Tips for Parents with School Closures

Well, it has been a week this week. All of a sudden teachers will be teaching remotely and parents will be homeschooling their little ones. Some parents will have support from schools and teachers through remote learning while others might not.

We know that it is all new and may seem incredibly daunting. Know that teachers are feeling the same way. This is all new for all of us and we are trying something new while there is a pandemic in our midst. It is not going to be 100% perfect, but it will be ok.

We thought we would share some helpful tips for parents as long-distance learning commence next week.

Schedule

A very important thing is to make a schedule, post it, and stick to it: kids need and like routine. In schools, we have a schedule for each day, and many of the activities repeat throughout the week, students of all ages are used to it. If your child’s school has virtual meeting times, include those, if not then break up the day by subject and breaks. Subjects should not be more than 20-30 minutes for children in K-3 grades. For those in 4-12, subject times can be 40-60 minutes at a time. Include times for breaks, “recesses” and lunch. Jessica McHale has a great schedule for the day and Kahn Academy has great schedules based on grades to use too, but you can create your own based on your life and needs. Post the schedule somewhere where the children will be learning and try your best to stick to it. Consistency is key.

Try to keep normal bedtimes. Children should have as close to the same routines as before the school closures. Remind them that this is not vacation and that they still have to learn during school hours (whatever those may be). Letting them stay up late will make them grumpy the following day when they have to watch lessons or complete assignments, and that will make it harder for you, so early/regular bedtimes are the ways to go.

Physical Activity

Incorporate activity throughout the day. There are several websites and apps that have physical activities for kids. GoNoodle, StandUp Kids, and  Cosmic Kids Yoga’s YouTube Channel have great videos to get children up and moving. If the day is nice, and you have a yard, have them go outside and play. According to Carolyn Cannuscio, the director of research at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, “for people who live in areas that are not densely populated, walking around in their yard is probably safe. The idea is that they should not come into contact with any other people.” Take advantage of a nice day to get some vitamin d.

Read

If your child is reading independently, set time aside each day, about 15-20 minutes, to read independently. Reading is something that we do a lot at school and is important for kids to keep up. 

We know this might be hard as children are not at school and libraries are closed. There are a few ways to access books from home. Hoopla has free digital books, all you need is your library card. Amazon Kindle has free books for children (and adults) to download. There is an app for all smartphones and tablets; you do not need a kindle. Tumble Book Library also has a collection of books from young kids to teens. Children can also re-read their favorite books again and gain a different understanding from it. 

Start a read-aloud book. Children love adults reading to them. Not only will it keep your minds off of being at home through fantastic stories, but it is a great bonding time for parents and children. In addition, listening to adults read will allow children to hear fluent reading, and that helps them become better readers, become better writers, and expands their vocabulary. Scholastic has compiled a list of 100 of the Best Read-Aloud Books, many of which we have read in our classes too. Storyline Online has many picture books read by actors, that our kids love listening to. Vooks is another resource that has stories read aloud to kids with animations. Having them watch those independently will give you time to complete your own work or tasks. 

Mindfulness

These times can be stressful. The unknown and confusion can bring up overwhelming and scary feelings. Remember your children are looking at you and how you react. Taking deep breaths and meditation is helpful in calming some of these feelings. Use Headspace, Calm, or Dreamy Kid to practice mindfulness with your child.

We know that there is a lot going on right now and in trying times it’s important for children to have consistency and reassurance. Spend time with them, talk to them, play games, bake, make art, facetime family. Take advantage of the time that we have been given together. 

How to Talk to Kids About the News

Today’s children have access to more information than ever before. They see the news on TV or YouTube, have devices where the news is in the palm of their hands, hear and see the adults around them talking about current events, and talk with their peers. As much as you might want to, you cannot shield children from the realities of life. However, as they are better able to understand what is happening throughout the country and the world, it can be scary for some children.

Through the years we have had several moments in our classrooms where things occurred in society, and our students came to us asking questions or telling us their concerns about the news. When this has happened, we have always tried our best to assuage their concerns. In our discussion as a class, our students usually had many of their questions answered and their concerns were eased. Children want to know what is happening, they are very curious, and it is up to us to help them understand the world around them in an age-appropriate way. 

