Why the kids need a village: thoughts on reopening schools in ontario

Schools throughout Southwestern Ontario have remained closed since the Christmas break. The original plan was for students to return to in-person instruction on January 11, 2021. However, statistics from the Ministry of Health released just days before the return to school indicated a spike in cases as a result of “holiday gatherings,” (which in my view was negligible because the amount of children being tested decreased during over the holidays and therefore the denominator was less). As a result of this, the provincial government made the agonizing decision to extend online learning for most parts of Southern Ontario until February 10th. Although I believe this was a difficult decision to make and as much as I appreciate efforts to curb the spread of the virus, this left many children and parents heartbroken, upset and confused.

I can see that heartbreak in my kids, everyday. My 4 year old son, cries almost every day and tells me “mama, I miss real school” and finds it very hard to stay engaged. My oldest son who is 6, sometimes gets frustrated because he feels as if he can’t keep up with the rest of the class. We are now into week three of virtual learning and my children are really starting to feel it. The stimulation from the screen time coupled with the frustration of navigating online learning is difficult for children in their primary years.

Don’t get me wrong: both of my children’s teachers have been phenomenal and very understanding of the situation. They have gone above and beyond to help my kids cope during this time, including one-on-one meetings, encouraging us to use meditation and breaks when needed. We really need to give our teachers a show of appreciation right now because they themselves are adapting to a new learning environment. Despite all of our efforts to make online learning a positive experience, I am worried about the impact of continued online learning in young children, specifically:

-The lack of interaction with their peers, especially during the formative years of development;
-The long-term effects of disruption in the school year and finally;
-That we are inadvertently creating a mental health crisis in all our youth.

I have been communicating with my MPP’s office on and off since the summer, writing letters and voicing my concern for my children’s well-being and quality of education. I understand that we are living in unprecedented times and I truly believe that they are trying their best to help protect a vulnerable health care system and the elderly. However, based on all the literature and data about schools, closing schools is the wrong policy choice. UNICEF recently came out with a statement and declared that children cannot afford to miss another year of school. The CEO of Sick Kids Hospital even stated that schools should be “the first to open and the last to close.” But even more disturbing are stories such as the New York Times report on the decision for schools in Las Vegas to reopen as result of increased suicides in youth.

This should frighten every parent.

I have come to the conclusion that despite all the academic evidence, children’s voices have not been heard at the decision-making table. This is where we as parents must come in and this is why I have been advocating for a safe return to school since the summertime.

Please don’t misunderstand me and I have to be explicit when I state this: I know first-hand how serious COVID-19 is and personally have friends and family on the front-lines of the COVID-19 crisis, but something in my heart tells me that keeping children away from the classroom is also wrong. When every peer-reviewed journal has indicated that the spread of the virus is extremely low in school-aged children and that schools are in fact, the safest place for children to be in right now, why are the schools still closed, knowing that the risks greatly outweigh the benefits?

It’s just plain wrong.

I recently read a tweet from the the CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) which stated that Ottawa had the second-highest rate of distress calls to the Kids Help Line. That tweet really resonated something inside me. As an NICU parent, I have my own appreciation around mental health awareness and as such, I decided I could not stay silent no more. As an NICU parent and navigating our journey through prematurity, I learned early on, that a parent is a child’s greatest advocate. Considering too that we are also approaching Mental Health Day here in Canada, I believe this conversation is appropriate. So last week, I reached out to my friends on my private account on Instagram via my stories to see if any one else felt the way I did.

The response was overwhelming and the consensus was…..children need to be in schools.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

The conversations I had with many of my friends inspired me so much because every person I spoke with was in a different situation, or they had a different view of the pandemic. But despite all these differences, I was able to engage with each person in a meaningful and positive way. I believe that engaging in this manner is what should be the foundation towards positive change and sound policy-making.

In summary, the response was overwhelmingly positive but also revealed a lot of sadness, fear and frustration. I spoke with people from all walks of life: from health care providers, teachers, early childhood educators, business owners, parents and non-parents, stay at home parents and working parents. Overall, everyone agrees that children need to be in school. Many parents told me that they have noticed a negative change of behaviour in their children, others said they felt tremendous guilt for leaving them to watch television while they had to work and others were concerned about the amount of screen time as a result of remote learning. Some individuals reached out to me and told me that they kept their kids home for the year, not because they were afraid of coronavirus, but they were more concerned about the possible interuptions to their child’s learning.

It was interesting to note that in other places in the world, like Croatia for instance, kindergarten is not mandatory, rather there is vrtińá (daycare,) which is optional and is more for young children to socialize. A close friend of mine who lives in Paris, France told me that children have been going to school the whole time, while another friend in Australia told me that the measures were just too much.

Many teachers disclosed to me that online learning, especially for children in their formative years is not ideal and rather this was created more as a response for the demand for live learning at home. As pointed out by one teacher, the amount of time for synchronous learning also has no bearing on pedagogy. Another close friend who works in occupational therapy told me that the amount of distress calls, specifically with families who have autistic children, went through the roof.

