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. 

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.

Let Kids Be Bored

Today’s parents often feel the need to plan out, have activities, and make sure that their children are entertained all the time. This puts a lot of pressure on the parents to make sure that kids are never bored. Boredom has become synonymous with bad parenting, but in reality, children need the time and space to be bored. And you are not a bad parent if sometimes your child is bored.

A recent study found that boredom can spark individual productivity and creativity. When a person is bored, they allow their minds to wander and daydream. This enhances creative thinking and problem solving. 

Boredom also allows children to be self reliant. When left up to their own devices they have to decide what they want to do. According to Lyn Fry, a child psychologist told  Quartz, “Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy. If parents spend all their time filling up their child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do this for themselves.”

Having to discover what you like to do when you are bored will also allow children to find what they’re really interested in. These interests could lead to passions or hobbies in their lives. However, if they are constantly going from one activity to another, they will never have the down time to figure out where their interests lie. Finding out what makes you happy is important for everyone, especially as children grow up. 

Let your child be bored and they might gruffle and groan for a bit. Stay the course, and  eventually they figure out how to entertain themselves. Whether it is playing with toys they forgot about, building forts out of pillows, writing stories, designing a board game, coloring and painting, or playing imaginative games, children will find ways to entertain themselves. Disconnect your child from all forms of technology, leave them alone, and you would be surprised at the creativity they can unleash.

We often model for children the need to multitask. We overschedule ourselves and our children. We constantly check our phones, email, social media, watching TV and are constantly staying connected. Start by modeling for your children an afternoon of zero technology and just sitting, reading a book, having a conversation with a partner,  or coloring. Show them that it is ok to not do anything sometimes. 

Do not feel bad for having a weekend where nothing is planned. Sometimes social media makes parents feel bad when they are not out at an immersive educational adventurous location. That is not real life, and no one will judge you if every once in a while you and your child do nothing. 

Boredom is good for a child’s development and for parents too. We all need down time. Finding the balance between our go-go-go lives and just being is absolutely necessary for all of us. 

We are here to say, “Let kids be bored!”

Back to School for Teachers

We know that once teachers go back to school for planning week and the first days of school our To-Do lists seem to never end. Back to school for teachers is a very busy time of year. 

There is so much to do to get ready and then the students arrive and there is so much to do. Let’s be honest, it’s what our lives are like all school year long. Too much to do and so little time. 

Over the years we have had relatively easy transitions into school, somewhat stressful transitions, and incredibly anxious transitions back to school. Often times there are many things that are out of our control that can cause stress. A construction site that has not been completed at the school, a new partner you have never met, an unorganized administration, a mandatory change in classrooms, too many meetings and zero classroom prep during planning week, are all things that can cause teachers so much stress and anxiety. We know! We have been there!

We have some suggestions for a smooth and less stressful transition into a new school year:

1) Go into your classroom before planning week
If your school lets you go to your class before planning week, try to go in a couple of days. Honestly, doing this has been a life saver for us. Not only do you get to catch up with the office staff before everyone else, but you can turn up the music and clean, organize, make lists, and set up. Doing this lets you cross some things off your to do list before you are at the will of admin, parents, and students. 

2) Do not compare your classroom to Pinterest or Instagram classrooms
It is really hard to see perfectly beautiful classrooms on social media and think that we are not doing enough because ours do not look like that. Know that it is ok. Your classroom will be perfect for your students because you prepared and worked so hard on it. You can take some inspiration from classrooms and set ups from social media, but know that your students will love their classroom and it doesn’t have to be perfect.  

3) Try your best, but know it’s ok to not be or feel 100% ready 
Don’t feel like you have to have the whole year planned out by day one. Take it a month, a week, or a day at a time. And if your classroom is a work in progress, that is okay too. No one knows what you didn’t put up except for you. 

4) The first few days of school should be about getting to know your students and routines and procedures of the classroom
The best thing is to spend time getting to know your students and letting them know what systems are in place and finding out what you can do to set your students up for success. One piece of advice to try to form your own opinions about students. Even if a previous teacher had some challenges, be open to getting to know each and every student. 

5) Email parents to let them know how their child has transitioned into the classroom within the first week of school
Even if it is just a quick line to tell them how their child made new friends, or is showing enthusiasm for the new school year. It is great to stay positive at the beginning and try to find good things to say about each child.

7) If you see issues with students setup a meeting sooner rather than later
If a child is having a rough transition, it is best to meet with parents early on so you can develop a support plan. Let the parent know that you are on their side and want to partner with them to help support the child. 

8) Have fun and be flexible
Try to have fun with your students, even if you are feeling the stresses of the start of school. Your plans might change and just go with it, be flexible. There are so many opportunities to model flexibility in our classrooms. Often times a lesson, technology, or project will not go the way you planned it. It’s great to point out to kids when things go wrong, and model how to overcome challenges. 

9) Self Care
What we must all remember is that we can only do our best, and if things do not get done, that is ok. Teachers often feel that we must give and sacrifice ourselves for our classrooms. But guess what? That is not sustainable. The most important thing is to prioritize and find a BALANCE!