September Check-In

How’s your September going? August preparations seem so long ago, don’t they? Setting up a learning space, choosing curriculums, arranging play dates or maybe even writing a contract for your pod seem like a long time ago and yet, it has only been a month. Time to evaluate what is working and what is not.

This September I went back to teaching in-person one day a week in my music studio. Masks, cleaning between each student and having a whole lot of understanding and patience has been the name of the game as very tired and stressed-out kids returned to my piano. The good news? We’re making progress!

I started homeschooling our Kindergarten aged grandson. Know what I learned? Some things still work like they did when I homeschooled my own children over twenty years ago. Somethings don’t. Know what? That’s ok.

The end of September is the time to re-evaluate what works for your learning environment and what doesn’t. Don’t feel like you’ve failed if you need to mix it up or change. This is a process and it’s new for everyone; especially kids.

Breathe. Children are natural learners. We’ll get there, together.

Setting Up Your Home Classroom

Whether virtual, online or homeschool, the 20-21 school year will, without a doubt contain some kind of home component. Before you go out and buy everything on your list from your Pinterest research, let’s look at what kids (and parents) really need. (Take a deep breath and relax, it’s far simpler than all the hype.)

Your home setup should coincide with your family. Some parents work from home while some kids will have pod teachers come to their house. The space in your house and the ages of the children taking classes is all something to consider. So let’s start.

  1. Desks. My mother always had high hopes that I would go to my room, do my homework and emerge from a neat and orderly space where algebra had been solved and essays brought my teachers to tears of inspiration. (Cue the choir of angels singing and the wind whipping through my hair.) Unfortunately for her, it never happened. I preferred to sit on the floor (of any room) where I could hear the life of my house and family around me. I spread papers on the floor or organizing by piles. If your child works well at a desk, do a happy dance and dust off the one in your family’s garage to put in their room. Please consider, lots of kids work better at the kitchen table interacting with siblings or spread out on the living room floor.

2. Maps and wall hangings. While I love a good map just as much as the next nerd, I preferred them in books as a kid. As an adult, I love them online. In the current state of the world, borders and country names change often. Hanging a map up on the wall of your new home classroom might give it a good feel, but you might be displaying misinformation. Something to consider.

3. Less classroom. More office. If you are a work from home parent, then your kids may see you working (or hear your computer keys tapping from behind your closed office door.) Since we can’t recreate a classroom, why try? Instead, if your “job” can be from your office, why not create your child’s own “office” or personal workspace. Approaching it from a place where you lead by example might turn the school year from drudgery to adventure.

4. Headphones. If you live in a small house or your child has trouble focusing, a set of headphones that plug into their laptop or tablet can be a game changer. Skip ear buds if the concept is new to your child. Splurge on a comfy, padded set of headphones. It may save everyone’s sanity.

5. Don’t forget that big classroom outside your window. Before the weather turns to cold and sleet in much of the country, head outside. Have a deck or patio? Make that the reading area. Better yet, take a break from work and school and eat lunch together outside. Take a break and have a 10 minute dance party. Move. Laugh. Shake off the confinement. Sitting in front of a computer all day isn’t good for any of us. Take in the sunshine (or the summer/autumn rain) while we can.

Make Home Your Child’s Sanctuary

Adults tend to fall into two categories. Either, we identify as a homebody or not at all. While some of us have been climbing the walls, wondering when we might be reunited with our suitcases, our counterparts have been basking in working from home in pajama bottoms. The recent pandemic has meant huge adjustments for all of us.

While funny memes and videos on quarantine abound, let’s not forget that home is sanctuary for all children. Some may prefer indoor video games and some may itch to do their school work outside on the trampoline. Either way, the world has become a much more uncertain place than it already was for kids. Home is the sanctuary, the safe place they need now more than ever.

While many parents have messaged me to ask questions about their home classroom, might I suggest we zero in a a more important aspect to children’s mental health; a place they call home. I have homeschooled two kids to adulthood and university. I can honestly say that while a home classroom helped ME as the teacher have an organized place of learning, my kids and their definition of a learning space was often different. It changed with the passing years. Kids can read and study in their bed, their fort under the piano, the kitchen table, the patio or in a tent by flashlight. They also do a considerable amount of learning in the woods, walking around a lake or playing their guitar.

Let’s face it though. Feeling safe is something that most of us adults cannot say they feel with certainty right now. There are too many unknowns and no definitive end in sight to this strange period of time. Think of how kids feel.

Before we as parents spend a lot of time (and money) creating a classroom for the upcoming school year, let’s have a long think about what makes our children feel happy and whole. We are what stands between them and the feeling of isolation, the reality of severe illness and the uncertainty of the future.

