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 hope, know better do better, mindset, motivation, podcasts, tips

Yes! I’ll do that! … Later…

Procrastination has showed up in several podcasts in the last few weeks.

The content has conflicted in some ways, but I took some bits from them and plan to use them. (Always: take what you can use and leave the rest.) These things are so obvious and fall into place so easily that I can’t believe I didn’t sleuth them out already. Maybe you have?

The biggest takeaway I had was that procrastination is avoiding a feeling, not a task. Completely resonates.

So I don’t actually put off phone calls because I don’t like phone calls—I’m avoiding feeling intrusive or frustrated or stupid (for a variety of reasons), depending on the call.

And I’m not avoiding writing the book because I don’t like writing (which I already knew!)—I’m avoiding putting it out there when it’s done.

And on and on.

Sometimes, I’m exceptionally productive when avoiding a specific task. The best way to get a daily to-do list done is to put one thing on it that I really don’t want to do. Everything else magically gets done…

One of the episodes talked about the lack of immediate gratification, and that would be true on long-term tasks—or maybe quick tasks with long-term payoff—but it doesn’t fly with “I need to make a phone call.”

They also talked about making yourself accountable to other people, but I have witnessed countless times (and so have you, I’m sure) that often, that doesn’t work. You disappear from view of your accountability partner. Or you tell them you decided not to pursue the thing any more. You eat the money you paid for your accountability group. Or use some other means of escaping the accountability.

Brené Brown’s work ties into this. Shaming yourself for something you have shame about in the first place doesn’t help the problem and does not inspire change or productivity. (Don’t shame yourself. Don’t shame your kids. Don’t shame your spouse. Don’t shame your colleagues. Don’t shame anyone. It. Doesn’t. Work.)

So.

For long-term projects where fear of failure or rejection—often manifesting as perfectionism—are the roadblocks, there’s a plan. Let me recount what they suggested in the specific example in the podcast, and you can take it and adapt it.

The procrastinator was not making the (very short) videos she needed to make for an app she was looking to create. (The app already existed; it just needed content.) By asking her when during the day she would ideally work on this, she was assigned a daily 45-minute block just for making the videos. The first 15 minutes was planning. After that, she would record that day’s video until either time ran out or she had one she was happy with. If time ran out, she would just choose the one she liked best of what she had created and move on.

This creates space to work on it each day, but more than that, it removed much of the paralysis by perfectionism. Just make videos. It doesn’t matter yet if they’re good. Just make them. They’ll get better as you go.

Just write. Just draw. Just practice. Just record. Refine later. For now, just do it.

Of course, not everyone’s schedule allows space to be created so neatly. But most of us can find time on a regular-ish basis to work on a long-term project. (If we have a long-term project we want to do.)

How to make the phone calls?

Create a system where some highly desirable thing happens only when the dreaded thing happens. Perhaps a guilty pleasure type of thing. All of the examples that I’ve read/heard of this use watching movies or TV as the positive—”I can only watch these shows when I’m at the gym;” “I can only watch these movies when I do these unpleasant but long-term necessary health-related tasks”—but I’m sure that if that’s not your bag (like me), you can find something else.

As a general rule, I don’t like food/drink to be reward, but if it’s an infrequent or short-term enough thing, then it might be okay. It’s just … easy to set the stage to create or exacerbate other problems.

Links to the podcasts:

Work Life with Adam Grant

How To with Charles Duhigg (This is the current episode as of when I’m writing. “Procrastination” is in the title if you’re looking for it at a later time)

Armchair Expert

Braincast (This was my least favorite of the four I’ve linked—it’s the only episode I’ve listened to from this guy, and I’m not inclined to make room for more.)

Posted in about me, ebb & flow, education, parenting, tips

Things that are working for quarantine schooling and living

I’ve seen three people just today ask “What are you doing that’s working?” with regards to the kids being home. Here’s what’s more or less working here.

Disclaimer: This is not meant to tell you what to do. Our situations might be entirely different. This is just what we’re doing that’s working (or that we tried that didn’t work). Take what resonates. Modify what almost resonates. Leave the rest.

Also, it’s not homeschooling. It’s not entirely online distance learning. It’s a weird emergency unplanned hybrid of a lot of things.

So. What’s working?

Well … I have the advantage that my working from home is very flexible. This gives me the space to help The Kid with his life in a fairly hands-on way.

We’ve known for a long time that he doesn’t do well unscheduled. So we made a schedule immediately, even though there was no school stuff yet. It wasn’t rigid, and it included lots of things: meals, snacks, exercise, play, math/ELA/science, Spanish, music, creative, mindfulness, chores, kitchen skills. Within those categories, he had a lot of flexibility.

