One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in life is to admit when I’m in over my head. When it comes to my daughter’s education this year, I literally have no idea what I’m doing. I spend countless hours agonizing over my daughter’s education. Am I pushing too hard, not hard enough? Should I look the other way with the increased amount of screen time? Is her mental health okay? Should she be doing school in her bedroom? Have I provided all the proper tools to facilitate her learning? I have no answers, and so it’s time to admit….
I’M IN OVER MY HEAD!
This brings me to a second lesson; do not be afraid to ask for help. I reached out to Stephanie Sewell, an Independent Education Consultant who specializes with helping homeschooling families, and Kim Fry, a teacher with the TDSB for the last 8 years who now finds herself learning the ropes of virtual education along with her students. Both of these education experts are also parents to kids learning at home and admit to having many of the same struggles most parents are having right now.
I broke our conversation down into four main categories; expectations, environment, essentials, and extras—those tools that can’t hurt, and might help. Read below to find out how you can create the environment at home that works for your child. Spoiler alert: there are no cookie cutter answers here.
I wanted to know how Stephanie and Kim felt about expectations when it came to schoolwork. Should parents lower their expectations, raise them, lose them all together? Many parents I know are struggling to decide if they should keep the expectations the same so as to keep things as status quo as possible, or if they should let things slide.
Kim is all for adjusting our expectations to recognize that we are in a global pandemic. The “keep calm and carry on” mentality won’t work here, so Kim wants everyone to be gentle with everyone involved; ourselves, teachers, and students. Ultimately, she hopes we’ll take this time to cultivate a culture of connection and a love of learning, rather than trying to download the expectations of a brick and mortar establishment into our home.
Stephanie echoed Kim’s thoughts on creating connection, but also encourages us all to ask, “What are the opportunities in this that are unique to my child?” Perhaps there is a passion that they can now throw themselves into that they otherwise wouldn’t have time to pursue. Maybe let them focus on one subject at a time but take a deeper dive into it. At the end of the day though, 2019 expectations in a 2021 world won’t work.
I asked Stephanie and Kim what the at home school environment should look like and was pleasantly surprised to hear their answers focused on things all parents can control.
Both ladies recognized that not every home is set up the same, and that a Pinterest worthy set-up is not required. Setting up a dedicated study space though, no matter where that may be in the house, will help your child succeed.
I really loved that Stephanie highlighted that the learning environment does not necessarily need to be inside and that moving things outside where possible is always a good move. Consider replacing a gym class with a hike outdoors perhaps. She also noted that we need to know where our kids work best. For Stephanie’s daughter it’s right in the thick of things in the house where there’s always activity and for her son, it’s a space in his bedroom, away from other distractions.
Kim also emphasized the importance of being outdoors and reducing screen time as much as possible. For indoors, she notes that the students she finds most focused have headphones on that minimize distraction around them, no matter where their desk is.
A screen is not the only essential for school this year. There is a definite need for basics that never go out of style. I highlighted a study to Kim and Stephanie that underscored the importance of handwriting as a powerful tool for learning to get their thoughts. Both agreed that pens and pencils will never go out of style.
At an absolute minimum, both ladies agreed that homes should have good writing pens, coloured pencils and markers, highlighters, lots of notebooks and rulers. Thankfully Staples always has these items on hand and they are easily delivered to your door.
The idea, as Kim pointed out is not to be just passively reading things but actively writing it down in your own style. Additionally, Stephanie emphasized the importance of having things laid out in plain sight so that it welcomes your child to it and encourages spontaneous interaction with it. So resist the urge to sweep it all away every day and leave the sketch pad and colouring pencils out at all times.
Finally, don’t underestimate the value of learning games. Study after study shows that play is an invaluable way to learn; incorporate as much of it as possible into the day.
As parents, we naturally want to go the extra mile for our kids to ensure they have all the tools they need to succeed so I asked the ladies about those nice to haves. Following along with decreasing their screen time as much as possible, both Kim and Stephanie emphasized investing in high-quality books. Whiteboards and chalkboards are also another great way to encourage the writing that commits learning to memory.
I really loved Kim’s addition of technology that allows older kids to become media producers instead of media consumers. Her example was TikTok, where most teens are spending a great deal of time these days. Instead of passively scrolling through other people’s videos, give your kids the tools to create their own video which emphasizes creativity, acting, and editing. Let them set up a podcast, try their hand at music production, start a blog, or their own YouTube channel and allow them to become cultural producers. Finally, Stephanie points out the added benefit of collaboration with a friend. All of the above can be worked on remotely with a friend that allows desperately needed socializing with peers.
Staples knows this past year has been unlike any other year, and they are here to help. They’re offering everything from tips for learning at home, to lists of products you need to make learning at home work for your family. You’ll find it all in their Learn From Home Essentials here.
We’ve teamed up with Staples to create a new homeroom in your house! One lucky winner is going to win a $1,000 gift card from Staples to assemble an at-home classroom that works for your whole family.