A grassroots group of Manitoba educators has launched a learning tool to help ease parents’ nerves when it comes to teaching numeracy, literacy and wellness lessons at home during the pandemic.

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A grassroots group of Manitoba educators has launched a learning tool to help ease parents’ nerves when it comes to teaching numeracy, literacy and wellness lessons at home during the pandemic.

"Parents are an untapped resource," said Sheri-Lynn Skwarchuk, program leader of ToyBox and a professor in the faculty of education at the University of Winnipeg.

Alongside other early childhood educators, teachers, principals, school psychologists, numeracy consultants and parent participants, Skwarchuk began working on the ToyBox initiative in late 2017. The idea was to provide parents of children between the ages of two and eight with simple activities to try at home to further learning outside of the classroom and address gaps in school readiness across the province. 

Last month, when the province announced in-person classes would be suspended in favour of e-learning and paper packages due to COVID-19, the team opted to fast-forward its launch.

The ToyBox app — which is being designed by high school students — has yet to be finalized, but the educators behind the project started distributing thrice-weekly tips via email newsletter last week. (Skwarchuk is hopeful the app will be made public by the end of 2020.)

"Learning is now being put on families to do at home, and parents may need some guidance as to how to do this... It’s about giving more educational know-how to support the children they know best," Skwarchuk said.

Recipients of the free (toybox@uwinnipeg.ca) newsletter receive a literacy activity tip on Mondays, wellness tip on Wednesdays and a numeracy tip on Fridays. The program, created with funding from the U of W, Winnipeg Foundation and a federal social sciences grant, includes two six-week sessions.

Combined, there are 36 unique activities. Under each activity, there is a beginner, intermediate and experienced take, as well as a description of the value of such exercise — rooted in research such as Skwarchuk’s findings that numeracy work at home "really, really matters" when it comes to student success in formal classroom settings.

On Monday, parents were presented with Rhyme Time, a game that challenges students to come up with rhyming words — real or made up, at varying levels. The attached explanation states children learn to read and write by seeing connections between letters and sounds. 

It can be overwhelming for parents to take on an educational assistant position at any time, let alone unexpectedly and during a pandemic, Skwarchuk said, adding the simple tasks give parents an idea of where to start.

Being a trained early childhood educator and mother of three, she said she is often asked what parents need to do to help their children learn at home.

"The answer to that is quite simply: you need to be involved with your children and focus on both informal and formal learning opportunities as directed by the interests of your children," she said. "That’s what really helps to make children connected to school, and stay connected to school when schools aren’t operating in the normal sense."

Skwarchuk recommends families take a deep breath and focus on daily reading, or flipping through books and discussing photos, as well as incorporating daily math lessons into their schedules — whether it be by practising multiplication tables, baking or sorting toys during the satellite school setup.


Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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