This was a hard post to write. I wrote and re-wrote it many times in my head before ever committing anything to paper. And then I re-wrote it another 100 times.
Why? Because I'm scared I'm going to screw it up. That I will, with the best of intentions, say something that offends and in doing so I will not be the ally I believe myself to be. I have seen this sentiment over and over again from many white people trying to do and say the right thing. We're terrified we're going to say the wrong thing. But that, in itself, is privilege; I can choose whether or not to say something. I can choose whether to stay silent or stand up. Not everyone has that privilege and so I write and I beg forgiveness and ask you to gently tell me if I get it wrong and how I can get it right.
I struggle with how to tell my daughters about the atrocities committed against the BIPOC community. They are young and curious and sensitive. They live in a Mr. Roger's world where, when things go horribly wrong, we say "look for the helpers" and they look for the paramedics and the firefighters and, yeah, the police. They have been taught to look for someone in uniform if they need help, so how do I explain to them that not everyone in uniform always does the right thing? That some people in uniform believe that there is hierarchy amongst people, a hierarchy predicated on colour and gender? That these people may not even really know that they hold these beliefs? That these beliefs are embedded in the very systems that support our communities? How do I tell them that some people are not safe, even when, - especially when - the police are there?
"How do I tell them" is my privilege. I can choose if I tell my girls about the hate and racism and violence in the world. I can choose how much or how little to tell them. And I can continue to tell them that the police will help them if they are lost or hurt or scared, because they will. It is a privilege that I have but that many mothers do not. It is a privilege that breaks my heart just thinking about it. It is because of this privilege that I have to say something, that I have to actively educate myself and my children on being anti-racist.
I have been actively educating myself about being an anti-racist for a while now, although I just learned the term not long ago while listening to Stamped by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi. But I haven't been actively educating my kids. Why? Honestly, because I haven't had to. We, as a family, have not been forced to confront racism head on and therefore we haven't. It's a difficult, complex problem with many unanswerable questions. It unearths some of the ugliest parts of humanity that I'm not sure I want my kids to know about yet. I don't have a clue how to explain any of it to my children and so I don't, kind of like some parents shying away from conversations about sex and body parts. It makes me uncomfortable to talk about, so I don't. That, I realize, is a problem. I am not a racist but I'm not an anti-racist either. It's hard to be an anti-racist and yet never say anything to your children. Once again, my privilege rears it's ugly head.
I don't think that my situation is unique. I think there are many moms and dads out there just like me - white, in a predominantly white town. Wanting to do the right thing, to be an ally, to be an anti-racist, but not knowing how. Sure, we've talked about residential schools around the dinner table when my daughter began learning about them in school. We expressly value diversity in the way we talk about others. We encourage our kids to examine their own biases and the biases of others. But nothing has forced us into a conversation about being an anti-racist; at no point have we ever been confronted with overt racism that forced us to talk about it with our kids. Privilege.
How in the hell do you broach the subject of systemic racism with kids who have almost zero context for it? Yet again, privilege.
We work hard to raise our kids to appreciate that human diversity- in skin tone, in sexuality, in beliefs, in interests, in life choices - is beautiful as long as it doesn't hurt yourself, other people or the planet. The absence of overt racism in their young lives, my friends, is my children's privilege. Racism isn't a thing in their world (yet) because it doesn't have to be (yet). I wish it wouldn't ever have to be but I know now that in order to be an ally, to be an anti-racist, it isn't enough to just teach my kids to be good, kind, people with wide-open minds and hearts. I must actively point out where the systems are flawed, where people fall through the cracks nobody even knew were there, where society holds up mirrors and doors for some and walls for others.
It's hard to figure out how to broach this difficult conversation in an age-appropriate way (not nearly as hard, though, as having to explain to your black son what he needs to do to not get killed today. Not.Even.Close.). I started this morning, by sharing this video of a young black man singing with my 8 year old daughter. "Why is he singing that mom?" she asked, opening the door to the conversation. I gratefully stepped through that open door and began explaining; as she has little context for this kind of racism her attention span quickly waned but the conversation was started. And so, I share that video here, in case it helps you too start the conversation in your house. We can all be allies, sometimes we just need to know where to start.
