Learning From Home: What are we teaching our children?
Developmentally mindful ways to manage the stay-at-home paradigm.
- Realize It’s Not the Same
A key difference between distance learning and the school environment is the length of the day. The American school day is not actually designed around child attention spans and capacities for learning. It is designed to align with adult work schedules. That means there is a lot of padding with meaningful, developmentally appropriate extra-curricular content that IS good for kids — but also that fills the day. In addition, any educator will tell you that the school day includes a lot of transitions between activities, moving classrooms, fun time, calming down time, eating, playing … It is not 7 hours of learning. It is probably not even 3 hours of learning when you boil it all down.
2. Get to Know the Bottom Line
To make yourself feel more clearheaded, take a look at your state’s Common Core requirements for your child’s grade level. You will notice that the standards are really straight forward and basic. You should be able to recognize what your child was doing before school was closed and how it relates to the themes/strands for their grade level. You will probably (hopefully!) notice that teachers are boiling the work down for distance learning. They are not trying to occupy your child for 7 hours a day. They are trying to get the essentials accomplished while maintaining a relationship and sense of community.
The latter goals — maintainenace of relationships and a sense of community — are, lifelong, what your child will remember about this strange time in history.
3. Decide What You Want to Teach
Keeping in mind that you want to keep your child academically afloat while keeping your own work, self-care, and adult responsibilities also moving in the right direction, it’s probably wise to check-in with your own values. Think about what your top three goals as a parent are.
To get to these top three goals, I will walk you through an exercise I love to do in parenting workshops. Close your eyes and picture one of your all-time favorite adults. Describe that person. Write or type their qualities.
When done in real-time, as a group, we whiteboard qualities as parents shout them out. It usually looks something like this:
Notice that we do not admire adults for their penmanship, their mastery of times tables, or their ability to give a timeline of historic events without notecards.
Across populations, adults who do this activity tend to describe adults who are balanced and effective — who are resilient.
So, with this unplanned and prolonged stay-at-home time, reframe a little.
Think about the kind of adult-to-be you are cultivating.
4. Create a Structure that Amplifies Well-Being, Choice, and Curiosity
What are your family values? What are the top things you want your child to learn from YOU? Incorporate those items into your daily routine.
For example, if one were to have a goal of teaching one’s children about life-balance, a daily weekday schedule might look something like this:
As parents you can shape how much of this is indoors, outdoors, as a family, or individual. For a young child with a shorter attention span, you might rotate between the five responsibilities once before lunch and once in the afternoon. Or you might plan a bigger helpful or creative project that lasts longer, filling the entire time between two meals.
Meals and sleep/wake routines become your anchors. The time in between is shaped per your child’s age and personality — and by your parenting values. If there is a video chat with a teacher, that needs to happen at the scheduled time. The other goals can flex around that. For a young child, academics would include a touch of letters and numbers each day. For an elementary child, follow your teacher’s lead; don’t feel like you need to add enrichment. Creative activities often add reading, math, social awareness, and science.
When your child asks a question about something new, research it together — teach them how fun and meaningful it can be to pursue curiosities.
On the same note, do not take-over your child’s curiosities. Follow their lead. If they only want to know why a flamingo is pink, for example, go online together and find that out. Notice if your child is still curious. If so, see what else they want to know. If they are fully satisfied to find out it’s diet-related, cool. They were curious. They researched. They liked it. It’s over. You get an A+.
You have accomplished the goal — finding pleasure in learning new things.
It does not require a lesson plan, a rubric, a red pen, or a reward chart. It requires an interested adult and the ability to notice the good feeling. As you child gets older, the process will repeat and deepen — because maturation is actually self-propelled. You do not need to design it as long as you give your child the template and use it regularly, together. (“Let’s look it up.” “That’s interesting.” “I liked learning that.” “I’m so glad you asked!”)