There are a few things to keep in mind when talking with children about current events,

1. Be honest: Children want honesty. Don’t lie to them. Stick to the facts and do not elaborate on rumors or speculations. 

2. Don’t share more than you need to: Kids don’t need to know every detail. Share what you think your child can handle, but there is no need to go into excessive detail. Kids aren’t always ready for everything

3. Preparation and safety: Let them know what you, their school, the government is doing to ensure their safety. Children want and need to know that they will be safe, and telling them about the steps you and others are taking to ensure safety is reassuring to them. 

4. Try to stay away from What-ifs: Children tend to ask a lot of what-ifs when discussing news, safety, and how to be prepared. “What if this happens? What if that happens? What if we do this?” Remind them that we cannot predict the future, all we can do is be prepared for it.

5. What they can do: Children like to know what they can do. Again, be honest and tell them a few things they can do to help or be safe themselves. This gives them something to think about instead of worrying.

6. Reassure them: Reassurance is critical. Make sure they know that the adults are taking the steps to ensure their safety and that they will be ok. 

We know that we cannot be sure what tomorrow will bring. The news makes everyone anxious, especially when it is coming at us all day long. Keep in mind that your children are watching you to see how you react to news and events. Try to remain calm and model responsible behavior for them. If it gets to be too much, turn off the news or devise and spend quality fun time with your children. Play games, watch some movies, take a walk, or do some art projects together. Children are children after all, and while they deserve honesty and real information, they should not be burdened or scared by everything that is happening in the world. As the adults in their lives, we have the responsibility of making sure that they are well informed, safe, and happy.

Don’t Bully Teachers

We as teachers talk to our students about kindness and respect all the time. We plan lessons, read books, and role play with our students about friendships and what to do if they encounter bullies. We have conversations with students who are struggling with being picked on or bullied, and we have conversations with students who are being bullies. We are surrounded by talks of socio-emotional growth, conflict resolutions, and standing up for oneself, and yet many teachers are bullied on a daily basis without the ability to do anything about it.

We have known many teachers and have experienced being bullied by the parents of students. As we wrote last week, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” (Stop Bullying). When we say teachers are being bullied, we are not talking about a one-time incident where a parent becomes upset and sends an unkind email or phone call. Although neither of these are the nicest things to send to a teacher, what we are writing about are parents who find fault with everything that the teacher is doing, send email after email of criticism, make call after call complaining, or say unkind thing after unkind thing. That is bullying a teacher, and that is, simply put, not ok.

The emails where our assignments or projects are criticized, our techniques, classroom management, or lessons are scrutinized, parent conferences where our expert advice is not only question and challenged, but demeaned, and the gossip and negative talk about teachers all have a detrimental effect on mental health. And unfortunately, there is not much we can do about it. Unlike another profession where a doctor can refuse to see a patient, an architect can refuse the project, or a chef can comp a meal and move on, teachers have a whole school year where they have to remain professional while being bullied. 

We hear a lot about what bullying does to children and adolescents, but we don’t hear much about what it does to teachers. It causes anxiety, loss of sleep, high levels of stress, affects mental health, it really hurts and brings teachers down. And yet educators persevere, talk and cry it out with teacher friends, and then do the same thing with their family at home. They show up for their students every day in the classroom and continue to plan lessons, activities, and projects. They put on a happy face, teach and love their kids because that is what teachers do. 

If you are a teacher who is being bullied this year please know that it is not your fault. You are trying your best and working your hardest. We know it is difficult, but try your best to leave school matters at school. Take a walk, workout, or do an activity that brings you happiness after school. Don’t check your email at home, you don’t want to feel sad or upset at home when you are in your safe space with your family. You do not deserve to be bullied because you are doing challenging and important work in our society. Your students love you and they appreciate all that you do.

If you are a parent and you have an issue, question, or are upset about something, please address teachers with respect. Take a breath before you write a scathing email. Ask for a meeting after a few days when you are calm. Approach the situation by thinking about what you tell your children to do when presented with a conflict. Remember, your children are watching you and your actions. If you are telling your children to be kind and respectful towards others, then you should likewise be kind and respectful towards their teacher. Children learn from your example, don’t be a bully.

