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 mental health, mindset

The COVID opportunity

So much going on, both inside and outside of my brain. I’ve had a lot to say and it all bleeds together and nothing has come out clearly, so I’ve been quiet here on the writing front.

I decided to be productive (in terms of writing) by transcribing onto the computer some pieces for my book that I had written by hand a while back.

I wrote one bit about change and about how we typically require a traumatic life event before we evaluate where we are and what we’re doing. (And how that’s really too bad.) Also about the fork in the post-trauma road—some people take the opportunity to do better, to be better (for whatever that means to them), while others become bitter or closed off. I wonder why. (I’m sure people have researched this, and I’m sure I’d be interested to read about it, and I’m sure that I already have more on my plate than I can do and I will not add that right now.)

It was really interesting reading my thoughts about all that at this time.

We’re experiencing a world-wide trauma. Narrowing focus to just our country, people have been in various degrees of shelter-in-place for, at most, three to four months.

Some people have accepted it but are wilting within it. Some accepted and are thriving. (Those variations have as much to do with who’s in your house and how they interact—if there are others—as much as who you are.) Many haven’t accepted it.

It’s an opportunity to reevaluate what we’re doing day to day without thinking about it. Daily habits.

It’s an opportunity to change spending and saving habits.

It’s an opportunity to clean out the house and get rid of internal elements that are sucking up energy. (I used to be a “yeah it’s a mess but I know where everything is” kind of person and would not have believed that I would feel better with everything neat, uncluttered, tidy … and yet here I am, tangibly more peaceful when my house is tidy.)

It’s an opportunity to help others. (You don’t always need to be in proximity to a person to be helpful.)

It’s an opportunity to cook new things or read new things or explore new things (or old things that got set aside).

It’s an opportunity to be creative, whether literally (the arts, woodworking, app creation, LEGO building without directions, etc.) or in figuring out what to do with the kids … or with yourself.

It’s an opportunity to learn how to meditate. To breathe. To stretch.

Sure, you can argue that we shouldn’t have to shelter-in-place, that money is more important than people, that it’s all fiction, etc., but you’re denying yourself the opportunity to grow.

Is it hard? Of course it is. But you can do hard things.

 

 

 

*Of course it’s not possible in this moment for everyone. Nothing is. But it’s possible for an awful lot of people right now.

Posted in know better do better, mental health, mindset, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Black lives matter, toothpaste, shaving cream

This post passed through my Facebook memories and it helped me to synthesize some of what’s going on. Maybe it will help you, too.

tubes

This activity has circulated for a while in parenting and teaching circles in the hope of teaching children to understand the power of words.

In case you can’t read the text on the photo: You give kids shaving cream or toothpaste or something similar and ask them to squeeze it all out; they delight in this. Then you ask them to put it back in the container. Obviously, this is fruitless. The moral of the story is: things you say can’t be taken back. Once they’re out, they’re out.

I saw this and I thought … this is part of why so many white people dig in their heels about racism.*

Acknowledging we are wrong brings to mind years (decades?) of tubes of toothpaste and cans of shaving cream in our wake. All the damage, all the hurts that we were/are (potentially inadvertently) responsible for. We see all of that, collectively in one messy pile, and we feel like a horrible human being.

Nobody likes to feel like a horrible human being, so we don’t acknowledge that messy pile, and we continue to hurt those around us in order to protect ourselves.

To paraphrase Maya Angelou: when you know better, do better.

That messy pile of jokes and slurs and negative assumptions and offhand comments and staying silent? You own that, regardless of where and when you pivot. You own that whether you acknowledge owning it or not. Those around you know you own it, whether you acknowledge it or not.

You can say, “I didn’t know. And I feel stupid and ashamed for not knowing. Now I know. Now I will do better.”

Also know that even in the process of doing better, you’ll still mess up. Because we all mess up, because we’re human. Anyone who tells you that they’ve never spoken or acted in a way that was demeaning to a minority either lacks self awareness or is lying (or both). And also because this stuff is baked in to our culture. Fish not knowing what water is and all that.

