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. 

Podcasts for Parents

We are big supporters of podcasts and for good reasons. We get to hear so many experts sharing real stories and advice. And the best part is that you can listen anywhere. On a walk, in the car, on an airplane, getting ready for work, or driving in your car. We know when it comes to parenting and raising children time is precious. We don’t always have time to pick up that book or read that article. Podcasts can be a great resource for getting parenting tools and advice on the go. 

We have picked out some of our favorite parenting podcasts that you can listen to while doing one of the many things on your to-do list! 

Life Kit Parenting: An NPR show that gives great advice on how to navigate raising children and how to talk to kids about various topics. From the birds and the bees to the tooth fairy! This show has wonderful experts that share real tools to use. 

It Takes a Village: A show that focuses on listening and well being of children vs. lecturing children. Gives various strategies to take the conflict out of discipline. 

Raising Good Humans: Trustworthy and realistic advice from a developmental psychologist, who is also a mother of two trying to raise good humans herself. 

Unruffled Respectful Parenting: Each episode addresses a different reader’s parenting issue and Janet Lansbury tackles the challenge through her respectful parenting philosophy.

Ready, Set, Play: A podcast all about child development, play, parenting, and toys. Experts discuss the importance of play and how different toys can with developing your child’s mind.

Family Confidential: Experts and educators give 21st century parenting advice to help strengthen your family.

Parenting on Purpose: Relevant and practical advice for parents, especially relating to developing character.

Not Just Cute, the Podcast:A podcast where the conversations center on whole child development and intentional parenting

The Brain Architects: Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child explores what we can do in the developing years to make sure that all children have a successful future

Raising children is no easy task. It can help to hear stories of others who have walked in your shoes. Besides experts and psychologists, many podcasts offer real stories as a way to connect with the listeners. Whatever you may be dealing with in your child rearing journey, just know there are resources to help support you and people who can relate. 

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. 

Podcasts for Kids

Podcasts have grown exponentially in the last few years. Including the amount of shows made for children. Podcasts are a great way to engage children in conversation and learning. They can spark new interests and curiosities. Many are interactive and children can write in to ask questions or even submit their own stories. They are great for road trips, long flights, or even just driving around town on short errands. Some are great right before bedtime. Many podcasts are created to be enjoyed by the whole family!

Here are a few to check out with your children:

But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids Great for all ages. You can even record your child asking a question and send it into the show!

Ear Snacks A show about music, science, art, and culture that is made for kids and enjoyed by the entire family. 

The Past & the Curious Little known stories from history. Each episode has a silly song that goes with it!

Story Time Great for bedtime, these stories are short and comforting stories. 

Be Calm on Ashway Island This one is great for teaching mindfulness and breathing techniques.

What if World This takes listeners “what if” questions and turns them into wacky stories. 

Wow in the World NPR discusses the latest news in technology and science in a way that makes it enjoyable for kids!

Brains On  This series takes kid submitted science questions and answers them with experts.

Tumble Another science podcast that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Story Pirates All the episodes in this series have been written by real kids!

Little Stories for Tiny People Stories and poems written for toddlers and preschool children.

Six Minutes Each episode is six minutes long, hence the title It tells the story of a girl named Holiday who was pulled out the ocean and does not have a memory.

Young Ben Franklin This podcast tells the escapades of a boy named Ben, who will one day become Benjamin Franklin.

The Alien Adventure of Finn Caspien This podcast tells about the adventure of Finn Caspien in outer space as he and others try to discover a place for humans to live.

We love podcasts for ourselves and our students too. There are many other podcasts for children, these are some of our favorites. Listening to podcasts with your child is a great opportunity for spending quality time together. They will also allow for discussions and conversations after listening.

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!”

Ten Things That Teach Kids Independence

Our jobs as parents and teachers is to teach our children independence. This sounds easier than what it is because from the moment that babies and children come into our lives they are dependent on us. In our roles as caretakers, who love our children, we often forget that our charges will grow up, and they must be able to think, regulate emotions, overcome challenges, and do things for themselves. It is uncomfortable to see children struggle or be in any sort of discomfort. Yet it is only through personal trial and error and processing the uncomfortable emotions that they will gain the skills necessary to be independent. 

Fortunately there are a few things we can do to help build independent skills

1. Try not to always answer their questions

If you think they can answer it themselves, you should let them. Kids have a million questions a day and most of them are questions that with a little thought and a little problem solving, they can arrive at the answer on their own. By letting them figure things out, you are helping them grow and giving them confidence. 

2. At the park allow them to climb and play on their own without your help

When you go to the park allow your child to explore without you right behind them. Watch from a safe distance and give them the space to explore and play on their own. Let them climb, run, and play independently. By doing so, they  know you are close, but that they have to figure out the play structure themselves. 