Bedtime got wonky which made wake up time wonky, and the schedule fell apart. So this is what we’re doing now (the last two weeks) and it’s been working well. (If it stops working well, we’ll go back to a more structured schedule.)

We made a list of All The Things. It currently includes: math, reading, writing, science, creative, Spanish, music, exercise, chores, kitchen skills, typing, mindfulness. I need to add playdate.

It’s in a picture frame; you can use dry erase markers on glass the same as you can on a white board. Because he has school work now, and because that list is pretty extensive, we agreed that over the course of two days, we’d hit on all the things. He uses a dry erase marker to mark the ones he’s done, and we reset it every other day.

It’s not a perfect system, and it’s working. Some things he does more than every other day (he reads nearly daily, for example), and that works. It allows us to make sure things aren’t falling through the cracks.

I have a little white board that I brought home from work. (If I didn’t have this, I would use another picture frame with blank paper inside for a clean background.) Each day, I put the full date on it and make a list of things to do that day.

For example, today, he has a live lesson, so I wrote the subject and the time. Otherwise, today is Day 1 of the two days on his list, so he can do pretty much whatever. He has school work to work on, so I just put “school work.”

He is stressed about his school work. (Because he has at least a couple of days to complete each, his list of assignments feels long.) We printed an April calendar, and as he receives assignments, I write them on the due date. (His writing is not small enough to do this task.) He’s able to look at it when he’s going to work on the more generic “school work,” see what needs to be done, and work on it. I am helping him with this.

(He’s still a little freaked out by assignments on the calendar, but we’re talking about spreading out work on a project so it’s not overwhelming. Life skills right here. Hopefully also helping me hone this skill for myself…)

We have been getting school work all done in the mornings, so afternoons and evenings, we can do fun stuff. Or chores. But either way, not school.

What else is helping?

Breaks

He had a half hour live lesson yesterday morning. During it, they had a few minutes to go collect some materials that he already had with him. He took those few minutes to jump on his trampoline, and he was in much better shape for learning when he returned to the computer.

When he started to frustrate with his writing assignment, I suggested he leave it for tomorrow (it’s due the end of next week) and go play outside for a few minutes.

That’s another help.

Sun

Getting out of the house is so important (for all of us—not just the kids!). We’re fortunate for now to live in a location where the weather is nice almost all the time. (Talk to me again in two months…) We’re also fortunately to be in a house with a yard. He can go out back and play. And run around. Which brings us to…

Exercise

Normally, he would have recess at school to run around and play. He would have time after school. He would, on some days, have taekwondo.

And while he does go outside and play, it’s not the same without other kids to run with.

We’ve done a few things to help him to move more.

One: he either takes a walk or a bike ride every afternoon with The Tall Daddy.

Two: While I’m not usually a fan of virtual races, we registered for a virtual 5K. This one has a medal that I thought was excellent, and it supports the National Parks. He could only register (and get a medal) also if he agreed to train. So on several of my solo afternoon walks around the neighborhood, I’ve mapped out routes that are at or a little over 5K. I showed him the maps, he chose one, and we’ve been running parts of it. Will piece it together in the couple of weeks we have left. (You can join here, if you care to. I don’t get any kickbacks, I just like the organization…and the medal.)

Three: on nights we don’t run, the three of us lift weights, go for a walk, or take a bike ride. His longest ride so far was six miles.

So he’s getting out to play in the morning, out with The Tall Daddy in the afternoon, out with us in the evening. And, as always, there is the trampoline in the living room. And I often agree to requests to wrestle. It’s not as good as playing with friends, but it’ll do.

Playdates

He has been using the Marco Polo app to keep in touch with a few friends. We have had virtual playdates with friends via FaceTime. He’s played Battleship and Guess Who and has just talked and fooled around and been silly.

Novelty

He’s learning how to play trumpet, because I am able to teach him and have an instrument available. I don’t know or care if he’ll still want to play when life returns to normal.

We have some toys and things in the closet, picked up on impulse and saved for a proverbial rainy day. It’s proverbially raining.

We’re baking things that we never bake. Bread. Cookies. Pretzels. He was astounded that I bought sugar.

There’s an overwhelming number of resources of things to do available online. We’ve chosen a few.

He and The Climbing Daddy built a table.

We have books and toys and activity things that he’s had and not looked at in a long time. Those things are coming into the rotation. (And the ones that still aren’t interesting are going into the donation box.)