When someone tells you their story, listen. To the best of your ability, put aside your own self-defense and listen. If you don’t believe them, if you’re trying to rationalize the other side, pause for a moment and ask yourself: what if what they are saying is true? What about that possibility makes it so uncomfortable that you’re trying to poke holes in it?

We can rant about the system. (And agreed — the system desperately needs an overhaul.) But… we ARE the system. Know better. Do better.

As an addendum to that: support people who are trying to change. Support people who are doing better because they learning. Too often, someone who had a different way of looking at things 5 or 20 or 50 years ago is vilified for flip flopping or for “well, you used to ___.” Maybe they didn’t know then, but they know now. They were part of the problem, realized it, and want to be part of the solution. Let them become part of the solution!

*Applicable to any power differential.

Posted in about me, exercise, mental health, motivation, physical health

Another morning habit I won’t keep

I finally hit the wall. Which is funny, because I’ve mostly been sitting.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been going for a walk almost every afternoon, to get some sun and fresh air and get out of the house. Until recently, it’s been nice out. Now that it’s officially “hot” (100+ degrees), I’ve started using a sun umbrella and taking a water bottle.

We’ve been biking three to five evenings each week with The Kid.

We’ve been lifting out in the garage usually twice a week.

We’ve been running sporadically.

But I still don’t feel … active enough? I think there’s just not enough days with heart rate up. The bike rides tend to be slow, walking in hot weather with an umbrella is average pace. Neither of those raise heart rate.

Also, I’ve been waking up around 6 most mornings, usually just before or with The Climbing Daddy’s alarm. The Kid wakes up between 7 and 7:30. So I have an hour or more most days between when I get up and when the chaos begins.

Twenty of those minutes go to journaling; that still leaves time.

So I decided to go out and run. Not far—1.5 to 2 miles. If some day I’m inspired to run more, I will.

Today was the first morning to run. Today, of course, I woke up close to 7. Tired.

Laying in a puddle of sleepy shame, I decided to start tomorrow.

I got out of bed to go to the bathroom. The act of getting out of bed and starting to move was all it took. I decided that I could run today and that I would feel better if I ran today and didn’t postpone it for another day.

So I went. It was cool (relatively) and sunny and lovely outside. I did a slow-even-for-me mile and a half.

The run itself was fine—not amazing, not terrible—and the feeling of getting it done is excellent. The mood-boosting benefits of the run are always welcome.

As an added bonus, when I got home, I texted a screenshot from the tracking app to a friend. (We often text about exercise things and will congratulate or encourage each other. Kind of long-distance exercise buddies.) I included the text: “Almost didn’t do it. Feels good to get it done.”

She replied, “You inspired me. I was literally putting on my shoes to walk the dog, but I think we’ll run a bit now.” And they did.

Gotta start somewhere. I started today.

Posted in about me, mental health, motivation

Journaling

I have a thing about writing.

I enjoy it quite a bit. Also, it’s often therapeutic.

And I have a hard time making time for it regularly. I haven’t dissected the why of that yet.

Years ago, I read a piece about the benefits of journaling first thing in the morning. Whoever the piece was about had a habit of writing for 20 minutes (or maybe half an hour?) every morning to start their day. An opportunity to brain dump and start the day clear-headed.

It sounded great. Except that I’m already a night person waking up for a morning person’s schedule. (And, added on perhaps since I read that, I additionally have a kid who is not self-sufficient who is also a night person on a morning person’s schedule.)

So I didn’t do it.

Recently, I remembered this suggestion. I don’t know what triggered the memory.

I pulled out a notebook and have started writing it in every morning. I have at least three months before I go back to working at work (the 20-21 school year starts in mid-July in my district, assuming schools reopen) and can do it at least until then.

And I don’t need to worry right now about whether or not I’ll maintain the habit. Because right now, it doesn’t matter.

I was taken back to a creative writing class that I took the summer between 8th and 9th grades. We had timed journaling to do, and the only rule that I recall was to keep writing. If we had nothing to write, write “I don’t know what to write” until we had something else to write.

Did I need to write that very often? I don’t know. (I need to dig out that notebook. I’m sure I still have it.) But I do know that if there’s nothing to write about now, it’s just because there’s too much trying to come through the funnel and I’m stuck in that way.

Looking forward to this bit of the journey.