Curating news for children during pandemic

Students remain a category not adequately acknowledged in this scenario

Updated - April 10, 2020 01:43 am IST

Published - April 09, 2020 11:50 pm IST

A virus-themed globe is seen at a traffic signal in Hyderabad on April 9, 2020.

A virus-themed globe is seen at a traffic signal in Hyderabad on April 9, 2020.

“I invite you to a picnic in our living room. Dress code: casual, but face mask compulsory. Number of guests: 1. What to get: hand sanitiser, storybooks and your own snack.” When this handwritten invite was dropped at my doorstep, I was surprised by the inventiveness of my neighbour’s 12-year-old daughter. While the tween comes up with her own ways to beat boredom, most children find themselves stuck in hours of emptiness as the world battles a virus.

Lockdown restrictions, academic schedules gone awry and, above all, the miserable feeling of being socially adrift… COVID-19 is upending the lives of children. When schools were shut abruptly in March, we, at The Hindu In School , received mails and calls from anxious parents and principals asking us what our “plans” were for children during this unexpected break. Closure of schools meant suspension of the school edition. But the recurring thought that children remain a category not adequately acknowledged in today’s unprecedented scenario set us off on a round of deliberations. Within hours, our design and page plan for a daily newsletter for children were ready. All this, as we navigated the uncharted path of working from home. Instead of being seated in a newsroom, shouting out instructions and suggestions to each other, we found ourselves scattered in homes across Chennai — that too with varying speeds of Internet connectivity.

Coronavirus | In millions of homes, children have questions about coronavirus, and some lessons for adults

But for all of us, the joy of presenting news and curating content for children overrides the hassle of working in isolation. The newsletter features a 30-minute activity sheet to keep children engaged. The response has encouraged us to bring out a two-page e-paper. But presenting news in times of a pandemic is a huge challenge. Local, national, international, environment or sports news… everything is impacted by COVID-19. To help them comprehend the situation, separate fact from factoid, and allay their fears, we decided to carry explainers.

Beating tedium

“I’m fed up of hearing ‘I’m bored’,” complained a parent. With children being involved in a structured learning environment for the best part of a year, it is in times like these when parents are clueless about how to engage a child. Small, creative tasks followed by some words of encouragement and appreciation can go a long way in helping children overcome the monotony. A simple journal writing exercise with creative prompts in our e-paper has set off children on imaginative journeys. Responses for the topic “Wow! I won a trip to space!” published on April 8 are filling our inbox. A student from Hyderabad called his experience “indescribable”, while another from a school in Chennai imagined himself planet-hopping and crash-landing on, well, demoted icy Pluto!

My teenage son shows me an Instagram post by his friend that reads, “Everything’s wrong about this summer” with a picture of Chennai’s sudden balmy weather. How much Netflix party and Houseparty can children confined to homes engage in? This is a time to take a look at comprehensive online resources that focus on news literacy and creative activities that work as tedium-free education tools. They fill up some hours and help you turn a lockdown into a meaningful staycation.

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