Although I am not disputing the severity of the virus and agree that there must be an effort to slow the spread of the virus as a means to protect our vulnerable and our health care system, there also needs to be a balance, in my view. I too was for lockdown back in March when we knew very little of the virus. Images of Wuhan, Iran and Northern Italy frightened us and we had to do something about it. However, 10 months in, countless studies and research, vaccines finally arriving, we still aren’t doing any better for our kids. This is leaving many parents afraid that schools will be closed until March.

We know already that the results of prolonged lockdown policies are disproportionately affecting low-income communities, ethnic minorities, women and children. My question is, despite all the research regarding children and schools, why aren’t we doing any better? How come no one else has proposed a more sustainable solution?

But there is hope!

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

Slowly, the ideas are starting to come in. One example of an innovative solution was on a podcast I listened to called ‚ÄúSolving Healthcare,‚ÄĚ hosted by Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng. This particular episode that I listened to consisted of a panel of experts ranging from infectious disease, communications and public health. They discussed possible solutions to the pandemic and addressed areas of concern. I was particularly impressed by some of the ideas that they proposed such as:

-going back to the core values of public health;
-having a clear and consistent message;
-the need to address target areas that are greatly affected by COVID-19 such as workplaces and long-term care homes;
-making more use of available tools such as rapid testing and finally;
-paid sick leave for essential workers.

You can listen more to the podcast here and decide for yourself, but from my point of view, this was an excellent start for changing policy. Listening to a dialogue such as this one reminded me of the core values I learned as a graduate student in political science many years ago. Creating good public policy means coming up with sustainable solutions to handling a crisis, without harming other aspects of society. It’s about being efficient with the tools you have available for everyone to benefit from.

But going back to my main concern of keeping schools closed, please know, that I am not by any means undermining the severity of this virus. However, I am speaking as a concerned parent who wants what is best for her children. Its what we as parents, educators, health care providers alike want and should strive towards: a safe, loving, nurturing and warm environment for all children. Like the old saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. We need to support our children during this time and come up with ways to help them not just cope, but to thrive, for they are our future!

Let’s be that village and let’s support our children!

Some of the conclusions I came up with during my Instagram conversation to help navigate during this time (and for you too):

  1. Remember that we are ALL doing our best;
  2. Remind your kids that they are doing their best too and give them breaks when they need it (i.e. outdoor play, going for a walk or bike ride, puzzle time, colouring sheets or watching a movie;)
  3. Be kind to yourself and remember that you can only control how you feel;
  4. Know that support is available if you need it (i.e. call a friend or a family member for mental support; know that there is also support available in your community;)
  5. Talk to your child’s teacher and come up with a plan of action if your child is struggling with online learning;
  6. Stay healthy mentally, physically and emotionally and stay safe.


With much love and gratitude,

N.

It’s okay to cry: why it’s okay if you have to sometimes

One mother’s perspective on the challenges of raising spirited children and debriefing after a challenging situation

Parenthood is full of ebbs and flows, and on this particular night, I was done. I walked away to a dark corner and needed that space to be alone. When I went down to the floor, so too did the tears.

I had used all my energy to try and calm an inconsolable child down, and I couldn’t anymore. I tried so hard to console him, but the tantrum sucked every ounce of life out of me. Despite all my best efforts to try and calm him down, using all the strategies I learned from books such as the Whole Brain Child and Raising your Spirited Child, nothing was working. I tried our breathing exercises, which he flat out refused and then counting down to ten, but nothing worked.

So I had to turn around and walk away.

Let me back track the scenario: He was upset because he was asked to go to bed early. He started to be a little cranky and my husband said it was time for bed. He then started to cry and scream. My husband simply ignored all this and kept saying, “I think you are tired, let’s go to bed.” The screaming escalated as my son did not want to comply, so he started to bang the floor with his feet and hit. My husband said “hands are not for hitting,” but it didn’t work.

After some time, I stepped in to relieve my husband. I went down to my son’s level and said, “you seem really frustrated that it’s bedtime, don’t you? I know it’s fun to stay up late, but it’s time to get some rest.” He obviously did not like that answer. I then asked him to count to ten and he yells back at me “NO!” I said, “let’s breathe out the angry moster three times,” which he kept screaming “NO!” I then said, “I can’t understand you when you talk like that..” Normally, these strategies would have worked, but tonight, nothing seemed to have worked. Perhaps it was because he was overtired that made the tantrum even worse, or the fact that we have a full-house right now (our in-laws are living with us temporarily). He did not want to give up his fight and towards the end, I had to walk away.

