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.

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!

Help Your Child With Separation Anxiety

I take my 5-year-old to school every morning and we are often one of the first to arrive. I like to stick around to watch him play, and I talk to some parents. At the beginning of the school year (such as now), almost every morning I see a child grasping desperately at their mom or dad as they’re left in the schoolyard. It breaks my heart to see that. They’re screaming, crying, trying everything they can to not be left behind by the most important person in their world.

In these moments I’m thankful to my boy for not doing that. Last year he did do it once or twice, briefly, but we got through it together and he went into school with minimal tears.

So, this morning, after watching 3 different kids fall apart as their parents left them, I decided to look into what parents can do. Here’s what I found:

Separation Anxiety

During the First Days of Kindergarten

Tips For Parents And Caregivers

Read More »

Parenting Tip: Don’t BE the Bully

Kids going to school in the 80s and 90s did not get the same exposure to “bullying” as kids do now. The bully back then was a real stand-out kid, the stereotypical macho, hyper-aggressive, low-intellect, unhygienic, knuckle-dragging waste of human flesh. Well, that’s I looked at them.

The Bullying Paradox

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Are You Sure That’s Bullying?

“When we fail to distinguish between bullying and ordinary meanness, we trivialize the very serious cases of peer abuse,”

–Eileen Kennedy-Moore

Here’s a link to an interesting article from the Washington Post: Not all unkindness is bullying. Here’s why we need to teach kids to differentiate. by Braden Bell.

In this article the author discusses witnessing students in his classes develop differently as a result of their parents being too quick to label negative behaviours as bullying.

Here’s a summary of the ideas, but go check it out in full:

Read More »

Parents Must Step Back

“the ultimate goal of all parenting should be to help our children be autonomous and competent.”

–Jessica Lahey

Here’s a link to an interesting article from the Washington Post: To raise independent kids, treat middle school like a dress rehearsal for life by Braden Bell.

In this article the author discusses his 5th child attending middle school where he is a teacher, and very clearly describes the things he will be teaching his child – indirectly and sometimes directly.

Here’s a summary of the ideas, but go check it out in full:

Read More »

Do Not Touch ANY of The Kids at School!

If you’ve read the post below about me playing with my kids’ friends in the school yard when I drop them off in the morning, then here’s the update that I am certain at least one person was some of you were expecting.

The principal called again. The story that she told is as follows: she was in the office this morning and overheard two boys talking about that guy in the yard (meaning me). One of the boys said, “He didn’t touch me.” I suppose he was bragging that I hadn’t tagged him this morning when we all played tag. This caught the principal’s attention, and I can only assume, that she then spoke to those boys long enough to confirm that it was indeed me.

Before I get into the call I want to add that this morning’s tag was pretty good! One little guy came up to me and asked me a question. I thought that I gave a clever answer but he informed me that the correct answer was “TAG! You’re it!”Read More »

Playing Before School Starts

EVERY morning I take my girls (8 and 10) to school, and on many mornings we get there in time to play before the bell. Play usually includes me picking up my girls and putting them on my back and/or playing tag.

This ALWAYS leads to more kids wanting to play, and I always welcome them to join in. The other kids like to play tag with me – specifically the boys because they are usually more athletic and want to try to catch me. The other girls like to be chased and have me come to them. It’s a balancing act between my fun chasing and evading, and not losing sight of my own girls and making sure I play with them too.

Many of the other kids like to play rough with me and want me to pick them up, like I do with my own kids. I usually don’t but by this time in the school year there are a few kids that I’ve seem repeatedly and I’ve built a bit of a familiarity with them, so I will, on occasion, pick them up too. What’s interesting about that kind of contact playing is that I can see in the eyes and body language of so many children that they are interested in it, but something prevents them from getting THAT close to me. I’m not complaining because I think that’s good to see the critical thinking on their part.

There are some kids who go insane when I pick them up or hold them and help them jump higher than they normally can. It’s as though they’ve never been given attention from another human before and they’re so excited that they run away from me jumping and screaming!Read More »

What to do at home if your child is having behavior problems at school

by Ann Bartz,

While children can display a wide range of behavior problems in school, from disruptive talking in the classroom to fighting and name-calling on the playground, the reasons for bad behavior are usually simple. “If a child is acting out a lot in school, my assumption is either that he’s having strong feelings and needs a hand with getting those feelings out, or that something in school is really not working for him,” says Alison Ehara-Brown, a licensed clinical social worker and school consultant in Berkeley, Calif. As a parent, you can try to change the situation in school so your child has a better time there. You can also help your child at home, by understanding how his feelings are getting in his way and giving him the means to express them.

“Children carry little packages of bad feelings that shut their thinking down if something triggers those feelings,” says Patty Wipfler, a parent trainer and founder of the Parents Leadership Institute in Palo Alto, Calif. “Sometimes it’s mathematics that does it; sometimes it’s other children looking happy and relaxed when he doesn’t feel that way.” When a child’s thinking shuts down, he may do something inappropriate because his ability to think before he acts is temporarily gone.

