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.

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 in Restaurants that is Not Video Games

In recent years, we have noticed a trend while eating out at restaurants. Families are sitting down to enjoy a meal out and the children are given their tablet or a phone to entertain themselves with. It works perfectly so that the children do not make a disturbance in public and the adults get to enjoy a meal. It is a quick and easy fix. Parenting is a twenty-four-seven job, and being in public adds the scrutiny of society when kids act, well like kids, onto a very heavy plate. No one wants to get the stares and whispers from strangers about their kids, so a tablet in the hands of young ones allows them to be quiet and well behaved. We get it!

However, when a child is given a tablet out in public or in a social situation, they are losing out on learning social cues, practicing conversation skills, and engaging with others. Mealtime offers so many learning opportunities. When their focus is on a YouTube video or an app, they are zoned out of real life. They are not learning how to be bored and then how to entertain themselves. Kids need to learn these tools to thrive as adults, and when they are not taught any of these as children, then they do not have them as young adults or adults. 

We are not here to judge parents, however in the past decade, we have noticed the effects of technology on children in our classrooms. More and more children are entering school with less social emotional knowledge, they have trouble connecting with others, they struggle with focusing and paying attention, and they do not know what to do when they are bored.

When going to restaurants we recommend not having technology at the table. Instead try one of the following things with your children.

  1. Activity books: There are so many activity books available for children. Some have stickers, others have puzzles, and others combine both. These types of activities can be both done independently or with others. Kids will love to share what they are working on too.
  1. Travel Games: There are a lot of travel games that are the perfect size to take with you to restaurants. Travel games are small, compact, and easy to put away and carry. Kids love playing games and these provide entertainment for the whole family. 
  1. Small bags of Legos: Kids love legos. Pack a few small baggies of Legos to take to the restaurant and let them build different things. 
  1. Mats: Take your own mats to the restaurants. We love these Smart Mats because they are educational and fun. They also have different mats for different ages. There are also place mats for toddlers that are more play based. 
  1. Coloring Books: A simple coloring book is a classic restaurant go to. Coloring is both therapeutic and quiet and comes in many forms. 

We do feel that teaching children to sit through a meal without an activity is the ultimate goal. We also understand that restaurants can pose certain challenges and when you need a little something, we find these to be much healthier than a tablet or phone. With these activities, children are still able to interact with the family. When children are glued to a device, it’s a different story.

It might be difficult the first few times, it won’t be perfect, and you could get some stares from others, however at the end of the day you will teach your child how to converse, how to engage with others, and how to behave in a restaurant. With practice your child will learn to enjoy eating at a restaurant without a device.

We are not against technology. We think that life is about balance. Children need to learn about balance with technology, and it is up to us to teach them those skills.

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. 

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. 

Cheers to a Year of Blogging

We cannot believe that it has already been a year since we began Dreaming Teachers and that this is our 50th post. When we first began this project, we wanted to help parents and teachers. After more than a decade in the classroom we noticed a disconnect between teachers and classroom expectations and parent and home expectations for children. We have also seen a big change in children’s social behaviors. We wanted to be the link between parents and teachers so that together we can raise healthy, balanced children. 

We have touched on issues that pertain to raising children from a perspective that parents might not have thought about: the teacher’s perspective. Many of the topics we write about are based on our experiences in the classroom combined with what research shows is best for children. 

In the coming year we hope to continue to write blog posts to help parents and teachers with the incredibly important job of raising children and giving them the tools they need to navigate our ever changing world. 

Cheers to a happy and healthy New Year and to finding balance in 2020!


Holiday Traditions for Families

Creating traditions with your children is an important part of growing up. Traditions can bring families together and provide a sense of comfort and belonging. They can also be a wonderful avenue to create long lasting memories that nurture the family connection. It is great to have different traditions throughout the entire year but the holidays is the perfect place to start if you are looking to add some tradition to your family!

Here are some ideas that we love. Some are more Christmas related, but others are traditions you can start with your child, no matter your beliefs.

Christmas Tree: Plan special traditions around getting your Christmas tree. We love the idea of picking a day to get your tree. Some people like to wait until December 1st. We think any day after thanksgiving is fair game. Get it from the same place every year, or get a special hot chocolate on your way to get the tree. Adding in a yearly tradition will make the experience so memorable. Let your children help in decorating the tree. There work decorating might not be the most “aesthetically pleasing,” with ornaments toward the bottom of the tree all grouped together, but they will be so proud of their work and so happy to be part of your family traditions.

Advent Calendars: There are so many different types of advent calendars that start the holiday season off on the first day of December. You can go for a store bought version with the little candies, or the wooden ones where you get to put in items of your choice. You can also make your own. There are countless ideas on how to make one floating around the internet, including this free printable advent calendar that includes different activities for each day. We really like the idea of a kindness advent calendar where instead of receiving a treat, children can do an act of kindness everyday.

Baking: Pick out your favorite holiday treats and have a baking day. Baking is fun for children and can be a great learning experience. And of course eating the treats is equally fun. This one is very special because you can pass on your favorite recipes to your children to create a tradition that lasts generations. You can also decorate tins with your child, even add pictures, and hand them out as presents to family and friends.

Movie Night: Pick a night to watch some of your favorite holiday movies. Some of our favorites are Elf, Home Alone, The Polar Express, The Santa Clause, A Christmas Story, The Grinch, and Klaus.  But there are countless wonderful family movies for the holidays. Sometimes the hustle and bustle of the holidays can be stressful, don’t forget to balance that out with what really matters. Spending time with loved ones.

Meals: There is something so special about creating traditions with the food we eat during the holidays. Having certain dishes and recipes that you only make during the holidays will make it even more memorable. Many children love cooking and helping in the kitchen. We understand that they can make more work, but just think of how proud they will be when they ae complimented for their yummy food.  Not to mention that allowing them in the kitchen will help children become more independent as they grow up.

Books: Pick your favorite holiday book that fits your family values, beliefs, and traditions and read it together every year. We love the books like The Night Before Christmas, The Little Drummer Boy, The Magic of Friendship Snow, What Do You Celebrate, and Dasher. Our classes also love hearing stories related to holidays and traditions.

Family traditions are the thread that binds a family together. When you have strong traditions, it keeps you connected even when your children grow up. And they will have something to carry on with their own children. We want to wish everyone a very happy holiday season!

What are some of your favorite family traditions for the holidays?