What I discovered after 1 month of HBL, SLS and WFH

By Vijay Anand - on 17 May 2020, 11:14am

Note: This blog was first published on 4 May 2020.

Ah, the daily mess."Kids, if you don't clear it up, SOMETHING is going down the CHUTE!!"

The great juggling act

Your spouse is engaged in an office conference call in another room, your first grader is trying to figure out why he can’t see his other friends in a class video call and wails out to you, while your toddler has bumped into a tower of bricks and is screaming for your attention, you also just realize you’re out of bread and milk and need to dash out to grab these essentials to settle family breakfast and all this while it’s still the first half of the day when you’re likely to have a lot of important incoming messages and email from work, one of which could be your boss asking for an update – What do you do first?

For those of us juggling the daily rigours of balancing family needs, home-based learning (HBL) with your young kids, and work deliverables (that is if your job is remote working friendly), the above predicaments are all too real and I congratulate you for surviving it out so far. May holidays will pose a different kind of challenge, but let’s tackle each day at a time and celebrate our mini victories along the way.

Among all the daily craziness and coping with the new norm, there have been some positive points to glean from all of this. So here are some from my perspective with my 7-year old son and 3-year old daughter:-

1. More precious moments to cherish

It is rare that both can share the same toy, let alone where the younger one listens to the brother in Lego building instructions. The very next day they attempted the same, it was full of arguments. Ah well, I can only cross my fingers...

My wife and I work very long hours and on many weekdays (pre-Covid-19 concerns), where we only return home after the kids are asleep or just in time to catch them an hour before it’s their bedtime. This means we’ve very little bonding time with the kids during weekdays and weekends are punctuated with extracurricular classes to impart them with other skills such as art, Taekwondo and brushing up on their second language. Now that we’re with them every part of the day, there’s far more bonding time, experiencing their learning journeys and just being there for them.

I can’t count how many new words I’m hearing from my toddler who’s trying to get out of the baby talk phase. Not to mention, capture many interesting moments of joy and achievements by both my kids – be it at play or HBL. Of course, it’s not all rosy since not five minutes go by without me or my wife needing to check up on them or intervene in the never-ending list of sibling wars, including one or both getting hurt through the process. They are young kids after all, so this is all part and parcel of growing up that parents have to put up with.


2. Getting creative

The greatest pretender in my house. She loves to enclose herself and impersonate people in various jobs. This particular one... I'm not sure!

Since kids are home all the time, there’s only so much they can cycle between toys, books and TV. Giving them a phone, no doubt instantly grants you the freedom to do anything you need to do at a stretch, but my wife and I try not to give in unless absolutely necessary. This forces one to think about creative options to occupy their time, be it looking for activity options in-house, online or just give them imaginative ideas and let them take it ahead. The latter could be as simple as handing them a torchlight and ask them to act as explorers to find ‘treasure’. Soon after, the kids will incorporate these ideas within their play routine and hopefully bother you less.

Yet another approach is to re-layout their play areas or wherever it’s designated within the house. In my case, the hall is the primary play area with large play mats laid out. However, toy shelves and book racks weren’t anywhere near them. So while I was grounded at home, I took the chance to re-layout the hall to ensure both these racks were right next to the play mats. So now, not only do they reach out more often for toys within these racks, but more importantly, they also pick out books to browse. If you’ve already got a good equilibrium going, try to change things up purposely just to keep things fresh for the kids.


3. Being more patient?

Well, I can’t imagine if we’ve all gone crazy or actually getting better conditioned to accept the craziness. I know I get agitated when I’m bothered with tech matters around the house like why doesn’t the printer work, paper jams, what’s wrong with the internet, and more. Now, I’m pretty much a technician for all members all the time, no thanks in part to HBL and WFH which now spring their own set of queries like how to submit work, why is there no audio, how to get into that virtual meeting, etc.. Perhaps the more you face an issue, the more you come to terms with it?

