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A home school plan that’s realistic not sadistic

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With working and schooling shifting to the home and, well, just about everything from somewhere to the home, how we’re doing depends on how things are going at home. And many are battling, says Ned Johnson.

Recently a colleague emailed me: “I’m currently struggling to find balance with the new cadence of life. D and I haven’t settled into our child-care rhythm, but I generally take the morning until 1pm or 2pm and then we switch so I can tutor through the evening.

“Given that our kids are 4 and 6, I can get essentially nothing done during that time unless I put them in front of screens. I’ve been jumping on our midday meetings as I try to stay somewhat interactive with them, cook lunch and get myself fed and dressed. You know me well enough by now to know I don’t make excuses like this easily or often, so thanks for understanding as I figure all this out.”

To all parents out there, my main piece of advice is to practise self-compassion and lower your expectations of yourself. And please set aside all of the ambitious “suggested home schooling schedules” going around on social media.

Yes, a routine of sorts is important for all of our sanity, especially our kids’, but instead of cramming in science, maths, history, language and art, you can take a broader, saner approach. At some point, we will return to work and school outside our homes. We will carry with us either scars from learning in the time of Covid-19 or relationships that are stronger, more adult.

We can ask a good deal of our kids and partners. But, how we do it will make all the difference. As the founder of PrepMatters, a tutoring and educational counselling company, I’ve come up with tips to help you and your children get through this time together: 

Make the plan together

Kids are much more likely to buy into a system they helped create. Give them as much autonomy as you can manage. This is a great opportunity for them to develop maturity and step up to help.

Create consequences

Do that now, so you’re not creating them in the heat of the moment. Ideally, consequences are not punitive but embody principles of restorative justice, focusing on how kids (or parents) can make amends.

Plan for time apart

Cabin fever is not about the cabin but the fever pitch of too much family time. At summer camps, everyone gets a rest hour. Whether that involves rest, pretending to write letters home or just looking out of the window, we all benefit from time alone. If you have a child who is an introvert or more easily stressed, or if you are, time apart is crucial.

Eat meals together

So many of our days may feel a tad fraught, so take a break at mealtime. Consider empowering your kids to make a meal. For all of the workaholics among us who miss too many family dinners, now is your chance to bond.

Build in enough time for sleep

Keep it consistent. You are 4.2 times more likely to catch a virus when tired. You are also less apt to sleepily rub your eyes if you are fresh. And sleep deprivation increases stress hormones, weakening our self-control and making the world seem a little darker. The great sleep researcher Matthew Walker shares that beyond getting the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep per night for teens and nine to 11 hours for younger kids, the single best thing we can do is be regular, retiring for bed and rising from it at roughly the same time daily. When we shift, we effectively jet lag ourselves.

Plan for some chores

Ensure you have input from your kids. Feeling productive has its own benefits, and a semblance of order makes us feel more in control. You don’t have to go full Marie Kondo, unless that’s your thing, but it’s easier to feel like the world isn’t falling apart if your corner of it meets your standards.

Plan virtual time with friends

My office is starting virtual happy hours. The music director from my kids’ camp hosted an online song session, with James belting out songs from his living room as we gamely sang along from ours. My son and his friends spent two hours on a group call – will kids finally begin to prefer talking to texting? And, for every parent riled by hours spent by their kids gaming, many are grateful for the connection found in online gaming.

Plan “radical digital downtime”.

Designate times, a day, or even a weekend that will be tech-free. But don’t drop this plan on your kids without warning. Work together to limit screen time even when you’re not going offline completely. Start with yourself, because you’ll handle yourself better and conversations about their screen time better. Consider planning when you and your kids are online with friends, games and streaming shows, so they feel in control and you don’t find yourself hovering and fretting. We all benefit from time offline, especially kids.

Have a medium or long-term goal

Success Coach Brian Tracy suggests commitment to a long-term goal is a great way to control short-term behaviour. As this new reality may go on for months, not weeks, making a goal that is longer than the increasingly short news cycle may stave off the Groundhog Day-like madness that may already be creeping into your life. Learn to play a new game with your child. (Their video games count!)

Teach yourself a song or three on the piano.

Use Duolingo to learn something practical, like conversational Spanish, or something less practical, like Scottish Gaelic, or how to say “please, thank you and where is the bar” in one of its 31 languages.

Make this the year to grow tomatoes from seed.

Again, something that lifts your eyes and spirits from the hourly updates you see online. Acknowledge that this new normal is hard for them and for you I know I find working from home harder. When at work, my family and home were not omnipresent. When at home, my work was not omnipresent. Both at once feels like madness, and the younger your children, the truer this is. Divided attention, like multitasking, is initially exciting but quickly tiring and stressful.

Ease up on the academics

A huge part of kids’ academic development is fuelled by brain development. A Grade 5 child could work on writing six hours a day, and he wouldn’t be much better at it than if he worked for 45 minutes a day, because the brain can’t change that fast. Use this time for your kids to get enough sleep, play and family time. They won’t lose anything academically that can’t be made up quickly with a slightly more mature brain. 

The Washington Post


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