Tuesday, August 11, 2020

No One Knows How to Do this Better than You: A Short List of Things to Think About


A recent national survey found that over 70 percent of American families will be engaged in some form of homeschooling this fall. I don't know what the number is for families of preschool aged children, but I'm assuming it's similar.

Most schools are going to be relying on some version of online instruction, which from where I sit, and from where the school-agers in my life sit, and from where the pubic school teachers I've spoken with sit, is pretty close to useless, although, perhaps in some ways, for some kids, is better than nothing at all. As for preschoolers, medical professionals recommend no more than one hour of screen time per day, which is probably moot given that this is way longer than most of them will be able or willing to sit there no matter how much they love their teachers and friends. 

Some places are going to experiment with "hybrid" methods, which combine some mixture of live and remote learning, with kids attending school in shifts, in smaller, consistent groups. I imagine some preschools might try a version of this, but that still leaves parents on point for much of the week.

And then there are many families who will simply keep their preschoolers at home whatever their school offers because they don't want to tempt fate and because they can.

In other words, no matter how you slice it, there are going to be a lot families at home with their young children.

If you or someone you know finds yourself in this position, here is a short list of things to think about:

  • Your child(ren) will need a place or places to play. Naturally, they can and will play anywhere, but what I'm talking about are spaces where children are free to explore with their minds, hands, and bodies, places free of hazards, where they are safe, but where they can be left unsupervised. This is essential for both your child and for you. This could be a basement, bedroom, or backyard. Things that you don't want broken shouldn't be in this space. Toys are great, but what educators call "loose parts" are much better, in that their open-ended nature tends to engage children more fully and for more extended periods of time. For me, this is the alternative to screen time. It might take your child(ren) time to grow accustomed to filling their own unstructured time, but once they do, it gives everyone the time and space to get their "work" done.
  • There is no need for you to instruct, lecture, or otherwise "teach" your child. The best use of your efforts is reading to them, singing with with them, playing board games, and working on puzzles together. 
  • If you're going to make TV/videos available to your child, my best advice is to watch with them. I know that this runs counter to how most parents "use" video entertainments and even the best of parents sometimes resort to TV as a babysitter, but if there is any time during the day when they most need your advice, counsel, and wisdom, it's when they have questions about what they are watching. 
  • Young children need other young children. Playing with others is the foundation upon which all social-emotional learning is built. The best idea I've seen for making this happen is for parents to create "play pods." In the ideal scenario, this means assembling a group of 3-4 trusted neighborhood families with whom to regularly get together, either in one another's homes or in uncrowded public places like parks or beaches. Once you've built the trust, this pod can then become your sort of roving cooperative preschool, giving parents child-free time to get stuff done.
  • It is possible to get your work done while your child is at home, but it will take time for everyone to find their rhythm. Don't think you need a rigid schedule. Indeed, this is an opportunity to tailor your days to perfectly fit your own family. Children thrive on predictability, but that doesn't mean marching them through a day according to the clock. Make it your own.

But most of all, take a deep breath and relax. You are already doing the most important thing, which is to love your child and love yourself. Don't let anyone make you feel inadequate. No one knows how to do this better than you and that includes me.

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