HOMESCHOOLING in the pandemic of 2020

My kids are in different school boards, but their experience thus far with “distance learning” has a few similarities. I am not impressed, to be honest. If you want to read a long-ass post, this is it.
TL;DR: Teachers are micromanaged and under-equipped; the Ministry Sucks; they had an opportunity to improve education and failed.

First, why are we calling it “distance learning” instead of homeschool or online learning? I do not see the need for a NEW name for what’s going on.

My grade 11 student (public board) has a teacher who is actively involved with projects (assigned via Google Classroom) and makes herself available for commentary. There is another teacher who had not provided anything for quite a few weeks. No consistency from that school/board in terms of teacher expectations. I mean, how do you have one teacher clearly trying and another who is MIA? Reign that sh*t in!

For this student, I am unable to be the teacher. I do not know the material to teach it, except for Art and some Business. This student is exceptional at keeping a schedule, staying on task, completing work, finding answers, and ensuring the content is learned. I am extremely fortunate here. She is so good that I can even rely on her to be the Art and Music teacher to her little brother – in fact, that’s what she is doing right now, enabling me to type this.

My grade 1 student (catholic board) has a teacher (home-room/primary) who actively uploads files to Google Classroom every Monday morning. There are comments on most of the submitted work as well. Great consistency. Some of the other teachers will on occasion, post something extra basic to the same Google Classroom.

For this student, I am the teacher of all things (except music because I can’t even think about music).

To teach him I have to shut down everything else and focus fully on him. He is 6 and no 6-year-old wants to sit still at a desk and brain for a whole day. His focus is all over the place. He literally climbs the couch, the chairs, the desk, the table, and ME while talking, thinking or working.

I spend Monday morning downloading all the work from Google Classroom (and ranting on Facebook). I sort the downloaded files by class topic, then by week, and then I colour-code them so I know which to hand in and which to just work on. After that, I print all the work pages out and organize them into physical folders so that I can access them throughout the day. The day is structured around the school’s schedule of class and break times, but I am flexible with that by about 30 minutes -/+.

I set up an actual child’s desk in the basement, next to my office desk. In front of his desk is a TV connected to a computer. Sitting together we go through all of the files provided, one a time, throughout the day. Most of what I am telling him is about staying focused on the tasks (no climbing things!), not the actual tasks. He already knows the content of what we’re doing – it’s all practice at this point.

But today some new material came in for him. Last week the teacher uploaded a PowerPoint presentation along with the printouts – an actual lesson! I put it on the TV and went through it with him and he read along. This week there are 2 more PowerPoints!!

BUT! These powerpoints do not have anything telling me (the teacher) how to teach this new material.
How would they teach this?
Would they present the slides of the PPT, allowing them to read along? Or, would they be the only ones to see the slides as they speak?
What key words would they focus on for comprehension?
What core concepts are new to the student at this point?

I am the type of person who will figure it out though. I know this kid and I have gotten a great understanding of his capabilities and limits over the past 10 weeks of homeschooling. I always think about those parents who are working, or struggling with more than 1 kid, or not able to teach/help for whatever reason.

Something that really pisses me off is the type of content that gets uploaded. One teacher has only provided “work” on weeks 2, 5, and 7. They uploaded low-resolution JPG images; things you’d find on a Pinterest board! I am often google’ing around looking for higher resolution versions of what’s been uploaded, or recreating the files from scratch (because I am skilled in that, by trade). Is that really what the Ministry/board has provided to the teachers? I doubt it. I think the board has told teachers all the things they cannot do/say, and then said here are the learning objectives – period. All of the material and resources needed to reach those objectives is a big void that the teacher has to fill with their own Google searches. And that’s how we end up here. It’s a failure when it could so easily be a win.

There is a lot of praise flying around for the school boards and teachers, but I do not see it as fully deserved on my end. When the decision to close schools was being contemplated there should have been a huge push to figure out how online programs like Khan Academy, Udemy, and EdX operate. The work is done – those online schools exist and that’s exactly what we need right now. To not even try to explore that is insanity. No, it is ego. No, it is self-preservation, 100%! If the Ministry/boards went that route, they would put risk putting themselves out of business in many ways, because those platforms are already successful. And why is that? They’re individualized, for one, and traditional schools are factories. They’ve also been online for quite some time, learning and adapting their systems to the feedback and success rates of their students. The wheel has been invented, perfected, and is in use right here, but the Ministry/boards fully ignored it and came up with a goddamned triangle! The ball was dropped so hard here.