Teachers are professionals in education. They deserve respect. They are also people with real feelings. Bullying teachers is not acceptable. 

Bullying: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Bullying is a very serious issue and we feel it is something that no child should ever face. However it is important to understand what bullying really is and what it is not. 

In recent years there has been a trend to label any conflicts that arise between children as bullying. Whenever one child does or says something to another we will often receive an email, a call, or a classroom visit where the word “ bullying” is freely used.

According to Stop Bullying “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” So, bullying is a repeated aggressive behavior toward another. An example of this would be a 5th grader who calls a third grader unkind things for a long period of time. Another example would be a 2nd grader, without special needs, who hits their classmate over and over again. When the behavior does not stop it is considered bullying. 

Bullying is not a child who calls a child a name once or twice. Bullying is not a child, who in frustration, pushes or puts their hands on another. We are not saying that either of these things are correct or acceptable. They are not ok, and the school should take steps to stop them from occurring again. However, they are not bullying. These are common conflicts that occur and should be handled with care and taken as learning opportunities. Children should be able to make learning mistakes without being labeled a “bully.” 

We know that it is hard for children to experience unkind behaviors from others. And it is really hard for parents to see children hurt or upset. Just know that all children will experience someone who doesn’t want to play with them, someone who says something mean to them, or a friend that betrayed their trust. These are hard growing pains of childhood and adolescence. They are also a necessary part of learning that enables children to navigate these types of challenges that they will have to face throughout their lives. 

As hard as it is, we can tell you that it doesn’t help children when parents and educators solve all of their problems for them. It does a disservice to real bullying situations when we over label things as bullying. We have to make it clear to our children what bullying is and what bullying is not. And when a situation is not bullying, we need to equip our children with the tools to navigate these challenging social dynamics instead of trying to step in and save the day. 

If your child comes to you with a social challenge, here are some things you can ask them:

How many times has this happened?

Have you told this child to stop the behavior?

Have you talked to your teacher about it?

Take some time to monitor the situation and if it does seem to be a repeated behavior that isn’t stopping, then contact the teacher. But if it is a safe situation, it is better for the child to talk to the other child to try to solve it, and if that doesn’t work, you can encourage them to talk to their teacher on their own. You can even email the teacher to give them the heads-up that your child will be coming in to talk to them, so that the teacher can make themselves more available. Children really love to solve their own problems when given the opportunity. It can be very empowering and help give them confidence. Many times, it’s just a matter of giving them tools on how to handle a new situation. 

5 Things Kids Can Do With Technology That is Not Video Games

Technology is a big part of the world today and we know it is here to stay. It comes with many positive and negative consequences and it can be really challenging to find the right balance when allowing children to use technology. Many times we get stuck in a routine of allowing our kids to be entertained by mindless video games because sometimes it is just easier. We understand that, and we are not here to judge or shame that choice. 

We’re not saying don’t ever allow children to play video games. But spending hours and hours on a mindless video game is not the best for a developing brain. However, there are ways to use technology that allows children to be creative and explore topics they are passionate about. 

  1. Drawing: Drawing is a great form of expression and creativity. It is also great for exploring colors, shapes, lines, and helps develop fine motor skills. Here are some great drawing apps to check out. 
  2. Reading: Reading is crucial for development and there are many ways technology can engage children in new books and help with the reading process. Scholastic recommends these 6 reading apps
  3. Animation: Animation is a wonderful way that children can bring their own stories to life. They can explore story elements and share their creations with family members near and far. Here are 10 animation apps that can be used at school or at home. 
  4. Photography: Giving children access to a camera can create great learning experiences. They can engage in real experiences while integrating technology. Here are some kid friendly photography apps for children to explore. Then create collages or scrapbooks together. 
  5. Video Editing: Making videos and mini movies is another way for children to be storytellers. There are some incredible kid friendly video editing apps for your aspiring movie maker. 

