Posted in ebb & flow, education, mental health, mindset, parenting, tips

Tips for school-at-home

School has started or is about to start ’round here. For the moment, we’re all online, and many parents are struggling with the situation.

Different households have different dynamics. Parents and kids have a wide range of personalities and interpersonal relationships. Be open to possibilities. Take what works; leave what doesn’t.

As a teacher with decades of mostly-successful experience in classroom management, I’m here to give you some tips that will work with most kids most of the time. My context is elementary-aged people; much of this will work with older ones, too. And with adults. Really, most of this applies to most people most of the time.

Warning: consistency is critical, and consistency is maddening. You have to do it. It will not work without. (That’s actually true of parenting in general, but I’m not going down that rabbit hole.)

Also, it’s important to remember that children are people and have wants, needs, feelings, opinions, good days, bad days just like adults do.

Enough intro. On with the stuff.

Give them space to work

At school, they have their desk or their spot at their table.

Find a spot that is their school space. If you have room, you can have it be a semi-permanent space; it doesn’t have to be. An uncluttered table top that is theirs to use for the day gets the job done. Kitchen table would work, if it doesn’t need to be cleared for lunch. Their own desk, a child-sized table, a portion of a large table, a folding table, whatever. Ideally, it will be something that is their size, but again, if you don’t have that already and don’t have space or means to acquire, use what you have. It will be OK.

Also, many don’t like to sit at tables or desks all the time (which is good—adults shouldn’t, either), so if they’re working on a laptop or a tablet (or working during off-screen time), let them have the flexibility of sitting on the floor. In Montessori, students use mats to establish their work space. A throw rug, blanket, or towel could easily serve the same purpose. This sets boundaries for the child (this is my space) and for anyone else in the room (that’s their space). Again, this can easily be put down and picked up daily.

Give them necessary materials

Typically, they have one or more notebooks, pencils, erasers. Maybe a ruler, colored pencils, scissors, tape, glue, a white board, markers. Make sure ahead of time they have all the materials they will need (ask their teacher if a list was not provided) and keep the materials together in the work space.

If you have space and want to be fancy and use different containers and label and/or decorate them, etc., go for it! (Hats off to you, Pinterest-y mamas!) Involve the child in the process. Remember: it’s their school space, not yours. If you just have an Amazon box that seems like it’s close enough to the right size, use that. (Letting them decorate a plain cardboard box can incite buy-in, especially if they are younger or artsy. Older kids could make collages with magazine cutouts, if you want to go there.)

One of the things you’ll see in any well-run elementary classroom is a place for everything. The kids know where stuff is. The teacher doesn’t need to fetch everyday items for students, and students don’t need to ask where something is every time they need it. You can have this fluidity as well. Create it.

Establish a schedule

Kids like to know what to expect and when. Routine and consistency are critical.

The schedule will, in part, be delivered by your child’s teacher. I am assuming that some of the work will be done in real time with the teacher “present” and some of the work will be done without the teacher.

So let’s say live classes are at 8, 10, 12:30, and 2 each day for 30 minutes each. The child’s schedule might look something like this:

  • 7:00   Wake up, do morning things (clothes, food, teeth, potty, etc.—whatever your normal morning routine includes)
  • 7:40   Turn on computer, make sure internet connection is working. Assuming all is well with technology, play time (ideally outside) until 7:55.
  • 7:54   One-minute warning that playtime is ending—helps the transition
  • 7:55   Get a drink, go to the bathroom, settle into class
  • 8:00   Class
  • 8:30   School work (maybe more specific, if you have more information). This will not necessarily be sitting still and might shift between the table and the floor, or different positions on the floor.
  • 9:30   Play, snack, drink, bathroom
  • 10:00   Class
  • 10:30   School work
  • 11:00   Lunch, play, bathroom
  • 12:30   Class
  • 1:00   School work
  • 1:30   Play, drink, bathroom
  • 2:00   Class
  • 2:30   Finish any unfinished work from the day
  • 3:00   Play, snack, drink, bathroom

And schedule the evening however evenings go.

Schedule some one-on-one time with them (during the day or in the evening), even if it’s not for very long (10-15 minutes), and give them undivided attention during that time.

