Ok, ok... BLISS mayyy be a *bit* of a stretch. Especially if you are within the majority of families that have a student (or two) participating in schooling through a screen at home (whilst juggling your own career, housework, the occasional 20-minute workout, and much, much more). This fall has brought a LOT of stress and isolation. Trying to help our children survive a pandemic is far from what we expected the 2020-2021 school year to look like. As mothers ourselves, we’ve also been *ahem* stuck at home with our children during this pandemic-ridden-school-year. We know personally how rough it can be on some days- some weeks...months...
AND as former Elementary School Educators, It is incredibly difficult to realize what many (not all) children are missing by being out of the school buildings- and it is SO.MUCH.MORE than academics. Parent’s, (with the very best intentions) have not gone through years of schooling to gain the knowledge about how human learning works, what brain development for children during the elementary school years looks like, or what intrinsic motivation is- simply put, not all parents are educators, even though, they are loving, capable, confident, amazing, parents. BUT. We do have years of schooling under our belt and more years after that of hands-on practice implementing research based strategies. The following is a short list that aims to help jump start the mid-year slump, in this school year of slumpiest slump. As always, reach out to us if you want to talk more about any of these things! We are happy to do a FREE 15 minute consultation call to see if we think we can help. And for $99/ hour, we are in your back pocket anytime you want an expert’s opinion. We’ve got you, parents.
1. Check off basic needs for baseline.
Every good teacher knows that in order for a child to be in a position of real learning- the kind where the student is curious, and not only absorbing information- but actually processing and applying it- they must have their basic needs met first. Back-to-school is a great time to hit the reset button for checking in on your child’s basic needs. Take a good look. Are they eating a healthy, balanced diet? Drinking enough water? Regular and adequate exercise (whole section about this below…)? Fresh air? Social time spent with peers? Quality 1/1 time with you or another meaningful adult in their life? Enough quiet time that they can truly slow down? Fresh air- are they outside enough? Are they sleeping enough? Run through a basic needs inventory and prioritize their needs that might be lacking. Getting back to baseline so they can be ready for learning is always step #1.
2. Use lots of positive reinforcement.
There are a lot of options for how to tell and show kiddos positive reinforcement- but the idea remains the same. Catch them displaying the behaviors you’d like to see more (staying focused on the ipad during zoom, completing assignments on time, etc.) and give specific praise. You can say “I am so impressed by your perseverance on this assignment- way to stick with it!” or “Awesome, kiddo- I see you reading for the whole independent reading time, even when your teacher isn’t watching!” (Saying only: “good job” isn’t specific and doesn’t help them understand what it is that they are doing that’s ‘good’). Another way to provide praise is through a visual- it can be craft pom’s in a jar, or stickers on a chart, or stars on a dry erase board- some students really need to see their hard work visually in order to create a new habit, break a gnarly one, or just to maintain momentum for awhile. If you choose to provide a reward when the sticker chart is completed, keep in mind that reward-based motivation, is external- it may help temporarily with the habit break/make (which can be really powerful and necessary) but it isn’t (typically) an advised long-term strategy, and focusing on character traits like perseverance will actually help them feel better about themselves, and benefit them more as they get older, and motivate them more intrinsically.
3. Get their engines moving.
Think about how much movement the students had at in-person school: they played on the playground before the bell rang (and/or walked to school), hopefully had at least 2 recess’, walked the hall from classroom to special’s class. Lots of children also would engage in some sort of physical elective in the afternoons outside of school hours. When one adds it up, that is at least 2 hours of physical movement per day. It is common in winter months for families to start to want to “hibernate” a little more, BUT if you can get your child moving throughout the day it quite literally wakes their brain up for learning. Science proves that exercise is the best way to improve memory and attention- two critical components of learning! So up and at ‘em! Brain breaks, yoga, biking, scootering- try all the options and keep it fresh for the kids. Bonus: exercise also can even out their moods, improve their sleep patterns, and build self confidence!
4. Empower them by providing choices.
Can your child choose what order to complete their assignments in? Can your child choose to Zoom in the mornings vs. the afternoons? Can they choose where to sit (or what to sit on) to do their schoolwork? Can they choose to wear sweats instead of pants? Can they choose to have breakfast during their first class? Can they choose what fidget toy to hold to use? It is basic human instinct to crave control. So with so many of the things outside of their control, they need this opportunity. Let them “fill their control tank” as often as possible, within reason. AND, if it is a time when there is not an option for choice, a true non-negotiable about health and safety, then hold your boundary. Deep down, children want to know what the boundary is- and nobody really knows what a boundary is until it is pushed. So, hold it- kindly and firmly. Feelings of disappointment, sadness, anger, are all normal emotions (pre-pandemic and now). Regardless of how your child “takes the bad news” that they can’t have control in particular circumstances, they will feel secure when they learn where that boundary is.
Lastly, let us wrap up with one final thought- a point that is important twofold for the children who have been thrown into a different type of school year than they expected. At the very heart of education (and parenting) is connection. A connection with a topic, the materials being used for study, the learning environment and people- educators and peers. In our expert opinion, more critical than any academics, is the maintenance of a connection and positive relationship between parents and child throughout the stress of this unnatural school year. The positive connection you hold will propel your child into a healthier and happier future and by far, outlast & outweigh any minor academic setbacks. If you are presented the choice between finishing the math assignment (but predict it will lead to a power struggle/tears/yelling) or to stop math early on occasion & finish it the following day (albeit, late) so that you and your child can take a walk outside together, enjoying one another’s company, in short: take the walk.