7QT: Beginning of School Edition

One: We’ve had two weeks of school so far. Week one, grades 7 and 12 started. (So far, 12th grade has consisted of my asking, “You good, bro?” several times a day in the 12th grader’s general direction.)

Two: This week, 11th grade began. I needed that extra week to pull together the final details of her AP Lit and (non-AP) economics classes. In order to prepare for Lit, I had about 834 hundred books spread out on the kitchen table. 11th grader came, picked up The Merchant of Venice, and announced, “I think I’ve read this one. Don’t they stand in the street and yell at each other?”

The next day, she said, “This can’t be the one I’m thinking of.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Duh, Mom,” she said, “it’s Venice. They don’t have streets.”

Three: Today’s economics discussion was on Specialization and Trade. We played Settlers of Catan as our class activity. Also: anyone who says economics is purely a descriptive science and is inherently amoral is full of it. I’ll go the mat on this one.

Four: Yesterday’s AP Literature discussion was on my all-time favorite essay, Expedition to the Pole by Annie Dillard. (Seriously. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s in The Annie Dillard Reader and in Teaching a Stone to Talk. Go ahead. I’ll wait…)

Oh, you’re back. Did you love it? My 11th grader did, and we spent an hour talking about the extended metaphors and how the structure of the essay led to the meaning. I think this is going to be my favorite class.

Five: 7th grade is doing “advanced botany” this year, which includes vermiculture (a.k.a, composting with worms.) I have been waking up in the wee hours of the morning imagining red wigglers taking over the house, which seems a little premature since the worms are still in a FedEx truck somewhere between here and Pennsylvania.

One of our dearest, earliest homeschool mentors told us a story eighteen years ago about a homeschooling talk they’d heard at a convention. The details have become somewhat apocryphal, but the gist was that one strategy for learning is to say, “Why not?” every time your kid wants to explore something new. We started with gardening, then added a cold frame, and now worms. I’ll keep you posted on where it lands us next.


preparing the worm bin

Six: The Denver Art Museum continues to be one of my favorite places. Their exhibits are so thoughtful, so thought provoking. The latest is Norman Rockwell: Imagining Freedom, and the curation of the exhibit taught me so much I didn’t know about WW2 and Rockwell as an artist. If there’s any way you can make it there (they’re doing timed entries and requiring masks), do.

Seven: Earlier this month, we visited one of our favorite local bookstores that had just reconfigured and reopened to make more distance in the store. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to browse bookshelves. We spent more than an hour seeing old [printed] friends and discovering future reads. All of us were so deeply happy to be there.

My job was to help them find the sections where books they’d been wanting were located. After I done that twice for my own kids, another random customer came over to me to ask if I could help her find a book, and I had to admit that I didn’t work there, I was just a mom.

Thanks for reading! I hope your adventures- be they homeschooling or with extreme botany or Adam Smith (that jerk)- are wonderful. Check out This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes.

Provision

Photo credit: Lourene Roode

Anyone tired of the pandemic yet? Yeah, me too. It feels like a repeating cycle of the same mistakes: denial, blame, and no one wanting to do what it takes to get it under control. Everything seems so big, it’s hard to pray. As the numbers of cases and deaths climb, my prayers get smaller and smaller. It reminds me of my experience during the cholera epidemic in Haiti. You can read more in The Well.

Daybook: August 1st

Outside: our front porch is a perfect little space in the morning, especially on these hot summer days. My friend Danielle inspired me to light a candle on the porch, and it has been a lovely addition to my morning routine.

In the schoolroom: We are still in full summer mode, which includes:

  • sleeping in
  • lots of screen time
  • trying to connect with friends (see previous)
  • complaining of boredom

For me, summer means not trying to maximize anyone’s anything. While the children play or hang out or complain, I have been prepping for school, which has meant reading lots of really interesting books and thinking about how to teach them. Good stuff.

My youngest is done with summer- she’s ready to start school again, and has been begging to start school early. (She even cleaned out all of last year’s leftover papers and random detritus from her school bin: see below.) I have put her off by promising a weekday camping trip. The only day I could find, however, follows a forty-eight hour shift at the hospital (for me, not her.) Wish me luck.

Random update: Remember my kids’ power point presentation to convince us to buy them a Switch? We responded with an earn-the-Switch campaign. Every mile walked/run counted 1 point toward the 500-point goal. Every indoor workout counted 1 point. Every mile biked was half a point. (Yards swam had some other complicated exchange rate I can’t remember.) Anyway, they did it, and they are happily smashing things together and negotiating with that tyrant Tom Nook.

