Tips on supporting your child and creating a thriving learning environment
Supporting our children begins with recognizing that which we do have control over and that which we do not. We are then able to channel our energy into the areas where we can have control and that will actually be beneficial for our child. It is also important to understand how our children are experiencing life, so that we can meet them where they are.
In her blog “It is OK to Have French Toast for Dinner”, Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet concluded that “The world is topsy-turvy right now. Let go of expecting perfect parenting, and remember you are doing a good enough job.” In our webinar and this blog, we share some insights from our experience as educators and parents to support parents in creating a thriving learning environment for their children during these unprecedented times.
Understanding ways to support your child
In supporting our children during this time, we need to find a balance of letting go and feeling somewhat in control – to balance having French Toast for dinner with things like keeping a bedtime. In doing so, we can find ways to give our children a sense of control, and eventually a sense of agency, which is where deep engagement and learning happen.
We are not used to being with our children this much, and they are not used to being with us this much – it is new for all of us. Truly connecting with your child, giving them a sense of control, encouraging and establishing sustained play, and giving yourself grace are four key elements in supporting your child emotionally and in their learning.
What we know about children
In a time of upheaval and change, such as a global pandemic, children’s needs are often heightened. As sensory beings, they will often have a noticeable increase in their need for physical connection, or may even display more physical aggression. It is important to make time to hug, snuggle, and perhaps even extend the bedtime routine, as this physical connection is what helps to ground children and make them feel safe. Encourage multiple sensory outlets, such as running barefoot in the grass, playing with modeling clay, jumping on pillow piles, or making and playing with slime.
Along with this may come regression – wanting to co-sleep again, toileting accidents, behavior regression, and so forth. This is developmentally appropriate during times of stress or duress, and it is OK. Telling yourself and your child that it is ok, being there for them, and gently guiding back to their usual behavior in small increments will support them.
As children feel and process these hard feelings, it is important to normalize them by simply acknowledging them. Remind yourself and your child that it is normal for things to be hard, and our brains will grow because of the stress and challenge of a situation. Hard feelings also provide an opportunity to model and share positive coping strategies, such as going for a walk, taking a bath, snuggling on the couch, and drawing a picture.
Maintaining a sense of routine and structure to some degree is also a way to help our children feel safe and secure. Keeping certain structures and routines like stories before bedtime and ensuring children are getting enough sleep (10+ hours for most ages), are essential. Balancing that with flexibility and letting go of perfection will allow us to let go of unnecessary stress and remain healthy and connected.
What schools are doing
It is very important to recognize that while we are all in a similar situation, there are major differences, especially in what schools are providing for our children. Some schools are giving a small packet of activities for the week that some kids are finishing in 30 minutes, and/or truly asking parents to homeschool by designing and delivering the curriculum. Other schools are assigning so much work that middle and high school students are working non-stop for the entire day.
Regardless of the school, keep in mind that each situation is different, and don’t succumb to the pressures of social media. Do give your children ways to engage with the world, and ensure that they have some learning experiences every day, but know that play, healthy meals, and some exercise along with parental connection are most important to provide in this time.
4 steps to regulate and problem-solve (from Seed & Sew)
Normalizing hard feelings and supporting your child in processing them can feel overwhelming and complex, and we so often jump straight into problem solving mode. Instead here are 4 steps to give them the time and space to process.
- Validate Feelings. Allow your child to express their feelings and acknowledge the emotion without trying to solve the problem. “Not being able to meet up with your friends in person is really hard. It can feel very lonely”
- Offer Security. “This won’t last forever. It is really difficult to be away from our friends but we will be able to be with them one day again. I am here to help”
- Offer Coping Support: “How can I help you feel calm? Would you like to go for a walk/read a book/do some jumping jacks/snuggle?”
- Offer Problem-Solving: “When you are feeling ready we can talk together about what we can do. It is okay to be upset about this for a little while. I don’t know when exactly we can see them again but would you like to explore some possibilities together?”
Engaging your child in sustained play feels more important than ever, not only because your children need to be playing now but also because we need our children playing so we can have a break and/or work. Sustained play is not as complicated and expensive as one may think. Contrary to popular belief it is not about an endless supply of new, fancy toys, nor is it about needing a dedicated playroom. Rather, changing the way we speak about play is often a key shift. Describing your child’s play as their work- giving it value and importance, let’s your child know how important play is, reaffirming that it requires time, focus and commitment. Another important practical tip is to set up your computer and workspace next to them, remember your children want to be where you are!
You can see some inspiration ideas in Toddle’s Learning Library blog on building skills while learning at home. These contain simple activities that you can do with your children.
Tips from teachers
- Designing a learning space together: find a quiet space near you, help your child organize and label their materials so everything has a home (to support independence), provide tactile materials as needed (playdoh, pipe cleaner etc), offer options for seating including a chair that can spin or wiggle to support movement needs.
- Give them time and space to build their problem-solving muscle: try stepping away during their calls, give them space to make mistakes, take pauses and breaks. Remember that children are not used to being engaged on a one-to-one basis throughout the day. The reality is that during the typical school there are many transitions, times of passive learning, silly moments with friends etc.; it is not realistic to expect children to remain 100% focused and engaged throughout. Help your child create a checklist of strategies they can employ when they are stuck or don’t understand something. These can be visual cues for younger non-readers.
- Do not let conversations about school work consume your day: Agree on a routine for how and why you will ask them about their school work. For example, before dinner each night you can sort and file their work from the day and discuss it. Remember that school is their work and talk about it this way. It is okay for children to finish their school work “early” some days and not have more to do, celebrate time for building, creating, resting, playing, doing chores as these are all learning moments too and so valuable.
- Reach out to your child’s teacher: Communicate, ask for help, and support and direction. Teachers have brilliant ideas they are happy to share with you, strategies they’ve practised with hundreds of thousands of children over their long careers.
Give yourself grace
This time is an opportunity for children to learn they have tremendous capacity to overcome adversity. Do not undervalue the significance of the life skills being taught. It is also a time in which we as parents need to give ourselves grace. We do not need to know everything and solve every problem. It is instead a time to really talk as a family, to reassure our children about what we do know, acknowledge and normalize their feelings, guide them in steps towards independence and problem-solving, and reaffirm that everyone in the family is an important contributor. Help your child with the routines of school, AND listen to their ideas of what they want to do and how they want to play. Encourage discovery, play, and inquiry in daily life. Most of all, remember that you are doing a good job by showing up for them each day. Wendy Mogle, author of Blessings of a Skinned Knee, recommends that we “Strive to be a ‘good enough’ parent, not a great one. It can make everyone in the family relax and paradoxically make life richer.”
Jacqueline Cody is the PYP Coordinator at the International School of the Peninsula. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Child Development (UBC), a Master’s in the study of childhood (U of Edinburgh), and post- graduate qualifications in education (U of Nottingham). She is the mother of a threenager and has taught children across ages, from reggio-inspired infant and toddler classrooms through to 5th grade. She is passionate about children’s voices, fostering emotional intelligence and the power of the village in raising and educating children.
Kate Conway is the Assistant Head of School at the International School of the Peninsula. She holds a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Yale University, and an M.Ed from Teacher’s College at Columbia University, where she completed the Klingenstein Program for Private School Leadership. She has taught and/or been an administrator in all divisions from Early Years to High School at independent schools on the East Coast (of the US), California, and in France. Kate is especially passionate about international education, inquiry-based learning, balance, and social-emotional learning. She is a mother of 2 girls – aged 7 and 10.