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Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Home Family Parenting Advice Chances at Play—Good Parenting

Chances at Play—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My Facebook feed has parents (and non-parents) arguing the merits of students and teachers being in classrooms together.

My view is that in-person activities seem risky considering how contagious the coronavirus is, plus the fact that for some people, COVID-19 is a horrible experience with a chance of death.

Last spring parents and educators were encouraging each other to “do what you can” with online and at-home schoolwork, and not to fret over lost time in the classroom. We spent time cooking, gardening, sewing, making art, re-organizing stuff, watching wildlife, reading, and movie watching. Our family happily played together more than we have in years.

Should this still be the approach going into the new school year?

Let Them Play

Dear LTP,

It sounds as if your family has been able to fill in your stay-at-home time nicely. Left to their own imaginations long enough, children generally get busy doing what they do best. That is, playing and learning. Often at the same time. Through play children observe cause and effect, learn to persevere, solve problems, encounter their emotions, negotiate conflicts, build self-esteem, and gain knowledge about the world.

Proponents of play stress that children use first-hand experiences to build a foundation for all later learning. Self-directed play, in which a child chooses what to play, what to play with, how to carry out the play, and for how long, is the most engaging kind of learning. Children employ the scientific method for serious play – in which an idea about how things work, based on prior observation, is challenged. A school-age child might be curious to see how long a helium balloon will float in her bedroom. She might make a long-term study of this, timing the demise of every subsequent balloon she is able to harbor. After sufficient trials she has a good idea of how long to expect a balloon to float depending on its size, Mylar or latex, and the indoor air temperature.

Epidemiologists, scientists who study epidemics, have been similarly using prior knowledge to predict the course of COVID-19. Considering there have been two terrible pandemics in the last 100 years – the Spanish Flu of 1918 and HIV/AIDS in the early 1980’s – the odds of a pandemic this year were about 2%. This was before the determination that an outbreak in Wuhan, China was caused by a novel coronavirus. In late January the likelihood of a pandemic was bumped up to 6% based on what scientists knew about coronaviruses and their transmission.

Unlike other deadly viruses in recent decades, this one has not been well-contained. By March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic. The disease ravaged country after country, recently surpassing 5 million cases in the United States. With continued study of how the virus is transmitted from person-to-person, WHO determined that cloth face coverings could protect against the spread of infection. WHO cites a study of 139 clients at a hair salon at which 2 stylists were found to have COVID-19. Despite having active symptoms, the stylists, and all clients, were following the salon policy of keeping their faces covered. None of the clients became ill.

Our country is continuing to experiment with guidelines and policies, mostly based on updates from science. Outbreaks at summer camps and schools that have re-opened suggest that children are indeed vulnerable to infection, whether they become ill or just pass germs on to others. It appears that mandatory mask wearing is not standard or maybe just not as reliable in children as it might be in adults. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics about 8.8% of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have been children, with a 40% rise during the second half of July. This rise followed the change from the school-is-closed so stay-at-home patterns that ended in June.

Hindsight is 20/20. Proof of this is our ability to clearly see pandemics of the past, and the human suffering they caused, as due to not understanding contagion, whether by flea bites, contaminated water, shared food, or breathing on each other. Today the science says to stay put and keep your germs to yourself. Imagine younger family members in the future – your children’s children – reacting to our stories of having to sacrifice in-person class time to save lives. I don’t think we’ll be judged too harshly. Years from now, it will be much easier to look back at 2020 and say, “Well, of course, students had to stay home.”

It will be obvious that the pandemic disrupted daily routines and some lives changed course. Not only was it foolhardy to hold in-person classes, it will be noted, but it was only logical to cancel an after school program, withdraw an application to compete in a regional robotics competition, close a student internship opportunity, and lose the chance to be scouted for a sports scholarship. These difficult but necessary measures save lives.

Meanwhile, families, communities, non-profit organizations, local school systems and local governments are doing what they can to mitigate unavoidable losses for students during this health crisis. When schools closed here in March, Anne Arundel County Public Schools instantly instituted regular free food distributions, not only for families already depending on school as a source of children’s food, but, along with food pantries and other charitable operations, to address the sudden widespread unemployment. For the coming school year, many new strategies and systems are being developed to provide academic, social, health, and recreational remedies, particularly for students whose families have been less advantaged for much longer than the pandemic.

Let history record that we worked, and played, together to get through this.

If ever there was a time to “do what we can” this is it.

Dr. Debbie


Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist with degrees in Early Childhood Education, Counseling, and Human Development. Workshops for parents, teachers, and childcare professionals can be found at: drdebbiewood.com.


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