I’m also short-tempered when my kids don’t listen to instructions or keep repeating mistakes. Now that I’m home, there’s no shortage of these situations all through the day. What I’ve observed is that I’ve grown more tolerant of their antics and try to convey my dismay more calmly instead of snapping back at them. I’m not exactly sure of the measure of success, but I think I’m trying :p


4. Getting to know the school curriculum and how to teach my kids

A class video meet where each student presents their composition and accompanying sketch. The step-by-step guidance to arrive at the outcome is very thorough - kudos to the teachers.

Schools do their best to equip kids with a multi-faceted education, which includes necessary life and social skills, amongst others. While I truly appreciate that homework for both my kids is generally kept to a minimum and completed within school time as much as possible, it’s hard to gather what they are actually learning and how are they exposed to certain concepts so that we can better educate and guide our kids when needed. Granted that the textbooks are present and the daily student handbook notes are there to fill in the blanks, these are just guidance material.

What I can’t grasp is how my son understands it and what he takes away from it. He’s quite resourceful in trying to look for common factors and patterns to rinse and repeat answers, plus he often asks kids who finish ahead of him. We gathered this over many months of observation – no school teacher is going to help pick these minute details unless the class size is quite small. So HBL, while a very big chore upon all parents who need to double-up as teachers, has been an eye-opener for me to know exactly how my son is faring and where he needs more guidance to reinforce the concepts that the curriculum is trying to impart.

For example, when a math question is 8 + 4 but you’re asked to do it by grouping numbers to form a 10, it seems a bit long-winded, doesn’t it? For those unaware, this requires you to borrow from number four to pump up number eight, so that one can rewrite the equation to 10 + 2. The reason for this method is to build up a child’s mental resilience to how numbers work and be more nimble. However many kids, like mine, who are just going through the motion to get worksheets done would jump straight to counting and fill in the answer. That’s where I swooped in to put the brakes and point out what’s being asked of the question. Getting the sum right isn’t my objective, but to read, think and understand are more essential basics that he shouldn’t ignore.

Do I want to continue HBL post-Covid-19 concerns? Maybe if I had only one kid, but a definite no as it has been quite the struggle managing my active and playful toddler at the same time. But I am glad to be given a chance to better understand the curriculum and observe the gaps with my son’s learning curve.


5. Speeding up the learning curve to work with computers

Kids are exposed to the world of games and entertainment through the UI simplicity of phones and tablets from as young as one-year-old. Computers (or in my daughter’s parlance, “Puter”), are however far different creatures. You can’t just cycle the power button on notebooks as you do on a phone since the latter is always on standby and doesn’t use mechanical hard drives. Even if you have got a touchscreen display, you can’t use the screen to navigate and get things done because the Windows OS is just bad at that. Then you’ve to get them to learn the ways of using a mouse and managing a keyboard that doesn’t make sense (to kids) as to why the letters are so haphazardly strewn about. And I haven’t yet talked about software. So while computers are a necessary part of our lives, HBL has forced kids to adopt all the baggage related to computers at a much younger age. While all of us have been exposed to computers, getting young kids to adapt or understand the intricacies is the tricky part. None of this would matter for older kids, so you can imagine my extreme frustration during the first week of HBL.

Someone's now a Microsoft Paint pro and is ready to oblige my little dictator.

However, looking back, these are matters my kids have to overcome someday and Covid-19 has just made it mandatory for them to face it now.  Now, my toddler is happy to pretend typing on the keyboard, moves the mouse to click around and demands us to draw stuff in Microsoft Paint. Thanks to her demands, my son is now quite adept at handling both Paint and Paint 3D to entertain her and himself. Not bad at all.


6. The HBL-SLS  school curriculum is surprisingly well balanced

Getting familiar with his Tamil letters through colouring games that help cultivate the stroke needed to write it fluidly.

