Dear parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and guardians of the children of Grant School.
I have read so many different articles providing advice and support for those of you drafted into teaching your children at home. There are many and many of them are good. I also suspect that you don’t really have the time right now to sort through them to figure out how to help your child with this “new normal” as we are hearing it called. I am going to do my best to distill down some of what I read for you here. I am also happy to provide with your links to longer articles and websites if you like.
- All of us, and especially children, tend to regress under times of stress. Often it is the most recently acquired skills that we lose first. This is true for social-emotional skills and academic skills. So please, do not panic if you child, who was just beginning to read happily and fluidly two months ago is now avoiding reading or appears to have lost some of their skills.
- Similarly, keep in mind that kids who haven’t had meltdowns for the better part of the school year, may be having them now. Some children may start wetting their beds or become increasingly clingy. This is to be expected. There is no need to focus on the regressions but you do want to gently and lovingly encourage your child to take developmental steps forward.
- Home teaching is really, very difficult. Those who do it routinely make it a centerpiece of their lives. Please understand that we do not expect that of you. It is more important for you to maintain a loving parental relationship with your child than try to change yourself into a teacher. We know you are doing your best. We are more worried about your child’s overall wellbeing than we are about them completing a specific lesson on a specific day.
- Set a schedule. This is difficult for many households. Do the best you can, even if it’s only for a couple of hours during school time. Your child’s teacher has tried hard to alternate challenging learning activities with those that are more play-like in order to help children make it through their day. Keep learning activities relatively brief and put in planned breaks. That allows you to let you child anticipate their fun time without nagging you for it. It allows you, in effect, to point to the schedule and let you child know what they have to finish before they move on to a more desired activity.
- Please, set some breaks for yourself (!) and ideally some shared enjoyment time with your family. This might be watching a show together, working on making a meal, or doing a video chat with relative who doesn’t live with you. Anything that allows you to enjoy each other.
- Ritual is important. Some families do this through a mealtime where everyone is eating and no technology is available. If not a meal, perhaps a daily “check in” time to talk about what has worked and what hasn’t over the course of the day. Enlist your children in trying to problem-solve so if something goes wrong one day, it (hopefully and with fingers crossed), it doesn’t happen the following day. Bedtime routines, or other kinds of routines serve this purpose as well.
- Limit your child’s access to the news media, especially if you are not there to discuss it with them. The media is designed to keep us engaged because that is how they make money. Your child has far less experience than you do at evaluating the accuracy or context of what they are hearing, and this frequently causes unnecessary fear and distress.
- Be open to your child’s questions and don’t give them more information than ask for. It can be very challenging when your child asks complex or difficult-to-answer questions, such as “How does the Corona Virus make you sick?” or “What happens when someone dies?” However, quite often they are not asking about matters related to biological processes or mortality. Rather it’s just the basic information they are wanting. One way to address this is an initial response such as, “That’s a good question. What you do think?” Your child’s answer will hopefully give you some guidance in how deep to go. Too many details are not good for most children. And yet, they may ask for and need information to help them make sense of the changes in their world.
- As adults, it is our job to do our best to try and protect them from unnecessary scary details. Acknowledge feelings. Many children are missing their friends, their teachers or their extended family. They may also be very angry at the current situation or very frightened. Others may enjoy at least some aspects of being at home. One article I read discussed strong feelings as a train tunnel, something that must be traversed before a person can come out into the light. As adults we know we can sometimes put feelings aside. We also know that if those feelings don’t get expressed somehow, they pop out in a variety of ways that may not be helpful. Young children may not be readily able to talk about their feelings. Drawing, singing, crying, being hugged or comforted, having their feelings named (even if incorrectly!) and listening to stories that gently touch on feelings may be helpful for them. Each of us has some level of need to have our feelings acknowledged and honored.
- Rotate toys, books and activities as much as you can to keep them fresh. However, leave the very favored and comforting items available at all times. Children are more likely to engage with things that are not always available to them. Teachers frequently do this. Legos one week, blocks for building another week. This technique can also be used with technology.
- Enlist your kids in developing coping strategies by giving them the opportunity for “legitimate control.” They can’t control if they can go to the park or out to dinner right now, but they can decide if they’ll do math first or reading, if they’ll read in the morning or the afternoon, or if the last three cookies in the box will get eaten for dessert at lunch or at dinner.
- Try to manage your own stress and anxiety. I know you have heard this before and I know it is so easy to say and so hard to do. Kids follow our lead. Your ability to be calm will generally be reflected by your children. You may be able to enlist your child’s help in this. Grant students have been exposed to the Toolbox Curriculum and may be able to help you identify when you need to use your “breathing tool” or your “garbage can tool.” You might also consider family activities related to yoga or gentle stretching, or guided meditation or other activities that may provide you with a quiet moment to breathe.