You’re certainly thinking about Fall 2020-21 and school. We sure are. And it seems like there aren’t real answers, with daily changes in guidance, opinions, policies, virtue signalling, trends, and so on.
So, we decided to do something about it: talk to therapists and teachers about the risks and issues facing early childhood development and the role of technology this year.
The good news: it’s not as dire as we thought. The bad news: we’ll have to use the uniquely human trait of adaptation—it’s like evolving in real-time!
How We Got In-Depth Perspectives
We got interviews and data from these sources:
- 2 certified teachers
- 2 therapists who specialize in child development (one of which is a leading researcher on the effects of technology on child development)
- 1 parent who homeschooled his children and also taught at a private school
- 2 employees who were homeschooled
- Dozens of articles from psychologists and teachers
Each of these folks were probed with questions about being a parent today, fall choices, childhood development, and the role of technology during “corona-schooling” times.
What Psychologist Dr. Mike Brooks Wants You to Know
You and Your Children, as Humans, are Adaptable and Resilient
Humans are naturally resilient and adaptable. Meaning, if you look at throughout human history, a common theme for humans is adaptability. This ability to adjust to our changing environments is the reason humans have not gone extinct. Children are especially strong at adapting to different environments and circumstances.
Think about it: children are often the ones coming up with new games to play, playing different roles, or creating new stories and strategies.
Lower the Bar From Ideal to Good Enough
Dr. Brooks recommends that parents and families lower their expectations during the pandemic and while in quarantine. No, this does not mean to stop holding yourselves and children accountable. What it does mean though, is to lower expectations for what life is or should be under today’s circumstances.
Dr. Brooks recommends that, “families play the long-game. Even if kids don’t make as many strides this year, they’ll catch up, and everyone is in a similar place by not making as much progress as they would in normal times.”
What matters most right now though is making sure you and your family get your most basic needs: enough sleep, exercise, and time with family and friends in a safe manner.
For instance, consider the law of diminishing returns. Kids need social interaction with family and peers and some form of exercise, but the longer one participates in that action, the less one receives in return. Therefore, what is more important is having those experiences, and not the overall duration.
You Can’t Do It Alone
If your family is in need of support for whatever reason, reach out to your community or find a community to help support you. Right now, one of the worst things is loss of hope or a feeling of isolation, argues Dr. Brooks. And it turns out, resources are truly abundant whether from schools, churches, or local community organizations, many of whom are repurposing budgets to help families who are struggling.
A lot of people are struggling right now without work or being a single parent responsible for looking after multiple children at a job that requires working in-person. If you need assistance, reach out to others in the same situation and ask for advice or assistance. Similarly, reach out on social media channels to support groups. Another way is to talk to the school psychologists, counselor, social worker.
Reminder: advocating for yourself is self-care.
Ways to Support Children and Yourself During the Ongoing Pandemic
Quarantining’s Effects on Child Development
First off, you need to know how the lockdowns affect child development. As you know, children at different ages have varying needs. Below, we will break down specific needs based on ages and stages.
Elementary School Children (5-10 year olds) need constant reassurance and a sense of safety. In Lydia Denworth’s Atlantic article,“What Happens When Kids Don’t See Their Peers for Months,” she suggests that the most important thing all children need is a sense of safety. The younger the child, the more that sense of safety comes from the adults within his or her life. One way to instill this sense of safety is keeping to a routine. Creating structure and reliable experiences is vital to a child’s development and can often affect one’s behavior.
One way Pinwheel helps with generating this necessary structure is by allowing parents to create daily schedules, modes, and routines for their child in the Pinwheel Caregiver Portal. We have made it free to create your own structure in the Pinwheel Caregiver Portal during this time, without having to purchase a device to go with it—we hope it helps you plan!
Middle School Children (11-14 year olds)are reacting and will continue to react to social distancing in an array of different ways dependent on their in-school experiences and social anxiety. Many tweens who experienced social anxiety felt a sense of relief from the shutdown. Those who were more dependent on extracurricular activities and interacting with teammates or other young adults their age are having a harder time adjusting.
Ronald Dahl, a pediatrician who founded the Center for the Developing Adolescent at UC Berkeley, told Denworth that, “Even if more waves of infection occur and the separation from peers drags on ...children won’t be permanently set back. But some might be slightly delayed in forming their identities, finding their passions, and forging the friendships that often go with them.”