In the kitchen: another brilliant friend (looking at you, Hillary) encouraged me to give the kids more time/space in the kitchen, so two nights a week most weeks, one of the kids is cooking dinner. It does mean more last-minute trips to the grocery store, but apart from that it’s a win-win. Yesterday Phoebe made my mom’s homemade noodles in a really fantastic vegetable broth and a green salad.

In my shoes: July’s goal was to “move more.” Having a lovely porch space means that I linger there, thinking up excuses not to exercise (e.g., I have a hangnail, my hair looks decent right now, I don’t know where my mask is…) until it’s too hot to exercise outside. I started writing down my excuses, which look ridiculous on paper, and then managed to do some kind of movement, be it yoga, running, walking, hiking, or biking, twenty-four days out of the month. Aside from being my main coping technique (and there’s a lot to cope with right now!) movement has been a lovely way to get out and see something other than the news. I saw hummingbirds, hawks, and even a buck who was snacking in our urban park.

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On my mind:

  • antiracism work
  • honoring my kids’ priorities in our learning
  • how can I better support my medical assistants who are front-line workers?

Grateful for:

  • our church
  • good therapists
  • the life of John Lewis and good trouble
  • music
  • this “bonus summer” our family has had together
  • quarantine birthday parties in the back yard and garage
  • young leaders stepping to make change
  • Sam

Praying for:

  • a shared narrative for the pandemic
  • the daily bread of patience, perseverance, and hope
  • the grassroots law project
  • public health workers, lab techs and supermarket workers
  • the Church and its mission of sacrifice and hospitality
  • parents, especially parents of teens and emerging adults

Making mistakes

Hey, friends. I’m still here.

I’ve been thinking a lot about white privilege and how it works inexorably in my favor, and against my neighbor. It’s hard to talk and think about, and I’ve been silent on this platform, because I’m uncomfortable with the conversation… so I’m listening and learning. This is work I have to do. Being uncomfortable is good for me, and I hope in the long run it will make the world a better place.

Also, I’ve been thinking about our home school- you know, looking back at this year and our successes and failures and all the meh moments in between. I’ve been thinking specifically about failure, and how important it is for learning. Julie Bogart of Bravewriter talks about how homeschooled kids never get a math problem wrong because their parents won’t let them. It’s funny here, but that was exactly how we worked in our house until I read that statement. Now after I mark their math work, I look for the patterns and decide which problems (if any) I want them to correct. Recently, it’s never more than one or two.

Likewise, I used to correct every little thing they did “wrong,” even when most of them were purely style. I did this in their reading aloud, in their writing, in the way they set the table, in the way they made their beds… all in the spirit of “learning to do it right.” How exhausting for them.

You know what? With most things, there are lots of ways to do it right. And who’s to say that my way of making the bed is better than theirs? Really, it’s just my preference.  My kids learn so much better from making real mistakes, whether it’s getting lost on their bikes, or not having enough money for something they want to buy because they spent some last week on candy.

But then I got to thinking about how my black friends don’t have the luxury of letting their children make mistakes.

If one of my kids talks back to a teacher in a classroom, I’m going to get a phone call. If my black friend’s kid talks back to a teacher, they’re much more likely to get embroiled in the criminal justice system, because we put police in schools.

If one of my kids is driving our car with a broken tail light, they’re going to get a warning or a ticket. If my neighbor’s black teenager gets stopped for driving with a broken tail light, who’s to say he will make it home alive?

This plays out in a million ways, most of which I’ve had the privilege never to consider.

Making mistakes is part of childhood.  It’s a necessary part of learning, and it’s an opportunity we’ve stolen from our brothers and sisters of color, and their children.  I don’t know how to change it, but I want to be part of the culture of change that will give everyone’s children the opportunities I’ve had.

Daybook: Mid-May, 2020

Outside my window: gray and green. The temperature today is supposed to top out at 41 degrees (F). I brought the fuchsia plants in so they wouldn’t go into shock. The trees are recovering from the late freeze and finally have some leaves.



I splurged on some hanging flowers for the porch. Normally I don’t,
because when we travel they all die, but… this summer we’re not traveling.

