Getting in tune with our learning cues – my experience with home schooling my children thus far

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we in Canada are basically adjusting to a new way of life as we navigate through self-isolation.  Because of the pandemic, most non-essential services are closed, including schools and day cares.  In Ontario, school is currently postponed until April 5th (although this is subject to change) and now parents are left with the seemingly daunting task of home schooling their kids.  Last week was a bit of an experiment in terms of home schooling the boys as I tried out different methods to see what works best for them.  I was pretty relaxed considering I don’t believe in forcing kids to do something when they really don’t want to.  Furthermore, as it was technically their March break, I didn’t want to push them too much with home schooling.

What I learned from that first week is that my boys need structure and simply put, thrive under a structured day.  I also learned that I have to tailor their learning based on their age and needs:  T, my oldest, is in senior kindergarten and can start to recognize words , read books for his age and is really good at math.   Whereas, my youngest I, is 3 and a half; he knows his 123s and ABCs and loves to draw.

Here is a little glimpse of our homeschooling routine.

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Please note, what works for my kids does not necessarily mean it will work for you as every child is different.  In addition, I am not an educator (although I did get into teacher’s college but rejected the offer because I got my first job in Toronto and went there instead) so I am basically putting together what works for my kids from the resources I have available to me.  My educational background is in Political Science (I have an MA and a BA) in case you are wondering (and no I won’t be teaching them public policy or the foundations of classical political thought yet!)  

The key is being in tune with

their needs and following their cues.

The first thing I did was create a schedule for the boys and placed in on the fridge directly across the island where we eat so its in plain view.  I figure the island is the best place to conduct our home school as they can enjoy a snack while learning plus we have a lot of space.   With that being said, the schedule is in no way strict, its more of a guideline for me and if they aren’t into it, we move on to the next activity or have some free play time instead.

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Play is so important for kids as it promotes their development and sense of imagination.

Based on my research, preschoolers and kindergarteners only require 1-2 hours of learning a day.  I also learned early on that you can’t force them to learn as you do not want to create a negative association with learning.  At this age learning just needs to be fun!

We typically start our day like we would on a normal school day:  we get dressed, we brush our teeth and we eat breakfast and get started with our day.    Usually I will start Kumon first as my oldest is in Kumon and his teacher gave him work sheets until the end of April.    For my youngest,  I found a Kumon workbook at Costco called Are You Ready for Kindergarten? so that he too can try out Kumon.

My biggest challenge is since I am at home  while M works, I have to home school them at different times.

This can be challenging homeschooling two kids who are at different levels.  What I started doing is that I’ll focus one activity with one child and then switch.  So far this method has been working for me, although some days it can be challenging as one may be more interested in his toys for instance.

I also found that there are a lot of great resources available online for children, such as the Scholastic Remote Learning and the School Age Program with TVO.   I really like the Scholastic Remote Learning because every day there is a new lesson theme (i.e. bears) and comes with free printable worksheets.  There is a quiz at the end of each lesson so it gives us time to recap what we learned for that day.  Both my boys seem to enjoy this program the most.  My cousin, who happens to be a teacher, set my kids up with a Raz-Kids account to get them ahead with reading.  She tailored the program to each of their levels.   I also downloaded the Math Story Time App and Go Noodle on the iPad.

With that being said, I try to stick to the guidelines surrounding screen time as set out by the Canadian Pediatric Society as much as possible.  I also find that if my kids have too much screen time, they become really wired (as do we when we spend too much time in front of a screen!)  This is where free play and going outside comes in handy.

Our kids need a break from all this stimulation (be it from technology and what not) and sometimes we just need to let kids be kids!

…so we go outside, be it in the backyard to run around and play soccer, or to take the scooters out for a scooter ride (since parks are off limits due to the pandemic).  Fresh air is good for everyone and getting my boys moving makes for a much happier day.  Going outside promotes both physical activity and wellness in children.

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I decided to create an arts & crafts board on Pinterest to get ideas on how to help the boys with their fine-motor skills. For instance, tomorrow we will make crocodiles out of green popsicle sticks.  Considering that Easter is around the corner, we’ll make some Easter-themed art such as paper plate bunny masks.  I also love to get my kids involved with baking.  It’s a good opportunity for them to learn basics such as measuring and counting.  Last week we baked muffins and earlier this week we made Croatian crepes (palačinke).  I happened to have a gingerbread cookie set left over from Christmas so we spent one morning decorating gingerbread men.  The kids are always so proud with how tasty their creations turn out!

Luckily, I stocked up on flash cards and workbooks from Costco last summer so we can work on different things such as basic math, counting, alphabets and sight words.  My oldest can read and is slowly starting to write words, but my youngest still knows only his 123s and ABCs, so I would sit specifically with him and go through each flash card together.