3. Allow them to walk into their school or classroom alone

Children as young as kindergarteners should carry their own backpacks and walk into their classrooms independently. They do not need your help to unpack or complete the morning routines of the classroom. Letting them know that school is their space early on in their schooling will set them up to be independent scholars. 

 4. Let them do their homework alone

Children need a space in the house where they can do their homework independently. Children do not have a teacher sitting next to them at school. We monitor the class and help students as needed. They are very capable of doing the same at home. It is their responsibility to complete their homework, not yours. 

5. If they say they can’t, don’t swoop in and do it for them 

There will be times when things will be challenging for kids. This can be as simple as eating a new food to more complex things such as STEM projects. Of course we aren’t saying NEVER help your kids. We are saying they should be pushed to try things that they think they can’t do. One of the best things to witness in child development is when a child realizes they can do something that they thought they couldn’t. 

6. Give them chores

Chores help give kids responsibility which builds independence. Kids can and should contribute to the household. It can be easy as picking up toys, helping set the table, making their bed, sorting the laundry, or feeding the pets. As they grow and they learn more skills their chores can become more age appropriate. Children love knowing they can do something to help and it will help build life skills that they will need.  

7. Have them help with lunches and breakfast

With a little direction, kids can help put together their lunches and help make their breakfast. Teach them how to use the toaster, pour cereal, put a step stool in your kitchen so they can access bowls and plates. Most children by age 12 are completely capable of using the oven and stove. 

8. Let them walk to school or to the store on their own

The National Center for Safe Routes to School is working hard to help create ways for communities to make it safer for kids to walk in communities on their own. While it might be scary to allow your child to walk somewhere on their own, a 2012 study from Safe Kids USA reported that streets are safer now than they were in 1995. Letting them walk by themselves forces them to use and practice all the safety precautions you have taught them.

9. Give them time and space to solve social struggles on their own

Having challenges with friends is normal. It is part of development and a huge part of life. Kids need to learn how to navigate relationships. If you want to help your child, give them the tools or suggestions on how to deal with specific situations. It really does not help for a parent to confront another child and try to solve the problem for them. It is always good to remember that there is a big difference between social conflict and bullying. For more on this check out this article from verywellfamily.

10. Let them make mistakes

They are more likely to try new things and take risks when they know they can make mistakes and learn from them. If you try to avoid and save them from making mistakes you are taking away a very important part of development. Mistakes can be uncomfortable, but they need to learn how to be uncomfortable sometimes. 

“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.” 

  • Ann Landers

Shame, Judgement, and the Comparison Trap

If you haven’t heard of Brené Brown, google her (after you are done reading this of course). She is a shame researcher who has a famous TED talk, has written several books, and recently released a Netflix special. One of the things that she discusses is shame that parents experience. Parent shaming is a real thing and it has to stop. We see parent shaming online, we see it in our schools, we see it at the grocery store, we see it on planes, and we see it in restaurants. There are many parenting styles and you don’t have to agree with all of them, but can we stop judging each other for every little thing?

While we love to give advice and tips on specific areas of raising balanced children in the 21st century, we never want to come off like we are shaming people. Our main advice is always balance. Balance means you do what you can when you can. We find that along with shame are judgment and comparison.  Neither of these are good for your health or your family’s health.

Let’s start off by talking about judgement. It is easy to judge other people. Especially if you don’t know what their day has been like. If a child is throwing a tantrum in a store, most people will immediately judge the parent for it. However, we do not know what the situation is. Perhaps the child missed their nap, maybe they are sick, or just maybe they are a child with special needs. Kids also have a mind of their own and can sometimes be unpredictable. We do not know, so we must not judge.

Shaming a parent is when you put your judgment into action and decide you want to give a parent a look, a piece of your mind, make passive aggressive comments, or even talking behind their back. Your intention is to make them feel like they are doing a bad job, being a bad parent, or have something to be ashamed of.

Before judging a parent (or anyone really) ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know them or their situation?
  • Am I trying to help them or shame them?
  • Does it affect me?
  • Do I have good intentions?

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The other side of judgement and shame is comparing yourself to other people. In the age of social media, we are all bombarded on a daily basis by perfection. People most often will post and share the perfect moments in their lives. The idyllic family hike, the children baking, or siblings playing happily. What is not seen are the fights, the mess, the arguments and struggles that are a part of real life. And yet, the perfection is what we compare our lives to. We feel less than because our house is a mess, we aren’t hiking, and the cake is store bought.

If you are feeling less than, then perhaps take time away from social media. Take your family to the park to play, order a pizza and have a family night in, or have game night with your children. Remind yourself that “This too shall pass,” that the messy, crazy, and hard parts of parenting are only temporary, that no family is perfect, and that all of it is okay.

We as a society have to take the mantel for ending parent shaming and judgement. It is up to us to model for our children to respect and accept others.