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Happy March! With schools going back across the UK, and the vaccine rollout continuing, I hope you feel, as we do, that the end of this strange and stressful chapter is in sight. We aren’t there yet, and have to continue being careful, but this is, I hope, the beginning of the end. But while the last year has been tough, it has also provided an unprecedented opportunity for scientists to look at how our behaviour changes when our routines are completely upended.

A young girl pretends to give her doll an injection
Photo by Polesie Toys from Pexels

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr Suzanne Egan, lecturer in the department of psychology at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick . She is fascinated by play, and saw a chance to investigate how children’s play changed during lockdown. She conducted a survey with 500 parents in Ireland, during their strict lockdown, and found that, like her own children, 1/3 of those in the study brought the pandemic into their play somehow. This ranged from playing ‘Covid tag’, to building a doll’s hospital, or wiping down the ‘groceries’ when playing shop. While this may sound alarming, Egan believes play gives children a chance to process what is going on in their lives, in a safe environment. It has long been used as a form of therapy with young children, so this could be their way of dealing with the changes to their lives.


She also found the types of play children engaged in changed- there was more outdoor play, more reading, and (unsurprisingly) more screen time. The majority of children in the study, she found, spent 2 hours or less a day on school work. But, she stressed this wasn’t necessarily a problem. For one thing, a lot of learning happens through play in the early years, so the extra time playing might have benefits. And, although children may normally spend around 6 hours in school, much of that time isn’t concentrated study. Working at home, with 1 on 1 guidance from a parent, is very different to being in school. In fact, many families said their children enjoyed the extra freedom, and felt closer to parents and siblings. For others, though, it was the social aspect of school they missed- interacting with their peers, and their teachers.


It will be interesting to see how children, parents and teachers adapt to being back in school after such a huge upheaval of their lives, and whether there will be knock on impacts. Egan is hopeful, believing the flexibility of children’s brains means most of them will handle the change fairly easily. It is those children who are already more vulnerable, she thinks, that may have problems, and support will need to be provided on a case-by-case basis.

Teachers may have a bit of an uphill battle ahead, ensuring that no-one gets left behind, and that everyone has covered the important topics in the curriculum, whatever their situation during home schooling. But it’s important to remember that learning is about more than just the curriculum. Hopefully, the extra skills kids have learnt throughout the pandemic while helping with housework, gardening, or using their imaginations to play alone will stand them in good stead for the future.

A group of school girls have their eyes closed, on hand raised and the other in front of them- they are doing an experiment
Photo credit: James Allens Girls School

If you are looking to keep the play going now students are back in school, why not book one of our shows? They are perfect if you are looking for something a bit different, and to get kids thinking about how their brains work.


(PDF) Project: Impact of COVID-19 Restrictions on Young Children's Play, Learning & Development (researchgate.net)


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This year, British Science Week is going to look a little different. Normally I will be all over the place, doing shows & workshops at schools and festivals. But not this year. Not only can we not physically be present, many teachers have struggled to plan even virtual events because of changing guidance and uncertainty over whether schools will be open, or teaching remotely.


After a request from one school to make a short video they could play during a (virtual) science week assembly, I decided to make it public, so any teachers can use it for their Science Week plans. It includes a bit about my career and why I love science, some fun illusions, a challenge for the students, and can be followed up by a hands-on activity- I've put the worksheet below. I do hope it's helpful!


BraintasticWorksheet_BenhamsTop
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PDF • 1.75MB

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I hope you are all doing as well as can be expected at this difficult time. Things at Braintastic! HQ are ticking over, as we try to support teachers and parents in any way we can.


As we all settle in to remote learning, now is a great time to think about how to mix things up, to keep kids as engaged as possible. Some of these will probably be familiar to you, but I wanted to share the psychology behind some top tips for online learning.


Repetition

The best way to help information pass from short to long term memory is to repeat it. So don’t be afraid to go over what you learnt yesterday at the start of the next day’s lesson- and maybe even the day after!



Spacing

The spacing of these repetitions is important too- the trick is to revise something just as you start to forget it. The more times you repeat something, the longer this spacing can become, so you might be able to revise the next day, then a week later, then two weeks… and so on. This is the best way to strengthen the connections between neurons, and make sure those memories stick for the long term.



Attention

We’ve all seen kid’s eyes glaze over as they begin to zone out, but if their attention wanders, they won’t be taking in the fascinating information you are telling them. And our attention spans are lower online than in person! To avoid this, try to vary the activities as often as possible- perhaps giving students problems to solve at various points throughout the lesson, rather than in a block at the end.



Gamification

Games are fun, and enjoyment improves attention. Can you give the students a challenge, pitting them against one another, or against the clock, to win points or prizes? These can be great ways of breaking up a class and keeping them engaged.



Screen time

We are all suffering screen fatigue at the moment, and it can be tough to provide students with time away from the computer, whilst keeping them learning. But letting them get hands-on, making or building something, can really help their learning.



If you are looking for something a bit different, Braintastic!’s online shows, workshops & science club can be a great way to give your students a change, and to give yourself a bit of a break! Our sessions include loads of interactive games and experiments to keep kids hooked, and we also have hands-on worksheets available, which help continue the learning offline after the show, including some we are offering for free- just head to our freebies page for details.


We are now taking bookings for Science Week, as well as through the rest of Easter and Summer terms- just get in touch to find out more.


Wishing you happy learning and, as always, stay curious!

Ginny & the Braintastic! Team

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