Finding Gratitude at the Start of the Academic Year
The start of the new school year is always challenging, but this year it feels more like we are sailing into uncharted territory or for some of us like walking the plank. Distance learning was thrust upon us last year as the pandemic gripped the world. Now, 6 months on, the uncertainty remains and instead of lock down where we were at home and able to help our children navigate this new adventure, we must find ways to juggle the demands of work outside the home, support our children as they learn at a distance and acclimate to totally new rhythms of in-person learning. This is not for the faint of heart but as a community we can tackle these challenges, embrace the opportunities they present and help our children to become self-motivated learners. I guess what I’m saying is let’s embrace the mantra that out of chaos comes opportunity.
And you know what the good news is? You have already done this! Take a minute and look back over the past six months and ask yourself what has changed abut your kids. Think about the little things. Before the pandemic, I had to help my kids dress every day. During the early days of the pandemic as I struggled to make sense of a new schedule getting dressed without the pressure to leave the house at a certain time became one of our daily activities. It took a very long time at first but slowly they got the hang of it. Then we added making the bed, putting our pajamas in the hamper and so on. Now they jump out of bed and are dressed and ready to go before I have even had my coffee. Sometimes they have even managed to make their breakfast – well at least a bowl of cereal. Never will I enter their dorm to find an unmade bed and clothes all over the floor and a starving child (at least that’s what I tell myself). Boom! Life skill – check. The three months of school they missed wouldn’t have taught them that. Let’s celebrate our success. Have a think and tell us what your kids have learned.
Now I’m not going to take a long time to talk about the challenges because we all grapple with them daily. The new blended learning model while logistically a nightmare will go a long way to address what is perhaps the most difficult challenge to all of us, the social isolation many of our children have been subject to over the past 6 months. Yes, in person learning may only be a few days a week but at least our kids will finally be able to socialize with their peers. Will they return to the often over scheduled, high pressure lives right away? No, but research before the pandemic was already condemning our collective drive to manage every moment of our children’s time. Do you need proof that it hasn’t all been a waste? how many times have you heard your child say they were bored after 6 months in virtual lock down versus how often did you hear them say it before they were cut off from their regular schedules? If you’re anything like me it is now much less often then before because if they have learned nothing else during this time, they have learned to entertain themselves and for me that may actually out weigh the value of whatever learning opportunities they have missed out on.
So let’s focus on the positive and how we can find the opportunities out of the chaos. For younger children I say embrace the power of pretend play. This unstructured and sometimes unruly time is actually an incredibly rich learning opportunity. Pretend play is the practice of everything our children have learned and that which they wish to learn. you can take this further by watching how they play, taking cues from their play and relating them to their structured learning rather than vice versa. Let your child take control of the learning experience rather than having it dictated to them. Don’t worry, you don’t need many resources. A box that came into our home months ago has overtaken all other toys as my kids’ favorite. It is a house, a surf board, a car on a rollercoaster, a secret hideout and so much more. They have decorated, redecorated and renovated it time and time again. The day we finally have to throw it out will be a sad day indeed.
Take note of what your kids are play with and make more of that available. You’d be amazed, most of the time you don’t need to buy anything, you can find what you need in your home. Finally think about what you model to your kids. Are you constantly arguing with them about screen time while you are also glued to your phone or other device? I’m guilty as charged just as the next person. I didn’t even realize it until I had the time to do other things during the day like reading or exercising at home and I began to notice my kids modeling that behavior instead.
The pandemic has changed so much about how we interact with our children, how they learn and what they learn. Let’s embrace this opportunity to take a more active role in that process and I don’t mean spending hours sitting with them as they zoom with their class or printing endless worksheets to keep them busy, I mean help them learn. Step back, watch them entertain themselves, think about what life skills you want them to have or what life skills if they had them would make your life easier. That’s more than a good start, that’s creating opportunities out of chaos.