School life in the post-circuit breaker period is anything but normal. While students doing national exams attend school daily, children in other levels alternate between a week of classroom learning and a week of home-based learning (HBL).
The schedule, which affects those in primary and secondary schools, as well as junior colleges, is part of social distancing measures to curb the community spread of Covid-19 as Singapore reopens in phases.
Toggling between school and home will be challenging for children and parents, some of whom have returned to work this month. Experts advise giving children a safe space to express their feelings while keeping to a structured routine during HBL.
"A consistent classroom and home routine is important for helping children to transition between different activities throughout the day. Alternating weekly between school and home-based learning will disrupt that consistency for children," says Ms Pamela See, educational and developmental psychologist at Think Psychological Services and Think Kids.
Some children may become anxious as they cannot cope with the different demands of school-based learning and HBL, she adds. This may show up as tantrums, constant worrying, avoiding revision, regressive behaviour, withdrawing from activities and friends, and changes in sleeping and hygiene habits.
Ms Tan Su-Lynn, senior educational psychologist at Promises Healthcare, says children with special needs or learning difficulties may also be worried about keeping up with school work or re-adjusting to relationships with classmates and teachers.
Mr Tan Wei Jie, co-founder and English specialist at Good School Learning Hub enrichment centre, says children may suffer from a lack of supervision during HBL weeks, especially if their parents are back in the office.
Some may be distracted and try to multitask during online lessons, while others who are less independent may not be able to complete their assignments.
The experts offer these tips to manage the transition.
KEEP TO A SCHOOL ROUTINE
Mr Tan, who was a secondary school teacher for four years, advises parents to keep children to a regular sleeping and waking schedule even during HBL weeks.
They can create a family WhatsApp group for school work where children can post screenshots of completed work. Parents should also check with teachers if their child is handing in assignments on time.
"Use video conferencing tools to check on your child. For example, you can get your child to share his screen with you on a Zoom session so you can watch his screen on your smartphone as and when you wish," he adds.
Psychologist Ms Tan says parents can empower children by giving them some choice in how they want to complete HBL tasks and homework. "Giving them ownership of crafting their own timetable will certainly help to keep them motivated in following through with the plan."
CREATE A SAFE SPACE TO SHARE
Ms See says it is important for parents to communicate openly with their children and create a safe space where they can discuss the challenges of the transition period.
Ms Tan adds: "Listen to them when they are ready to talk, and help them to integrate and connect back to calm themselves."
She says children should be taught to express their feelings so they can learn to manage them in a positive way. "Holding in or denying our emotions could sometimes unconsciously result in angry outbursts or aggressive behaviour."
Mr Tan says children who performed well academically in the past may find their grades affected by the many changes to school life.
He encourages mums and dads to manage their expectations, as children look to their parents for "reassurance that they just need to perform to the best of their abilities and not be too stressed by the current unprecedented situation".
Ms Tan says parents should also have empathy for themselves. "It is messy and chaotic, and it is okay to be not okay with any of this. Children learn by watching the behaviours and reactions of the adults around them, so this is a critical opportunity to prepare them to deal with uncertainties in life."