In the blink of an eye, the COVID-19 pandemic turned the entire world upside down and life as we knew it changed.
As of this writing, school campus closures because of coronavirus have impacted 90% of U.S. schools and affected at least 55 million students. And that is just K-12 students. Add the number of children ages 5 and younger, whose families once relied on childcare and preschool programs, and the impact is significantly higher.
Families and educators face an unprecedented challenge: How do we prevent a pandemic of isolation, boredom and halted learning and development? Our education system was woefully unprepared to transition to remote learning. Many families and educators are being bombarded with products and resources; others are not getting any direction at all. And a large portion of our population is even more vulnerable, lacking adequate broadband services that allow for interactive learning experiences.
Prior to COVID-19, young kids were spending several hours a day with media — on average, nearly two hours and 30 minutes for the average child age 8 and younger. Now, that the number has skyrocketed.
That’s why Common Sense launched Wide Open School, a free online resource to support families and educators working with kids from preK through grade 12.
Common Sense is a global nonprofit that provides age-based ratings and reviews on all types of media (movies, TV, games, apps, books) and parent advice to help families make smart media choices.
The idea for Wide Open School, which will continue to evolve, is to feature the best resources from publishers and education companies around the world and offer age-based solutions to keep kids entertained, educated, and engaged creatively and physically while they’re at home.
We are using our nearly two decades of experience as expert reviewers and curators to build the go-to source of quality content that will provide a one-stop, trusted place for families to engage kids who are now learning from home.
The site offers separate entry points for families and educators to browse and filter for content and advice based on children’s ages or grade levels and topic areas — including emotional well-being, core academics, movement, creativity, English-language learners, virtual field trips and more.
The site does not follow a traditional curricular model, but rather blends ideas that parents and educators can pick and choose from as they see fit. We want to complement and supplement the solutions districts and schools are implementing for as long as the crisis persists.
The central feature of the site is the daily calendar, which provides a custom schedule of learning that fits the age and stage of each child. Every day it will include recommendations of core academic content as well as physical movement, skill-building activities from our partners and hands-on art projects. There also is a balance of online/screen time activity recommendations.
In addition, we are curating and elevating content in Spanish.
The goal is to make learning from home an experience that is accessible to all and one that truly engages kids and teachers, relieves family stress, and restores community in the face of long-term school campus closures and other shutdowns.
We also included a hotline and clearinghouse that helps families access urgent services addressing health, hunger, shelter and psychological needs — as well as helping districts and municipalities communicate with the students they serve.
Common Sense sought out some of the most respected companies in education, media, and tech as partners for the effort so we could curate from top-notch resources and information providers and offer parents and educators the best the internet has to offer. Google, Apply, Amplify, Sesame Workshop, Head Start, Khan Academy, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Zoom, PBS Learning Media, and National Geographic are all onboard with this initiative.
In many ways, our organization was built for this moment: when all families need great resources, devices and connectivity to leverage the best of technology for learning and connection.
The good news is that there may be a silver lining to the pandemic — parents certainly now have a level of empathy for teachers that they’ve never had before! Parents also are spending more time with their children, giving them the opportunity to reinvent family engagement and the home/school connection.
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