This Week’s Boredom Buster

Invent a New Dance

Start with your favorite jump, slide or twist. Repeat it 5 times. Now add a “swim” with you arms. Repeat it 3 times. Now jump or slide + swim and repeat 5 times. Take 5 steps forward. Now, jump, swim and step 5 times. Keep adding to the pattern. How far can you go to invent your own new dance?

What should you wear for your new dance? Sunglasses? Boots? Football helmet? A chef’s hat? Dog ears? A day of dancing needs a great costume!

Share your dance with us! Send us your video to share with kids around the world dancing their school day away!

Finn doing his warrior dance.

Young Children Need A Vehicle For Expression Too

Every morning, I wake up, make breakfast and read the latest headlines. Recently, there has been a lot of talk about children and what they will take away from this pandemic. Sadly, many children are handling the “new normal” in unusual ways.

My own pediatrician has said that, in her practice, she has noticed children are acting out in differently. Older children have been caught drawing on the walls. Teenagers have been admitted to the hospital for unusually intense bouts with depression. The headlines have recorded similar experiences of older children across the country. In response, doctors are recommending that children write their experiences and feelings every night before bed. They also can read other children’s experiences in books like Anne Frank’s, “Diary of a Young Girl.” My pediatrician had a whole print out on the benefits of riding a bike on trails for a minimum of an hour. It got me thinking. What about younger children?

Most young children are unable or just learning to read. The same goes with writing. Some of the topics and experiences of Anne Frank as well as other famous, coming-of-age-in times-of- crisis type books are not suitable for children under six. Writing is still more work than expression. While he plays outside for hours each day, there has to be more for a kid his age to find their own narrative. I have watched my five and a half year old grandson and wondered how I might help him understand a world I’m struggling myself to comprehend. The “story” of my hometown, state, country and planet change on a daily basis. How can I help him make sense of it all?

This morning, he and I cleaned up the table from breakfast together, we talked. He misses school now. He always complained about it before. He misses his friends. He misses playgrounds and playing at the park. He still plans to tell a girl in his Junior Kindergarten class that he wants to marry her. He wants to have a playdate and take her fishing. As I started to load the dishwasher, I held back objecting to him taking his tablet off of the charger. He was headed outside with it in hand. That was new.

For an hour, I quietly watched him make one tiny movie after another. Sometimes the lead character was a Lego character, running from some invisible foe. Sometimes, the video was just him making monster noises as the screen bounced wildly. That kind of video intrigued me most.

“That must be a pretty scary monster,” I commented. “I wonder what it looks like.”

Without looking up from his WIP he replied, “Things are always scarier when you can’t see them but you know they’re there.”

And there it was. All of the gentle talking was sinking in and he’d found his own way to express his response to the unpredictable world.

“You’re right,” I said. He couldn’t write or journal or read the experiences of his peers in trouble. He couldn’t, however, convey what I’d been feeling for months. There was something scary out there. I couldn’t see it. But I knew it was there. We all do. Maybe we all could use a day of making monster videos.

You’ve Got This

Send kids to school or keep them home? A lot of parents are making some very difficult decisions right now. It’s not an easy decision to make. If parents send their children, there’s risks involved and many states are cutting their budgets, eliminating art, music and “specials” like foreign language and band. Keeping kids at home to educate them remotely means one or both parents must juggle educating their child and work.

Know what? I’m rowing your boat. I’m trying to make some of the same decisions. Never the less, I am sure of a few things. First, a child’s first language is singing. Music, no matter if a child is home or at school, should have access to fun, stimulating music education. Through music, kids learn about the world around them. They learn about history. They learn to express themselves.

Learning to speak another language is to learn how another group of people sees and expresses themselves in a world different from our own. In 2020, that sounds like a pretty good idea. Foreign language also makes a child’s understanding of English even stronger. Learning another language at an early age means it is far more likely to stick with them through life.

Lastly, those quirky little readers… Millions of kids have learned to read with tiny reader books. One set in particular recently had one of my students’ siblings crying. She said the pictures were scary. Her older brother agreed. He remembered them. He shuddered at the thought. It got me thinking about super simple yet colorful picture reader books with large print to invite young children into the world of reading. I thought about all those word families I’ve practiced with students and my own kids. That thought turned into some scribbles (quite literally) which turned into some laughing with my family which became Mim’s Monsters. I hope they make you laugh, too.

Take Off Your Shoes and Stay Awhile…

Welcome to the Barefooted Friar!

In this new reality, it’s important that our kids have as much opportunity for a continuing education as possible without planting them in front of the television or handing them a game to occupy their time.

This site was created by Ms. Michele Beresford to give that opportunity to children.

Some content will be free, while other content will be accessible for a small fee. You can contact Ms. Michele at [email protected] for more information.