I continued that conversation this evening, with my 10 year old, with a slightly different entry point. She overheard my husband and I talking about the riots and wanted to know more. She had a lot of difficulty wrapping her brain around why a man, any person really, would kneel on someone's neck for any reason whatsoever. She could not fathom how someone could cause another person deliberate pain and suffering, could not make sense of such a horrific act. She could not understand why people would stand by and film and not step in. And while I cannot help her make sense of this act (because it doesn't make sense), I can help her understand how people can be led to believe certain things about certain people or groups of people, often with even realizing it. I can help her understand that we must be actively aware of what we are being told and check it against our own beliefs. For this, I used something that Trevor Mackenzie, an author and educator, posted on Instagram. I googled "five white teens" and showed it to my daughter, asking her to describe what she saw and the emotions that the images portrayed. Then I googled "five black teens" and repeated the process. Try it yourself and see just how thought provoking it is. (For the record, I have also googled "five indigenous teens" just to see what came up. Again, food for thought.)
As teachers, we can have thought-provoking conversations using structures like Trevor Mackenzie's provocations. We can actively teach about truth and reconciliation. We can avoid the crafts and activities that unintentionally uphold the status quo. We can fill our classrooms with books that actively center BIPOC characters, even if our classrooms are filled with white faces. We can learn and unlearn, question our own beliefs, closely examine what we're teaching to be sure that it reflects the truth of history, not just our history. We can teach kids to be kind, caring and empathetic, to value diversity, to be allies, to spot injustice and do something about it. We can find colleagues who are also doing the work and support each other.
I plan to continue this conversation with, not surprisingly, books. There is a saying amongst educators that books can be mirrors to reflect yourself, windows to peek through to the lives of others and doors to step through into other worlds entirely. We need more books in our classrooms that allow all children to see their own lives and experiences reflected back at them while also allowing the opportunity for windows and doors in to lives that are different from their own. Imagine never having a read a book with a main character who had the same colour skin or was the same gender as you; imagine what you would internalize about your worth if you thought that no one had bothered to center your life and your experiences in literature, despite there being thousands of books on the shelf. We need to actively promote, at home and at school, books that center diverse experiences so that everyone feels seen and everyone gets a chance to see.
While the conversation about anti-racism may seem hard, the steps that you can take to begin the conversation are there. Take them. For the sake of the mothers and fathers and grandparents and friends who don't have the privilege of not taking them, take them. For the kids who need us to make the world a better place, take them. Own your privilege and then do something with it. It's not enough to say I am not a racist. We must become an anti-racist.
A ton of book lists have popped up on the internet over the last few days. A few are pictured above. I have linked a few more here:
EmbraceRace.org has a list of primarily non-fiction or historical fiction for kids. It includes many books about race issues in Canada as well as the U.S.
This list of teen books about social justice from the Seattle Public Library is a comprehensive look at not just racism but many other social justice issues as well.
These lists, from Kids Books in Vancouver, help you start and continue conversations about racism.
Check out these tips on how white parents can open the door to conversations about racism from CommonSenseMedia.org (easily one of my favourite sites on the internet).
Finally, follow BIPOC authors on social media. Buy their books. Read their books. Give their books to everyone you know, especially to kids. Follow the hashtags #ownvoices and #weneeddiversebooks and you will quickly find a community that centers and highlights stories that need to be told.
Last week we hit THAT stage. You know, the one where the kids no longer think the whole "emergency remote learning" thing is fun any more, cookies have been baked, muffins have been baked, rocks have been painted, books have been read, yada yada yada and every afternoon starts and ends with "I'm sooooooo bored.". Yeah, that one.
Not gonna lie, at first those words were like nails on a chalkboard. "What do you mean you're bored?! You have schoolwork to do and toys to play with and grandparents to call, and and and!" In between Zoom calls and emails, I was not really in the mood to find them things to do (and out came grouchy mama, who, let's be honest, no one really likes).
But then, I sat with it a bit and realized that this was exactly where I wanted my kids to be. Bored out of their trees.
Yes, it was totally annoying at first and yes, it made for some tense discussions ("No, I do not know what you should do right now, just like I didn't know 10 minutes ago!") but once my kids realized that they were on their own, they began to get creative. They spent hours up a tree in the backyard, hauling up notebooks & snacks so they could design the tree house of their dreams (also, I'm pretty sure they were spying on the neighbours). They built Lego and made up stories and discovered stop motion animation. They built forts in the front yard and made up dance routines and re-read books and learned about science on Wonders with Charlie. In short, they got creative.
Research tells us that there are benefits to boredom. Among other things, it has been shown to spark creativity, develop problem-solving skills and enhance interpersonal skills. Coincidentally (or not?) these skills are what make up the so-called "soft skills" or "21st century skills" that schools are embracing and employers are demanding. By letting my kids be bored, I am literally preparing them for the future.
Let me repeat that - By letting my kids be bored, I'm giving them the very skills they need to be successful as adults.