There is a theme with our technology suggestions, they allow children to create, tell stories, integrate real life and can include other people. When technology is used to connect kids to real topics and stories it can create conversations and bring up questions that truly engage them. We love technology and all the benefits it adds to our lives, however when children spend a significant amount of time playing video games, it can be very isolating and have a negative effect on real life interactions. When real life experiences and relationships are affected by technology, that’s when it is time to rethink the way children use it. The key to letting children use technology, is to find ways that it doesn’t impact real life interactions and can enhance their learning. 

Parent Guilt

Parent guilt is real. Making decisions about how to raise your child is difficult because it seems like every little thing has a tremendous impact on them. It starts at birth. Do you breastfeed or use formula? Should you use cloth diapers or disposable? Will they attend a traditional or Montessori preschool? Should they go to public school or an independent school? How much screen time should they have? How will you discipline? There are so many choices and decisions to make as a parent, and a lot of the time it can feel like you are making the wrong choice or if something does not go as planned you immediately blame yourself. It is sort of like you are damned if you do. You’re damned if you don’t.  

The guilt becomes more prevalent as children get older and have more activities, projects, and extra curricular. We try our best to do everything, be there for every event, help with every project, or go on every field trip, but the truth is you cannot do it all. The guilt that comes with the feeling of inability to be there for all these events is hard. And it doesn’t help to see the “perfect parents” on social media. 

Just know that every parent struggles, despite what it looks like from a few instagram posts. Parent guilt is real, but the truth is we need to stop blaming ourselves when we hit a bump in the road, when life throws a curveball at us, or when we cannot do it all. It is NOT your fault! You are trying your very best, and that is all that matters. How you handle the situation, your flexibility, and openness to change is important and more helpful than feeling guilty. 

As teachers, we have witnessed many parents cry when we have parent teacher conferences because they feel guilty that a struggle that their child might be going through is their fault. It is not your fault and teachers are not judging you for it. We bring up challenges or struggles that your child may be having to help you help them. All children need support for different reasons and it’s part of growing up.

Instead of feeling guilty for everything you think you are doing wrong, we challenge all parents to make more time for themselves. Create more downtime for the family. The best thing you can do for your child is to have a healthy mental state. Creating balance in your life will help your child develop into a more balanced person too. Give yourself permission to say no sometimes. You don’t have to attend every birthday party or every playdate. You don’t have to be there for every class party or volunteer at every luncheon. 

Parenting is hard and it has shifted in extreme ways over the last few decades. Over the years children have become the central focus of the family. Whereas before, children were members of the family, but life did not revolve around them. We feel a healthy family dynamic is one with balance where the children are cared for and the parents are also cared for. You’re going to make some mistakes and you won’t always know the answer. But keep in mind that your child will remember the memories that you make with them over a lifetime. Not that in kindergarten you forgot spirit day. Or that in third grade you could not make the movie night.

Teacher Guilt

Teacher guilt is real. It is something that we and many of our colleagues have felt at one point or another in our careers. Many teachers find it challenging to balance a personal life and still be able to fulfill all the tasks required for teaching. In many cases it is the mental well being of our teachers that ends up suffering. Which isn’t healthy for the teachers or the students. 

People who become educators are always seen and praised for their selflessness. It is as if teachers have to give up so much to be a teacher, and society praises them for it. Perhaps it is because historically, the majority of teachers have been women, and in western society women and mothers often have to sacrifice for their families, that teachers now have this stigma of sacrifice. 

How many times have teachers had to take a day because we were sick, or had a family obligation, or something came up but they felt bad for leaving the students? We can tell you that it happens often. Many teachers feel guilty for taking care of themselves, taking a break during the work day, taking a day, or even switching schools or careers. This teacher guilt is real, and we want to shift this mindset. We want to help change the narrative around teaching. 

The fact is that education is a profession. We go to school for many years to be teachers, and we should not be sacrificed for the sake of the children. It starts with teachers setting boundaries and saying they will not sacrifice themselves for their job. Teachers should be compensated fairly, given the resources they need for their classrooms, and given time during the day to complete the tasks required. If teachers continue to put in extra hours for free, spend their own money on their classrooms, and forego their personal lives, society will continue to control the narrative. It’s time we make a major change.

