Today – in the midst of bad news all over the place, when it comes to how we continue to educate our kids in the middle of trying to work from home during a pandemic, I have some good news!!
First – it doesn’t have to take six hours of dedicated time a day to teach your children. Homeschoolers – during regular, non-pandemic times – usually assume 1-2 hours for elementary school a day, 2-3 hours for middle school (only some of which require parental involvement) and 3-4 hours for high school (which should only take a small portion of parental engagement), to do EVERYTHING school related. That’s because it’s a different context.
Second – this is homeschooling the pandemic edition. All of us – including our kids – are already on a steep learning curve about what it means to be a neighbor, how we care for one another, and how we deal with stress and uncertainty. These are important life lessons. They matter. It’s ok to prioritize them!
Third – in the middle of all of this there is an opportunity for your kids to learn more about the things that fascinate them, to have time to develop new skills they’ve always been too busy to explore, and to learn life skills that were never going to come from school. Your goal isn’t to recreate the school curriculum, but to keep your child engaged with learning and discovering themselves and the world around them.
Sound good so far?
Now, to get there, we have to understand the idea of emotional self-regulation – at least a bit! That’s because CALM brains are brains that are ready to LEARN and emotional self-regulation is all about understanding what calm is and how we get there.
When I’m coaching folks, this is usually an entire session – or three – to evaluate your child and family dynamics and figure out child-specific self-regulation strategies, so if you feel like I’m zipping through, I apologize, but for today I just want to introduce the idea that each of us can operate out of one of four emotional ‘zones’: the blue zone, where we’re tired, sick, lethargic, etc.; the green zone, where we’re calm, engaged, and able to focus; the yellow zone, where we’re excited, nervous, uncertain, or hyper; and the red zone, where we’re out of control, melting down or otherwise feeling like we’ve ‘lost it’.
The good news is, most of our children have been introduced to these zones at school already – they might even have experience ‘checking in’ with their zones or knowing what activities help them move back to the green zone. This is well worth a conversation if it’s not already part of your toolkit. If you need more assistance with this, let me know – perhaps another Facebook Live session will be needed just for this!
However, for today, I have four ideas for helping us get to calm:
Idea #1 is Predictable Structure
Now, I’ve seen all the memes this week … the very calm, ordered, structured ones, and the ones where all of that has been scribbled out and ‘kids run wild’ penciled in overtop. And I get that there are going to be days. But structure can be really helpful for our mental health and our success when it comes to balancing all of the competing priorities we’re being asked to accomplish right now, so here’s what I’m going to suggest: a simplified, personalized plan.
I’m going to suggest that you start by thinking about what things you want to make sure happen every day. Maybe time outside, time doing chores around the house, time doing activities and time in front of screens. All of these can be valuable to getting through our days.
Then figure out how much of the day (ish) that you want to spend on these things. That MIGHT be enough for you and your family. If so, that’s okay.
If you’re looking for more than that, consider blocking the day into chunks that are a bit more predictable – maybe around the toddler’s nap schedule, a work call you know happens every morning at 9:00 am or some other element of life you are trying to work around. Again, don’t feel obligated to schedule it to the minute – that will be unrealistic for everyone – but having a general order of operations can be really helpful for everyone involved.
Kids and adults alike may benefit from translating these into visual schedules, but remember, it’s ok if you don’t keep them perfectly. The point of this structure is to help EVERYONE in the family feel like they have some agency and autonomy over what’s happening right now, and that they can predict what WILL happen in the coming hours, if not the foreseeable future.
If you’ve got kids with disabilities – especially those on the autism spectrum or those with developmental delays – I would STRONGLY recommend that you not only create these visual schedules, but that you talk through the plan for the day regularly: start talking about the plan for tomorrow as part of your bedtime routine. Talk about the plan for the day in the morning as you’re getting up and ready for the day. Refer back to the plan as you start each part: “we’re going to go out for a walk and look for worms and then we’re going to come back for our snack.” This will add a level of calm for a lot of these kids, and remember, calm is what we need to be able to learn.
Idea #2 is Movement
And this movement is with a big emphasis on movement OUTSIDE whenever possible. Making time to move every day is so critical to our brain’s sense of calm. Whether it’s swinging from the swing in the backyard, playing hopscotch on the driveway, going for a walk, riding your bike or having a dance competition with friends, movement helps our brains and bodies process stress and helps our brains calm down so that they can learn. However much movement might be part of your day to day life, for most of us and our children we are going to benefit from MORE movement right now.
Predictable structure, movement, now idea #3 for getting to calm:
Idea #3 is Connection
Make learning time connecting time, regardless of age. So many of us are used to sending our children elsewhere – disconnecting – for their learning time. But connection with our primary caregivers is part of what makes us feel safe and calm and ready to learn, SO, try to find ways to be present and connected with your children when you are asking them to learn – especially when you’re asking them to learn new, hard things (like how to wash dishes or put their laundry in the hamper!) 😉
Finally, Idea #4 for helping to get to calm:
Idea #4 is Purpose and Achievement
Purpose and achievement are real, innate desires for all of us as humans. We need to feel like we’re doing something meaningful, and our experiences of real, meaningful success drive us forward to try again, and also creates healthy things like self esteem, confidence and resilience.
What that means is that it’s important for us to focus on meaningful learning opportunities at this time, and not get bogged down in ‘busywork’ like worksheets. For example, if we want to help our kids work on their writing abilities, why not choose to write a letter to Grandma and her friends at their nursing home, or practice our fractions by doubling our cookie dough recipe?
So, if we want to learn, we have to get calm, and to do that we might use things like predictable structure, movement, connection, and purpose and achievement.