In the kitchen: Last night Phoebe’s first harvest of butter lettuce inspired me to make hoisin tofu lettuce cups and hot & sour soup, but my broth didn’t turn out right. It was a disappointment. However, not all was lost.

While I was trying to finish the final steps to put everything on the table, I had six hungry people chatting all around me and getting in my way. Once all the hungry people are fed, they want to disappear immediately into their own pursuits, though I would love for them to linger. I’m thinking a platter of hors d’oeuvres before dinner might prolong the pre-dinner linger. Please send me your favorite appetizer recipes in the comments!



My favorite part of Zoom school: Bob Ross-like
watercolor paint-alongs with the art teacher.

In the schoolroom: This week is the end of college finals for Jonah, and AP exam week (1/2) for Owen and Moriah. Phoebe had her first committee meeting (via Zoom) for an environmental action group she joined. It all sounds great on paper, but we are exhausted. According to the numbers we should continue school through May 29, but I going to call an audible (Omaha!) and wipe the final week of school off calendar. I figure we had less disruption to our school than, well, most of America, and we can just be done.

In my shoes: While all our lives are better when we move, we’re still struggling to do it.

On my mind: white privilege. It greases so many wheels in my life. I am beginning to see how systemic racism is much of the ground underneath my feet. I don’t know how to pull it up, but I am learning to look where I am walking. It’s not enough, but it’s a beginning.

Also: how health care system pays for procedures, not for thinking. For treatment but not prevention. We are seeing the effects of this in so many ways right now, from the failure to follow through on pandemic planning to the financial crisis in many health care entities.

Grateful:

  • for my neighbors’ creativity
  • for a weekend that managed to be both fun and restful
  • the technology that has made it possible to stay connected with friends and colleagues far (and near)
  • Sam’s hard work
  • my nephew’s college and MBA graduation
  • policy makers trying to thread the needle of economic survival in the face of loss of lives

Praying for:

  • clear answers and compassionate care for a hospitalized friend
  • family members who have to be advocates from afar
  • the lonely
  • safe spaces to grieve whatever we have lost, even if it’s smaller than what our friends/neighbors/communities have lost
  • students trying to show what they’ve learned during this much-interrupted year of learning
  • Mandy, Judy, Joanie, Eric & family, Jennifer, Clare

My child finished all their work. Now what?

Did we make it through week one?

By now you will have noticed the surprising truth about homeschooling: it doesn’t take the whole day.

2006. vinegar + baking soda + food coloring = happy child

When I started homeschooling, I thought that because traditional school occupied the child from 8:30-3, my home education was supposed to take the same amount of time. My effort to occupy my child for six and a half hours was excruciating. When he whizzed through his math worksheet, I added another. When he grasped the science lesson after ten minutes, I added three extra examples of the same principle. I heaped on assignments, thinking this was how it had to work. And still, we had hours each day where he looked at me, waiting for the next thing, and I had nothing. I felt like a failure.

As I read more and learned through experience, I discovered that less was more, especially during the younger years.

homemade Senet (ancient Egyptian funerary game), circa 2008

First grade “work” takes an hour. First grade learning takes all day.

You may have discovered the same thing this week by watching your own child.

So what do you do with the rest of the day, after your child has blown through the worksheets their teacher sent home? Please don’t buy more workbooks.

some sort of engineering project, 2009

What’s missing from your child’s “school day” is all of the negotiation between the teacher and the other twenty (or thirty) students in the room: classroom management. You’re not spending any time on roll call, handing in assignments, hearing the excuses for missed work, putting boots in cubbies, people asking to go to the bathroom, discussing the announcements, lining up to go to P.E.—or rather you are, but only for one child (or four). Multiply the transition time for your one by thirty, and now you have the other five and a half hours of first grade.

So what are you supposed to do with your child all day?

May I suggest boredom?

Boredom is the secret sauce of learning. Boredom is what makes a child look for the answers to their questions. It’s what makes practicing the piano interesting. An occupied child isn’t going to practice piano for two hours because you told them to, but a child who has “nothing better to do” might go try to figure out the theme song from their favorite anime even after their half hour of obligatory practicing. A bored child is going to be the one to follow the rabbit trail from their question of “how do I make slime?” to cooking and making their own cleaning supplies and actually testing those in your bathroom. (Or not.) They might build the BIGGEST LEGO WORLD EVER. They might figure out how to program their own computer game. They might practice their pirouettes until they can finally do a triple on their left foot.

playing Ode to the Bored Child, 3rd movement

So embrace the boredom. Let your kids plow through the assignments their teachers send home next week and then let them sit and wonder what they’re supposed to do next. It might be a new experience for them. It might open up a whole new world.

