By Leanne Francia, NCWQ Child, Youth and Family Adviser

(photo credit: https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/get-involved/fellowships-awards-residencies/blackwrite)

Life for Queensland families has changed dramatically since our February report. In our April report we will take a look at what life at home now looks like in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report will provide details on a new Australian website for disabled women and girls, and finally, as with most aspects of life at present, this report will finish on a different note with suggestions that can support parents to foster their child’s engagement in learning and physical fitness during this period of isolation, and perhaps in a small way contribute to a household that does not descend into disorder and endless screen time.

Life at Home

Over the last month Queensland family’s microsystem has collapsed, and the macrosystems in Australia have profoundly changed. The broader exosystem’s of parents’ work, employers and employment, and teachers and teaching have changed. The separate microsystems of recreational activities, school, sport, and home have now collapsed into one place – home. Parents are experiencing extra strain as they either work from home, are now out of work, or working on reduced hours. Many are worried about their friends and extended family. For children there is no school, no hanging out in the holidays or after school, no visits to or from extended family, no team sports, no sleepovers with friends, and no large birthday parties or big Easter celebrations. For most children they have only the face to face company of their parent, parents, caregivers, or siblings.

Vulnerable Women and Children

Our February report focused on the devastating start to 2020 for many Australians with the 2019-20 bushfire events. Little did we realise what lay ahead for Queensland, Australia, and indeed the rest of the world in the COVID-19 pandemic. How quickly social norms have changed and again reiterated that in times of financial stress and isolation, family violence increases. The recent bushfire events served as a sharp reminder of the different issues affecting women and families. During disasters, women and children experiencing family or sexual violence have additional marginalisations including isolation, homelessness, disability, being culturally or linguistically diverse, or being LGBTQI+. There are now additional risks within the pandemic where families experiencing family violence are required to stay at home, whilst at the same time being separated from extended family, friends, and other protective networks. The Queensland State government has unveiled a $5.5 million dollar funding package aimed at responding to family violence amongst the COVID-19 crisis. Free child care has been announced and Accor, one of the nation’s largest hotel chains will be sheltering individuals fleeing family violence. We have not witnessed anything like this in recent history and life is not going to be the like it was for a while to come. Let us all be mindful to continue to check in through the use of technology on those most vulnerable.

Women and Girls with a Disability

On a different note, following on from our February report where we discussed submissions for the Royal Commission into violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation of people with disability, we would like to mention a new Australian website established for women and girls with a disability. In Australia over 2 million women and girls have a disability. This group is one of the most marginalised and excluded groups in the country. With a wealth of resources on rights, safety and violence, sex and your body, personal stories, and much more go to www.oursite.wwda.org.au.

Fostering Children’s Engagement in Learning and Physical Activities

In conclusion, as with most aspects of life at present, this report will finish with an altered tact and focus on some suggestions that can support parents and caregivers to foster their child’s engagement in learning and physical fitness during this period of isolation. With all children there are different developmental needs, personality, and learning styles, and these are a few broad suggestions that can be tailored accordingly. It includes modelling as a parent, observational learning as a child, and using items that may already be available in the home, without spending a lot of money. Some suggestions:

  • There exists a seemingly endless choice of technology and apps that support children’s learning. There are drawing apps, collage apps, math’s, literacy, history, yoga, Zumba, martial arts, science websites, and apps that promote children to solve problems, build, or create. Many zoos, museums, and art galleries are now offering virtual tours. Many are free to access; however, parents need to be mindful of security and limits on screen time.
  • Continue to encourage reading, and aim to read with or around your children. Older siblings might also read to younger siblings and support parents by giving them some uninterrupted work time. You might read a recipe or an instruction book, and then do that activity together. You could read a dictionary and start a word bank of new words learned and their meaning. Even if children are reading books that may not be of great literary value, allow them some choice what they read. You could create a story map with characters, themes, and plots and get children to make predictions about how the story will end. You could get children to collect items from the garden, or in the house, and make a story using these items. Your child might like to start an online book club with their friends. Maybe they can design, write, and create their own book. They might also want to keep a journal about their experiences through this pandemic.
  • Board and card games can be a lot of fun. Jigsaw puzzles. Craft activities. Can a family member who can knit or crochet Facetime or Zoom and give a child one on one lessons? Can children make their own toys from items around the house? Maybe your child can write a letter to a friend or grandparent and attach photos.
  • Let children choose how they organise their play some days, or let them be the teacher for the day and decide on a topic to teach. For those with a backyard, siblings can play ball games together. Parents or children might like to set up an obstacle course that changes each day. Children might take more responsibility for looking after, feeding, and walking pets. Treasure and scavenger hunts – both designing and taking part in. Skipping rope, painting pebbles, using cardboard boxes to make castles for pets, egg and spoon races, ping pong or volleyball with a balloon.
  • Putting on music, listening to music, dancing or singing together, playing musical instruments, or making their own musical instruments. Maybe children can put on a weekly concert/show for their family.
  • Taking photos of items in the environment (other than themselves) and perhaps create a collage. Or have unstructured play where children use items around the house to come up with a game or creation.
  • If you have tent can children set up camp site in the back yard? Do they want to learn more about what is in their environment for example plants, insects, or how things work such as a toaster, the internet, their phone, or what is electricity or weather?
  • Cooking is a great opportunity to continue to learn about volume, mass, ingredients, what tastes good together, or what might not. Can children create menus for the week? Playdough is an old favourite but might be more difficult with restrictions on staples such as flour.
  • Gardening can foster patience (waiting for the seedling they plant to grow). And don’t forget the practical stuff like fixing a leaking pipe – letting them assist or watch how this is fixed. Don’t take for granted chores around the house, where children can collaborate, learn, and contribute.

Parents need to care for themselves and might like to set up a regular virtual coffee chat with friends or other parents. Parents might need to accept that the home will remain a bit messier than it might usually be, and be more realistic about what they will get done in a day. Try and create some level of routine sooner rather than later. Above all stay safe, stay well, and stay healthy.

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