What Will I Do With Schools Shut?

If you are freaking out about school shutdowns, you are perfectly normal and not alone.  We understand the difficulty for parents who are trying to work with kids running around under their feet.  When you’re used to a certain way of doing things, having full-time parenting forced upon you can be a real struggle.  Whether you have toddlers, teenagers or in-between, your expectations, attitudes and priorities are being upset. We understand, and we’re right here with you.

TOP’s advice: Little to no schoolwork

TOP’s first advice to all parents is not to do any official school work. Unless, if your child actually wants to do schoolwork, or is old enough and keen to do it by themselves, then that’s to be encouraged. If your school prescribes things like physical activity, creative arts, community service, carpentry projects, or self-directed play/inquiry as homework during the shutdown, then that’s fine too. 

But parents and communities can offer other types of valuable education to children. There are plenty of non-school based ways of fulfilling the New Zealand curriculum and helping children to learn. 

Therefore, our second piece of advice is to play games!! Outside whenever possible, because you get sick from bugs, not cold weather! Dance together. Cook over an open fire and draw with the charcoal afterwards. Encourage children of all ages to climb trees (remember, if a branch is thicker than your wrist, it’ll hold your weight), build huts, whittle sticks (with a potato peeler for younger kids), or make music. Draw, create, bake and donate treats to your local hospital staff, read books, sing, build Lego without instruction booklets, ride bikes, go for walks. 

Don’t get us started on the benefits of messy play

Secondly and very importantly, let your kids take the lead on what they want to do! Let your child help plan your day, draw up a mini holiday programme – keep it simple though! If it’s raining, still go outside, because rain allows children to explore their senses and can also:

  •         be soothing, relaxing, relieve anxieties, and be a great bonding experience.
  •         encourage an adventurous attitude and independence.
  •         enhance perseverance, curiosity, trust, confidence, and responsibility.

Puddles are great fun!  They are magical for jumping in, watching the ripples, listening to rain falling into them, and making for “soup” in. As the Scandinavians say: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”

Thirdly, talk to your kids about COVID-19. You'll know what to say, but even your pre-schooler will be noticing changes and stresses. Check these guidelines on how to talk to kids if you’re unsure. It's important to take the time to talk.  

Fourthly, depending on the age of your children, it might be a good idea to lower your expectations about how much work you’ll get done. Children are part of our world – this is our chance to embrace that fact! Shushing them every time you’re on the phone will do more damage in the long-term than it’s worth. What’s more important? Your relationship with your child, or work?

Finally, just because the Ministry of Education (via your school) says official schoolwork is important, that doesn’t make it so. Yes, the fundamental skills are still important, but your kids will get those through formal, structured learning. It’s the academic pursuit of knowledge transfer within the school system, particularly in specific subjects, that has killed off children’s natural curiosity. If you have teenagers, watch this TedTalk together and discuss! 

Let’s view a shutdown as a silver lining, a golden opportunity, to empower your children to become life-long learners by finding their talents! Take work breaks with your kids, and breathe together.  And parents, remember to take time out for yourselves, practise mindfulness, and be grateful when you can. Pause, breathe, and smile.  And most importantly, be kind to yourselves.


Dr Naomi Pocock is TOP’s education spokesperson. TOP’s other education blogs include:

How can we fix education in New Zealand?

Will participation in early childhood education actually reduce future crime in NZ?

Nature play in schools – A mainstream option?

National & Labour – Both tinkering around the edges of education