“Parents are not short of resources, they are short of networking”: Carol Loi, whose Circuit Breaker Zoom chats draw people from several countries
Christine Leow // April 25, 2020, 1:32 am
"It takes a village to raise a child. I’m just bringing the village together," says digital literacy educator Carol Loi of her series of Zoom chats with parents. All photos courtesy of Carol Loi.
On a Wednesday afternoon this week, parents from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore met to talk about something they all had in common – raising children in this “new normal”.
Given that countries across the globe have gone through unprecedented measures to get people to stay home, the chat was conducted via Zoom. But the conversation was no less animated.
Parents shared their concerns about managing and monitoring their children’s screen time, getting their children to read books and the types of video games that are age-appropriate.
Providing social connection
These Zoom chats began at the start of the Circuit Breaker period two weeks ago (April 7).
Spearheaded by digital literary educator, and leadership and family coach Carol Loi, the social networking opportunities take place every weekday. The interactive sessions also include experts Loi invites to share their insights.
“We are designed to be relational. This is for those who need interaction.”
“There is a lot of information out there. Parents are not short of resources. They are short of networking,” explained Loi.
“I am giving them a deeper social connection beyond what watching Facebook live can give. You can’t see each other on Facebook.”
Loi believes that this season, when all of Singapore is asked to stay home and parents are bereft of interaction beyond their homes, can have a negative impact on social well-being.
“We are designed to be relational. This is for those who need interaction where they can look at other people, talk to them,” said Loi.
That is why she is committed to organising these Zoom chats till the end of the Circuit Breaker on June 1.
Learning through talking
Each session is an hour long and while there are general themes, the chats are mostly free-flow.
“It’s like coffee with your parent support group or school parent volunteers. We just talk about what is upon our hearts,” said Loi who is also a core team member of SGFamilies, a ground-up initiative for parents by parents that is supported by the Singapore Kindness Movement.
Launched just last October, SGFamilies believes in “raising wholesome generations together” and organises regular parenting talks.
Now that physical gatherings are no longer possible, Loi has moved the meetings online and added other talks related to her own training company. Included in the mix as well are Mums for Life meetings. Mums for Life, another ground-up movement, celebrates “a mum’s unique identity as a woman, daughter, wife and mother”.
“I’ve learnt that it is through talking that we learn best.”
Invitations to the chats can be found on Carol’s Facebook page.
The topics are varied but each is curated to address concerns arising from these uncertain times. Today (April 24) at 3.30pm, for example, the topic was about children and their use of devices during home-based learning (HBL).
“We polled the parent support group leaders and parent volunteers in SGFamilies before we started.
The top four issues they raised were first, mental health; second, media and technology; third, discernment of information; and fourth, sexuality and inappropriate content,” recounted Loi.
One of the earliest chats touched on Leave of Absence (LOA). The Foongs who run The Treasure Box, a company selling children’s Christian devotional materials with a local slant, shared about staying sane while on LOA with their two young children.
Since then, there have been topics as far-ranging as children’s safety online, getting them to pay attention during HBL, strengthening mental resilience in children and keeping marriages strong.
One parent who joined a session called “Put Your Dreams to the Test” is trainer and consultant Ben Peh.
“As a freelancer in the training industry, these are challenging times.
“The talk got me grounded again. I was challenged to put my dream to the test. It got me to think back to what it was that I wanted to do,” said Peh.
“Talking things through with others was particularly helpful. It is where we get our social energy. When it is done in a group context, we draw inspiration from the other participants.
“It isn’t just about learning, it’s also about meeting our social and emotional needs,” he maintained.
Loi agreeed: “As an adult educator, I’ve learnt that it is through talking that we learn best.”
Inspiring behavioural change
Peh found the session so helpful that he became motivated to “stretch out of (his) comfort zone”. A trained social worker, he has committed to sharing his expertise on mental health in future sessions.
It is such behavioural changes that Loi hopes to achieve through the chats.
Said Loi: “One of my most memorable moments in all my sessions is when a mother shared that she decided to step out of her comfort zone to join in a call.”
The stay-home mother surprised her family by borrowing her daughter’s laptop and learning to use Zoom to join the chat.
“She thought she would just listen in to the call, but ended up opening up to the group during the call,” recalled Loi.
“It takes a village to raise a child. I’m just bringing the village together.”
Even her children and husband were surprised that she chatted with the other parents.
“She shared that she had always wanted opportunities for more adult conversations,” said Loi.
“We are all stepping out to do something different. We discover what is in us and what we can do. If I can make a difference to even one mum, it is good.”
Because the chats are conducted online, parents from as far as Nepal, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and Malaysia have been able to join.
Subject matter experts are also easier to invite simply because everyone is at home during this time. Loi taps on her vast network of contacts from her days in public service working in the Ministry of Education (MOE) as well as from SGFamilies.
Among them is Lucian Teo who is Google’s User Education and Outreach Manager. He is the tech expert Loi counts on to talk about media and technology issues that parents have.
Another person Loi has asked to help is Edgar Tham who founded SportPsych Consulting. Singapore’s pioneer sport and performance psychologist , he has been a sports psychologist for several of Singapore’s national teams. Tham shares about mental health and resilience.
“It takes a village to raise a child. I’m just bringing the village together,” said Loi.
Creating a new routine
Another thing Loi hopes to do through these chats is to create structure for parents.
“You always hear that children need structure in their lives and we encourage parents to work out a schedule for their children during HBL (home-based learning).
“But parents need structure, too. I personally need structure in my life to plan my time and anchor my day. It provides stability,” said Loi.
“God has placed supporting families in my heart. It’s just in my DNA.”
This is especially important since the Circuit Breaker has meant that some parents can no longer work.
“Suddenly, they have so many weeks of emptiness. Getting on these chats, even if it’s just to listen, can help. We all need a community,” said Loi.
Helping families has long been Loi’s passion.
“God has placed it in my heart. Supporting families has always been what I have been doing both in public service and now. It’s just in my DNA,” declared Loi.
“Meeting new people, drawing energy from connecting with other people and providing something different to parents from the usual flood of information out there – these are what motivates me.”