an hour or so and do these activities with their children which help explain some fundamental concepts that they need to learn at that age with ease,” he added. The programme is designed for children aged between 1.5 and 6 years.

While many parents are trying to substitute preschool learning with learning at home, Amrutha Langs, an educator and a home schooling parent, said one must be cautious before calling the model home schooling. “The basic idea behind home schooling is to teach the child as per liking and at his/her pace. Merely teaching concepts taught in school at home cannot be called home schooling. Also, home schooling is usually a long-term, committed effort and not just an adjustment for a few days or months. Having said that, we are definitely seeing a surge in the number of parents who want to explore home schooling as the pandemic has taught them that it is not undoable,” she added.

Durairaj said that even after schools are allowed to reopen, the teaching-at-home model would still continue for preschoolers. “In addition to safety concerns, another key challenge would be to find a preschool in the neighbourhood. With many preschools having shut shop over the past few months, parents are likely to have fewer options to choose from and are thus likely to prefer the at home model.”

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