Schedule yourself some alone time, even if it’s not for very long (10-15 minutes), and set boundaries around it. It is non-negotiable. (You need this.)

Having a schedule for the school day lets kids know what they’re doing when and for how long. If they can’t tell time yet, set alarms. (Or set alarms regardless. I’ve been able to tell time for a long time—I don’t even need numbers on the clock face!—and I still use alarms regularly.) Teach them how to turn the alarms off if they don’t already know. Let them practice that more than once in more than one sitting.

Put the schedule on a piece of paper and hang it in the school area so they have it available. If you put it in a picture frame, you/they can write on the glass with dry erase markers. So they can, for example, check off each time block as it passes. Or you can make a note next to a time block for something to remember that day. Or write today’s lunch. Or write a note of encouragement.

Establish procedures

Elementary teachers do this for weeks at the beginning of the school year. We set the procedures and we intentionally practice them. Kids don’t remember all the stuff in one pass, and they’re not going to by you telling them once, either. Habits are not formed in one try. The first Monday after the first weekend is the worst.

What do you need a procedure for? Everything. If you have a procedure for everything, and you practice them at the beginning of the year (or before, since you have that advantage), they don’t need to ask nearly as many questions once it’s all established. (That will take time.)

Refer to the schedule for starters.

  • If they’re working independently, what do they do if the computer and/or internet isn’t working?
  • How do they know when the times on the schedule are arriving? (Are you watching the clock? Are they? Are there alarms? Are they allowed to take the device with the alarms outside if they play outside?)
  • Where do they put their written work when they’re done with it?
  • Can they have a drink at their work station? What kind of drink? (Water only, please!)
  • What is available for snack? Do they get it themselves? Do they clean it up after? (What does “clean it up” mean/include?)
  • What do they do if they need help?
  • What do they do if they’re finished their school work before the “school work” time block is up? (Read, draw, write a letter, practice another skill.)
  • What can they do during play time? (I strongly recommend no screens and extra moving during the school day.)
  • Are they allowed to listen to music during their work time? What about TV?
  • Are they allowed to text or otherwise engage with friends outside of the class time during school time?
  • What if they need to go to the bathroom and it’s not bathroom time? (I put bathroom breaks on the schedule because the bathroom is a well-known and oft-used place to spend time when you don’t feel like doing your work. And since at home, they can’t ask to go to the nurse…)

Practice them. Role play them.

Young kids can have significant independence. Teach them how.

Change your hat

This is theoretical. I made it up. I haven’t tried it. Yet.

Our kids often interact differently with their teachers than they do with us.

So perhaps as part of procedures, establish when you’re the teacher and when you’re the parent. Maybe literally wear a teacher hat. (I mean, not a hat made of teachers, which I guess would literally be a teacher hat. But a hat that you establish as the “I’m the teacher when I’m wearing this hat.”) Maybe make a different name for that character. Something (or a set of somethings) to separate the role of parent from the role of teacher, both for you and for them.

(It doesn’t have to be a hat. It could be any piece of clothing that is easy to add and subtract to whatever you’re wearing. A jacket. A cape. Fake glasses. Cat ears. Whatever.)

Follow through and be consistent

Consistency is key. Patience is necessary. It will take them longer to learn procedures than you think it should. If you have multiple kids at home, having similar procedures for all of them will help everyone to remember them.

Because this is new (unless you got it all figured out last spring), the plan might need tweaks. Have an intentional conversation about the tweaks.

Outside of that, when they whine, refer to procedures. If you give in after they bug you long enough, they learn that they just need to bug you long enough and then you get bugged more. I tell my students (and my son, though not often because he learned this a long time ago, and his friends), “You can ask me as many times as you want. The answer will be the same.”

Skip shaming

Shaming is not good for behavior change. It also does not promote growth. (Have you made positive change in response to being shamed?) While snarky comments might be the first nine things that pop into your head in response to something not getting done/understood (or finally getting done/understood), please keep them to yourself.

You know all of those negative tapes that play in your head about yourself? Many of those were planted by people earlier in your life shaming you. Those are not the seeds you want to plant in your children.