So everyone knows that schools have HBL segments within their normal programming (prior to Circuit Breaker measures), but partaking in those sparingly versus fully relying on HBL are two very different approaches. A big enabler of HBL is the Student Learning Space (SLS) that’s catered to all teaching and learning needs online for most school-going students. It has been a great asset for those who weren’t able to attend school, learning at one’s own pace and more.

But can SLS-based HBL truly replace school? While I can’t answer for all student age groups, what I can share first-hand for my first-grader is that it has been pretty good stop-gap measure during this Circuit Breaker period. I never imagined the variety of interaction to be so broad where assessments and testing one’s understanding can be from text entries, MCQs, drawing/colouring, matching, audio submission, video uploads, external link activities, and more. So it’s not just about doing physical worksheets, but there are many forms of engagement to keep your kids focused on the subject and interested.

A comprehension quiz where students line up the story sequence based on a related video presentation.

A poster design challenge that my son had to submit as part of the English subject where students learned the value of being kind through a story of an ungrateful giant. So that's art practice and comprehension all rolled into one topic module.

An interactive shapes challenge while learning a maths module.

Physical worksheets are still present, but they take a backseat to SLS and are more revisionary/supplemental in nature during HBL. What I learned from this particular activity is that my son is familiar with handling a pair of scissors fairly well, which I wouldn't have known otherwise.

Lessons are usually pre-recorded videos, but the vast majority for his age are animated and bite-sized in nature. The way a lesson is sliced up into stages also shows attention to detail for helping young ones progress through a topic. All-in-all, I’m impressed with the work that goes behind the scenes to facilitate HBL via SLS and that schools and parents could rely upon it at such short notice.

Granted the immediate problem was that kids needed notebooks or desktops to get SLS work done reliably, as far as the curriculum and capability is concerned, it was present and viable for my son. On a side note, while I normally have spare parts and systems lying around, to suddenly cater to two adults and two kids who need access to systems for extended usage throughout the day really got me digging deep into my personal inventory and deploy everything I've ever had. But I digress.

HBL setup for my kids. I'm glad I didn't retire my old notebooks and you'll see I've two of them here; just nice when both kids get into another brawl.

Some might observe that not all learning materials are produced in-house in Singapore or the respective school, but via external video embeds and such links. However, they are apt and I’ve no qualms about it for the purpose of home-based learning. Why reinvent the wheel?

Is there anything that could have been improved? Probably just minimizing submission avenues – they need to be streamlined. For example, use the add image button to upload most multimedia content and skip sending emails to teachers.

My daughter has some HBL aspects facilitated through her pre-school, but given her playful nature, it has mostly been a one month holiday for her. Besides, at her level, it’s mostly about socializing, learning manners and not much on actual subject-based learning. Singing songs, colours, and learning words can be easily facilitated throughout the day.

Elegant EDMWers... e, e, e. Oops, I'll keep that from her until later.


7. Looking forward to a post-CB era

While the government has just announced plans to gradually ease into post Circuit Breaker era, a lot depends on how we keep ourselves at bay with people who might have come in contact with those who've contracted Covid-19. We’re living in unprecedented times that call for extraordinary measures. This 25-minute Coronavirus Explained documentary on Netflix packs a wealth of information with data from other historical outbreaks that further reinforces what governments around the world are trying to achieve. I encourage everyone to watch it and educate those who might be less informed.

Meanwhile, stay home as much as you can, keep safe and let’s ride this out together. Follow HardwareZone, our social channels and feeds to be sure you’re kept up-to-date as the HWZ team continues to work from home (check out their WFH setups) to bring you the very best of tech, games, deals and culture from the local perspective.

Vijay Anand

Vijay Anand / Editor-in-Chief

A pioneering contributor of since its inception in 1998, his keen interest in DIY computing has helped establish content standards in testing and reporting online, while his drive to share knowledge has laid the foundation of Social Media 1.0 in Singapore via the HWZ Forums. As site editor since 2005, he oversees all content production with the local team, supervises the regional teams and provides forum management insights to the large pool of contributors.

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