How to help your child at home

Don’t punish your child. Children aren’t to blame for having bad feelings, says Wipfler. “It’s not something they asked for. Your child isn’t bad, and you’re not bad for having a child with a behavior problem; these things just happen.” Punishment for bad behavior will only make your child feel terrible about himself and prolong the difficulty by further shutting down his thinking.

Think about what’s going on in your child’s life. Is he dealing with a big, one-time event, like a divorce or a death in the family, or smaller stressors over the long term, like teasing from an older sibling or pressure from a critical parent? Criticism can sap a child’s positive feelings about himself; teasing can leave him looking for someone smaller or younger to take it out on. If your whole family is weathering a trauma, your child may be trying to handle strong feelings on his own without adding to your burden. You may never know exactly what’s at the root of his difficulty with school, but you don’t need to know in order to help him.

Try talking. Your child may be able to tell you straight out what’s bothering him, or you may have to set up certain conditions first. Children talk to adults when they feel safe, loved, and close. You can give your child that sense of contact either by playing with him vigorously and generously, or by listening to him without judgment or interruption.

Your child may also be more willing to open up if you ask him a positive question first. Someday when you’re lying in the grass at the park, or out for a walk, or riding in the car without being in a hurry, ask in a relaxed tone, “If you could make school any way you wanted, what would it be like?” or “If you could make recess perfect, how would you change it?” You’ll hear about what’s hard at school, but you’ll have bypassed the hopeless feelings that can make children reluctant to talk.

Let your child fall apart. Children keep a lot inside but are always looking for ways to get their feelings out. You can help, says Wipfler, by being ready for “a tantrum, or a rage, or an insistence that something be done in a very particular way or his world will crash: ‘You have to put butter on my mashed potatoes — it can’t be margarine’ or ‘I will not turn off the TV.’ Children will get very particular about a small thing because they have a little volcano of feelings inside that has nothing to do with what they’re getting upset about. But it’s the only way they know to address what they feel.”

This won’t be easy for you as a parent. You may be every bit as cranky as your child at the moment he picks to fall apart, or you may be under a lot of pressure to get something done. But your child will benefit tremendously if you can go down on one knee, put an arm around him, and listen while he cries as long as he needs to. Your child may say things that are difficult to hear — criticism of you, perhaps, or revelations of difficulties you didn’t know he was having. But if he can cry all the way through these feelings, using you as a target, your child will feel heard and understood and will be able to think better in situations that might otherwise throw him. The day after a big emotional release, his behavior in school (and with his friends and with you) will most likely be profoundly better.

Wipfler tells a story of one parent who divorced the father of her two girls and married a new man. One of the daughters was furious about these developments. She was almost unable to do any of the assignments in her 3rd grade class, and at home she brought up the same bad feelings over and over. “Once she hid in the back of a closet and was crying and trembling and perspiring,” says Wipfler. “Her mom stayed out of kicking distance but kept sticking her hand in toward her child and saying, ‘I really love you, and I’m sorry it’s been hard.’ Her daughter was pushing at her hand and yelling and screaming — she had a huge cry.” Finally she decided she was finished and asked for some orange juice. Then she wanted a bath, and her mother filled the tub for her. Five minutes later, the mother heard her daughter singing, “I love my mommy, and I love Steve, I love my life and the flowers everywhere.” Her grades soon went from failing to A-minuses, and her distaste for school evaporated. Her mother, who had been afraid that her daughter would have to struggle with learning issues for the rest of her life, was astounded: In six months of several other outbursts and intense cries the girl had turned it all around. “If a child has an ongoing struggle,” says Wipfler, “it may take listening many times, but you can change a child’s whole life in this way.”

Stay close to your child. You can always help your child have a better day at school if you take time for closeness. Get up a bit earlier to carve out some relaxed time with your child as the day begins; a little bit of snuggling or playful cuddling in the morning can set him up for a better day. He’ll go to school feeling more connected to you, and a little sturdier when he encounters a trigger that usually sets him off.

Play with your child. Set up playtimes with your child so he can get some of the attention he’s seeking by misbehaving at school; you may also get a better sense of what’s on his mind. In his book Building Healthy Minds, Stanley Greenspan, a child psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at George Washington Medical School, advocates “floor time,” or play, as a way to discover what’s bothering a child. “When a child is misbehaving, pretend play can sometimes help reveal what’s on his mind, why he’s so angry and provocative.”

Where can I get further information?

“Listening to Children,” by Patty Wipfler, Parents Leadership Institute, $7. A series of six booklets describes how to work with your child to relieve his fears, frustrations, and anger. Topics include “Special Time,” “Playlistening,” “Crying,” “Tantrums and Indignation,” “Healing Children’s Fears,” and “Reaching for Your Angry Child.” Other books and videotapes are also available, as well as classes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Wildest Colts Make the Best Horses: The Truth About Ritalin, ADHD, and Other Disruptive Behavior Disorders, by John Breeding; Bright Books, 1996. $16.95.

How to Talk So Kids Can Learn: At Home and in School, by Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish, et al.; Fireside, 1995. $13.

The National Institute of Relationship Enhancement offers classes in filial therapy, a branch of family therapy that teaches parents how to use play to help their children.