In our hyper-scheduled, tech-filled lives there isn't a lot of space for boredom. We bounce from activity to activity, pulling out our phones any time we have to wait for even the slightest amount of time. Rarely do we just sit and stare off in to space, rarely do we have lazy Sunday afternoons where the kids roam the backyard while we pull weeds. Paradoxically, our attachment to technology is actually making us more prone to boredom, as we never give ourselves the chance to actually practice being bored (who knew it took practice?). By never letting our kids (or ourselves) be bored, we are preventing them from developing the skills that they need to be successful as they get older.
Boredom has also been shown to improve mental health, which is undeniably important in this day and age. Although it can seem uncomfortable at first, boredom allows our brains (and our children's brains) to process thoughts and feelings, instead of pushing them away by mindlessly scrolling our social feeds. It allows our kids to work through social challenges by encouraging them to seek out other kids and negotiate the terms of reference for play. And it gives us all a chance to rest and recharge by being alone.
So the next time your kid says "I'm bored", don't hand them your phone. Respond like we do in our house - "I'm sure you'll figure something out" or, my husband's personal favourite, "There are dishes to be done and toilets to be cleaned" (the kids disappear faster than you can say go with this one). Give them the opportunity to rattle around the house and the yard, picking things up and putting them down, bouncing from one activity to the next before they finally settle on something (and not the TV). Feel good about the fact that you are actually helping your kids by not entertaining them every minute of every day.
Because maybe we need to focus on letting kids be bored more than we need to "teach" them 21st century skills. Maybe our goal as parents in this time should be giving our children the gift of boredom so that they naturally develop the skills we have been relying on the schools to teach. Maybe the kids who are allowed to be bored through this will actually come out ahead, curious, creative and ready to take on the world.
Last week we fell off the bandwagon. The kids slept in later and later, my husband and I went to bed later and later, lunch was a maybe, dinner wasn't happening until 7 or 8pm...and we felt it. We were all out of sorts, not sure what to do with ourselves (even though there was lots to be done) and getting on each other's nerves because of it. So this week, we are pulling our socks up; we are dialing the routine back in so that we can be out best selves.
Now my kids haven't hit their teen years (yet) but I teach teens and I know that there is a lot of sleeping in going on these days. And while there's nothing wrong with a good sleep in, not having a routine is hard on the human brain. You see, we're wired for patterns - our brains seek out patterns (and connection!) all the time. When you remove familiar patterns, the brain isn't quite sure what to do and it gets discombobulated (I love that word). And, friends? Discombobulated brains are grumpy brains. Ugh. No one wants a grumpy teen (or tween, or husband, or toddler, really).
I created the graphic above to help you help your tween or teen add some routine in to their days. You might want to start by getting their butts out of bed a bit earlier, then feed them a healthy breakfast, before helping them set up their list of Need To Dos and Want to Dos for the day. I like this structure because it's basically a grown-up version of a "First...Then...Next" - first, I do something that I NEED to do, then I do something I WANT to do, next, back to another NEED to do. This helps teens learn healthy, productive work habits that will serve them well as they grow older and it provides a sense of control for those kids that are prone to anxiety. If you have a child who struggles with executive functioning skills (attention, focus, organization, planning), you may need to use a First-Then-Next structure or you may need to help them lay their day out in time blocks to be sure everything gets done.
I was up nice and early this morning and I can tell you that I already feel better - more energized and ready to face the day, rather than sluggish and searching for caffeine. My kids will be up shortly and we'll lay out our days together, building in time for work and time for play. Now that's a routine I can get behind!
This is Part 2 of a series about trying to figure out the whole work-from-home-learn-from-home conundrum that many families currently find themselves in. For Part 1, click here.
I get it. This whole work-from-home-learn-from-home thing is tough. I am currently trying to balance teaching from home while my two kids navigate online schooling. My husband is still working outside of the house, although he does work from home on occasion. Neither kid is particularly thrilled with the options they are being given online and both are spending significantly more time on devices than they have before. One kid gets pretty anxious if she doesn't know exactly what is required of her, while the other needs her learning embedded in play or she won't touch it. We have had meltdowns and outright refusal. Both kids have successfully submitted a few assignments, with some cajoling on our part. Thankfully, both of their teachers are very understanding and have given us the freedom to do what we like and leave the rest. Still, it's been a long week.
In my previous post, I talked about the mindset we need to have going in to this situation. I fully recognize, though, that mindset often isn't enough. Sometimes we just need someone to tell us what to do and how to do it.
That, my friends, is this post.
Below, I have 4 different examples of how you can set your children up to be independently learning throughout the day, every day. They are appropriate for a wide variety of ages, learning styles and home situations. Feel free to mix and match and add your own flair. Find a style & rhythm that works for your family and go for it!