"I'm never going to survive two months of this."

This was a text from someone dear to me. She asked for tips to survive at home with her kids. She’s not alone. I’ve gotten a whole bunch of texts and messages that are variations on this theme, and I have a few tips.

Social distancing: only one kid per tree.

I’m also going to refer you to some other homeschoolers I turn to when I think I’m not going to make it.

Kelly Mantoan is a Catholic homeschooler and possibly one of the funniest people out there. Both her faith and her humor feature in her writing. She posted the other day on How to get stuff done when everyone is home. Start there.

Julie Bogart has graduated five homeschooled adults into the world and offers a wealth of kindness, encouragement and practical help. I have linked here to her blog post announcing a free conference next week for Homebound learners that might be of help. She also has a ton of curriculum resources, both short- and long-term, and a great book, The Brave Learner.

Melissa Wiley is a writer and long-term homeschooler. She’s got great advice for us.

I also want to highlight an Instagram feed with practical and evidence-based help for parents on managing kids’ behavior. You can find Jennifer on Instagram at everydayba.

My tips for surviving being stuck at home to save the world:

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Remember why you’re home.

We all know someone whose risk with the virus is extremely high, whether it’s grandparents or neighbors or friends from school, and our temporary incarceration directly benefits them. Talk about this with your kids. Let them know that their actions matter. We have chosen to stay home to protect the vulnerable. It doesn’t feel heroic when your floor is covered with rice and ants and you’re yelling at your kids to set the table (um, me yesterday) but it is.

Adjust your goals.

This is code for “lower your standards.”

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This was immediately after some children finished “picking up.”

Perhaps your kids go to an elite school and are now trying to learn calculus off your television. Or maybe you have been in the habit of enjoying six hours of blessed silence every day while your kids are at school, and well… now there’s no silence and a house full of kid crap twenty-four hours a day.

Go back to tip #1 (remember why you’re doing this) and adjust your expectations. This may not be the year your kid masters calculus, but they are going to learn lessons of resilience, independence in time management, and creative mental health strategies that will benefit them their whole lives.

Likewise, you are now sharing your daytime work space with another person (or five more people), and it’s going to look different. But maybe this is the season when your kids finally learn how to pick up after themselves, do their own laundry and clean the house. (Their future roommates/spouses will thank you.)

A word about screen time: there are so many options emerging for fitness classes online, learning remotely, and connecting with loved ones. If you have strict screen-time limits, this is a good time to evaluate adjusting those. However, we should still be strict about WHERE screens live in our homes. There is good evidence that we eat, sleep and learn better if the screens stay out of our bedrooms, kitchens, and hidden corners of the basement.

Make a plan.

Humans like to know what’s going to happen next. This is what makes us different from dogs, and is probably why all of us are losing it right now.

Your plan should work for all of you. Not just for the kids, and not just for you. Sit down together to set some goals and priorities, and then shoo them away while you make the actual plan. Follow it for a week or two, and then readjust.

Move often.

Seven times out of ten, when my kids start snarking at each other, it’s after a prolonged period of sitting or lying around. Ninety percent of the remaining time, it’s because they’re hungry or tired. You schedule your meals and add snacks when necessary. Do the same with movement.

Schedule regular movement throughout your day. And if you notice kids getting crabby, shake it up with some movement. The younger the kids, the shorter (and more frequent) the movement breaks need to be. Think: turn up the music and dance a song. Do five jumping jacks. Take a ten minute walk before lunch.

Dance break!

Be generous with praise.

Our kids are anxious. They may be reading the news, or just reading our moods, but they can tell things are not right. When we draw their attention (and our own) to what’s going well, the more of that we’ll get.

  • “I noticed how patient you were with your sister during Monopoly.”
  • “Thanks for waiting to talk to me till I got off the phone.”
  • “Thanks for unloading the dishwasher.”
  • “You’ve been working really hard on that math problem. Shall we work on it together for a little while?”

Keep a running tally of what went well.

I try to write down at least a couple things every day. My list is as simple as “P called Papa & Grandma, M unloaded dishwasher without complaining, crocuses by the front tree.” These aren’t major victories by any means, but they make all the difference in how my brain catalogs this day. A few small victories can move us from having a “bad day” to “good day.”