Eventually, it was my father-in-law who was able to calm him down. They had a little chit-chat about what happened and he was able to emotionally regroup himself. They talked it out and he came out of his room. He looked a little sad and almost embarrassed for how he behaved. He apologized to both my husband and I for how he treated us. He said he just wasn’t ready for bedtime yet. I explained to him why bedtime is so important, that sleep is healthy and we need sleep to help us grow. I told him that I forgave him, but then said that for your consequence, you get no TV privileges tomorrow. He accepted his consequence gracefully and I ended the moment by telling him that “I love you, no matter what. Tomorrow is a new day and a fresh start.” He agreed and finally fell asleep.

When he went to bed, I sat towards the end of the hallway, I found a dark corner and I started to cry. I felt as if all the energy I had was completely sucked out of me. I also felt like a huge failure because I wasn’t the one who was able to calm him down. During that moment, I felt defeated because I tried everything I could to help him and it wasn’t me who was able to calm him down, but someone else.

So I needed that moment to cry and let all my emotions out…..and you know what? That is totally okay.

Why?

Because over the years I learned the following three things when it comes to motherhood:

1. To acknowledge my feelings and to own up to them;

2. To accept that sometimes its okay to ask for help;

3. To remind myself that I am human, too.

Raising kids, let alone spirited children is hard, especially when kids are experiencing huge emotions. It can be challenging navigating how they feel during those moments. But as I have learned, sometimes we as adults forget that children too have good days and bad days and that on the bad days, they may have a more difficult time expressing how they feel. During this scenario, my son had a hard time communicating that he was just not ready for bed. Definitely we could have all done things differently, but in the end, it worked out because we as a family worked as a team to resolve the situation.

For a long time, I had a hard time accepting that it’s okay to ask for help, but in a situation like this one, sometimes it’s good to have extra hands on deck. Whether its the other parent, or a grandparent, or whoever, sometimes we need that extra person to help turn the situation around. No wonder why experts often say that it takes a village to raise a child.

On the other hand, knowing that as much as parenthood is rewarding, it is also requires a lot of hard work, sweat and tears. The other thing that took me a while to accept was knowing that it’s okay to walk away and cry if you have to, or to debrief in some other form (sometimes I will jot my feelings down in a journal, which is also very helpful). Sometimes we as mothers (and parents in general) need to let our emotions out. Parenthood is difficult and accepting that it is healthy to let our emotions out is a physically and emotionally good thing. Whether its a good cry, a good laugh or a good run….whatever it is, just do it. It’s all part of that process of coping with a difficult situation.

Overall my message is, that we as parents are human like anyone else. Accepting that it is okay to walk away and cry after these challenging moments is totally okay. Crying isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather of humility and great strength. According to Medical News Today, crying has some soothing benefits and can help relive stress during difficult moments.

My advice to all you mom’s out there: if you need to cry, just let it out. If you need to go outside and get some fresh air, do it. If you need to fill up a tub and soak in some epsom salts, just do it. I can’t stress enough that it’s okay to feel frustrated sometimes when things don’t work out how you wanted them to. It happens to even the best of us. I think it’s always good to regroup after a difficult moment. After all, as I tell my children after a challenging moment, tomorrow is always a new day.

Photo credit: Three Little Birds Photography

Reference: Medical News Today, “Eight benefits of crying: Why it’s good to shed a few tears.”

One mom’s perspective: igniting that spark in your children’s mind through reading

‚ÄúThe more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you‚Äôll go.‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒ Dr. Seuss from the book ‚ÄúI Can Read With My Eyes Shut!‚ÄĚ

I grew up in a humble, middle class home to Croatian immigrants in Windsor, Ontario.  Both my parents worked in the auto industry.  We grew up simply and I had a wonderful and modest childhood.  We didn‚Äôt have anything extravagant growing up, but the one thing I do remember was that monthly order from Scholastic Book Club. My parents felt it was very important to expose us to books as they believed it was vital towards our education and development.  I remember the pure joy and excitement when that monthly book order would arrive. My father, with his best efforts in his broken English, would read to my brother and I every night before bed when he worked days‚Äô shift.  It was during these precious moments where I developed this love for reading.  “Corduroy” by Don Freeman remains to this day one of my favourite children‚Äôs tales.

When I became pregnant with my first son, I started putting together a little children’s library.¬†¬†I remember starting it with a Croatian alphabet book that we had purchased in Croatia during our “babymoon.” Books such as “I Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch and “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney filled the shelves. However, my oldest son surprised us nearly three months early and spent some time in the NICU.¬†¬†¬†During his NICU stay, we were made aware about the benefits of reading and singing to premature infants. Various academic studies noted the following benefits of reading to premature infants, namely, increased bonding between parent and child, decreased stress levels, language and overall brain development in premature infants.¬†For those reasons, I made it my life’s mission to read to him every day during our NICU stay‚Ķ.and to this very day, I still do. In general, padeiatricians and early childhood educators have recommended that reading should start during infancy. According to the Canadian Paediatric Society’s website, reading to children can “help prepare them for school and set them up for success later in life.”