My friend and fellow teacher created this fantastic system of choice for her son using coloured popsicle sticks and an empty picture frame. He chooses 1 popsicle stick in each category every day, plus "I-time", which are all independent activities so mama can work (cause, you know, work-from-home-learn-from-home applies to teachers too). I love that she has created a schedule for the day that isn't dialled in to the minute but rather moves fluidly around all-important meal times. Keeping meals and sleep schedules routine right now is so important for kids! Also, can we just take a moment to appreciate her kid-level command corner? So easy for her boy to feel ownership over his activities when the choice is at his level!
Next up, I was contacted by a literacy helping teacher from Delta school district here in BC asking if they could modify my work to hand out to parents. I just love what they have done with it and hope that parents & teachers in their school district find it useful. I am literate, I am numerate, I am curious and I am kind, indeed.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't share what we have done in my own household. I have two very different personalities for kids; one is absolutely a planner who likes to have a schedule to follow, the other is more of a free-spirit who wants to go where the winds take her (that and stay in her pyjamas every day, all day). The oldest has created a printable schedule for this week based on what her teacher has sent her, although she moved away from the strict times she had set for herself the week before. 5 things to complete a day, including outdoor time and free time.
For the older kids, I created a graphic with some tips on setting up your learning space and creating a routine that works for tweens and teens. You can download that here.
The youngest wanted the freedom to put together a different plan each day so we created this fun magnet board (based on this post from Craftaholics Anonymous). We spray painted a cookie sheet white but that was deemed boring so she added her own flair with acrylic paint. A little bit of washi tape divvied up the board in to To Do & Done.
The day's to-dos move over to the done side as she completes them, with no requirements for when they happen or in what order. The key to this plan is that my kiddo is in control of what her day looks like, from choosing which activities to do to when to do them. She chooses at breakfast each morning and then I check in with her throughout the day to see how she's doing on accomplishing her goals. We briefly discuss what each one is going to look like for that day ("What are you planning to read today?" "What is science going to look like? An explosion - oh...maybe you should save that for tomorrow when I can help you." etc.) but we stay flexible in case anything comes up during the day.
She gets to move forward one space on the "game board" at the bottom for every activity she completes for the day (I don't actually care if she gets one in each category tbh but if I don't put a bit of pressure on she will literally read all day. All. Day.). Since this one is motivated by incentives, we also put together a pompom jar; every time her mover makes it to the star (i.e. she completes all her activities for the day) she gets to put a pompom in the jar. When the jar is full, she gets a reward.
Here's a close up of some of the tokens. They are colour-coded to match the Literate, Numerate, Curious & Kind graphic that I created (download a copy here), with the addition of some free time and chores. We laminated them and the little one hot glued magnets on the back. Click on the download button below to grab an editable copy of the tokens & reward "game" board.
I highly recommend sitting down with your child and coming up with 2-5 activities per category that you know a) they can do independently, b) make sense in your household (no hogging the only iPad!) and c) are interesting to them. This doesn't really take long and practically guarantees a higher level of independence and interest when it comes to choosing and actually doing the day's activities. See "Learning At Home" for activities, tips and links to keep your child busy learning all day and have them choose with you!
Remember, these options are here to help you frame your child's day, not recreate a school environment. They provide a structure that is manageable for working parents; allowing your child to have voice and choice in what they do and when they do it gives you the freedom to work around Zoom meetings, phone calls or urgent emails. Empowering your kids with a sense of independence and control goes a long way to making them motivated to accomplish the day's learning goals. I can't promise that every day will be sunshine and roses with one of these systems, but my hope is that you find some ease and flow to your days and that you are better able to cope with, and maybe even enjoy, working and learning from home.
See Part 1 of this post - all about shifting your mindset as your family works and learns from home - here.
You guys. I have been completely overwhelmed by the response to my graphic support for whatever we are calling this work-from-home-learn-from-home hybrid. And what we're calling it is, apparently, a pretty big sticking point for many people. Stickler for language that I am, I get it. Labelling it homeschooling puts pressure on parents who are already feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped. Calling it distance learning puts pressure on teachers who are already feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped. Nobody wants to feel added pressure right now, especially not people feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped (seeing a pattern, yet?).
Over the last couple of weeks I've heard from lots of parents and seen several rants on social media about the amount of school work being offered/required; some saying it's way too much and stressing their families out and others begging for more in order to keep their children occupied with something other than Netflix while they try to put in an 8-hour work day. Sometimes these two perspectives are referring to the same teacher and the same class!