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Apologize often.

Say you’re sorry. Hug lots. Be consistent in your rules (whatever you all decide they should be) and have lots of grace for each other and yourself.

You can do this.

You are doing it. Thank you for protecting the vulnerable.

How routine can be your friend right now

These are challenging days, with lots of time on our hands and not a lot of structure. Perhaps your family needs a week or more of unstructured time to decompress from the pace you’ve been going for too long. But when your kids start picking at each other over nothing and you’re looking for a way to add some structure to your days, I have a suggestion.

Right now all our routines are out the window… or are they? We’re still getting up in the morning. We still eat meals and brush our teeth (hopefully). My teens still pick up their phones first thing. Some of us have dogs that need to be walked.

These routines can be harnessed to make your quarantine “school” more effective and pleasant.

Perhaps you have some online or assigned work from your child’s teachers. Maybe you have some of your own goals for your kids’ learning during this time. Today is NOT the day to roll it all out like some kind of new school in your living room. Expecting your child to jump into six hours of “school” at the kitchen table is a disaster waiting to happen, and we have enough of those circulating right now.

Instead, today is the day to make a plan.  Sit down with your child and set a few goals and priorities.

If your child’s goal for this time is to be able to hit a tennis ball against the wall 100 times without missing, and your goal is for them to learn their times tables, write these down.

If what you need is two uninterrupted hours to work from home each day, and your child really wants to be able to lie around in their pajamas, then write these down as your priorities.

Now write down a schedule with only your anchor activities. You don’t necessarily need the exact times, but the order is important. For example:

Take dog out
Breakfast
Get dressed/ready for school
 
Walk dog
Lunch
 
 
 
 
After school snack
Homework from school
Make dinner, eat
Walk dog again
Bedtime

Now I’m going to add in our “work”.

Take dog out
Breakfast
Kid: Times tables (10 minutes) Adult: clean up from breakfast
Kid: Free time Adult: your work
Walk dog
Lunch
Kid: Times tables (10 min) Adult: make a plan for dinner
Kid: Hit ball against garage Adult: work
Kid: Free time Adult: work
After “school” snack
Assignments from school
Make dinner, eat
Walk dog again
Bedtime

#First, did you notice I took out “get dressed/ready for school”? Throwing your kid this bone might work for your family as leverage for some of the harder things you’re going to ask them to do later.

* Did you see I said just 10 minutes for drilling times tables? This wasn’t an arbitrary number. A child’s attention span (on average) if their age in minutes, plus 3, so an 8 year-old cannot be expected to have an attention span of more than 11 minutes. Obviously, when we get into a state of flow or deep work, this may change, but we can’t expect that deep flow state to happen over something like times tables. As you plan your day, keep this guideline in mind. Eight minutes at the table is a good stretch of work for a five year-old. A fifteen year-old isn’t going to work in an uninterrupted fashion on something difficult for more than 20 minutes.

Some days will work better than others. You may find your child wants to learn something else entirely. You may find that your child’s attention span is half of what you thought it was. Some days will fall apart. That’s okay.

Even if during the morning, your kid has a tantrum during their ten minutes of running their times tables and you spend a chunk of your own “work time” trying to help them with their anxiety, your world reverts to normal again with your pre-lunch dog walk. Or at lunch. The anchors fix our schedule, even when the new part is a challenge.

Once you have a bare-bones routine like this working, you might be able to add another activity or two into the mix, always keeping the anchors steady.

Take dog out
Breakfast
Kid: Times tables (10 minutes) and read a chapter of a book
Adult: clean up from breakfast, make a plan for dinner
Kid: Face time with Grandma, then Free time
Adult: your work
Walk dog
Lunch
Kid: Times tables (10 min)
Adult: 10 min of prepping ingredients for dinner
Kid: Hit ball against garage, then 20 min of a YouTube nature documentary
Adult: work
Kid: Free time
Adult: work
After “school” snack
Assignments from school
Make dinner, eat
Walk dog again
Bedtime

Routines are good for us. Kids like to know “what’s next.” While we can’t answer so many of their questions right now (When will school open again? What will we do this summer? What about the school play? Will the Olympics still happen? What about graduation?) we can ease some of the daily angst with routines. All the better if our routines include time to accomplish small goals, daily exercise, and time together.