As a parent, I think its so important to take the time to read to kids, especially in this age of iPhones and tablets. Although I understand that technology is now a normal part of society, I also believe in balance: in teaching kids the importance of reading and being read to. This means not just simply teaching children how to read, but to help them formulate ideas, comprehension, imagination and most importantly, to appreciate the value of a good book. The goal is simple: using reading as a tool to spark their little imaginations and to help them grow.

It makes me proud knowing that my boys enjoy being read to, sometimes multiple times a day! My oldest son is now in grade 1 and he just started reading; while my youngest who is now in junior kindergarten, is trying to read as well. It’s been amazing to us as parents to see how reading has sparked that curiosity inside of them not just through story time, but through imaginative play and art.

The boys definitely have some favourite books who are constantly on rotation- Dr. Seuss and Robert Munch, to name a few. They also enjoy the many books we brought back from Croatia, such as Moje Male Molitve za Svaki Dan (Everyday Prayers,) or Gdje si, mala maco? (Where are you, little kitten?) Pre-covid, we used to spend many weekends venturing out to our local library, exploring all the books on the shelves and checking out new releases. Story time has overall fostered a positive impact on their lives and have formulated fond memories for all of us. For instance, whenever I see the book, “On The Night You Were Born,” (by Nancy Tillman,) it always brings me back to those early days when we brought our oldest son home from the hospital.

Story time has certainly strengthened our bond as a family and it’s something we look forward to after a long day. Life has definitely come full circle: to that time way back in Windsor when my father, in that very broken English, used to read to me, to the present day where I now read to my two small boys. It is my hope that one day, my boys will read to their future children too. Reading and appreciating books is a gift that we must never take for granted.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Some of my children’s favourite books:

  • “Say Something” by Peter H. Reynolds
  • “I am Human” by Susan Verde
  • “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss
  • “Oh The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss
  • “I Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch
  • “Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons” by Eric Litwin
  • “Icky Little Duckling” by Steve Smallman

References:

How COVID-19 got to me: stress, fear, uncertainty and self-care during a global pandemic

Friday was the first day that I cried….a lot.

I felt exhausted from homeschooling the kids, trying to get some work done as well as regular chores and I just couldn’t handle it anymore.¬† I buried my head into a sea of tears and had to walk away into a different room in my home to be alone.¬† I felt guilty for doing this, because I did not want my boys to see me cry.¬† My husband told the kids that mommy needs a few minutes to herself.

Before the pandemic, if I was ever stressed, I would go to the gym or go out to a local coffee shop to diffuse, but due to the current lock-down there is no where to go, which adds an extra layer of stress.

I never in my life imagined that we would live through a global pandemic, yet here we are.

It is currently week 6 of the lock-down here in Ontario and everyone is starting to feel it in different ways.

Up until this point, I was making the most of this situation.¬† I embraced the idea of slowing down.¬† I even wrote a blog post about it.¬† I started to do things that I normally wouldn’t have time to do:¬† participating in the wave of baking bread and sharing it on Instagram; drinking fancy wines on the weekends, pinning arts and crafts ides for the kids on Pinterest and purged a lot of old clothes and toys for donation.¬† I started watching foreign dramas on Netflix for fun and even contemplated downloading TikTok and get in on the bandwagon, but changed my mind because I am too old for it.

For the first time in years,¬† I had a break from rushing home from work to soccer practice and I really enjoyed this idea and yet, time went on…..

There is still that fear of catching the virus itself.  As my oldest has asthma and was born with a heart condition, I am extra vigilant.   I barely leave the house and if I do, its just for necessities.  On top of all this, I still worry that my husband may bring it home from the hospital where he works at.

As the lock-down here in Ontario continues on, it started to hit close to home for me.¬† Knowing that it will be months until I see my parents, my friends and colleagues again started to weigh heavily on me.¬† 2020 was supposed to be our year.¬†¬†Our family has been through so much over the past 6 years- premature birth, high-risk pregnancy, my husband’s residency and a sudden family death to name a few.¬† I know, many of you had plans cancelled too, so we aren’t alone, but I just felt like this was a big and crewel joke.

Now, I am starting to worry about the financial implications of the pandemic too.  Like you, many questions are going through my mind:  will there be massive job loss?  Will our taxes increase to support these benefits?  Will we ever recover from this?  

This created a perfect storm which culminated in me breaking down on Friday night.¬† However, this in of itself brought a huge relief as I let all that fear, worry and guilt out.¬† I’ve been positive throughout this whole process and on Friday night, I was extremely overwhelmed.¬† Trying to balance everything at home just got to me and I reached my boiling point. I needed that release.

What I can tell you is that I am learning more about myself and how to cope with such situations.  This time has also given me time to self-reflect and I gained a new perspective. My grandfather lived through three wars, Spanish flu and communism, yet he lived a wonderful life and passed away at age 101.  He endured and saw a lot in his lifetime but he survived.  He had hope and appreciation for life.

