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Professor Angela Pyle: In social isolation, there are ways to support children’s learning at home

April 24, 2020

By Angela Pyle and Perry King


Angela Pyle is an assistant professor in OISE’s department of applied psychology and human development. Her research focuses on child development and the role of play in children’s learning. She currently runs the Play Learning Lab at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study.

Sitting down with OISE News, Pyle explores and recommends ways to better stimulate and support children’s learning as the coronavirus pandemic continues. She discusses daily routine and structure, and how to directly involve children in how their days are planned. She also discusses how to keep children connected and social in order to foster their learning and development.

Looking for engaging ways to help your children grow? Pyle offers 10 ways to teach kids through play at home in this second article

Helping children feel secure

In this time full of uncertainty, routines create some predictability. Children, whether they are able to tell time or not, thrive when they know what to expect and when. The stability of daily activities is associated with children’s well-being, including a reduction in anxiety, better self-regulation, and feelings of security in children.

During this period of social distancing, start by determining the existing routines that can be maintained – including family meals and bedtime routines – and then build in new routines like learning times and virtual time with friends and family members.

People around the world are struggling as they feel a loss of power in the face of this pandemic. Children too feel powerless. They have lost many of the moments when they are in control, like who to play with and what to play during coveted recess times.

To give children back some of their power, invite them to be part of the planning and decision making involved in establishing these routines whenever possible. Invite them to help with the menu and make a meal with you. Invite them to select some of the topics they learn about. When my child wanted to learn about space we explored NASA’s free online videos where we learned how astronauts do everyday tasks in space – like taking a shower, exercising and eating). There are also videos of astronauts reading STEM storybooks while floating in the international space station.

Helping children stay connected as they learn

Friendships help children develop crucial life skills, like collaboration, social negotiation, and perspective taking. However, maintaining friendships during social isolation requires creativity and more planning than a typical school yard interaction. Technology provides a valuable resource for maintaining connections through virtual play dates. This play will take negotiation on the part of the children, as they adjust to the new context, but that negotiation is a valuable learning opportunity.

As with in-person play, allowing children to direct their play supports the development of essential social and emotional skills, so resist the urge to navigate this new context for your child. Let them decide if they are going to play with toys, build Lego, create art together, or have a dance party during these virtual play dates.

For more ideas of how to playfully support your child’s learning at home, check out @playlearninglab on Twitter.

More research

Learn more from these research papers about the different types of play that help children learn and about the educational value of play.

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