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Busy Work or Learning? You Get to Decide.

Teaching your kids from home, doesn’t mean trying to turn your home into a school. You can adopt a school style schedule, you can send your kids out for recess and ring a bell to bring them back in, you can even stand up and sing O Canada every morning and acknowledge that your home resides on Treaty land, without your home becoming a school.

Unless you invite a dozen neighbourhood kids (which would not be recommended in these dangerous times) to join you for your daily lessons, home learning will be very different from school learning.

And that’s ok! It might even be fantastic, but it can also be overwhelming. School is what most of us know and understand as a place of learning, but that is only because it is the structure that has been used for the last couple hundred years, not necessarily because it is the ideal place to learn.

Don’t worry about what your kids would be doing if they were at school. There is no time for you to learn the curriculum and try to implement lessons that would be happening if life were happening as usual. (Although I still strongly recommend having a daily schedule, learn more here)

Instead, focus on what you want your child to learn.

After nearly 2 decades of teaching, I would say one of the most important things I have learned is to focus on what I want the children to be learning instead of how to do an activity.

Wondering what you should do with your child? Start by setting a few learning goals (even better if you involve your child in the process!)

As a teacher, I start the year with pretty much the same goals no matter what grade I am teaching. I want my students to learn to think for themselves, to be curious about the world and to have empathy for all living things.

With these goals in mind I start to build my days. This doesn’t mean that I don’t teach the students how to multiply and conjugate verbs, but it does mean that even when I’m teaching grammar, I’m doing it with these goals in mind.

I also tell my students about my goals. I particularly love to point out when they are showing empathy for one another. To help them see their strengths and to appreciate how good helping others can feel. My goals are not a secret, I share them often. Everyone learns better when they understand why they are doing something.

Why do you want your 11 year old to improve her writing skills? Why do you want your 8 year old to be able to add numbers in his head?

If you understand the why, it is much easier to explain it to your child and to find opportunities in everyday life.

If your child struggles with writing, talk to her about why writing is important (ability to communicate, express yourself, share ideas…), and even more importantly, listen to her when she tells you why writing is a struggle for her. Then together you can look at ways to build up her writing.

Start small. Choose pictures to send to relatives and have her write captions for them. Download some of the comic style activity pages from author Jarrett Lerner’s website and have her complete them (you can even share them on Twitter, he is very good at responding!) Write a short newsletter with her that she can send to the friends who she can’t see right now. Help her make a powerpoint presentation of her favourite celebrity/videogame. Try to find the best cookie/brownie/pancake recipe and have her write a review for each one you try.

It isn’t about the activity, it is about the goal of increasing writing skills and I promise that helping your child develop confidence and a feeling of empowerment around a skill will help them improve in that skill.

The learning goal you have for your child doesn’t have to be purely academic either. Maybe you want your child to understand that there is an interconnectedness to all things. You could start by making bubbles (which can be math lessons in measuring and ratio), then go outside and blow bubbles (which can be a science lesson about how air takes up space even though it is invisible). Watch the bubbles float up and away, watch how they spread out into the sky and fade into the distance. That is the air that came from your body that is going to be breathed in by other animals and recycled as it travels all over the world. Bubbles can also be great for descriptive writing and you can add food colouring to them and blow them onto a paper for some cool effects (warning, can get very messy!)

When you are out walking in the park or forest don’t forget that you are in the best and most interesting classroom in the world! Challenge your child to find something in the forest in each colour in the rainbow (encouraging curiosity and mindfulness all at once!) Learn to identify 2 kinds of trees or bushes that grow in your area and then challenge your child to find as many of them as they can (sorting by characteristics is both math and science). What is a common kind of bird in your area? Can you learn to identify it? (take its picture) Listen for its song? (record it on your phone) Find its nest? (take a picture) Then go home and make your own book/powerpoint/slide show to share with a friend or family member.

I have to stop here, because the truth is that there is no end to the learning opportunities that surround us all the time. (Concerned about reading, read this post.) This is the time to slow down and take a deep breath. There are no activities, no playdates, no lessons, now is the time to do all the things we never had time to do before.

Bake together, make breakfast together, teach your child how to wash clothes and plant seeds for the garden.

We are surrounded by chaos and uncertainty, sometimes it is hard to see where this will all end and how we can make it through. Change is hard at the best of times, and this is not the best of times.

But, there is a glimmer of light, the silver lining is the time you have to appreciate and know your child(ren). Breathe them in, savour them. Dive into loving your family like you never have before. Lean in and hold on tight to each other, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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