I get both sides. It's incredibly hard to work when a child is interrupting you every 5 minutes because they are bored; it's just as hard to see your kid becoming more and more anxious as the amount of work they are being asked to do overwhelms them. And none of us wants our kids watching 8 hours of Netflix a day. As a teacher, navigating these differences is incredibly difficult, since they are two very different ends of a spectrum.
What's a parent to do?
1. Don't try to replicate the curriculum. As much as we would like to believe that learning is this clear, linear set of steps to follow, it isn't. Curriculum differs province to province and state to state, with the same topics being taught at different grade levels depending on where you are. Getting mired in trying to figure out what exactly your child should be learning is an exercise in frustration. Do yourself a favor and just go buy one of those big books of curriculum activities that they sell at Costco; it will be close enough and way less frustrating (except, maybe if you have to wait in line. I've heard the lines at Costco are insane). Alternatively, let your intuition be your guide and get curious alongside your child; grab the "teachable moments" and ask questions that guide your child to deeper understandings.
2. Get comfortable with more technology use than usual. This doesn't mean being ok with hour after hour of Netflix or video games. It means that in the absence of an available adult to teach your child, they are going to have to get their learning from a device (or free play, that's always a good teacher). My kids spent a couple of hours straight on their devices yesterday while I was in a Zoom meeting; ordinarily, 2 hours of screen time would send me in to fits. Yesterday, though? I was ok with it, partially because one kid was learning German on Duolingo and the other was playing a math game called Prodigy, partially because it bought me the time I needed.
3. Find a rhythm that works for your family. Learning doesn't have to happen from 8:30 to 2:30. My kids have been good for a couple of hours of learning in the morning and then they fade. We usually try to get some fresh air together at lunch (a quick walk around the neighbourhood) and then they do their own thing in the afternoon. This might be playing, crafting, reading, watching a show or whatever else their little hearts desire as long as I don't have to supervise. Then, around 4 or 5, they find a second wind and finish off another hour of learning, often with dad home to help.
4. Offer lots of voice & choice. People are more likely to engage in something when they feel like they have had a say in the matter. Allow your kids to guide what and how they are learning right now, within a framework that you establish (may I suggest the graphic above as a guide?). See Part 2 of this post for examples of how to successfully set up a learning routine in your house so that it includes voice & choice.
5. Roll with the punches. Every classroom teacher knows that there are some days where you just push pause on the day's learning plan and head outside for an extra recess (that or risk losing your mind while the kids climb the walls). Take a page out of their book and allow some days to be more relaxed than others. Got a big meeting you need to focus on? Let the kids watch a show. Having trouble getting the little one out of her pyjamas? Hey, schools have pyjama day theme days don't they? Remember, routine is important but so is flexibility.
6. Let go of your notion of "school". As a teacher, I cannot tell you how hopeful I am that we come out of this with the understanding that school today should not be the school of yesterday. We have a real opportunity in this moment to see that learning - real, meaningful learning - happens all the time, in a myriad of different ways not bound by curriculum or led by teachers.
What makes people smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent - in the broadest and best sense, intelligent - is not having access to more and more learning places, resources and specialists, but being able in their lives to do a wide variety of interesting things that matter, things that challenge their ingenuity, skill and judgment, and that makes an obvious difference in their lives and the lives of people around them. - John Holt
School is not going to be school right now. It's going to be free play and reading books and drawing pictures and baking cakes and watching birds fly and wondering where they go. It's going to be educational TV shows and not-so educational TV shows and Facetime with gramma and making collections and building Lego and cleaning up Lego and maybe doing that worksheet that the teacher sent because she's finally bored enough to try it. All of this is learning; good, solid, quality learning.
In the end, try to remember that everyone (literally, in the entire world) is in the same boat. When life returns to normal and the kids are back at school, it will be impossible to tell who spent 3 months working through the curriculum that their teacher placed online and who spent those same 3 months reading books, playing games and exploring their interests. Do what you need to do to keep yourself and your kids sane. Try to get some learning in every day but don't sweat it.
Still not quite sure how to structure learning in your house right now? Want more of a plan? Check out Part 2 of this post for examples of how you can put together a system for learning that will keep your kids occupied and loving learning.
Wow! What a ride these past couple of weeks have been. School has been cancelled across most of North America, many (most?) people are working from home and businesses are closed everywhere. While it has been a trying time for many, I'll admit that I've stuck my head in the sand a bit, consciously focusing on the fact that I, and my kids, are actually on Spring Break and not yet subject to the craziness of work and learn from home. We needed a rest and I am doing my best to guarantee we are getting it, even if the world has gone haywire.
But. I've been watching.