(Sometimes this is the hardest one. Sometimes I text my friend and tell her I didn’t even get a trophy today for not saying xyz. Because there’s no pat on the back for staying quiet when you ought to. If you need one, let me know. I will empathize and give you an e-trophy. Because it’s so hard, and it’s worth it.)

A last note, just on mindset and vocabulary…

This isn’t homeschooling. When you homeschool, you create (or find and adapt) lesson plans, scope and sequence; you create assessments; you grade the materials. Parents with kids in remote learning, you don’t have to do these things. Silver lining: those tasks are not on your plate.

I’m not saying that what you’re doing isn’t hard. Just that it’s not everything.

And also: you can do hard things. Good luck.

 

Posted in Sunday photos

My photography journey 2Aug20

The Kid loves all things space and astronomy, so of course, we’ve been on the lookout for Comet Neowise. None of us have been invested enough to get up in the middle of the night and drive to a less urban location on the hope of seeing it. Less than an hour’s drive, but more than dragging your butt out of bed and shuffling into the yard for a few minutes.

Without success, we’ve biked to a few locations very nearby—trying to catch it just after sunset—and finally went for a drive one evening. (Locals, we went up near Saguaro Lake.)

Success! Couldn’t see it with our own eyes, but Sir Nikolas Cameron with a 30-second exposure could see it, and The Climbing Daddy found it with binoculars.

My photos of it are not at all good and I’m not going to share them with you. I did get a nice shot of the sky and the mountains and a cactus, though! Lots of stars!

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Starting the school year online, I needed a good shot to use in beginning of the year, introduce myself documents. So I set up shop with all the instruments I have here and got an OK shot. Good enough for why I needed it.

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The Kid has a subscription to Kiwi Crate and was thrilled with the project in this month’s box. One of the pieces was two little dolls that “dance” on a stage. He asked if we could take some photos of them.

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He was happy but not content with the shot.

“They need stage lights.” So with a box and a flashlight, we got two different shots.

 

Then he wanted a long-exposure shot of them falling and standing back up. We still have some work to do, but we were both happy enough with this one for now.

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“I love the ghosts, Mom!”

 

Posted in Sunday photos

My photography journey 26July20

CLOUDS!

The sunsets here are nearly always fantastic, but we’re finally into the part of the year where we have such lovely clouds.

I went out to shoot clouds a few evenings and ended up with shots that were … decent. Not what I was hoping for, but some that were at least sharable. (3 photos in the slideshow)

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After the views from a local park weren’t as good as I’d hoped, I set up on the sidewalk and still didn’t get much from the sky. Then I saw oscillating sprinklers along sidewalk’s edge, so I thought a long-exposure shot might be cool. Alas, the combination of the darkness (beyond dusk by this point) and not good background led to the shot not coming out good at all.

I noticed that lights from an idling bus down the street were reflecting in the wet sidewalk.

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And then in the foreground (not visible in the pic above), I noticed a cool shadow pattern on the sidewalk, the product of the lit basketball court and posts on sidewalk’s edge. This is my favorite shot from the outing.

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Finally, in going in the back yard (again, in pursuit of clouds), I tried a few shots in the pool area. None that involved water came out well, but I like this one.

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I have access to Adobe editing tools now and when I have brain energy and make time, I’m going to dive into editing. But work starts this week and it’s all online so that’s likely to consume time and brain energy. Always more to learn than time and energy to learn it…

Have a good week! Next time, it will be August!

Posted in ebb & flow, podcasts

What are your monthly expenses?

Today’s post is really just fluff. We’re not going to talk about yours (or my) monthly expenses. I just heard a little tidbit that gave me pause and I thought I’d chat with you about it.

I was listening to a podcast that isn’t about budgeting at all and they mentioned that Shaq’s monthly expenses amount to $825,000. (It was an episode of Under the Influence, a super-interesting Canadian-based podcast about marketing, and I can’t find which episode. It’s not where I thought it was…)

That’s … more than teaching has paid me cumulatively in my career. I can’t empathize with needing to do commercials so that I can pay the bills when the bills are that extensive.