To our fellow teachers, just know that the children will be ok if you take a day or a few days off to take care of yourself. Your students benefit from your well being. And if you are unable to balance your life in your job, your school will be ok if you decide to leave the school or the profession. Like architects, engineers, and doctors, they will find someone to replace you. If your school isn’t able to give you what you need to be successful, it’s time to look for something that will benefit you and the life you want. Teachers are not volunteers. Teachers should not be putting their health and well-being at risk for the sake of a job.

Teachers need to stop feeling guilty. And society needs to stop praising teachers for their sacrifice, and instead praise them for their excellence in professionalism, and compensate them fairly.

Early Intervention

When you become a parent your heart is all of a sudden living outside of your body. In your eyes and soul your child is absolutely perfect. That is why it can be a scary feeling to notice that your child might have a difference or a delay of some kind. It may feel easier in the moment to brush it off as no big deal. And maybe in the end, it really is no big deal. However, it’s better to be cautious when your child is young, rather than wait until something becomes a real challenge for them later on. It is better for you, and more importantly for your child to figure out if there is a difference and get them the help and support that they might need. 

We understand that sometimes parents feel shame around their child being different, and they feel like it might be their fault somehow. Please know that it is not your fault. We want to help shift the culture in a way that parents don’t have to feel this way. We want to help every parent understand that children need different things to help them grow and learn, and by giving them what they need, you are equipping them with the tools they will use for the rest of their life. You are setting them up for success because they are not going to stay young and little forever. They will grow up into adults, and they need the tools to be able to live happy healthy lives. 

We are big advocates for early intervention for children who need it. Certain differences can be noticed within the first years of life. Examples could be an infant that doesn’t make eye contact, low muscle tone, or a baby that isn’t meeting specific milestones. If you notice something is off, ask your pediatrician. If something is going on, there are many services and resources available to help support healthy development through programs. For example, in California the Department of Developmental Services works with many regional centers throughout the state. These regional centers offer testing and early intervention for children up to age 5 at no cost to the parents. If you are in another state, ask your pediatrician for help, they can help guide you in the process of finding early intervention resources for your child.

In the later years, when your child enters preschool, and later kindergarten and beyond, it is important to communicate with your child’s teachers anything that will help your child succeed in school. On the other hand, it is also important to listen to educators when they notice something about your child. Teachers spend years learning about development and what is and isn’t age appropriate. When they bring something to a family’s attention, it is not to shame or blame. It is so they can give the child the tools they need to succeed. A teacher wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t do what was best for the child.

There is a saying that we often hear in our field: “They will grow out of it,” and sometimes that is very true. There are many age appropriate things that kids grow out of like eating their boogers, chewing on their hair, or fighting with their siblings. However, there are many things that children will not grow out of on their own, and the support of professionals might be needed. An administrator once told a parent this analogy, and it has truly stuck with us: “Wouldn’t you want to know if your child has asthma? And if they did, wouldn’t you want to make sure they had an inhaler to help them breath?”  Early intervention is the inhaler for children with differences. 

As teachers we have seen many children in our classes who have had tremendous success because they had services and early intervention when they were young. We also have personal experience with family, and we will forever be grateful to the regional centers and teachers who helped our loved ones learn and grow. We want to send the message that early intervention makes a huge difference in a child’s life, and you are not to blame for things that come up, but as their parent, it is your responsibility to help give them the tools they need to succeed. 

How to Help your Child with Multiplication

Students usually begin learning the concept of multiplication at the tail end of second grade. They begin looking at multiplication strategies with equal groups, arrays, repeated addition and on number lines. These concepts are reviewed again in third, fourth, and fifth grade, when students continue working with multiplication. The concept of multiplication plays a big part of the other math units of division, long division, and fractions.

Because in upper elementary math concepts rely heavily on multiplication, being fluent in multiplication is very important and helpful for students. If they do not have to figure out what 56 divided by eight is or 9 x 6 is, then they can focus their energy on completing the more difficult algorithms that they encounter. That is why teachers, including Jen, often recommend memorizing multiplication facts in 3rd grade.

The question that many parents ask us is how to help their child learn their multiplication facts. There are many ways to become fluent in multiplication tables. Below are some of our recommendations.