I know that I should not be hard on the teachers because many of them actually care and try, but at the same time I am asking myself “why not?” I fully realize that teachers are completely trapped inside the box that the ministry has put them in. They cannot say anything unless they’ve been cleared to say it. They cannot talk to parents about certain things; they cannot return a hug from a student, etc etc etc. So, on one end they’re being micromanaged so hard that they become robots, and on the other end the Ministry does NOT provide them with the resources, time, funds to deliver quality lessons. I have taken the provided lesson material and searched for it on Google Images. You know what I find? The same resource the School Teacher is sending to me is sitting on Pinterest and various other websites where you can freely download homeschooling resources. Some of them come from a site where teachers share/sell resources to one another. Good job, Ministry. Nailed it.

The board micromanages the teachers to avoid lawsuits, not to provide quality education. (IMO, of course, don’t sue me).

Teachers are forced to go outside their box to teach because the Ministry sucks harder than a black hole.

I have no real firm point here. I am just so disappointed with how poorly this has been handled. It was an opportunity to improve the system and it has not happened. So many parents are in situations where they cannot help their kids as I can, and the kids are losing as a result. I am not even that great! My son tells me that his sister is the best teacher EVER, Mom is 2nd, and I am a distant 3rd.

DIY Parenting: How to Teach Your 6-Year-Old to Tie Shoelaces

A few days ago I decided that I was going to teach my 6-year-old how to tie shoelaces. No reason – it’s snowing and he has these little rubber things in place of his laces now. But, the time is coming.

With that on my mind, I went into the garage to think about it. I bumped into a little brick of wood and thought THIS IS IT! Then I went to find the laces we’ve pulled out of all his shoes. With 7 laces found (why an odd number?) I screwed them down at the centers of each lace. Done. Now what? Well, nothing – I put it down and left it for a few days, lol.

Over the weekend someone brought donuts home! This now meant that I had all the parts required to assemble a lace tying lesson! I won’t describe it here because I do that in the video.

I want to be clear here, despite my highly unprofessional speaking in the video. I had 2 things in mind:
1. Teach my kid how to tie his laces (+ his friends because they were present),
2. The thing I am rewarding is his effort in trying.

Everything I do with my kids is based upon the planting seeds concept. I bring an idea (the seed) in the form of a lesson or conversation or activity, and then over time, I pick up where we left off (watering the seed). I usually don’t expect a win on the first go around, and that is very helpful for both of us because it brings the expectations back down to Earth. If I am looking for something more than I can get, then I will become frustrated, and so will the kid. That builds up to a point where I won’t want to try, and neither will the kid.

Another important point with the idea of TRYING is that putting effort into something has more value than accomplishing the thing. That may sound wrong, but there is so much value in it, and this lace lesson illustrates that. Two of the three boys didn’t want to even try to tie the laces because their egos were hung up on winning the donut. They felt that to win the donut they needed to tie the laces, and when they felt they couldn’t, they gave up. I need to build into their brains the scripts that will allow them to TRY to do the thing.

Over time, as they progress, as they gain confidence in putting in the effort, then I can change the messaging. There are times right now where I can simply tell my 6-year-old that he has to try just because trying is the important thing. He will then try. The PROCESS of trying is where he learns what he is capable of. THAT is the value.

If you build this, let me know how it goes.

No Bacon for You!

My 5yo didn’t eat his sandwich at lunchtime today, so he was obviously extra hungry after school. First, he told me he ate it and when I showed it to him in the bag he said: “that’s nothing.” So I said, “that’s what you have to eat, nothing else until dinner.” He chose to finish his goldfish crackers – all 6 of them. Fine.

