As we continue to see schools closed and expectations to work from home rise, your confined time with your family may begin to take its toll on your household. This is the time of year when we often hang onto the hope that the weather will soon change, and cabin fever will come to an end. And then it gets a little Jurassic Park in the neighborhood. “We’re back….in the car.” Can anyone else relate?
Sure. Spring breaks have been happening so we could be a little more flexible as we adjusted to this new normal. Now that everyone’s spring break is over, or is just coming to an end, reality is setting in. It’s time to talk about strategies and tips to make this time more enjoyable, less stressful, and an opportunity to teach our kids lifelong skills that build resilience. Maybe they can take these skills into the workforce when they become adults too! It is never too early to teach ownership, responsibility, or self-starting.
First, let’s talk about schedule and structure. If you read my colleague Andria’s blog (https://comeasyouarecounseling.wpcomstaging.com/2020/03/24/surviving-home-learning-during-this-pandemic/), you know that schedule and structure are the foundation for success in helping your kids with their education at home. Andria’s blog also talks with us about being flexible with these constructs. One way to combine structure and flexibility to your schedule is to set aside particular blocks of time for schoolwork while being fluid in what subjects you address.
An option for accomplishing this task is to take some craft sticks and write each subject on a separate stick. I have a little glass jar I use to put the craft sticks in, but if all you have are strips of paper and an envelope that is perfect. During your scheduled schoolwork time you let one kid pick the subject that you will be working on. The block of time that you spend on a subject will depend on the age of the child. You could have an envelope of sticks for each child with the amount of time they are expected to work on that subject written on the end of the stick. When younger children have reached their threshold, they can pick a new stick or take a break. Just remember that you are the one that monitors whether they have reached their threshold or are testing boundaries. Have an envelope with “finished” written on it and put the drawn sticks into that envelope when the work is completed. You reset your jar or envelope each day. Don’t forget to schedule in fun or specials. Put those on your craft sticks or paper strips too!
This activity is a great way to teach prioritization and organization of daily tasks. Kids need boundaries and expectations to help them make sense of their world and feel safe. By setting aside a time for their work you are providing the structure that they need to feel secure about what is happening in their world right now. By allowing them to choose the order in which they tackle their schoolwork they learn to have autonomy amid stressful situations, which builds resilience.
A second way to help you keep your sanity during this time is to grab a white board, if you have one. The white board is my favorite resource for doing math or spelling work. Have the math problems you plan to address with your children that day printed or written out on paper. Give a child their list of the problems for the day and ask them which one they would like to start on first. Then, ask them if they want you to write the problem on the board, or do they want to do it themselves. Repeat with additional problems.
It is important to give them multiple options for how to solve the problems. For example, younger children who are adding or subtracting can: draw dots, use mathlink blocks, use marbles, or use their fingers. If you do not have something readily available, improvise! You can make “manipulatives” with a hole punch and some construction paper in their favorite colors. You can also use real coins. Pennies can be used for smaller addition/subtraction problems.
Skills involved in this method include autonomy, ownership of the task, and project problem solving. Here is the task before them. How are they going to tackle it? They are able to discover their own natural gifting in mastering their assignments. Again, you as the parent need to determine if they are testing boundaries or need to move on to something else. If they are testing boundaries, then give them the choice to decide for themselves how to solve the problem, or you will decide for them. If they chose to work on the problem in their own way, they were probably testing boundaries. If they continue to struggle, take a break and ask them what they need, give a hug, see if they are hungry, etc. Testing boundaries is healthy if it does not escalate into something too big to for either of you to manage. Testing boundaries is often asking the question: will you keep me safe? Safety can take on multiple definitions in a child or adolescent mind. Please keep in mind that boundary testing does not equate poor behavior. They have a need that needs to be met.
Language Arts is another area where creativity may be used in a structured way to develop a love for reading. Recently, I participated in a virtual roundtable where one of the speakers mentioned lighting a candle and have everyone read for the length of time the candle is lit. I started using this suggestion at my house! Another strategy to help children become strong readers is to have them read the story they are working on, then have them use their toys to retell the story. You could also have them act out the main parts of the story, or a paraphrase of it, for older children.
Another way to make learning language fun is to use games that you already have at home. A great example is Apples to Apples. This game can help teach vocabulary and relationships between different words. If your student is young and does not have a lot of vocabulary yet, or struggles with reading, you can alter the directions of the game. An example for Apples to Apples is where you do not need to keep your cards secret and there is no winner, but you see the green card and everyone finds a word in their hand that matches the green card. Younger children can get help from other players without feeling shame about their skill level. If you do not have a matching card, you talk about why. When you pick outrageous cards because you do not have a match, you can still do a lot of laughing. It is essential to create opportunities for laughter during this time.
These examples of learning language arts show how to make the learning fun and memorable. When you add the fun, learning does not seem so overwhelming and sets kids up for success. These strategies address communication skills, interpretation, and that work can be enjoyable. Social studies can also use acting things out as a way to make the learning process smoother and much more enjoyable.
Lastly, children need times for expressive and messy play. Science works well with messiness! Whenever the weather is nicer, I have a fiberglass table I set up outside for all the messy fun we could dream up. At the end of the activities, I hose down the table….and sometimes the child! There are so many fun science experiments you can do outside that meets their teacher’s criteria. At the same time, the kids get their daily dose of vitamin D, which helps keep the peace indoors. Search the internet for ideas if needed and let them learn while having a brain break. One of my favorite books for messy play is Usborne’s 365 Days of Science.
As we walk through this experience together, remember that you are not homeschooling your child. You are providing crisis schooling. Parents who chose to homeschool their children have invested a lot of time preparing for the experience. You were not given that option, so you are providing crisis schooling. Get as much education worked into your schedule as you can but give yourself grace at the end of each day for doing your best to juggle all the hats that were handed to you without warning. You do not have to be an A+ educator. You just need to do the best that you can to keep your sanity, keep the kids alive, protect your connection with your kids, and do the best you can to help them continue learning. If you don’t get much schoolwork accomplished…..you are not the only one! We are in it together! First things are first.