I've been watching as parents take to social media to rant about how challenging it is to teach & work & parent. I've been watching as school districts scramble to figure out how to provide "continuity of service", manage equity and access issues and support our most vulnerable learners. I've been watching as teachers do their damndest to learn new platforms, adapt materials and connect with students in meaningful ways.
And I've been wondering how I can help. I've been wondering what this might look like in my own home when the time comes. Over and over again I've seen parents frustrated that their kids won't stay focused on the task at hand, that the work being sent home is too challenging/not challenging enough/confusing/in another language (literally. A friend posted that they were unable to do some of the assignments because the instructions were in Spanish and no one in their house spoke enough Spanish to understand them). Which leaves me wondering:
It's that last question that really got me thinking. What CAN'T wait until September? What do our kids, everyone's kids, need to be learning and doing every single day, even without a coronavirus-induced isolation? What can parents support with a limited knowledge of pedagogy and curriculum?
My answer came in the form of my main teaching mantra (you can read more about what a teaching mantra is here) - Literate, Numerate, Curious & Kind. This is what I want all kids to grow up to become and what I try to ensure I have targeted each day, each week, in my teaching. As you can see in the graphic below, I added Healthy to this list, as in times like these I believe it is fundamentally important that we also focus on our physical and mental health. I think that parents can support their kids in these areas in simple, fun and meaningful ways. It may not be what they would have been taught in school, but it might just be what they need right now.
So, without further rambling, here it is - things you can do at home that will help your child (or your students, please feel free to send this to parents) stay Literate, Numerate, Curious, Kind & Healthy, while simultaneously maintaining your sanity. Just click on the image to download a copy.
You can find links to a wide variety of high-quality on and offline activities in each of these categories by clicking For Parents above. My hope is that these activities help you navigate this work-from-home-learn-from-home reality in a way that gives everyone in your family the time, space and grace that is needed to keep doing what you're doing in the best way you know how.
I hope this helps! As always, but maybe more so now than ever before, I would love to hear from you. Your comments keep me from feeling like I'm shouting into the void.
Stay sane, stay healthy,
As usually seems to be the case with me and blogging, I only get around to writing when the universe conspires to remind me, with a degree of a repetitiveness that I just can't ignore, that something is important enough to blog about. Psst...People are wondering about this, Bryn - look, over here! And here! And there! Riiiiggghhhttt. Got it. Clearly, I am a little slow on the uptake. Anyways. This time, it's apps.
I When it comes to technology, I am a bit of an oxymoron; I am hugely passionate about its (informed) use in schools yet I fiercely limit my own children's access to it. In large part this is because my time with my children is limited and I want to spend that time interacting with them, not having them ignore me while they stare at a screen. I want to read them great books, draw pictures, do crafts, bake and play board games with them; I want to build connection and memories in the small amount of time I have between getting home from work and bedtime every night. Not that I needed validation for choosing this approach but I smiled when an article entitled "Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent" crossed my path; apparently the guru himself and I are on the same wave-length.
However, I freely acknowledge that there are many times when technology just makes life easier (like, you know, nightly, when I'm making dinner and answering 400 questions and helping create some fantastical beast out of toilet paper rolls and wishing that I could just.let.go. a little bit and turn the damn tv on and therefore make dinner in peace). In those times, I want to be able to turn to high-quality apps that do more than just entertain my child (once an educator, always an educator. Sorry, kiddos). But in a sea of 40,000 apps in the iTunes Education category alone, how does one even begin to choose? Well, I've been fortunate enough to stumble across some really great ones, have a few recommended to me and found a few on great sites such as Common Sense Media. I share my favourites with you here - on my page aptly titled Great Apps & Websites.
A disclaimer, of sorts, before you click that link - I am very picky about the apps that I share. As mentioned before, there are tens of thousands of apps out there; I list 14. Why? Because a) there is a huge difference between a high-quality learning app and a game that has had the education tag slapped on it for effect, b) with few exceptions, apps are generally about practice rather than learning. Or playing, with a little bit of practice sandwiched in there somewhere. I have tried to find the apps that will truly help your child learn something new, whether they know it or not, and c) if I wouldn't choose it for my own kiddos, I'm not going to recommend it to you.
I have also chosen apps that are as general as possible in their scope (if your child is obsessed with space, there are some pretty wicked space apps out there but I did not mention them here) and promote the development of broad thinking skills as much as they promote skill-specific practice.
Your time is limited. Searching through the app store only to come up with mediocre apps is frustrating and not in your child's best interests. Hopefully my list helps you find a few apps that will inspire your kids to think and wonder and learn and maybe will even connect you with some other great gems along the way. Please share them with me if you find them!
