Research shows Kiwi kids naturally thrive during lockdown

Published on Wednesday, 06 October 2021
Last updated on Monday, 04 October 2021

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Lockdowns are a new feature of our lives, and although us adults worry about local restrictions and the global pandemic, it’s heartening to discover that our kids have shown a natural ability to thrive – and learn – when COVID-19 has kept them home.

The Children’s Informal Learning at Home During COVID-19 Lockdown report has identified different ways that school kids negotiated the national lockdown in 2020, and it puts a positive spin on children’s time in the household bubble.

Today, we delve into this report in more detail.

Who participated in the Learning During Lockdown research?

The New Zealand Council for Educational Research | Rangahau Mātauranga o Aotearoa and Institute of Education | Te Kura o Te Mātauranga at Massey University joined forces to investigate children’s experiences of informal, everyday home-learning during the Term 1 and 2 lockdown last year.

Once everyone was back at school for Terms 3 and 4, they invited 178 kids from 10 primary schools to take part in a group art-making activity and individual interview to share their lockdown experiences. The children came from Years 4 to 8 to provide a variety of personal accounts.

Overall, did the kids have positive memories of lockdown learning?

Yes! Although the national lockdown played out in different ways for everyone, the children were mostly positive about their informal learning experiences.

These experiences taught kids a lot about themselves – both as individuals and members of the family unit – and even though the interviews happened several months after the lockdown, the children were ‘able and willing’ to recall their experiences.

The kids could explain what they liked or didn’t like about lockdown learning (giving reasons), and some of them shared a lot of detail, with lockdown stories and explanations of how their days and activities were organised.

Another positive was that the children showed an understanding and appreciation of the value of informal learning in their household bubble.

There was a sense that their knowledge, skills and dispositions had grown with this kind of learning; and while us adults worried about what our kids were missing out on while stuck at home, the lockdown seems to have actually given youngsters freedom to learn, and proven them to be adaptable, capable and keen students.

What themes emerged when researchers analysed the children’s interviews?

Although the kids’ personal accounts were individual and varied, certain themes kept coming up again and again in their personal accounts, and these seven educational upsides emerged during lockdown:

  1. Children learnt new daily structures and routines in the household bubble

During the lockdown, they gained a new appreciation of time and how they could manage it to choose what to do, when and how.

Many kids realised that they could do their schoolwork more efficiently at home than in class, and that this freed up extra time for play, hobbies, interests and contributions to family life (like chores).

  1. Children learnt constantly from, and with, family and whānau

Although lockdown life felt different from normal life, many kids were enthusiastic about spending ‘extended, intimate time’ with their nearest and dearest.

They learnt to negotiate a new way of living together, and kids enjoyed learning more about family members, being involved in family activities, and approaching different relatives for help with different things (e.g. Dad could help with cooking and Mum with art and craft).

  1. Children learnt about, and through, language, culture, and identity

Kids from minority cultures especially valued the chance to learn about their parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods and lives during lockdown, and many kids encouraged their elders, and siblings, to practice language and culture because they wanted to learn more.

A blend of, ‘Language learning, cultural practices, domestic rituals and retold intergenerational stories’ boosted children’s sense of self and belonging, which was great to see, too.

  1. Children learnt through life events

Celebrating events like Easter, ANZAC Day and birthdays wasn’t the same in lockdown, but families adapted to the circumstances, and many children gained a deep understanding of the ‘principles, traditions and cultures’ underpinning  these events.

The kids also talked about the emotional effect of life events (e.g. Granny being ill or their dog dying) on their family unit, and explained how important family support and role-modelling was for their experience of these events.

  1. Children recognised the emotional dimension of learning

Lockdown put us all out of our emotional comfort zone, and the children talked about how they learnt to, ‘Understand, control and work with their emotions.’

The kids experienced a full range of emotions (e.g. empathy, anxiety, anger, boredom, frustration, contentment, happiness, joy and ‘flow’) and were able to explain the strategies they used to get themselves (and sometimes family members) through the good times and bad.

  1. Children learnt about, and through, digital technologies

Screen time took on a new dimension during lockdown, and as well as allowing kids to do schoolwork remotely and watch educational TV, screens were also used for leisure, personal informal learning activities, and communicating with friends and family outside their household bubble.

Although some children had heaps of screen time, and others had screen limits, the kids talked a lot about:

  • Browsing the internet
  • Watching instructional videos
  • Gaming
  • Using editing and social media apps to make and share content, and
  • Watching broadcast and streamed content.

The children were enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their learning via digital technologies. They also felt good about discovering new uses for technologies (either on their own or with help) and used their free time for both online and offline, and active and passive, pursuits.

  1. Children engaged in self-directed and self-regulated learning

During lockdown, the children increased their understanding of, and influence over, their schoolwork, free time and household activities.

There were opportunities to participate in things individually and collaboratively, and the kids got to:

  • Use their own resources
  • Ask their own questions, and
  • Respond actively to these questions.

What can we take away from the Learning During Lockdown report?

Although this report doesn’t speak for all children or all experiences, it does shake up our perception of lockdown learning as being totally negative and exceedingly constrictive.

The children’s accounts of informal lockdown learning were largely positive, and many of them actually associated lockdown with freedom! The researchers explain that the kids suddenly felt free to:

  • Decide what to learn and how to approach it
  • Manage their own use of time, and
  • Make other choices and decisions.

This freedom to learn felt good for many, and it’s fantastic to see how Kiwi kids adapted ‘readily and pragmatically’ to the new experience of lockdown, created learning solutions, and embraced the rich and multi-dimensional home-learning experience.

Through their interviews, the children came across as keen and capable learners, with a natural ability to survive and thrive, and in these unpredictable times, it’s comforting to know that our children are equipped to deal with any future lockdowns with this sense of agency and enthusiasm.

They’ve done us proud, and it seems that every cloud really does have a silver lining!

Further reading

Key ways to support your child’s mental health

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