He circled back for more snacks so I said: “finish the sandwich.” Initially, he didn’t want to eat it because he said he doesn’t like the meat in it. Alright, I hear that, but he has been eating it so I’m not just going to let that slide. If I do I risk it becoming a trend, “all I have to do is say I don’t like it and I get out of eating it.” I pushed back. Eventually, he took it and showed it to me as he took a bite. Perfect! Then he quietly wanders out of the room for a minute. When he returns he proudly tells me that he ate it all really quickly!

Duh! “Did you put it in the garbage?… Tell me the truth.Read More »

Child Leadership

My 15yo was promoted to sergeant last June. This rank brings with it leadership opportunities. She very much wants to be a leader in her squadron, but it’s hard. Leadership is difficult in general, and in a youth setting it’s no easier. 

For clarity: Her cadet unit, like all others, is built around youth leadership. The officers (reservist adults/CIC members) train the senior NCOs (sergeants and up) on how to deliver the program to the junior cadets.

This year she is captain of Range Team 1, which is composed of the top shooters, and she is very likely the best shooter (by scores). Since June I’ve been working with her on what I consider good leadership. 

To prepare for that I read Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink. What a fantastic book! Get it, read it, then teach it to your kids. 

To get things started today she was late to range. Right away she went to the coach and apologized, then told him it wouldn’t happen again. BAM! Chapter 1: she took ownership (of being late).

Read More »

Creative Food Ideas

Changing a child’s eating habits can be so incredibly difficult and the older they get the harder it is. Start early and avoid the troubles.

Here are some fun and cute ideas for making snack time more appealing. And, some ideas that are just nuts!

Keep Kids Busy at Home

When my 5yo is home from school the day can drag on and on because he is bored. When he is home sick he is low energy, or so low that I am taking care of him. But, when he it’s a day off, or even a weekend, he is off the walls!

Here are some ideas for young kids that we can help them put together for their time at home. And I do mean that we help them make it, rather than we do all the work.

If you want more, check the credits on each pic and dive in!

Our Kids Need Our Attention

They don’t need money, presents, devices, or any other THING. They just need us to spend time with them. Just us and the kid – no one else.

And when we are with them –only them– they don’t need a lecture or a lesson. They need a big heart and an open ear. Just listen to them unload their lives onto us and show them that we understand by saying the simplest things like, “that sounds fun” or “I bet that was frustrating!

This is called Validation. It is a game-changer and I wish I learned it 16 years before I did. When you validate a person you are telling them that their feelings matter and that those feelings came with reason. So many times my kids have said, “I should not feel <this way>,” when it was perfectly logical to feel exactly that way.

There is a trick though. You validate how the person is feeling, not the action(s) that go with it. Because, when our kids screw up we don’t want to validate the mistake they made. Instead, we want to validate how they feel, which may be embarrassment or guilt. Yea, you ought to feel like that right now, it’s normal and I am here with you guide you through it.

Something that goes along with this is Judgement, and it is a sneaky bastard, too. When we make judgements we are making value statements. Something has more value than another thing. This is obviously true, but when dealing with people, if you can remove judgements, you can leap forward so much faster. Instead of saying something was good or bad, right or wrong, use facts.

Your child rolls her eyes at you. “You don’t care, do you!?
Your child rolls her eyes at you. “It looks like you just rolled your eyes at me; are you frustrated with me?

The first statement judges the child’s action and implies their feeling/intent. It pushes them away. The second statement points out what you saw and demonstrates that you see their frustration, then asks for confirmation. It draws them in.

Your child will screw up, and so will you. Do you want to be judged for it every time, or do you want someone you can talk to about it? If you’re the one that your kid can talk to, then they will.

Our kids need us to spend time with them where we just listen to them talk. We validate how they feel, not their actions. We don’t judge them, their ideas, or their actions. This will open them up to spending more time with us where they talk more to us, and we bond so tightly that nothing can get between us.

UPDATE on taking every electronic away

Yesterday marked the 2nd week since I removed all electronics following my 5yo’s meltdown. I had interrupted him playing Minecraft to take him to BJJ and he lost his shit for 1.5hrs. That prompted me to ban electronics.