1) Flash Cards: You can make these at home or pick some up from the store. These are great because students can work independently with them or with someone quizing them. There are also some online like Fact Monster, where children can practice their multiplication facts.

2) Math Games: There are a lot a multiplication games online that are fun and help students learn their facts. Some of our favorites are iXL, Multiplication Games, and Splash Math

3) Worksheets: These are not the funnest way to practice, but if you print out worksheets from Math Drills, and practice taking a fact quiz with your child at home a couple of times a week, you can see what multiplication facts they need to work on.

4) Apps: There are a lot of apps available for tablets where students can practice their multiplication facts. Some of our favorites are Ardy’s Multiplication Fun, Factor Samurai, Math vs. Zombies, and Times Table Multiplication. However, there are many more apps that are available to help your child practice multiplication tables. 

5) Songs: Some kids are more musical, and learn better through songs. One of Jen’s favorite things to do is play School House Rock Multiplication Rock for her students. They sing the songs in the morning and at pack up to help them learn their multiplication.

At the end of the day, it is good to remember that memorizing multiplication facts, while helpful, is not the end all in math. Students can use all the strategies that they have learned to help them while they become more fluent in their facts. This time is a great time to spend with your children. Talk about how you use multiplication in your life and when you use it, talk it out with them. Tell them the strategies you use, and quiz them on facts as you shop in stores. By showing children how multiplication is all around them, it makes it real for them, and you will see them flourish. Practicing multiplication facts with your child is another way to spend quality time with them while helping them master a skill.

Technology Mindfulness

Technology plays a crucial role in our society and in child development. It has become a tool to monitor child health problems, can help connect children to their families, and can be a great learning tool when used purposefully. On the other hand, when used irresponsibly technology has the ability to disrupt sleep, create unsafe distractions, create a space for cyber bullying, and it can interrupt adult-child interactions. 

According to the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) and the Fred Rogers Center, when technology is used wisely it has the ability to support both learning and relationships. Digital devices have rapidly become the culture in all avenues of life, at home, in school, at work, and in all different types of communities. While we do see this as a positive, we also need to be mindful about technology use. Research on this topic is relatively new to the last two decades. Much more research is needed to fully understand the short and long-term effects of technology use and how it is shaping child development, which is why it is so important to be mindful of how children use it.

Here are some things to consider around technology use for CHILDREN and ADULTS:

How frequently it is being used

How often do you reach for your device for no reason? Consider how you are using technology in the presence of children. Consider how often your child is reaching for a device. Is it out of habit, necessity, or pure boredom? 

What is being consumed

Always consider what is being consumed on technology. When technology is interactive it can promote creativity and exploration. When used in passive ways, technology can become unhealthy.

How it affects real life relationships

We often write about teaching children how to build relationships, we fully believe it is one of the most important skills for child development. Consider if the technology being used is hindering or helping to build relationships. 

We understand that at times, giving a child technology is an easy way to entertain and appease them. We also understand that it really can be a wonderful tool when used in developmentally appropriate ways. However, if a child becomes reliant on watching videos while shopping with you at the store, is always playing with an app at a restaurant, or constantly on the tablet while in the car, they are losing valuable learning and bonding time. They are missing out on learning social cues, how to talk to each other, how to make eye contact, how to sit and wait, how to be bored and how to entertain themselves. Now think of those repercussions in the classroom, at a sports game, religious event, or performances. 

The honest truth is that teachers, coaches, tutors, and even parents cannot compete with the technology in children’s hands. Technology has been designed by engineers to keep its users engaged and coming back. Which is why we need to be mindful about how and when children use technology. 

The theme that we often write about is balance, and it is especially important to practice balance when using technology. Personally, we are avid users of technology and are definitely not perfect, we are always trying to find ways to balance our use of devices, social interactions, and productivity. As adults, we need to be doing what we can to model mindfulness when using technology in our own lives. Mindfulness doesn’t mean you will be perfect all the time, it just means you will be more thoughtful around how often and for what purpose you use technology around children. It is through this modeling of mindfulness that children will be able to learn and develop healthy habits of their own.