I mean, I understand it on a very basic money-in-money-out way. And picking up odd jobs to make money. But on a much smaller scale.

What do you think?

 

 

Posted in about me, ebb & flow, mindset, motivation, parenting

Keeping The Kid engaged

I have a trait. (Whether it’s a blessing or a curse is up for grabs.) I’m interested in a lot of things. There are many skills I would like to attempt to acquire.

As a result, there is way more to do than time (or sometimes energy) to do it.

The down side? I often feel time-deprived. And I sometimes (not always) have trouble sticking with a task when it’s at a hard part (learning new skills always has hard parts) because there’s something else I could work on instead.

The up side? I’m never bored.

The Kid has some of this same quality about him. There are things he can talk about longer than you can listen (space and space travel, Minecraft, LEGO) and many many other things that he shows passing interest in.

Because we didn’t go to camps this summer, I decided to try to give him some “slow and steady” perseverance in skill acquisition. The badge system worked well for certain things for a while, but it wasn’t going to work for this.

So I made a chart. We all participated.

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It’s in a frame so we can use dry erase on it. Each day as we do one of the things, we cross it off. Doesn’t have to be a ton of time. A little bit of attention each day.

Each day that the entire list gets marked off, one of the pictures at the bottom gets crossed off. (I had just discovered those pictures when I was making the chart, and that system was born entirely inadvertently as I picked out ones I thought The Kid would love and/or laugh at.)

We did seven days on then a day off (so these were weeks but not Sunday-to-Saturday weeks), and while he needed to be reminded sometimes (often), he did it.

So did I. It was great for giving me a kick in the butt on days when I didn’t feel like doing stuff.

(The Climbing Daddy did it the week he took off and many weekend days, but not on work days, which is to be expected.)

Yesterday was Trophy Day. The Kid was so excited coming up on Trophy Day. (He’s the one who made it more like a holiday and less like that’s just the picture you cross off that day.)

I didn’t know what I was going to do when the board was complete, if anything, so I just took all the symbols and made a certificate. He was thrilled!

In making the certificate, I named the “event” the New Skills Challenge. It hadn’t had a name before. He was extra-excited to complete a “challenge.”

Results?

He did the typing test in his typing “game;” improved accuracy 7% and WPM by 1 since taking the same test near the end of the school year.

He can play a little bit more on his trumpet; mostly, he sounds better on the same songs. (The Climbing Daddy had to start over on a new instrument, as we no longer had a sax to use, so The Kid started over with him.)

He crochets single stitches quickly and feels ready to try a granny square. (He is learning this from a friend and from YouTube—I don’t know how to crochet.) He is excited to have a jellyfish kit waiting for him when he has a bit more skill.

He is learning to write in cursive. Needs to trace words still and is doing much better with forming the letters than when he started. (Kids should learn cursive for a bunch of reasons that I’m not going to tangent into right now. It’s not a useless skill.)

Between typing and cursive, his spacing issues in printing have decreased. (The typing error he made most often was not using the space bar. When I told him that it’s the SPACE bar and it should be his favorite, he rolled his eyes.)

We’re working on Spanish together and he’s picked up a few words, but he’s pretty resistant to it.

He reads often anyway, so that was on the list as an easy win every day.

After receiving his trophy certificate, I told him we have two more weeks until school starts—do you want to do two more weeks?

Yes!

I think we’re going to set some small goals and see if he can work towards them, instead of practicing aimlessly. I don’t know if that will be helpful or initiate a bunch of negative emotions (anxiety, frustration, pressure). We’ll talk about it and see where it goes.

In the mean time, he’s proud of himself for the work he’s put in and the skills he’s started to hone.

And I haven’t heard “I’m bored” yet.

(Me? I’ve been playing piano, trombone, ukulele. You see a bit of my writing. Also writing the book and in a journal. Definitely not all three any day. Spanish through a website and books and talking to The Climbing Daddy. Photography you see the results of here—some days it’s taking pictures and some days it’s just working through my online course. Soon to add editing. Exercise has been running, strength training, sometimes pool-related. This list will be pared down next week when work starts again. How am I going to pare it down? I still want to do it all…)