Well, he has been amazing! Of course, there are moments every other day, sometimes more than once/day, where he inquires about the electronics. The first day was the worst. He loops back around to it because he is trying to understand what happened and how long until he gets it back. In the past, he HAS gotten them back. I was taking them away as a consequence of poor behaviour and returning them following him upgrading his thinking/actions. That’s why we thought it was working. Now that he has not gotten them back he ends up angry; I don’t budge on the ban and I’m very matter-of-fact about it, and that anger varies from mild to holy crap who’s child are you!?

Usually, he starts off quietly asking about it, to which I reply flatly, “I’m sorry bud, I know you like them -they’re fun- but I’m not putting them back.” That sets him off, even though it’s delicate. He usually tells me that I WILL put them back, and if I don’t then he will do some consequence. Isn’t that a great example of how kids copy us!? He is doing to me what we do to him: consequences for non-compliance.

Today I put the TV back (my wife wanted to use it), but no gaming options are on it. Technically, the Apple TV is connected, but the remote is hidden. This lets us send shows to the TV from my phone or her iPad, or from my work MacBook. Also, he has no say in what it is used for. The new –permanent– rules are:

For my 5yo:
1.) Electronics are invitation-only.
-If you ask for it, you don’t get it.
-If I invite you to use it with me, you may use it.
2.) Zero access to tablets, phones, consoles, and PCs.
3.) Absolutely ZERO YouTube!
-Gawd that site is pure poison for kids!
-If we invite him to watch a show or a movie, we’ve already selected it, or worked out a choice with him. We ultimately choose.

For my 15yo:
She already had her iPhone permanently swapped with a flip phone.
1.) Electronics are for cadet and school work.
2.) Don’t use them in front of the 5yo (unless it’s obviously work).
3.) Fun uses of any device ONLY after completion of responsibilities.

The results have been WAY more human interaction because there are no screens to park the kid in front of so that I can go clean up or take a break. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to care about the activity and learning books I got for him, which surprised me. He likes picking out stickers and putting them in all sorts of places OUT of the book, though. So, board games, cards, toys, crafting, pillow fighting, running around like kids, shoveling snow, cleaning up together, etc. are what we end up doing. No peace for me, but satisfaction in seeing him stabilize his attitude and ability to have normal human interactions.

My 15yo often tells me that there are so many kids in her cadet unit or school who has social problems, like anxiety, and she just doesn’t get it. She is observing the results of getting too much screen time growing up – there is so much less actual human interaction that the kids are literally deficient in this aspect of life. No wonder they can’t handle human interactions – the screens that raised them have been devoid of all the emotions that go with dealing with people.

I Took the TV, PS4, Wii, DS XL, & iPad Away

Today I suddenly realized we were late for Jiu-Jitsu so I jumped up and told my 5y/o that it was time to go to BJJ. He was playing Minecraft and didn’t want to stop (because he was not done building yet). I said what I always say, and what he has always understood: “It’s ok, bud, the game will wait for you; it will be there when we get back.

Surprisingly, this time he protested – hard. When I was first teaching him the idea that if he is obedient, then the thing he wants will be available, he struggled with it. But, he did get it and we have been doing it very well. That was perhaps a year ago now so I wasn’t expecting a 1.5 hr meltdown that lasted the trip to BJJ, 3/4 of the lesson (on the bench; we left early), the drive home, and still once we were back.

Read More »

Jocko Willink on Parental Leadership – You Can’t Help Your Kids

Skip Ahead

Go ahead and watch/listen to the entire video, it is best to get it all in the proper context. But, if you’re in a hurry, here are some shortcuts to key points:

Ben: What’s the #1 thing you look for in a leader?
Jocko: Take Ownership (of the problem) @ 15:56

Ben: Are there times where you just HAVE to “chew someone out”?
Jocko: There are very few occassions @ 19:36

Ben: What do you do with kids (the challenges)?
Jocko: You gotta give’em guidance, but you have to let them brush up against the guardrails of failure @ 21:18
This is where Jocko discusses NOT helping your kids.

Jocko: Your kids aren’t going to be who you want them to be…
They’re gonna be who they ARE @ 24.37.

After this point the focus is less on kids and more on leadership, so go ahead and check it out.