Like most of the world, our school district (and state) recently announced that schools and daycares will be closed for the coming weeks. For some people, this news comes as a relief. For others, this kind of an announcement creates panic at the thought of being stuck at home for weeks on end with young kids. It’s easy to become overwhelmed at the idea of having to entertain children all day long (especially if you can’t leave the house). And, if you’ve ever spent any time with little people, you know that while unstructured time can be welcomed for adults, it can cause chaos in kids.
Many people end up begging for school to go back in session, often praising the hard work of teachers for being able to put up with mayhem every day. But here’s the thing; the reason teachers are able to survive the day in day out energy level of kids is because our days are meticulously planned. Even “downtime” has a purpose and procedures. We schedule times for movement, creative play, and rest. While I don’t think you have to take this exact approach to your home life, there isn’t an early childhood educator out there that wouldn’t suggest structure and routine as a huge piece of advice for the coming weeks. So how do you make that happen in these weird, unprecedented times with kids?
Whether you are a hardcore planner or a complete free spirit, your best bet for surviving these next coming weeks with young children, is to make structure and planning your thing. You don’t have to be as detailed as a classroom teacher making lesson plans, but giving kids a clear idea of what to expect for the day, will help them thrive (and you keep your sanity.) Make a list together of what you’d like to accomplish.
Consider these ideas as a jumping off point of how to fill your day to make sure you are getting in some educational fun (not worksheets or flashcards), not relying too heavily on screen time, and making the most of your time at home with your little ones.
- Morning Time: Eat breakfast. Watch morning cartoons. Discuss your plans for the day. Check the weather. Get dressed, brush teeth. Make the bed.
- Get outside: Go on a bike ride. Play at the park. Do sidewalk chalk. Play with bubbles. Free play! (think recess time at school)
- Do some science: Plant some new flowers in your garden. Get a bird feeder and record what type of birds come to visit it. Order caterpillars and a butterfly kit to observe. Make slime. Make cloud dough. Make elephant toothpaste. (Pinterest is full of amazing, SIMPLE ideas.)
- Lunch and reading time: After you eat, schedule in some downtime. Give your kid a laundry basket to sit in and a pile of new books. Sit together and read your tried and true favorites while listening to calm music. Take a blanket outside and read under a tree.
- Schedule (limited) screen time: Play an educational app on a device. (Set a timer so they don’t stay on it too long!) Check out some free educational websites. Do an online yoga video for kids. Watch an episode of Magic School Bus, Sid the Science Kid, or Dinosaur Train.
- STEM challenge: Pull out the Lego bricks and make a building competition out of it. See who can make the tallest tower with Solo Cups. Get the Hot Wheels tracks out and challenge your kiddos to come up with a creative design. Use your dominoes to make a huge set up to record knocking down in slow motion.
- Food activity: Create a cute snack together. Bake muffins. Decorate cookies. Make smoothies. Pop popcorn on the stove.
- Creative play: Find your construction paper and crayons. Get out the glitter glue and stickers. Give your kids a big box, scissors and markers and challenge them to turn it into something creative. Get some play-dough and cookie cutters out. Messes are totally okay and it’s how kids learn best! (Just have clean up time built in there too!)
- Sensory play: Get out the water table and fill it with water, measuring cups and buckets. Order some water beads on Amazon for extra fun. For indoor sensory play, try kinetic sand, rice, or dry beans in a big Rubbermaid container.
- Play board games: Games such as Chutes and Ladders, Pop the Pig, Hi Ho Cherry-o, and Trouble are fantastic for number practice with little learners.
- Bath/Shower Time: Use this time to wind down. Add bath bombs. Dump all your toy dinosaurs in the tub. Get out the finger paint soap. Fill the shower with shaving cream. Make silly words with foam alphabet letters stuck to the walls.
I know this unexpected time at home with kids is strange and stressful. Our routines are all off. But, with a little extra planning and thinking ahead, it could just be the extra quality time you didn’t know you needed. Make the most of it, friends!
In the education (and parenting) world there are are always new techniques, creative ideas, and fun unique activities to try. And then there are the tried and true classics that never go out of style.
I have made green eggs and ham every year I’ve taught and it is always a hit! It never fails that my kiddos start out just like the character in Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham by saying, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Ew yuck. Yea right lady, I ain’t trying that stuff.”
We read the book, have a good chat about the importance of trying new things, and then we put everyone to the test. Inevitably there are students who are still leery of the green eggs, but this is one of the few times where peer pressure does some good. As soon as one brave soul goes for the funny looking plate full of food, and gives the glimmer of a positive response, the rest of the class tends to dive in.
It is the most fun to see their reactions and join in on their excitement. They are proud of themselves for trying something “daring” and new. They are surprised that they like it. And, most of all, they have a connection to a book that they will not soon forget. Like I always say- it’s the simple things in life.
March 2 is Dr. Seuss’s birthday-otherwise known as Read Across America Day. This day was created by the National Education Association as a way to encourage young children to read more and to become excited about books. You may just know this day as the day that you have to dress your kids up in crazy clothes or make a Seuss themed snack for their class, but I promise you, it is so much more than that.
Seuss was fantastic for incorporating rhymes, word families, sight words and silly story lines into his books that generations of children have grown to love. But let’s get honest, his books are, well, long. Even the most seasoned of parents and educators have grown weary while reading Dr. Seuss. If your child’s favorite book happens to be a Seuss one, you’ve no doubt become quite familiar with the lengthiness of his works.
So here’s the thing about reading. It’s not about who can read the fastest. It’s not about who can read the most. And it’s certainly not about only reading one particular author’s books. The point of reading, especially at a young age, should always be enjoyment. The meaning of today’s holiday is to excite children about the fun of reading. Some kids love the predictable pattern of Seuss’s words and feel proud being able to guess which words will come next in the text. Others love his fantastically silly characters. However, if your kid has a limited attention span or just isn’t feeling the Seuss vibes, I encourage you to put down Cat in the Hat and find what works for your little one.
Head to the library. Go to Barnes and Noble. Check out the book section in Target and see what your child gravitates to. (*real books- not audio or digital!) Find new authors or think back to what your favorite book was as a child. Make your read aloud time together be special. Make it fun. And always keep the goal of loving reading as your primary focus.
Unless you’ve been hiding in a bunker, you may have noticed that we are in a heated election cycle. Debates, town halls, primaries, caucuses (I can’t be the only one that giggles when I say that word!)…we are fully involved in all things politicians and elections. And while I can’t tell you who I would like to vote for or who I think you should support, I can tell you what I’m looking for in a leader. I’m searching for a candidate that puts education on the forefront.
As far as I’m concerned, the state of our public education has an effect on every other part of our lives. From the future of climate science, to our children’s mental health, to our ability to compete on the world stage, it all comes down to education. And where will our education system be without the backbone of it all- our teachers?
So, this election cycle I’m paying attention. I’m paying attention to how schools will be funded. I’m listening to how politicians talk about our failing and under performing schools. Do they view them as something to avoid or defer money from, or do they have strong plans to repair them? Do they speak as though teachers are deserving of respect and living wages? Will they appoint cabinet members who actually have experience in Public Education? Do they truly get Nelson Mandela’s words, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”?
For the sake of our kids, our schools, and our teachers, I’m paying attention. I don’t see any perfect candidate. And some of my favorites have already dropped out. But, there are glimmers that some on the horizon are starting to understand what we in the teaching world have known for a while…our country is nothing without a strong education system.