What I have found helpful during these times is reflection and mindfulness.¬† I have been journaling since I was 8 years old and I have found journaling so helpful during this time.¬† Staying connected on social media has become a blessing and watching all those good memes (the guy toasting to himself in the washroom is my all time favourite).¬† Self-care and taking breaks from homeschooling and work is so important too, I’ve had a few nights where I just had a face mask on while reading a good book.¬† I also find exercise quite therapeutic.

My advice if you are feeling overwhelmed, upset or frustrated, take that energy and turn it into something positive.  Find your niche.  Find something that sparks you, that makes you feel like you, no matter how difficult the circumstances are.

If you feel overwhelmed like I do, I want you to know, it’s okay, because you are not alone.¬† It’s okay to cry and let your feelings out.¬† We are all feeling this and is even getting to the strongest of us……and it’s okay to feel vulnerable.¬† I keep reminding myself to count my blessings and that this will not last forever.

As I have learned with experience, the human spirit is resilient, but this is a choice:  you have to choose that path and firmly believe in it because your mindset is what will get you through this.

Quarantine and chill: What slowing down has taught me

We are now entering week three of self-isolation here in Ontario, Canada and I must say that despite all the insecurity and fear surrounding the pandemic, for the first time in a long time I feel peace.

I feel peace away from the traffic.
I feel peace in the neighbourhoods and in the streets.
I feel energized.

For the first time in a long time, I don’t have to worry about rushing home from work to get supper ready on time.  I don’t have to worry about planning my day around the kids’ activities and worrying if I’ll be on time or not because of the traffic.  I am no longer exhausted from staying up  late at night to finish chores as I have a bit more extra time during the day.  I can finally enjoy that cup of coffee warm in my own home, in my pyjamas while cuddling with one of the kids.  It’s great.  img_6792Although the implications of the pandemic are scary, I feel somewhat at peace knowing I am at home, safe, with my little ones.  My anxiety levels have definitely decreased knowing that we don’t have to rush to go anywhere.  It’s a welcoming break.

I must say, its not perfect:  homeschooling the boys has not been easy; we have meltdowns and we have tantrums.  Sometimes they just aren’t that into it.  I am currently in the process of trying to get set-up to work from home. Like everything though, I’ll figure it out. With that being said, the kids’ bedtime routines have been a bit off, and I am working on creating some type of routine.  But overall, the big reward to all this is that we are spending more time together.  We are doing things that we would not otherwise have had the time to do and we are starting to get creative.  We spend time exploring the backyard in search for nature’s treasures.    We started baking almost everyday and it’s been a delight and sense of pride for the kids.  I made bread for the first time and a decent Croatian apple strudel.  Not bad for a novice baker.

In an odd way, the pandemic has taught me a bit more about myself and how stressed I really was.  Trying to balance a career and motherhood is exhausting.   But for the first time in a long time, I feel as if I am finally in tune with myself.  I adapted a more gentler and slower lifestyle, which is the complete 360 to the life that I was used to.  I found that since the pandemic started, I am exercising even more, despite the fact that the gym is closed.  The fact that I am getting an extra hour or two of sleep as well is another added benefit.  In addition, with malls being closed and whatnot, I found that I am less tempted to shop and waste money unnecessarily.  Since being at home, I’ve adapted a minimalist wardrobe and I actually think its suitable for me and my taste.  Perhaps living simply is the way to go.

Slowing down is a blessing in disguise.

We all need it from time to time.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

pencils in stainless steel bucket
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

img_6659

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.

img_6637

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 (palańćinke).¬† 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.

depth of field photography of p l a y wooden letter decors on top of beige wooden surface
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

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.

img_6648

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.

 

 

 

Fear, resilience and hope: reflections as we enter an unknown world

Since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 virus a pandemic, I was silent.  I did not know how to process this information.  A few of my close friends described this as a real-life “Contagion.”  I am not a medical expert, but what I do know is that the worst here in Canada is yet to come.  I also know that it will be a very long time until things are back to “normal” again.  Like many of us, I entered a state of shock.

woman looking towards the sky
Photo by YURI MANEI on Pexels.com

The hardest thing for me to process was watching my husband’s demeanor change over a course of a few days.  My husband is a respirologist and like his colleagues, has been monitoring the situation quite closely.  When I asked him what this all meant, he looked at me and said that life will be different for a very long time.  The events happening throughout China and Italy paint a grim picture of what could happen if we don’t act fast to “flatten the curve.”  Within a week the number of positive cases in Canada have jumped to just over 1000.  