One essential part of this strategy is giving your child control over choices. They have not had control over the world suddenly changing in this strange (and scary) way. They have not had control over being disallowed to spend time with friends and loved ones. We know that kids do better when they can be active choosers, rather than passive compliers. (Again, when we look at the adults we admire most, none of them is nominated because of being exceptionally compliant. Right?)
With younger kids, for most of the Daily Responsibilities give three choices for an activity and let your child choose among them. Let your child choose the order of responsibilities if there isn’t an appointment that requires precision timing. Save “requirements” for big things — a due date on an assignment; a daily “must-do” for a teacher; brushing teeth; meals; etc..
Distance learning from home IS different than school. Do not try to replicate school. You will drive yourself and your child crazy.
For tweens and teens, still use your structure of Daily Responsibilities, knowing that their productive time will be longer and will have less flexibility because of grade-level expectations. Talk with them and listen to them about what they think will work best for them. If they are meeting expectations, then follow their lead. If they need help with time management, notice together that it’s not working and discuss together what would feel helpful.
Because this staying-at-home will last a long time, pick your battles. Do not let school work become a wedge between you. Find a way to manage difficulties and find a peaceful balance. (Again, great life goals and therefore a good template to use repeatedly).
5. Understand How the Brain Works
Note the importance of taking care of body and heart, especially during inescapable upheaval. We know that the brain works sequentially. When it is responding to a crisis, the brain activates the “stress response system.” Basically, it’s your “fight or flight system.” If your brain is responding to a stimuli with fight/flight/freeze, your brain cannot access the subsequent regions (emotional regulation, pleasure, relationship, and cognition). That is why we don’t think clearly under great stress — the brain is too busy fending off danger.
Sound familiar? Say, in the past three weeks? Every adult you know?
We are all feeling it. Fear. Shock. Confusion. And adaptation to “new normals” — staying at home, physical distancing, favorite places and people being off limits, and a looming public health crisis. Simply, the brain’s stress response interferes with our ability to think clearly, to carry out tasks that used to be easy for us. It is part of being human — all of us experience it, no matter our age.
This experience is, in many ways, like bereavement — an experience that most cultures make space for.
Amid a global health crisis — even if our loved ones are safe and healthy — it is essential that we make space to feel what we need to feel. No matter how old we are.
Acknowledging that our feelings are reasonable in the given situation is part of how we calm the limbic (fight/flight/freeze) response. Through putting feelings into words. Through taking care of our bodies. Through connecting with others. As we are able to self-regulate in these concrete ways, we expand the amount of calm we are able to access — in little bits at first and then for longer time and more often. Slowly, we become better able to concentrate and get stuff done.
This — the capacity for self-regulation and life-balance — is the most important form of lifelong learning. We see adults trying to find it through wellness challenges, meditation, therapy, and other forms of self-care. Imagine if we had built these skills and habits when we were younger.
Teaching life-balance is the gift you can give your kids during this time of crisis, adjustment, and successful adaptation.
We know that kids of all ages know about this virus in age appropriate ways. They understand these drastic changes in routines. They pick up on our stresses and worries. They need to have space to feel what they need to feel. Which doesn’t come at regularly scheduled times or in pleasant forms. They will be distracted. They will be antsy. They will not cooperate with a schedule. They will refuse. They will reject a favorite activity or loved one.
It’s expectable. Because, just like us, they experience fear, shock, and confusion. Just like us, they need to find ways to soothe — to find bits off calm that will then grow and connect with other bits of calm.
6. Find Some Words that Represent Your Core Values
Our best advice is to make that space in your home life. Show your children how to live with some mantras like this:
7. Be Kind to Yourself … and Also Be Realistic
This is a long haul. Make a template for your family that you can adjust over time. It is not likely that you will find the right format from the get-go. Be forgiving. Notice what works and what doesn’t. Give yourself permission to make changes.
By anchoring your days in your core values, changes to schedule/structure will seem little — because the overarching themes will be consistent. You will focus on things that build resilience, which mediates stress and thereby increases everyone’s ability to do what they need to be doing — whether it be self-care, helping others, learning, work, or play.
You’ve got this.