Pandemic Survival with Kids
By Christy Kinkhabwala, Over the Moon Preschool Some of us are fortunate enough to be home with our children while their schools are closed. I say fortunate because it means that we are able to practice strict social distancing measures, we have a better chance of staying healthy, and we don’t have to struggle to find childcare and get to work in this difficult time. For this, I am extremely grateful. That said, with a few days under our belts, I think many of you will agree with me that being home with your kids isn’t easy either (we’re on day 2 and my 5 year old already has a behavior chart).
WARNING: Long post ahead! As a teacher for the past 14 years I’ve taught Literacy classes K-5th, and I’ve been a classroom teacher in 5th grade, 3rd grade, 2nd grade, Kindergarten and Pre-K. I have found my home in early childhood education but my experience has left me with an understanding of what all children need to succeed in life and I have advice for my fellow parents who are at home with their children, waiting out this pandemic. I have a 2nd grader, a kindergartner, a preschooler, and a newborn but my advice stands for anyone with children up through middle school. If you are like me, at home with your kids you may be wondering how you should be spending your days. Should you be homeschooling them? If so, what should you work on? How will you survive the bickering and the constant emotional roller coaster that is life with kids?
Here is my basic advice:
-Make time to do things that make you happy. -Focus on teaching things that are important to you, that are interesting to your child, or that make your child more capable. This is education for life and all in all it is more important than specific, individual grade level academic skills. -Recognize the value of learning through play. Give your child the time and space to be bored, explore their toys, get out into nature. -Follow the same routines every day and be extremely clear with your expectations.
We held a family meeting where we made lists of things we do that make us happy, (read, play games, screen time, coding, go fun places, exercise, cook, sing, arts and crafts, see friends, do work, practice hobbies like whittling and ninja skills, nature, pokemon go) then we broke down our day into large blocks of time that make space for doing all those things. I wanted to strike a balance that works for my family between a structured routine (which we know children thrive on) and free choice to pursue our own interests. Large blocks of time are more manageable to stick to than smaller hour or half hour long blocks- they allow flexibility within the routine. Keep in mind that children struggle with transitions (adults do too) so fewer transitions mean more time for each activity. If you want to “homeschool” my advice is to stick with what you know. Don’t try to imagine what your child would have been learning in class, and don’t try to be your child’s teacher. That is a recipe for frustration and it is totally unnecessary. If I was your child’s teacher I would want you to focus on basic stuff- read every day, read out loud to your child and model your thinking with them (I wonder why…, did you notice…), have the read to you, write everyday (shopping lists, letters to friends, stories, plans for a Leprechaun trap) DON’T WORRY ABOUT SPELLING. Model how you can stretch out a word and write the sounds you hear and leave it at that. Wonder about things, make a wonder wall where you post questions you are wondering about and help your children investigate the answers. Yes, google is great, but maybe there is a hands on way to investigate too? Focus on mastering really basic math concepts. Even highschoolers could benefit from a better understanding of how numbers are ordered. Make a giant 100’s chart with painters tape on the ground and have your kids race every day to fill in the numbers. Give your 5 year old the numbers in order, give your 10 year old a random stack of numbers that are mixed up- have them work together. Start off easy, then make it more challenging every day. Leave numbers out on purpose and have them tell you what numbers are missing. Time them and have them compete with their own time from the day before. Make it fun! Teach them how to tell time, solve everyday word problems as they arise, bake and learn fractions. Get them really good at the basic stuff so that their brain is primed and ready to learn what comes next. Your child’s teacher will thank you. I also recommend that you take the time to focus on things that are important to you. If you don’t have anywhere to be and you have all the time in the world, take that time to teach your children to be more capable and independent. I’m talking about putting away their own laundry, tying their own shoes, preparing and serving themselves breakfast on their own (more sleep for you!). Our family is also taking time to really work on communication and problem solving (omg the bickering!), using our manners at the table and when responding to people.
Give your child the space and time to be bored. Boredom inevitably leads to play, creativity and innovation. If nothing else, do this. There are two models of child rearing and education: one is the carpenter, the other is the gardener. The carpenter is in total control of everything and is totally responsible for molding the child exactly in the image they have in mind, the garden plants seeds, tends the soil, and makes minor adjustments by weeding and pruning. Be the gardener. Plant seeds of inquiry and wonder, provide space and time to play inside and out, redirect behavior and introduce playful ideas but mostly stay out of their way. Everything a child needs to learn to be a successful adult can be learned through play: communication, problem solving, motor skills, planning skills, creative thinking, confidence, the list is endless. Play is not adult directed. Get out of their way.
Find your routine or flow to the day, decide what rules are important to have in place, share your expectations with your children. Allow freedom within the routine but stick to your boundaries firmly. Especially in the first few days. Your children will be pushing these new boundaries so hard. They have to. That is how they learn. Do not give an inch and they will learn exactly what is expected and they will stop pushing so hard. Misbehavior usually happens when children don’t understand the expectations or what the routine is. They thrive under routine when they clearly understand the expectations. If you are loving but extremely firm I think you will find that behavior problems start to disappear and you can all enjoy your time together so much more. If you look at our daily routine you will see some structured time and a lot of free time. There is a 4 hour block in the afternoon where Yunus and I are mostly free to get our work done while the kids work/play independently then have screen time.
Make sure you make time for yourself too!