Not only are there an array of health issues and questions surrounding the management of the virus itself, but it touches upon so many other facets of life:  the economy, the workforce, the way government works, education and overall, our lifestyle.  Schools across the country and around the world have closed down.  Employers are asking their employees to work from home if at all possible.  Places of worship have asked their membership to pray/reflect at home; restaurants and bars have closed down, although some are remaining open for take out or curb-side pick-up just to keep afloat.  People are asked to self-isolate and keep their distance until medical professionals and governments can come up with a solution.  Life as we know it has stopped for a while so we can self-isolate in hopes of containing the virus and give the medical system some more time.

Probably the hardest thing society will face is not just the virus itself, but the financial implications that come with it.   In addition to that, I fear a mental health crisis is to follow

Humans are social beings and I know from experience that being on lock down is difficult.  I’ve had some experience on being on some sort of lock down:  my oldest son was born prematurely and the first winter home we could not leave the house (except for medical appointments) as his immunity was compromised.  I remember screening all visitors for colds because a common cold could harm his premature lungs.  He obtained an antibody shot called Synagis every month during cold and flu season to protect him against RSV.  As parents, our goal was to keep him safe.    

When I was pregnant with my youngest child, I experienced a form of isolation again. I was considered high risk due to my history of preterm labour.  This meant extra medical appointments and physical restrictions.  I  was placed on strict bed-rest for 2 months following a one-week hospital stay for short cervix.  I remember how difficult those times were-  not being able to go out, not being able to go to work, to pick up my toddler son, I couldn’t do anything….it was hard, but I had one goal in mind:  to keep my pregnancy safe and deliver to my baby to full-term

You see, there is a common theme here with this isolation- being safe.  In this present moment, our duty is to keep our loved ones safe; to protect our grandparents, our parents and our children.  It’s our duty to stay home and to protect the elderly and the vulnerable.  Our governments are asking us to do this and our medical professionals implore us to do it.  I don’t have a crystal ball, nor will I speculate on what is to come, but I do have hope that we can get through this.  It won’t be easy, but we have to stay positive.

It is clear, the effects of this pandemic will last years to come.  I’m sure our children and our children’s children will be learning about it in their history classes.  But as history has shown us, humans are resilient, time and time again.  We will grow strong and learn from this experience.   I am sure the best and the brightest are working on different treatments and solutions to bring this pandemic to an end, because there is hope.

We all have a role to play in this, by self-isolating, by helping the elderly, by being connected with our loved ones virtually, by staying home when you are sick and by washing our hands.  In the meantime, lets show our gratitude to all of those on the front lines:  doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, hospital staff, custodians, grocery store workers, delivery drivers and so on.  Together we can overcome this virus.  Together we are stronger, for our future depends on it.

silhouette photography of grass
Photo by Darwis Alwan on Pexels.com

 

Travelling with children: survival or enjoyment? One mom’s thoughts

We always receive a mixed response when we tell friends and family that we are going to Croatia with our boys. ¬†Some people respond by saying “that’s awesome” and others say that we’re “brave.” ¬†More often than not, you hear that travelling with children is more of a trip than a vacation. ¬†I can see how that is, especially if your children are challenging (or lively) like mine. ¬†But on the other hand, knowing that it’s not easy, is simply half the battle. ¬† What I can tell you for sure is that even the most uptight of parents, with the most spirited children, can still enjoy a vacation abroad.

We’ve travelled in the past with the kids before, where some trips went off without a hitch and others have been so bad to the point where we say “we are never doing this again!” ¬†However, my husband and I both have that travel bug in us and we so badly want to instil that same love of travelling in our kids. ¬† In January we decided to give it a try again and booked a trip to Croatia for the end of June.

We spent three glorious (well depends on who you ask…) weeks in Croatia. ¬†The first week went without a hitch. ¬†The kids loved staying in Zagreb and at Hotel Dubrovnik. ¬†They were overall, very well-behaved. ¬†They climatized to the time change and to the food well. ¬†Heck, they loved the food. ¬†With that being said, we weren’t strict at all when it came to diet because we knew that this was the time to indulge. ¬†We all deserved it! They really enjoyed the sights and sounds of Zagreb and were amazed at all it’s lovely buildings and landmarks. ¬† Our kids enjoyed the three-hour car ride to our family home in Vodice, where they were enamoured of the mountains along the way. ¬† They were so excited to arrive at¬†dida’s house and to go swimming on the beach.

Week two is when things started to become tough. ¬†The older child wanted to go home to his bed and the younger one refused to sleep at night. ¬†This resulted in some cranky kids. ¬†Perhaps they were overstimulated by all the sounds and sights of the beach. ¬†Perhaps it was from all the sugar they were intaking. ¬†Who knows? ¬†Some days they were upset that the water was too cold or that their ice cream was melting funny. ¬† It was hard as parents to not get frustrated, but that’s kids though. ¬†They have their moments; some days they weren’t too into things and other days they were great.