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My oldest son’s kindergarten teacher also posts different activities to do at home on the classroom Twitter account, so I get both my boys involved.   Today’s activity was to take out utensils and create patters and do some basic addition and subtraction.  Tomorrow we will have an alphabet scavenger hunt where we will look for letters and then put together to create words.

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By that point, it brings us to about noon (keep in mind I throw a snack or two in during the morning learning fun).  After lunch I basically just let them unwind or play.  My youngest still naps so I try to get him to sleep while the other will watch a show or play quietly.  The afternoon is also a good time to read a book or two.  Fortunately, my boys love being read to so every day we pick a different book to read.  Other than that, the afternoon is pretty open and I basically let them control what they want to do for that part of the day.

As each day passes, I find that I am learning more and more about them; what their likes and dislikes are; what their strengths are and what skills we need to work on.  I also have a new-found appreciation for teachers and early childhood educators.

Overall, I learned the key is to have fun otherwise it won’t work.  Home schooling, when done right, can be a great experience for everyone.

 

 

 

The wrath of those nasty daycare illnesses

One parents experience 

These past two weeks our household went through a variety of illnesses- pink eye, ear infection, gastrointestinal virus, and pneumonia to name a few.   It got so bad to the point that our youngest was admitted to hospital due to severe pneumonia.  Thankfully, we got there on time and things are on the mend now.  These past two weeks have been extremely challenging on us.  Having my youngest son in hospital triggered so many memories of my oldest’s time in the NICU.  It is awful to see your child in pain and as parents, all we wanted to do was to take it away and make him feel better.   However, thanks to an amazing paediatrician who sent us to hospital and a great support system at home, we got back on track.  As soon as we got admitted, my son was hooked up to an IV and things started to get better.  As quickly as his pneumonia came, it also quickly started to disappear when the antibiotics started to take it’s course.

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As soon as October comes around, we try to “mentally” prepare for another brutal cold and flu season.  You would think that after a few years of being in daycare we would be better prepared, or immune to say the least. We prepare as best as we can:  giving our kids proper nutrition, and taking daily multivitamins.  We practice good hand-washing and hygiene at home and put the kids to bed early.  We even get the flu shot yearly, as my oldest was preemie and his immune system was compromised for a while.   However, when your child is in daycare, they catch different bugs, no matter how well-prepared you are.  Research has shown that children get sick on average of 8 to 12 times a year, at an average of 10 days per illness.   So in laymen’s terms that means that they are pretty much sick for 6 months of the year!

Last year we thought we experienced it all- hand, food and mouth disease, strep and so on.  We were hopeful that their tiny bodies developed a better immune system for this upcoming cold and flu season, but boy were we wrong!  

It started with my youngest developing an upper respiratory virus and was at home for 7 days; then my oldest and I had a gastrointestinal bug for a few days.  Then my husband caught a nasty virus and eye infection.  Then my oldest got sick again with fever which ended up being bronchitis and an ear infection.   Then my youngest developed pneumonia and in less than 24 hours he was in hospital.   It was an awful feeling but we got to the right place at the right time, and here we are, on the mend, all healthier and happier.

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Although it was challenging, as my husband was on call and I was trying to manage things at work, we were able to work things out.  When your child, or children get sick, my advice is as follows:

Have a support system in place:  
I was fortunate enough to be granted time off from work to watch my kids. We also had lots of help from my in-laws.  I am grateful to have a good support system around when times like this happen and that’s important, especially when your little ones get sick.   Have an emergency list at home of family and friends who are available to help when your child gets sick; especially if you have more than one child at home.  It’s nice to have someone available to help run out and grab some groceries or watch one of your children at home if you have to take one to the doctor’s office or hospital.

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Proper nutrition and sleep:
This is key- any person, let alone a child, is healthier when they eat and sleep well.  Try and encourage good eating habits at home and set a bedtime routine.   I also stock up on homemade chicken soup and keep some broth in the freezer in the event a fever is brewing as it has lots of nutrients.   Not only is good nutrition and sleep good for children, but it’s  beneficial for you as well.  I got sick a lot last year because I was not sleeping enough, despite eating well and exercising regularly.  Some things like laundry just have to take the back burner because sleep is more important.  Research backs that up!

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Keep a list
Keep a list of important phone numbers such as your family doctor (or child’s paediatrician) handy in the event you need to make an appointment for a sudden illness.     I have our doctor’s office phone number stored in my phonebook and also in my Outlook.  Know where your nearest urgent care centre, walk-in clinic or hospital is if you have an emergency.   Also keep handy a list of important phone numbers such as family members, friends, or neighbours in the event an emergency takes place.  

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Practice good hygiene 
This is common sense, but good hand washing and sanitizing will prevent the spreading of illnesses.  If you are sick, stay home from work or school as illness can spread easily.   I also like to wash linens and towels weekly.

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In a cruel way, it’s ironic that a respirologist’s family all developed pulmonary illnesses, including himself.  However, we survived.  We hope this is the end of those nasty daycare illnesses….for now.