Thursday, February 6, 2020

Learning about the novel coronavirus outbreak

Singapore reported 4 cases of local transmission of the novel coronavirus yesterday. Hand sanitizers and masks are sold out islandwide. The death toll in China continues to rise. The news reports keep pouring in. Given the deluge of information and alarming reports, it is normal to feel anxious and worried. I think our kids are feeling it too, as they try to grapple with bits and pieces of information about the outbreak, while trying to follow instructions to wear masks and wash their hands.

As I chatted with the hubs over dinner about the situation a week ago, I realised that the kids were trying to understand what was happening, but were finding it hard because all they had were snippets from our conversations at dinner. That was when I decided I had to be intentional about discussing with them about the outbreak. I started sharing about the discussions we had with the kids, and the resources we used over on my IG account, and the response I received was overwhelming. Many wanted me to do a blog post, which makes for greater accessibility and easier reading, so here I am, writing in my almost extinct blog. 

Knowledge is power. In this case, a child that is armed with understanding would be better able to think through and process the news rationally, and manage their feelings of anxiety or stress about the situation. Here are some things you could discuss/do with your kids:

For the preschoolers:
- Explain to them (in simple terms) about the outbreak in China, and how it has spread to other countries. Borrow and read books on microbes (I especially like the book "Tiny" by Nicola Davies).

- Help them to understand that some germs cause disease, and that we can take steps to limit the spread of germs. You could download and print a pictorial guide to discuss with the kids, such as this really cute one on (this is in English and Chinese), or this one by local artist @weimankow. If your kids prefer an animated version, here's a pretty good video on how germs spread:

- You could also try demonstrating how germs spread, such as using glitter glue on hands as shared by IG mamas @2mamas4kids over in this post, to drive home the importance of regular hand washing.

- Have them look up affected countries on a world map/globe. (J3 and J4 learnt how China is the country that is shaped like a chicken, and they hunted for other countries on the map.)

- Give them time to process the information. They may even incorporate parts of what they have learnt into their play, as a way of trying to deal with all they have learnt, and that can be used as a springboard for further discussions with them. In our case, J3 and J4 spent time playacting being sick with the virus, and visiting the hospital. 

For more ideas, hop over to these IG mamas' posts:
- Sing Yun ( shares her learning unit in this post.
- Joey (@playlexue) lists various useful bilingual terms relating to the virus here.
- Jasmine (@3mm.montessori) shares some activities to try for kids under and above 6 years old in this post.

For the primary schoolers:
Give the kids hard data and facts, and discuss the news with them (BBC has a pretty good visual summary here). I find that many kids would like to try to make sense of what is happening, but are not given the information or tools. My older boys especially jumped at the opportunity to wrestle with big numbers and ideas, and I learnt that kids are capable of thinking more deeply, if we are able to given them the info and guidance that they need. This in turn, helps them to think though the situation rationally, and deal with any anxiety or fears that they are feeling (in a sense, it's a little like shining a light to show them that the spooky shadow in their room is just some clothes hanging up on a hook). Here's some of the things we dived into:

Science: Understanding how things work in the outbreak
We read about microbes and watched this video to learn about germ theory. (More info and discussion questions on the topic can be found here.) Those in Primary school would also learn about microbes in their Science lessons, but not much is covered about infectious diseases, so reading up beyond the syllabus would be helpful in adding to their understanding. 

The older kids learnt about how the virus jumped from animals to infect humans (this video is great for explaining how that jump is made). We also looked at how the isolation rooms in the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) work, from the use of negative pressure, HEPA filters and ultraviolet rays, to the function of double doors and personal protection equipment (The Straits Times has an excellent graphic on this, which you can view here.). Learning about these things helped to reassure them that things were still under control.

Language: Finding meaning in reports and articles
Prior to this the kids had read very little news reports, so the different style of writing required me to do some explaining for more complex sentences. We looked up difficult words so they could understand better, such as "pandemic", "epidemic", and other scientific terms. 

Geography: Getting a sense of where and the range of the outbreak
We looked up countries and cities that were mentioned in newspaper articles. They noted countries linked to China by land, and how these borders were closed. The kids saw how air travel made the virus spread quickly all over the world. (A useful resource would be Channel News Asia's map that tracks the number of cases around the world.)

Math: Getting an idea of the size and the severity of the outbreak
The news kept reporting the number of cases and the death toll, but little was mentioned about the mortality rate and the trends observed. J1 worked on getting the data into a table, and learnt how to calculate the mortality rate, and then plotted the rate on a graph to see if there was a trend. We also compared it against SARS and MERS and discovered that nCoV was less lethal (with a mortality rate of approximately 2%, versus SARS 10% and MERS 34%). We referred to the graph of number of cases and deaths over on this Channel News Asia page (you need to scroll to the bottom to see it).  

J1 learnt so much along the way as we crunched numbers. He learnt how looking at overall numbers does not give a proper basis of comparison, how data can be represented in tables but are limited in their ability to show trends, how graphs can help one to pick up patterns, how different graphs are used to represent different types of data. He also felt less anxious after discovering that the mortality rate was much lower, and that the rate actually dropped after an initial spike.

This was the table and graph that J1 drew. We discussed the reasons for the spike in the earlier days:
Perhaps the virus  was more lethal when it was transmitted from the original source of infection, but became
less lethal with community spread, leading to a dip in the mortality rate. The rate has more or less
remained constant thereafter at around 2%. We also discussed why a less lethal virus might have
greater transmission rates, which results in a greater overall number of infected cases. 

For the tweens/teens:
- For the older kids, take the opportunity to talk about social issues. Discuss with them about how fear arises from a lack of understanding, and results in ugly behaviour such as racist acts. Read together about the wildlife trade in China and its challenges (this is a good read for starters). Showcase our heroes, from our SAF servicemen packing masks for distribution, to the doctors who worked through the SARS epidemic previously. 

- Discuss with the older ones about how we need to be discerning and evaluate the reliability of the news we read. For a good read on the misinformation being spread about the virus, please click here. What I am planning to do is to pull out some fake news articles, and teach the kids how to check the reliability of the information. Here's a good video on how to do so:

- Some kids may also be interested in researching about the history of infectious diseases, as well the advances made in medicine to combat them. This video on pandemics gives a good overview of pandemics across history, and is also accompanied by review questions and more information which you can access here. The research could be summarised into a timeline.

All in all, we need to be intentional about giving our kids the necessary skills and understanding to help them to process what has been happening, and I hope the resources above might be of help. That being said, we also need to remember that they are children, and not overburden them with too much information. Some kids may get more anxious when reading the news, while others relish the additional info, so it is up to us as parents to discern how much is beneficial for them, and shield them from the rest. For Christian parents, do also take time to pray with them about this, and commit their fears into His hands. May we have wisdom, and be able to act in love during this time of crisis!

PS: I will continue to share useful resources or activities in my IG stories over @justtey, so do hop over for more!

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