Tag Archives: learning

Course correction

Yesterday was amazing. I set new ground rules going into week three (this is an organic process). We had a morning meeting and talked about what my expectations were for each day as we head back into more structured learning, and my kids were, surprisingly, on board. Then we jumped right into learning for them and work for me.

They have probably been feeling a little lost with all this free time. I’ve been reading up on the wonderful ways that social isolation is helping kids. And an abundance of free time is something that is extolled by professionals as the path to executive functioning skills in kids.

I was never one to keep my kids inside and away from independent roaming of the neighbourhood when they had free time, nor did I structure their time at home, but my kids were pretty scheduled outside of our home life. And with all that gone, they have free time in abundance.

The first two weeks at home were spent thoroughly enjoying that free time. But because they have spent so many years scheduled, that free time had turned into a drag once the novelty wore off.

And it coincided with the school board starting to put plans in place to carry on learning in a virtual environment. So I felt the need to get my kids back on track. But…

According to Lenore Skenazy’s article in the New York Post:

As for parents worried that all this non-academic time is dooming their kids’ futures, research at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that the kids who have more free time to create and structure their own activities develop stronger executive functioning skills — that is, better planning, problem-solving and follow-through — than kids whose lives are more continuously structured by adults.

Putting that into practice in my house has meant clearly defining three expectations:

  1. Complete a minimum of one hour of learning/school work
  2. Complete chores assigned by Mom
  3. Practice skills (soccer and rehearsing for play)

No phones or screens until all three are done (with the exception of the laptop for research if part of the learning component).

I left them to it and went back to my desk. And they spent the whole morning working together on a project about lowland gorillas.

They planned it out, did the research, wrote the material, managed each other’s expectations and even recognized when they’d had enough of working together and decided to take a break.

With that sense of ownership over their learning and their morning, they helped with lunch and then moved on to the other two expectations without complaint before settling in for a couple of hours of free screen time in the afternoon.

I got a ton of work done, and not just because they were busy doing their own thing, leaving me with uninterrupted time, but because my veins weren’t coursing with stress hormones from trying to manage them and worrying about them getting into fights or hurting each other’s feelings.

So, not only is this “course correction”—as Lenore Skenazy calls it—good for kids, it’s going to be great for the adults, too. We need it as much as the kids do. We need to learn to let go, to let kids figure it out for themselves and to work through hard problems. This is a small silver lining in this terrible situation in which we find ourselves. But it’s a good one.

Too much screen time, and learning to forgive

To recap Day 1: I was swamped with work. Both kids spent almost all day on screens.

Should I give up now?

But seriously, the day started off great. Both my kids were on board for the plan we’d made. We set up the laptop, downloaded Libby and a bunch of audiobooks on an old phone for my son, had breakfast, kind of cleaned up, then went through the folder of work sent home by my son’s teacher. (Throughout this, my daughter slept. We’re test driving the later start time she has been begging for, given her tween brain.)

Turns out my son has a great project to work on and a bunch of other fantastic suggestions from his teacher. I set him up with his Google Classroom on the laptop and he did some work on a bunch of stories he’d written at school over the last few months. I can see this being a great opportunity for him to go deeper with writing and developing ideas.

I got back to work (because I had tons to edit). When my daughter woke up, she told me her plan was to work on the COVID-19 assignment her teacher had provided before school let out. (I’m thinking it’s a little too much focus on the disease that’s keeping us all at home, but we’ll see.) She also planned to read all day.

I’ll say one thing, as I got busier, the kids got quieter. They both stayed on screens almost all day, either on phones to listen to audiobooks or music or to chat with friends (which, as my daughter has pointed out, is important right now because they can’t see their friends) or on the laptop to play math games.

I forgave myself at the end of the day for not directing their learning more and insisting on less screen time. We talked about it at dinner and we have new plans for today. Screens will be a last resort. (I’ve also changed the wifi password so that I at least feel more in control of the digital situation in the house.) If screens are needed, here are the resources I’ll be guiding them to:

How was your Day 1? What are your plans for Day 2?

The experiment begins

Today is Day 1 of what the Ontario government is calling Learn at home.

I spent a good chunk of yesterday prepping for how we’ll move forward over the coming weeks with this new reality.

I started by jotting down my expectations. I want my kids to learn, to be engaged and to feel good about themselves.

The way they won’t accomplish these things is clear: lots of screen time.

The ways they will accomplish these things is more work on everyone’s part, but more rewarding overall: being creative, learning something new (anything, I’m not just talking academics here), practicing being a better human (kindness, helpfulness, creating beauty [or just creating for the sake of it]).

At dinner, we all talked about what the coming weeks might look like. I explained to my kids that things are in flux and we’re going to take it day by day. There are no hard rules on how we have to do things every day. Some days, I’ll be really busy with work and I won’t have as much time for them. Other days, I’ll be able to take some time off and do things with them rather than just guiding them to do it on their own. The point is, we have to work together.

Because my kids are used to the school schedule, they both immediately jumped to the question of when is recess. This highlighted to me that what I’m working with is programmed kids. And I would love to get them away from that kind of thinking and toward more holistic thinking. I think for me that’s it. It’s not about a schedule:

8:00 am: get up, make bed, have breakfast

9:00 am: do math worksheets

10:00 am: write in journal

10:30 am: snack break and play in the backyard

11:00 am: read

12:00 pm: lunch

etc.

I don’t want our days to look like that. There’s no opportunity for deep learning or engagement there.

This is my idea for our days:

Sometime early morning: get up, make bed, make breakfast and eat together, then clean up breakfast dishes and bake something to have later

Mid-morning: clean up baking and pull out some math problems or games

Lunch time: make lunch and eat together, then clean up

Mid-afternoon: go for a walk by the river, discover what nature has to reveal

Late afternoon: write about the river walk, read a book, play a game

And this would be in flux. The next day, there might be a craft or art or engineering project that captures the attention and takes hours to work through. The point is deep engagement, being in the zone, finding flow.

When asked for their input on screen time, my daughter thought that one hour at lunch with her phone would be good to keep in touch with her friends. (Personally, I thought it was a little restrictive to just have one hour a day to talk to friends that she would normally see all day. I worry about how this online-only communication is going to change how we all interact. But I’m going to try not to worry, because the results may surprise me.)

And that’s where I’m at as I sit on the cusp of Day 1. To help my kids get used to this new routine, I’m going to stick closer to the school routine, and they’ll start Day 1 with breakfast and then worksheets that they received from their teachers on their last day in class. I have other resources and things for them that I curated yesterday during my prep time (and alone time in the house, which rarely happens anymore since I’m working from home and my kids are off school). I’ll pull those out as needed, but right now, it’s day by day, one day at a time, and all other related idioms.

How are you faring? What are your plans for the coming weeks?