Homework and homework policies have been all over social media lately. A Texas teacher sent home a note with what is essentially a no homework policy, a parent posted it and it took off from there (you can read all about it here). I began thinking about homework and how best to administer it long before it reared it's head online, however. I have done my own research (which shows that research overwhelmingly does not support homework in elementary schoil), I have experimented with various different ways of assigning homework and have lived it as a working parent trying to carve out a bit of time with my child between dinner and bedtime; from all of that, I have distilled these 5 thoughts about homework.
1. Fitting it in is hard.
Families these days are busy. Kids these days are busy. Very busy. And as much as I have searched for a way around it, I cannot seem to find one (if you've figured it out, please please let me know!). As a parent, I believe that after school activities play an important role in giving my child skills they will need as an adult, so I'm not willing to cut those out. So when do we fit homework in?
2. Family time is precious.
As much time as our children spend at school, it is still home life that shapes who they are. Time spent with family - eating dinner, playing outside, curled up on the couch reading books - is so important to growing kind, caring citizens. Too often, these things (or sleep!) are set aside because families feel pressured to complete home reading logs, flash cards or other well-intentioned homework assignments.
3. Practice anything and you will get better at it.
Landing firmly on the pro side of the homework debate is the fact that practice really does make perfect...or better, anyway. Research shows that the more time you spend with a skill the more likely you are to master it. Therefore, homework, when designed as practice of previously learned concepts, does help your child improve and solidify their skills. That being said, there are many other things your youngster can and should be practicing - sports, music, social interaction, crafting, building, and more!
4. Learning is about more than just reading, writing and 'rithmetic.
While no one can argue that reading, writing and math are hugely important, there are many, many more things to be learned in this wonderful world of ours. Focusing solely on reading and math (which tend to be the two homework items sent home in the primary grades) means that there are many missed learning opportunities in other areas.
5. To reward or not to reward?
An extremely common practice in the primary grades is the reading log - kids record the number of books they read each night and then return it for a small prize once they have reached a certain number. Seems like a fairly good system for motivating kids to read and, for many kids, it works really well. However, for some children it moves them from enjoying reading for the simple pleasure of entering another, imagined world through the pages of a book to reading for external rewards. Many students are eventually turned off by the expectation that they will read nightly, often a book that is not of their choosing.
In the end, we all want what's best for our kids. Sometimes, we lose sight of the long-term goal - creating healthy, literate, numerate, curious and kind adults - in favour of having the "smartest" student in their grade. We live in a highly competitive society and it feels good as a parent to know that your child is doing well in comparison to their peers. As teachers and parents, however, we need to remember that children are developing along multiple strands - physical, social, emotional and academic - and it's our job to support them in all of these.
Unsure of how to meet your child's needs in a developmentally appropriate way? Having trouble letting go of homework? Check out this amazing post from parent.co for a fantastic list of ideas (click on the picture below to link to it).
Awhile ago, I wrote about some books I have been reading that have really got me thinking about the language we use with kids (see that post here - you'll learn about one of the most influential professional books I have ever read. Seriously.). In addition to these books, a couple of other opportunities have continued to drive my learning in this area. The first was a professional development workshop I attended (about spelling, of all things. Structured spelling, which is phenomenal btw. But that's another post) where the presenter was a master at using great language. I couldn't stop noticing how empowering it was and how naturally it seemed to come to him. The second is an ongoing conversation with a good friend (and kindie teacher) about ways to talk to my daughter when she's upset because I sometimes just feel so inept in this area. She always knows just what to say, which never ceases to amaze me.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that a) words matter. A lot. and b) we are not all extremely skilled at using the right words. I am one of these not so skilled people. Sure, I know how to talk to kids, I know how to make sure that they understand me, absolutely. But what doesn't come naturally to me are the simple changes in phrasing that empower kids, that allow them to feel like they can do just about anything, that what they are doing is meaningful and important. Thankfully, although this skill doesn't come naturally to me, I believe that it can be learned (and I have that good friend who is wonderfully skilled in this area and willing to answer all my crazy questions). So, on that note, I thought I would share a few common phrases that we all use with kids and some powerful alternatives.
Instead of "What a lovely picture. What is it?" try "Tell me about your picture". This slight change removes the sense that the child's picture is unclear (which, if it's anything like my 3 year old's artwork, it likely is, but they don't know that) and puts the child in the driver's seat when it comes to their own art, giving them a sense of agency and accomplishment.
Instead of "Who can tell me the answer?" try "Can anyone offer a hypothesis?" followed by "Interesting hypothesis. Does anyone have another one?" Although you may have to explain the word hypothesis a few times at first, this simple change in phrase makes it easier for students to take a risk and offer an answer because you are implying that you are not expecting the correct answer, simply their best guess. Note that you have to be willing to accept multiple hypotheses and be open to the idea that an unexpected one may, in fact, turn out to be correct.