Denworth also found that children “with mental-health issues or a less-than-happy home environment are more likely to suffer from being out of school or camp,” which is why it is imperative to create a positive environment and sense of security at home.
Creating a Sense of Security For Your Children at Home While Also Not Losing Your Mind.
Your stress from work, lack of work, and overall emotional and physical presence during quarantine is one of the largest factors for how children act within the household. Emily Sohn, in her New York Times article,“Worried About Your Kids’ Social Skills Post Lockdown?” argues that parents need to level their stress and not over fret about their child’s development.
“In fact, having parents who worry excessively about what their kids are missing out on is likely more damaging than missing out on experiences,” said Dr. Seth Pollak, Ph.D, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Stress is already widespread among parents who have been balancing work and distance learning, or who have been unemployed, for months.”
What is most important for you as a parent, is to not catastrophize or panic. It is necessary to create secure familiar relationships at home. In fact, these strong relationships benefit kids’ other friendships. Dr. Deborah Phillips, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at Georgetown University, said, “In households with more than one child, siblings help each other learn to negotiate, deal with conflict and resolve differences—something parents can help facilitate by having conversations about the important roles each sibling plays in the family.”
Additionally, teaching your children responsibility with pets, chores, and other domestic tasks will help create that needed structure while also teaching siblings to work together. It’s a different kind of connection than you probably grew up with, but it’s how most humans grew up for most of time!
What Teachers are Seeing and Saying
Several Teachers’ Perspective:
After speaking to several current and former teachers, the main concern from teachers is their own personal health and how to best serve their students. It isn’t novel news that teachers care about your children and want them to succeed. For teachers though, what is especially difficult for them right now is reconciling these two opposing forces: their own health versus serving their students. According to aUSA Today Poll from late May, 1 in 5 teachers say they are unlikely to go back to work if schools reopen in the fall. Teachers are humans too, and they share the same coronavirus fears and anxieties you do.
To get a better understanding of teachers’ perspectives, I spoke with Devonna Nickeo, the 6th Grade Writing Teacher atMemphis Rise Academy. She stated, “The general atmosphere is that it’s concerning not knowing what’s happening. There’s a lot of uncertainty. Some districts aren’t being as upfront about what is happening as others are. As a teacher, I am worried about getting sick, but also effectively managing the class space.” Her charter school is classified as a Title I school, which serves a low socioeconomic population, but has private funding to get up-to-date 1-to-1 technology for all students, while also having the resources to implement effective strategies to teach students how to properly use their technology and thus successfully learn virtually.
However, not all schools nor districts are equal. This discrepancy became apparent after speaking with Carey, an elementary school teacher in Central Texas. Carey noted that she “doesn’t feel supported by the system and technology her district is using.” For instance, when students went virtual last spring, some students didn’t have computers until April. They were designated old chrome books that didn’t work properly and were given little to no training from the district on how to use them. Some students couldn’t figure out how to mute, had parents or siblings making noise in the background, or simply refused to turn their camera on and participate.
Therefore, to mitigate these problems come the fall, as a former teacher myself, I asked teachers what general pointers they have for parents and students. Here’s what I found…
Tips and Advice From Teachers to Parents
- Check-in with your children. As you and your family move into a new school model, it is essential for parents, older siblings, or caregivers to have check-ins multiple times a day with their children. Even if you’re at work and your kid is in school or at home, make sure he or she is doing their schoolwork and both setting and completing their goals for the day.
- Create a quiet learning environment.Despite the size of your living space or amount of children, it is imperative that adolescents have a quiet place to learn and study. If you have worked from home, you know the importance of having an undisturbed workspace. Create the same experience for your son or daughter as they go to school virtually or are at home completing assignments. If participating in virtual schooling, it could be beneficial to purchase headphones or earbuds for your child.
- Show the resources available to your children.If your son or daughter is in virtual school, learn the software and online system or portal they’re using. Show your child how to troubleshoot by writing up an operational procedure or to-do list when logging on. Play the IT role. And if you don’t know, help your child find answers online.
- Voice your concerns and advocate for your children.No, this does not mean to be a tiger parent and constantly fret. What it does mean though, is if there’s a safety concern or other issue at school or in the virtual learning portal, bring it up to your child’s teacher. If it's a serious issue, talk to the school administration or district.