For some suggestions of small goals and other ways to fill this time, check out this post. Or if your child (or you) are experiencing anxiety right now (and who isn’t?), read here.

Hang in there, friends!

How to help your children who are feeling a little anxious about COVID-19

Are you feeling a little anxious about being in home quarantine? I bet your children are, too. Or maybe they are more anxious about being away from their friends and school.

Some children are able to talk about their anxiety. They might describe it as fear, worry, or nervousness.  Many children, however, don’t have the insight or the language to describe their anxiety.  Instead, they experience stomachaches, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness or other pain. Or they may not be aware of it, but you notice it in their behavior, with crying, bedwetting, difficulty sleeping, fidgeting, pacing or shaking. As anxiety progresses, it may also bring on depressive symptoms which include fatigue, loss of appetite (or increased appetite), weight loss or gain, sadness, or avoiding activities a person normally enjoys.

So what do we do about COVID-19-related anxiety in our children (and ourselves?)

First, limit how much news they and we are taking in. Do we really need to keep the COVID-19 case tally website open on the computer? (Asking for a friend.) Reducing our exposure to worrying news might mean limiting phone/computer access to certain hours or sites/apps. Talk with your teen/tween about why you think this is a good idea. When we take lots of bad news we can’t do anything about, the powerlessness we experience can lead to anxiety or depression. Stick to reliable news sources, and avoid sites that spread rumor and speculation (I’m looking at you, reddit and facebook.) Once you have set some limits, then follow them together.

Second, hear them out. Your children might be experiencing some really big emotions right now. Create space for them to share these with you, whether it’s in the dark at bedtime, in a drawing, or just over a cup of tea together in the kitchen. When we sit down with them and give them our full attention, it sends a message that we are all in this together. You don’t have to have the answers. Some good open-ended questions or prompts, (“Tell me more…” or “How are you feeling?”) go a long way.

Younger kids especially benefit from our giving names to emotions. When they act out, it can help for us to name the emotion we’re seeing. Saying, “I feel angry, too,” or “I wish you could be at school, too,” can help normalize their feeling and make their anger/fear/worry seem less scary to them.

Answer their questions. Think of this like sex ed: your job is to answer their questions, and if you don’t know, then find out. If no one knows the answer, then be honest about that. But you don’t need to add in fifty further details about your own fears, or your own speculation about it, or answer the next question that seems extremely obvious to you, but that hasn’t occurred to them yet.

Look for ways to act. Feeling powerless is really difficult (remember when you went to buy TP and there wasn’t any?) Maybe your faith community has a prayer ministry you can participate in together, or suggestions of other ways you can support your community. Maybe you could run to the store or cook a meal for a neighbor who is at high risk of infection.

Physical activity is an antidote for stress. So is being outside. We can model these behaviors for our kids and invite them to participate with us. Practicing a stress-relieving technique together (yoga, mindfulness, breathing exercises) can benefit us all. If you don’t know how to do this yet, now is a perfect time to learn. I’ve linked to a few below.

It’s important to remember that our goal is not to help our children avoid every stressful situation (and right now, obviously we can’t.)  Our message to them is that we will get through this together. We want to show them we have (or can learn) the skills we need to help us feel better, and that they’re not alone.

If your child’s (or your) anxiety is interfering with their (or your) ability to function, please get help. Your family doctor or pediatrician is a great place to start. Your local children’s hospital will have a phone number you can call to make an appointment. On the back of your insurance card, there should be a phone number to access mental health services. If you are uninsured, your local Community Health Center (you can find it here) will have behavioral health resources for you and your children.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about how you can use the routines you already have at home to optimize learning at home and reduce anxiety.

Seven Quick Takes: Welcome, instant homeschoolers

I started this post yesterday and was writing about how concerned I was that people weren’t taking the idea of social distancing seriously enough. But then my phone exploded with texts from worried friends and family wanting me to put my doctor hat on and tell them they really could still go on vacation/attend the concert/play that tournament, and I didn’t finish writing.

Now, twenty-four hours later, schools (and sports, club and the school play) are canceled, church is canceled, dance classes/recitals are canceled, and for some reason the entire US strategic stockpile of Charmin is gone. So now I’m writing a different post.

ONE: Are you a parent who is suddenly thrust into the world of schooling at home? WELCOME!

We’ve all been there. Even if homeschooling was our choice to begin with, please know that there have been days and weeks and months that we have not wanted to be at home with our children 24/7. You are not a bad parent for looking at the days ahead and wondering what on earth you’re going to do.