Instead of "Not quite. Does anyone else know the correct answer?" try "Oh wow! Great mistake! Here's why..." As with the word hypothesis, you are making space here for students to be willing to take risks and potentially be wrong. If mistakes are treated as positive things, students will be more willing to make them, knowing they lead to growth & learning, rather than to just plain being wrong. You will be creating a culture of inquiry in your classroom.
Instead of "This is how you will do ______." try "As scientists/readers/writers/historians, how should we approach this?" Aside from simply moving from a telling to an asking stance, this rephrasing allows students to see themselves as scientists/readers/writers/historians and encourages them to use the mindset of that particular role to solve a problem. Can you guide them along the way? Absolutely! Try saying "As a scientist, I think I would..."
Instead of "I'm proud of you." try "I bet you're proud of yourself" or "How did accomplishing that make you feel?" The purpose of this rephrasing is two-fold; 1) it removes the idea that the child is subordinate to the teacher and 2) encourages the student to seek an internal motivation for completing something. The more kids rehearse this, the more natural it becomes.
Instead of "Good try but..." try "Which part are you sure about and which part are you not sure about?" or "I see that you got the first part right. How else could you spell that second part?" I love these two because they put so much emphasis on having the student use their knowledge to figure out the correct answer. They will also give you, the teacher, a ton of insight in to what the student knows and doesn't know and where you should take them next in their learning. Asking students how they went about figuring something out is incredibly powerful as it develops their sense of themselves as a capable problem-solver.
Finally, instead of "I see that you're feeling frustrated/overwhelmed/angry." try "How does your body feel right now?" followed by "Sometimes when our bodies feel like that, it means we are feeling ________________. Do you think this is how you're feeling?" This allows students to begin to internalize the process of recognizing how their body feels when they are experiencing a certain emotion, allowing them to learn to self-regulate over time. Of course, follow this conversation up with some things the child can do when they feel that way - breathing, visualization, reading, etc.
Hopefully you find these helpful. I know that I will be slowly working on using these phrases more and more in my teaching; I would love to hear how your attempts go!
This post was originally published in 2015 and still holds true today. If you have a little starting kindergarten or know someone who does, have a read, share it around and remember, it takes a village.
It's that time of year...Back to School. Every year at this time, Facebook and Pinterest are filled with posts about the 50, 75 or 100 things your child needs to know before they start kindergarten. Talk about stressful! Admittedly, the parent in me read those lists and mentally tallied up the things that my kid could do and the things she couldn't; the educator in me just cringed and reminded me that the developmental continuum is at one of it's widest points as our children enter K and this is not the time for comparison (is there ever a time?). Cue my lovely, oft-mentioned Kindergarten teacher and friend who very eloquently responded to one such post just the other day. Her response was so on-point that I asked her to guest blog about it here!
As a Kindergarten teacher and mummy to my first entering 'my zone', I'll admit I won't read these lists. I find them way too stressful and frankly, I'm maxed on stuff to worry about. While I don't generally think it's reasonable to make uninformed comments on random posts, I threw caution to the wind on this one and refered to my inner guide,: my heart.
If I were to make a list of the things the kids coming in to my class every year need to know, my list would look something like this:
Some things your kid really needs to know before entering school
- That you love them, always.
- How to love themselves, always.
- How to navigate mistakes as learning and opportunity.
- How to see there is magic in differences.
- How to be a good friend.
- How to laugh and enjoy fun.
- How to take care of themselves, each other and their place.
- How to achieve and maintain a happy heart.
- How to love books, print, art, stories, nature, playing, inventing games.
- How to love and be loved...
There are so many things that I could add but they would all be heart centered. It's my jam. My colleagues and I can and will teach the rest of the stuff (it really is just stuff).. It's important stuff but... it's stuff. What really counts, what really matters, is that kiddos feel safe and loved, that their bucket is full and that they can share that with others.
Parents, we know you're doing your best, we honour that. Many of you need to honour that in yourselves too. Don't worry about lists! Read this and feel it, for you AND for your kids. Don't we all need a little more of this? There's nothing your children can't do without the village that makes up their team. Teachers are part of your team and most importantly, your kid's team. We realize that children are each on their own journey. They each come with their own unique strengths and challenges. We too, want for your kids to be happy, healthy and successful, however that looks for them. We are in this together.
Oh, remember to take a minute to breathe and laugh too. Time passes so quickly, don't miss the moments worrying about lists.
Beautiful, isn't it? My humblest thanks for joining me on this, Robyn!
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!