Rethink the school system and your parental role.As schools enter into a novel system this fall, think about how you can help and support your child. This is a great opportunity to be more involved in your child’s schooling, activities, and learning process. Also, hold your child accountable during school or learning hours. Go ahead and play that role of teacher, discipliner, and organizer. Trust us, both you and your child will benefit from it.
Homeschool Parent and Student Tips for Virtual Learners
Homeschooling is Not Virtual Schooling:
The main difference between homeschooling and virtual schooling is that homeschooling is a learning environment created by parents with the intent of having a shortened school day. This abridged school day creates more opportunities and time for other extracurricular activities and hobbies. While virtual schooling is taking the in-person school day and its assignments, and putting them on electronic devices while students watch and listen to an educator’s instructions.
The Positives of Virtual Schooling:
Virtual schooling helps with college readiness. It is as close to college readiness as students can get during this time. Virtual learning teaches kids to be more tech savvy. They are more independent. And if they’re using computers and other technology, they are preparing themselves for what college will be like.
For those who don’t do well in typical classroom settings, virtual schooling can be very impactful and helpful. Having a more flexible schedule along with being able to maximize your time or need for physical activity can also be beneficial. Furthermore, those who suffer from bullying or social anxiety can better learn without those types of distractions.
What Virtual schoolers Can Learn From Homeschoolers?
There is a lot of freedom in being able to finish school in three hours or less. Our co-founder, Isaiah McPeak, who was partially homeschooled growing up, cherished the ability to finish his school day in under three hours. “I loved waking up to a list of what had to be done for the day and being motivated (by that mastery of my own schedule) to get it done in three hours if I could, then play outside or (as I grew older) pursue my hobbies and interests… which eventually became my professional career and scholarships,” says Isaiah.
Isaiah concurs with Dr. Brooks, humans are adaptable, and in a lot of ways, adolescents are more adaptable than adults. Therefore, ask your child to come up with ideas, projects, activities that they want to explore and learn from. Turn the possibility of virtual schooling into a positive learning experience for both your child and yourself.
Working parents shouldn’t be afraid to think outside of the box and try new things. Sara Shipley, our Marketing Manager—who was homeschooled growing up—says, “this is the beauty of schooling at home—the process adapts to its environment, and students wake up every day with the opportunity to learn about things they love from people they love, in a safe and nurturing space.”
For parents working from home, you can create a new learning environment by involving your children in aspects of your work or providing your kids “parallel work” for them to do. For example, if a parent’s job requires a performance report, that parent could give their child a ”backyard nature report” to do alongside them, fostering skills of research and writing in the process. Or, if you’re working on a company or personal budget, that is an opportune moment to discuss finances and teach math at the same time. You, as a parent, can model adaptation and better connect and grow with your children.
So, You Know What is Needed, but How do You Put a Plan Into Action? Here are Some Tips:
- Help your children by taking care of your own mental health: According to Harvard’s infographic,“What Is COVID-19? And How Does It Relate to Child Development?” when adults feel better they are better at connecting with their children, which reduces stress within the household. One way to reduce stress is to just breathe...
- Take a moment to breathe: Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child asserts that “taking a minute to close your eyes and breathe in and out can also help [with stress]. That’s because slow breathing tells your body’s stress system to ease up a bit. This can help you respond better at even the most difficult times.”
- Track the amount of social time spent with children: Dr. Phillips from the New York Times article recommends that parents can spend more time socially engaging with their children. “Ideally, that time will not only be at the end of the day, when everyone is tired,” says Dr. Phillips. So, social interaction can be incorporated into children’s daily routines.
- Practice “Serve and Return,” which is when adolescent children serve up a chance to interact with them that you return the favor and have a small interaction. This helps with child development especially at younger ages.
- Make time for communication in diverse ways by having your child write letters the old-fashion way to friends, neighbors, and extended family members. Yes, handwritten letters. Also, have video-calls and chats with friends and relatives. Another creative way to communicate with others is to make encouraging posters and place them on your house or apartment doors and windows.
Right now, learning to adapt and to be "okay" that results into wellness, not whether your child is in the 87th percentile for math this year. Children will learn adaptation from their parents during this time. That’s the Pinwheel recommendation as the primary place to focus!