Welcome to the newfangled 2020 school year! Raise your hand if you are working from home AND facilitating your school ager’s online learning. Now, take that hand, turn it around and give yourself a pat on the back. Bravo! YOU ARE DOING THIS!
Though I have been working in early education for over 20 years, I still found many surprises teaching my own two young children. The first surprise was how little they trusted my academic competence! Equally surprising were the keen stall tactics and vast number of disagreements to settle in just one afternoon! Last spring may have taken us all by surprise, but I believe we are heading into this fall a bit more seasoned.
Today’s children will grow up and tell stories to their own children about this time. My family will remember a Chromebook, laptop and iPad all gathered around one kitchen table with mugs of chocolate milk, lemonade and hot coffee to get us through. They may even relay how the days seemed endless longing for work, school and friends. But believe it or not, this too will pass. All of our time will eventually be booked with various sports, choir, playdates and sleepovers again. (You can still remember racing here and there – just in the nick of time – right?) So, why not take a moment to enjoy this downshift, focus on now, and create some great memories along the way.
Tips to make the most of our at home school and work adventures…
Make sure everyone’s workspace is personalized and comfy!
Add items like lap blankets, a favorite sweater, cozy slippers, a desk lamp, and even photos of friends, classmates and posters to make the area inviting. If you do not already have them, headphones are a must! These ensure children can enjoy their lessons independently, while still being close enough to get help when needed. Keep pencil sharpeners, glue sticks, crayons and scissors close by, so steady work is not derailed. Remember this space is theirs. It will not be permanent, so let them make it their own and enjoy time spent there.
Bring on the fidgets!
Fidgets are small hand toys that support focus and calm. Play-dough, Rubik’s cubes, stress balls, magnets and even simple rubber bands can keep hands busy during those many educational videos. We rotate these regularly and my second grader loves to pick his own. Adding doodle pads is another great way to keep hands busy and minds focused. Rotate gel pens, colored pencils, markers, cardstock, construction paper, and post-its to keep doodling fresh. Having these not only supports focus, but also reduces stress and builds fine motor skills! So gather some fidgets, let them relax and learn.
Schedule your breaks intentionally.
Think about when all of you are able to get the most work done. For our family the longest stretch of work is first thing in the morning. We usually try to get 45 minutes to an hour done before our first break. (That may not seem like a long time, but for those hard working souls sounding out long words, and erasing every backward letter, it is more than long enough! Breaking into even shorter intervals may be beneficial depending on the age and needs of your child.) Incorporating movement breaks are a great way to relieve stress and help refocus. Some of our favorite active breaks are jumping on the trampoline, riding scooters in the driveway, playing soccer, or a quick round of hide and seek. Usually about 15 minutes will do the trick. Once there is just a hint sweat on their brow, I know they will be “good to go” again.
Simple pleasures can bring a little sunshine to any day.
Place a stick of gum in their workspace and see what they say. Maybe take turns listening to each other’s favorite music while you work. Tic tac toe battles between worksheets, a book of jokes on the table, pulling the dog bed into the kitchen with us, flavored chap stick, scented pencils, and even the smell of banana bread in the oven are some of our favorite ways to make the work load a little lighter.
Take a mindfulness break when things get too crazy.
We are ALL experiencing frustration right now and we can see it in our children. When emotions boil over, pull away from work and intentionally calm your minds for just a minute. Go outside and look for shapes in the clouds. Sit quietly, close your eyes and share all of the sounds you hear around your house. Listen for the dog snoring in the next room. See if you can feel your own heartbeat or maybe each other’s. Take turns whispering three things that make you happy. Our family favorite is a quick round of hand massages after a long bout of writing and erasing (and typing).
Finally, soak up the good and let smiles linger!
This extra time is only temporary. I have loved having my children all to myself. It has been refreshing to slow down and read the extra-long bedtime story because we can sleep in a little later. These are the memories I get to enjoy. However, when everything opens back up, I will happily share my two charmers with the world again. My role as family chauffeur will resume and our car will pull in and out (and in and out) of the driveway again. Yes, busy times will be back and we will be joining EVERYTHING, but until then we have the gift of now . . . so soak it in and enjoy.
Sara Reichstadt is the Education Coordinator for the seven NAEYC accredited Twin Cities Kinderberry Hill Child Development Centers. Sara earned her degree in Child Psychology from the University of Minnesota where she trained in the Shirley G. Moore Lab School. Sara, who has been at Kinderberry Hill since 1999, has taught in infant, toddler and preschool classrooms as well as serving in management positions. As Education Coordinator, Sara helps implement curriculum, offer classroom support and conduct teacher trainings. Sara is also a MNCPD (Minnesota Center for Professional Development) registered trainer. She is passionate about early education and helping children, teachers and families. Sara has two young children and knows firsthand the importance of a quality early education.