Our oldest is a screamer and it’s been challenging with him, and when he would scream, I just step away and remind myself, he’s just a kid and I just need to shake it off, I want to enjoy this vacation. ¬†I spent a lot of time reading “Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka over this trip and boy, did it really help me get through those tough moments. ¬†During those moments when he would get upset at the beach, I would take him to a quiet area and say “I know you are angry, what is it that you need?”

There were some days that we just didn’t go anywhere, and that was okay, because little kids get tired and sometimes you just have to roll with it. ¬†Does that mean I did not enjoy myself? ¬†Absolutely not. ¬†I enjoyed not having to do chores and errands, or going to work everyday. ¬†While they watched a show, I would read a book in one hand, and drink a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine) in the other.

You see, it’s all about perspective. ¬† Going into a vacation and knowing there will be obstacles makes you better prepared for how to handle them. ¬† This is where we failed during our last trip. ¬†Some children have a calmer temperament and others are more challenging. ¬†Ours happen to be more challenging so we decided to just roll with it this time around, and in the end, we did find a way to enjoy this vacation.

This is not to say that the whole trip was full of tantrums and meltdowns, there were lots of good parts as well, such as: going on mini road-trips and visiting family; going to the children’s waterpark at the Solaris Resort, and so on. ¬†We got to spend a lot of quality time with family and friends, be it on the beach or at a restaurant. ¬†My husband and I managed to get some alone time over dinner or coffee, which was a nice treat. ¬†On our last night, my husband and I went out for dinner and got to enjoy some tamburica at a local restaurant. ¬† The point is, that is what a vacation is about: ¬†it’s about making memories and making the most of that special time together.

Yesterday, someone at soccer practice asked me how the trip went. ¬†I smiled and replied: ¬†“as good as you can get with kids.”

img_2237
An evening in Trogir; we somehow survived

 

 

Zagreb: a city where memories are made of

While planning our upcoming trip to Croatia this past January, my husband and I were looking at different routes from Toronto. ¬† We had the option to either fly direct to Zagreb or fly with a connection to Split. ¬† When my husband and I were younger, we used to start our trip in Zagreb and stayed at Hotel Dubrovnik, which is in the heart of Ban Jelańćińá Square. ¬† I have fond memories of those carefree days where we would walk around the city and enjoy some coffee. ¬† My choice was clear: ¬† we had to start our trip in Zagreb and continue our tradition.

My husband on the other hand was not quite sure. ¬†He considered driving straight to our family home in Vodice following the flight. ¬† I quickly vetoed that as my rationale was we will all be hungry and tired. ¬† But, deep down inside, I just wanted to stay in Zagreb and reminisce about a time before we were married and had kids, a time when it was just the two of us. ¬†I wanted to simply walk around the streets of Zagreb with the kids and just take all the sights in. ¬† In other words, my husband had no choice but to book a hotel in Zagreb. ¬†We decided to book Hotel Dubrovnik, where we have previously stayed. ¬† We love Hotel Dubrovnik and it is our favourite hotel in Zagreb due to its close proximity to Ban Jelańćińá Square and Ilica Street. ¬† The staff there is incredible, especially with kids and their complimentary breakfast is second-to-none. ¬†We booked two nights there knowing the first day would be a bit of a right-off with the travel.

Day 1
Following check in we got settled into the hotel and let the kids rest a bit. ¬†We decided to venture outside for an early dinner and walk around Zagreb. ¬† We made our way to Tkalńćińáeva Street and had pizza at Nokturno, which was recommended by the hotel staff. ¬† Pizza sort of is the theme of this trip as that’s all what my kids have been eating. ¬† You would think that Italians are only known for their pizza, but Croatians make a pretty good pizza if you ask me. ¬†We thoroughly enjoyed our first meal and the kids were enamoured by the sights and sounds of Tkalńćińáeva Street. ¬†We spent the rest of the evening walking around the city, namely towards Kaptol where we saw the Zagreb Cathedral (Cathedral of the Virgin Mary) and passed by the market, which was closed by the time we got there.
b751acb6-8765-4e50-8be6-98c7b0449432

Day 2
The kids were extremely jet-lagged so we let them sleep. ¬† They slept probably for a total of 15 hours. ¬† My husband and I took turns going out for breakfast so he went first and then I second. ¬†It turns out that this day was a holiday, Croatian Statehood Day (Dan DrŇĺavnosti) so most stores were closed. ¬†The city felt quiet as most people went to the beach for the day. ¬† By the time my husband returned to our room, the complimentary breakfast was closed, so I made my way outside towards the Ban Jelańćińá Square and purchased a fresh croissant from a nearby bakery and enjoyed a cappuccino at the Hotel Dubrovnik Kavana. ¬†This moment felt like pure bliss. ¬†Peace and quiet while I did some writing in my journal. ¬† Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Once the kids woke up we fed them some yogurt and krafne for breakfast and made our way outside. We walked towards Zrinjevac Park where the kids thoroughly enjoyed splashing in its many fountains. We eventually made our way to Kralj Tomislav Square where the kids were in awe of such a impressive monument to Croatia’s first king.

img_1952We spent most of the day walking around the city, namely to the Gornji Grad (Upper City) where we walked by the Croatian Parliament and St. Mark’s Church. To get to this part of the city, we went underground through the Grińć Tunnel, which the kids found very interesting!