That’s HOW we learn, and for some of us THAT will need to be the focus – and possibly, that will be enough! If that’s you, I will not be offended in the slightest if you sign off now – I hope that it was helpful and encouraging.
For those of you desperate to know about how and what to TEACH your kids, this is for you.
I don’t think right now is the time for long curriculum discussions, or twelve-week plans. But I am a big fan of building off of the things our kids are interested in and passionate about.
So think for a minute about each of your kids. What are they most passionate about right now? What’s holding their interest? Maybe it’s animals. Maybe Lego. Maybe drawing. What are your kids really into?
Ok, now, using those interests what we’re going to do is think about the three basic elements of education.
Yeah, I know that wasn’t what you expected I would say, was it??
You thought I’d say the three R’s: reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, perhaps, and it’s quite possible that all of those will get involved at some stage, but we’re not at school right now – that’s the whole point. We don’t have education degrees (most of us). We are trying to do this while juggling work and life and a global pandemic, and that means we need to think about learning as something we can do in the midst of whatever else we’re doing. So, if we bring the lens back to these three C’s – curiosity, connections and communication – we can really successfully move out of a school-based, worksheet-based model and make it possible to learn in the midst of our real, everyday lives.
So, let’s talk this through on a few different age levels.
For the preschoolers out there (age wise or developmentally): curiosity is driven by what is right in front of them, and what holds their interest. They need to be able to touch it and taste it and engage with it! But they are also at the poll parrot stage. They learn and get curious by copying. Which requires connection. So if they’re passionate about trains you might take a few minutes to get down on the floor with them and ask them questions about what the trains are doing, or try building something a little different with the trains or have a conversation about what is working or not working with the trains. You probably already do that. But THEN you can introduce a little bit of letters or a little bit of numbers using the trains. You might say “this is Thomas the train… T… T… T… Thomas. Thomas’s name starts with T! Can you make a T sound?” Or “1, 2, 3, 4, 5! I have 5 trains. How many trains do you have?”
You’ve started with a thing your child is already curious about. You’ve made connections between yourself and your child, but also between your child’s current interest and the bigger world. And you’ve communicated with your child about that interest. This doesn’t need to take long – it’s five minutes in the middle of “train time” not an hour long lesson – but you can then go back and build on it at your next coffee break.
Elementary School: Grades 1 – 4
Ok, now for elementary school kids, grades 1-4. These guys are all about the first four W’s. They want to know the who, what, where, when. (Sometimes why and how come in at this age, but don’t worry too much if they don’t).
Let’s say your child is really interested in pandas. You might find a nature show about pandas for them to watch – or a live stream of pandas at a zoo. But maybe you wander by in the middle of it and ask a few questions: who is that? What are they doing with the pandas? Where do the pandas like to sleep best? When do the pandas like to eat? If your child is really engaged, you might decide to spend a whole week learning about pandas and make a scrapbook of everything they’ve learned. Those in grade 1-2 might still need help with writing their answers, but they can draw or dictate to an older sibling or to you. Let your child help create the format for their book – what should be in it, what questions they can answer, what art they can do. If you have access to books about pandas you can practice reading about them. If you want to do some basic math about pandas you can do that – maybe how many there are, whether one Zoo has more or less pandas than another Zoo – follow your child’s interest and look for opportunities to reinforce the skills they already have.
Elementary School: Grades 5 – 8
From grade 5-8 the key learning is about logic. This is the why and the how stage. So let’s say you have an 8 and 11 year old and they both want to bake bread today. You might want to have the 8 year old practice reading the recipe and completing the measurements, but the 11 year old you might ask questions like “why would it ask for the flour to go in last?” Or “how come the yeast needs to be proofed in warm water?” If your child doesn’t know the answers, that’s ok – maybe you set up a mini experiment with two batches of yeast – one in cold water and one in warm to see the difference the heat makes. Or maybe you ask them to look up a video explaining how it works on TedEd. If there’s an instruction they don’t want to follow, maybe turn that into an experiment, by letting them divide the recipe and do half the way they want to and half according to the recipe – just have them mark which is which to see the impact of their choices!
High School: Grades 9 – 12
In high school, the main thing is learning how to communicate all of that knowledge and questioning so that other people can understand it. This is why we write so many essays in high school, and answer so many math equations. But for now, follow your child’s curiosity, and ask them to teach you something new over dinner, or show you a new piece of art or read you a new poem they’ve found or written. Again, we want to encourage their curiosity and the connections between the things they are learning, and their capacity to communicate that to others.
Hopefully this gives you a bit of a starting point for creating CALM and using Curiosity, Connection and Communication to help support your child or teenager’s learning over the coming weeks.
Before we go, I just want to remind you that this IS a crisis of history book proportions. It’s okay if this feels hard – and there’s a reason that we are all acting and reacting a bit out of our norm. Crises have this way of revealing where we’re at in terms of our mental health, and sometimes have a way of shifting that mental health very suddenly.
So if you or your child or teenager is struggling with your mental health or with your relationship and you’re looking for support please feel free to reach out.
I am a life coach with 17 years of experience supporting families in crisis. Although I have no more pandemic experience than anyone else, I do have some fabulous tools to support families dealing with all sorts of other issues, like homeschooling, yes, but also pregnancy and the postpartum period, autism, disability, LGBTQ identity, loss (including but not limited to infant loss), and much more. All of my work continues to be 100% online – as it has been for the last three years – and I’d be more than happy to talk about any of these topics one on one with you. Feel free to send me a message, through my Facebook page, or my website: www.poweredbylove.ca