In empty nurseries across the country, teachers are filming videos and worksheets to reach thousands of children kept home to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
In quiet classrooms, teachers film themselves reciting nursery rhymes, reading stories and even dancing in tune to phonics songs.
These daily and weekly offerings are sent to parents over email and WhatsApp throughout the shutdown of educational institutions in the UAE.
While schools and universities have been prepping for distance learning, parents, grandparents and nannies have been using online tutorials to keep children, aged 1 to 4, occupied while nurseries are closed.
Roshi Tandon, group chief executive of Chubby Cheeks Nursery, said more than 100 teachers and nurses sent in suggestions to prepare audiovisual packages on nutrition, home safety and health.
“Once we realised the gap will be a long one, our teachers worked to make lesson plans and stay connected with the children,” she said about videos being recorded in English, Arabic and French.
“It has taught us to reinvent ourselves and rethink how we can take learning beyond the classroom walls. Nurses give tips on what to do in case of choking, teachers handle speech therapy in virtual learning sessions.
“Parents ask us for ideas because many don’t have a nanny and have had to take their annual leave and stay home.”
During a video shoot last week, a teacher stirred flour, corn starch and oil in a bowl as she explained how to make edible playdough flavoured with strawberry, lemonade or marshmallow.
Teaching assistants perched on slides and settled inside play houses as they invited children at home to join them in singing and dancing to ‘You are my sunshine.’
Parents said they were relying on tips from teachers to provide a focused learning plan.
“I buy many story and colouring books and teach my child different things, but without a plan,” said Maha Khalaf, who has a three-year-old boy.
“When the nursery shares a weekly schedule of activities we can do at home, it helps organise and guide us to stay on track with the kids.
“The nursery has a clear target and focuses on one item at a time so that works positively for my son. Children can keep busy and will continue learning at home. I find the worksheets very useful.”
Savvy Kisani, founder of British Berries Nursery, said learning material supports parents juggling work and handling children at home.
“Most of our parents are working mothers and everyone can do with some help and ideas,” she said.
“We have given them a fun pack for the month with craft material and colouring sheets so they have sufficient resources to cut and paste at home. A nursery is about group learning but at home too, you can hold a child’s interest with different activities every day.”
Parents have responded by sending photos and videos of their children completing handwriting worksheets or learning to count using pebbles.
Shradha Chopra and her son, 1, watched a video of a nursery teacher reading excerpts from The Gruffalo, a hit children's book about a mythical beast and a clever mouse.
“My son actually enjoyed the video and then we read the book together,” said the young mother, who also has a three-week-old baby.
“When teachers narrate stories, they dramatise more than you would at home. Apart from online storytelling, there are number games and puzzles for older kids because the children don’t have the structure of the nursery now.”
Naina, a chief investment officer, watches the videos sent by the nursery and then explains the next day’s schedule to the nanny.
“I find it very supportive when I go to work because I have already given my nanny instructions on activities to keep my two-year-old engaged,” she said.
“The reason you leave your child at a nursery is so they enjoy doing constructive things. These are unprecedented times and all tips are useful.”