 

As written previously, pizza has become a favourite meal on this trip. We asked the kids what they wanted to eat and they cried “pizza!!” So we made the trek all the way to Karijola which is located directly across from Galleria Importane. The rooftop patio was lovely and instead of gemist I opted for a glass of rose which from my understanding is making a huge comeback this year. ¬†I find the taste of rose crisp, and subtly sweet and when served cold it is the perfect summer wine.

img_1973

Following this we returned to King Tomislav Square where the City of Zagreb threw a free concert in honour of Statehood Day.  The performer was none other than the remarkable National Folk Dance Ensemble of Croatia, LADO.  Nothing is more Croatian than LADO, who performs traditional Croatian songs and folk dances.  As my husband and I were both very active in Croatian folklore in Canada, we were delighted to attend this show and share our love of Croatian culture with our children.   The  kids enjoyed it thoroughly and we managed to last the first hour of the show, until they got tired.

img_1983

Day 3
The following day we checked out of our hotel and walked around Ilica and Ban Jelacic Square. ¬†We took the kids to the¬†Budi Ponosan (Be Proud)¬†soccer museum. ¬† It’s a little museum located on Petrinjska off of Ilica which is dedicated to the Croatian National Soccer Team. ¬†The kids enjoyed looking at all the jerseys throughout the team’s history and some of the displays.

img_2012

After our visit to the museum, we stopped for coffee and juice at the trendy La Bodega before departing to our next destination.   The first few days of our trip were a success, the kids enjoyed themselves, and for a small moment in time, I felt as if I was living a dream.    As a family, we created magical memories to last a lifetime and I am so happy that we started the trip how I wanted to, in Zagreb.

img_2024

 

Work-family-life balance: myth or reality?

As a parent, I often wonder if work-family-life balance exists. ¬†It’s no joke when I say I feel like I am a chicken running around without a head.¬† From the start of my day to the end, I don’t stop.¬† Ever.¬†¬† Lately my days have been commencing at about 5:30 am and I am lucky to be in bed at 11:00 pm the earliest. My days typically consist of me preparing the kids’ outfits and bags before I head out to work, planning their schedules around mine and trying to stay on top of chores and meals. All while working a full-time job…and have some sort of relationship with my spouse (I didn’t forget about you!)

person looking at phone and at macbook pro
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

I often wonder how other parents do it. ¬†How do they manage to get their kids to their activities on time? When do they have time to fit in a workout between kids and work? ¬†Do they get any sleep? ¬†Do they clean their house or do they hire someone to do it? ¬†Do they have any help? I find myself exhausted on most days. Between the kids waking up in the middle of the night, trying to get them to sleep on time, all while trying to be a good employee at work, I’ve¬†been finding it¬†difficult. Lately I’ve been having a hard time trying to manage it all. It got to a point where I even doubted that balance actually existed.

Until one day it hit me.

I had to change my expectations.

You read that correctly. Change my expectations. Not lower them.

I had to stop for a moment and reevaluate what my goals and priorities were. That started by changing my mindset on life. I had to accept that my life is different now than before kids and that little things like going to the gym for an hour every day was not realistic. I accepted I won’t have my 20-something year old body anymore. I accepted that my house and car won’t be in pristine condition.

I had to create what was realistic for my life in this very moment, which is motherhood.

I found that making little modifications to my life style helped immensely, namely diet and sleep. I realized that between work and my kids, it’s not possible for me to get to the gym every single day, so there are other ways to stay active, like take the kids out for a walk or play with them outside. My husband and I alternate nights on which we go to the gym and it works for us. I also made some modifications to my diet that I found helped a lot.

Another aspect to achieving balance is prioritizing what is important and what can wait. Picking up the toys in the basement can wait (kids will throw it again tomorrow anyways). Putting the laundry away tonight can wait for tomorrow (I am better off reading a book to myself or getting an extra hour of sleep). We created a cleaning schedule at home so for instance, the kitchen and family room is tidied up every night and the washrooms are cleaned weekly. I realized that making things that are valuable for my time such as going for walks with the kids or having a date night with my spouse also helps me attain a sense of balance. Some of my favourite things to do are taking the kids to the park or a local Chapters, or unwinding over a glass of wine after a busy week with my husband, or having a girls’ night out. The point is, making time for things that make you happy should be number one priority. Not picking up those toys for the one millionth time.

Some days are trying and yes that will always be there. But I’m slowly letting go this idea of “perfect” motherhood, body, household and so on. Overall, I really do believe that achieving work-family-life balance is possible, you just have to make it happen.