You too can have a house that looks like this!

Know that your child is likely just as freaked out about the situation as you are. I recommend trying to treat this time as a temporary normal as much as you can. Do not try to replicate in your living room the school experience your kids are used to. Instead, recognize that this disconnection from your/their normal life is hard, and offer lots of grace.

As much as you can, be patient with yourself. Offer yourself grace. All of the kindness you give yourself will spill over onto your nervous children. Likewise, all the ways that you beat yourself up because the house is a wreck and you ran out coffee (why did we spend all that time looking for toilet paper when what we really needed was COFFEE???) will spill over onto your family.

As my children remind me when I lose it and then they lose it, everything rolls downhill.


The medal ceremony from our 2010 LegOlympics.

TWO: Here are a few suggestions to keep from strangling each other while you’re at home. Whatever you do, don’t try to do them all.

(Studies show that accomplishing small goals actually gives us an endorphin boost (like a runner’s high), and couldn’t we all use that right now?)

  • play every board game in the house at least once
  • work through your puzzles
  • spring cleaning
  • NaPanNoWriMo (my own invention: National Pandemic Novel Writing Month): can you write an entire novel before we all go back to our regular programming?
  • let your kids write and film a movie
  • make a LEGO world
  • work your way through a cookbook together
  • build a Minecraft (or other computer game) world and all of you play it together (this is way more exciting if you, the adult, choose to participate and let your kids introduce you to their world)
  • paint a room together
  • choose a topic you know nothing about and learn everything you can together

Your kids may not be used to having unstructured time together. With all the scheduled activities we’ve given our kids over the years, some kids have never had an opportunity. They may need some modeling of what creative play looks like. The best way to teach them how to do it is to join them in it.

THREE: Welcome the spring. Depending on where you are in the country (world), spring may have already come and gone. But if the spring is headed your way, use this interruption in life to pay some attention to the renewing of nature that long predates both this pandemic and our society. Outdoors is likely the healthiest place for us, and the numerous studies show the link between time outdoors and decreased anxiety.

Do you have a garden? Start one. Do you have a landscaping project you want to take on? This is the hour!

FOUR: Support local businesses. Part of the reason many activities have been slow to cancel is because so many Americans live paycheck to paycheck. There is a role for social distancing, but there are ways to stay connected that don’t have to mean economic collapse for our neighbors’ businesses. For example, our dance studio is going to offer private classes. They’ll wipe down the ballet barre between students, and the teachers can effectively teach from six feet away. I want them to be in business at the end of the pandemic, so I’m going to support them. Ditto for our music teachers, whose other lives as teachers and performers have been canceled.

Maybe you have parents or grandparents who are also isolated right now. This is great time for your kids to start a project with them. Interview them about what school/childhood/early life/the war was like for them. Do they have a skill? Ask them to teach it to you!

Also, the US mail is still delivering letters. Kids love pen pals. Grandparents, aunts/uncles and cousins all make great pen pals.

Google and Zoom are making their services free, and this is a great time to find a neighbor/teacher/friend who has a skill your kid wants to learn and let them teach it. Hire a Skype Spanish/knitting/writing tutor for your child and let them learn something totally new.


Here we covered the table in big paper, pulled out the art supplies, and drew/read together.

FIVE: Y’all know I love books. This is a great time to discover books you’ve never read. While your library may be closed for business, their online catalog is open. Likewise, your local bookstore would probably appreciate your business. Some of our best memories as a family come from books we read aloud together.

Remember that time we were halfway through the Little House books and drove past Vinton, Iowa, and I said, “Look- there’s the school Mary went to after she went blind!” There was a moment of horrified silence, and then all my children howled from the back seat, “Mary goes BLIND???!!”

SIX: Do you have vulnerable neighbors? This is a great time to check in with your neighborhood. Perhaps your kids could take on the grocery shopping for them.

SEVEN: Your family may not have medically fragile or elderly members right now, but your community does. Our willingness to comply with social distancing is going to make the difference in how this pandemic plays out. Thank you for doing your part!

During the upcoming weeks I’ll be posting links here to online tutorials, activities and learning we can do at home during this unusual time. Feel free to share this blog with anyone you think might need a little extra support during their brand-new homeschooling adventure.

You must never so much think as whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.

Clara Barton

Hang in there, friends!