Tidiness

With The Climbing Daddy working from home, he’s taken over the office. My computer is now in the living room. The house is out of whack. In order to have my work and his school all in the living room, we need to be organized and tidy. If it was a mess, it would be stressful. So his school things have a place. My school things have a place. Things get put away right after we use them so we aren’t moving around in clutter. While that is always what we do in theory, in practice, it’s more hard core right now. The living room must.stay.neat.

That said, he built a fort out of a sheet and the couch. It has stayed up for a week or more now, and it’s OK. We have other places to sit, and he likes to go in there and do his work or play or send Polos. He’s been sleeping in there most nights. It’s working.

What’s working for you?

Posted in audience participation, connections, mental health, parenting, socializing, thoughtfulness, tips, vulnerability

School. Virus. Sadness. Self-care. Hope.

Here in Arizona, the governor recently announced that public school buildings are closed for the rest of this school year. (Schools aren’t closed; the buildings are closed.)
Teachers and principals are still working.
I’m sad for all of the kids and teachers and parents who had something in the fourth quarter to look forward to. This is many seniors (remember: not everyone likes high school, so for some, this is a relief) and others moving up a level. Performances, dances, ceremonies, awards. “My last ____” just disappeared.
I’m sad for all the kids who go to school to get structure, to get love, to get consistency who are now looking at five or more months at home (spring break plus fourth quarter plus summer).
I’m sad for all the kids who are now working manual labor to try to help their families make ends meet. (Yes, that includes elementary-aged kids.)
I’m sad for the parents who are stressed out about trying to make their kids do their schoolwork (when really, love and connection and emotional safety are way more important — now and always…though those are different than “do whatever you want; another post for another day).
I’m sad for all of the lost birthday parties and quinceañeras and bar mitzvahs and  playdates and baby showers and weddings.
I’m sad for all of the people whose anxiety has shot up.
I’m sad for all of the people who have lost someone (virus-related or not) and can’t seek comfort in community.
I’m sad for all of the people who are separated from loved ones who are hospitalized (whether because of the virus or not).
I’m sad for all of the people who continue to mingle with others because they are so unwilling to accept their own vulnerability.
Stay in touch with people.
Do things at home that make you feel good.
If cleaning the house is a “should” and creating art is a “want,” create art. There’s enough to do that needs to be done (work for some, dishes, cooking, dishes, keeping other people and animals alive, dishes, laundry, dishes … so many dishes). When you have time outside of the needs, spend time on the wants. The shoulds can get done later.
Truly.
(If cleaning the house feels good, then do it! I know sometimes cleaning is a drag, and every now and then, a cleaning bender is mysteriously inspired. Wait for inspiration. And if you’re never inspired … it’s OK.)
Play.
Create.
Soak up beautiful things.
Take advantage of so many arts being available online (performances, galleries, etc.).
Turn on some music and dance and sing in the living room. (And make a house rule that no one makes fun of anyone else for how they look or sound doing it—emotional safety is important and “harmless teasing” erodes emotional safety.)
Get outside. Not socially, but sun is good for you in a myriad of ways.
Read. (Books, magazines, whatever. We were pounded with what “counts” as reading when we were in school, and it was bullshit. Read whatever interests you.)
Exercise. Go for a walk or a bike ride or do yoga or weightlifting or aerobics in your living room or your yard or on your patio.
Support the people around you and let them support you. We’re in our own little cells now, but we can still reach out and stay connected. Talk on the phone. Talk via video chat. Text. Email. Write letters.
So when it all passes and the fear settles and the anxiety reduces and we can gather again, we have changed the world for the better in the mean time.
In the mean time … stay home.
Posted in motivation, tips

If you want to use it, make it accessible

A common bit of eating advice is to make convenient the foods that you actually would like to be eating more of. Produce on the counter or in obvious places in the fridge. Junk food harder to get to, not noticeable as soon as you open the fridge or pantry door (if it’s in the house at all).

It’s true with more than food.

We have three ukuleles here at the house. They were tucked in their cases in a corner in the living room. At The Tall Daddy’s house, there was an electric piano in the office.

Occasionally, we’d pull out the ukes. Every now and then, he’d play the piano.

We just did some rearranging in the living room, and the ukuleles are hanging on the wall now. And we decided to bring over the electric piano.

So now, the instruments are all right in the main thoroughfare in the house. And you know what?

They’re getting played. Not necessarily daily, but substantially more than every now and then.

What do you want more of in your house? Can you make it more easily accessible? (And the flip side: can you make less accessible things you want less of?)