DAVID MURPHY, ED.D. TEACHER, SPEAKER, AND OWNER OF EFFECTIVE EFFORT CONSULTING.
Schools are getting their act together but it may take our kids a little bit more time to adjust to the changes. Teachers are distributing required content to students using LMS platforms like Schoology and through online video platforms like Zoom. The assignments are no longer optional, but there are debates about how these assignments will be evaluated and how much new content can be expected for our homeschooled students. The concern at this point is how students are doing and whether or not they have made an effective transition into the homeschool or remote learning mindset. Even though this is uncharted territory for everybody, there is an expectation that our elementary, middle and high school students should be able to engage in some level of academic learning within the home. Many kids have jumped at this opportunity for self-initiation and self-exploration and make it look easy. They are grabbing books, board games, and engaging in the world around them with a self-directed interest. Others are still stuck in a spiral of dysregulation. Maybe their habits are consumed with video games and other dopamine rich activities. In most cases, parents have to step in and do what they can to help their child organize their thinking and behavior to create some structure and balance of priorities. Below is a list of recommendations for parents that can help make the most of this crazy time.
Create a meaningful schedule for you and your children during homeschooling. This should be a child-directed discussion, but with the guidance of parents. This promotes a positive and child-centered dialogue around the balance of things – chores, assignments, free time, screen time. No kid who has ambitions for college should ignore the value of this conversation. Creating a schedule that independently balances school work and free time is what every college kid has to do. It is the foundation of college readiness skills.
Discuss opportunities within these weeks to learn and take on new challenges. This discussion should focus on personal strengths and interests. There should be goals set that are simple and obtainable around activities that match your child’s personal growth. They can start with this question “what challenges do you want to set for yourself this week?” It can be learning to ride a bike, writing a short story, learning to play chess, or make a lasagna dinner. There are no rules for this discussion. Personally, my daughter loves to write and run. She and I discuss the challenge of writing a short story every day and running 7 days in a row. We then created something called “open mic night” where the family gets to share our stories or give a performance. Again, there are no rules to this. It should be meaningful and positive.
The third recommendation is to connect our kids to parenting and family obligations. There should be clearly described expectations around roles and responsibilities. Again, let your child be part of the discussion. Parents can think beyond chores, and explore opportunities that did not present themselves before. Children can take an active role in dinner time, laundry time, clean-up time, and other major family and parenting responsibilities. These activities are extremely affirming to any student. It gives them a sense of responsibility and strengthens their personal identity. It feels good to be helpful, especially with those you love.
Stay unplugged and promote time in the family for ‘quiet time’. This can be a chance for reading, board games, or simple conversation. This notion of quiet time has been lost in the over-scheduled lives we live in. We are now faced with an opportunity that we should not ignore. As long as we are healthy, then we should be able to look back at this period of time with fondness and gratitude for how it helped the family. As a teacher, I see the reading struggle first hand. Too many students don’t read and therefore can’t study, or manage higher-order thinking requirements. If there is a silver lining to forced quarantine, it’s ample time to connect with reading.
Take time to connect with your kids. Reset all pre-existing expectations and take every moment to connect and listen to your children. Corona-cation gives us a chance to pause on all the challenges our children face each day. It gives us a chance to connect with our kids in ways we may have missed before. Who are they? What are their innate gifts and interests? Too many times we jump in and solve our children’s problems and we just tell them what to do. At this point, we are blessed with a gift of time to connect, to listen, to affirm, and to discuss problems and solutions.
Relax, breathe and take care of yourself. Too many parents put their children first and ignore themselves. This is not a recipe for long-term success. See what you can do to create your own schedule. Maybe there’s a book still on your nightstand that has yet to be finished. Maybe there is an online yoga course that you have been trying to start. Or maybe you need to stop making dinners and see how your children step in to provide for you.
Talk to your kids about doing a dopamine detox. If college readiness skills are your concern, now is a great time to discuss them. College success is based more on effective management of life skills, than on one’s capacity to learn. Success in college and in life is based on how we direct our attention and manage life’s priorities. At this point, many middle school and high school students struggle with what this means. Their life is consumed with the dopamine fix found in social media and gaming. Is it worth considering a dopamine detox? A dopamine detox is a process of changing the brain’s relationship with dopamine rich activities. When compared to gaming and YouTube, many teenagers find life boring and relatively meaningless. Those with ADHD find it even harder than most to disengage from these high-interest activities. Therefore, learning to prioritize and manage the mundane responsibilities of life becomes a life challenge exacerbated by screen addiction. This last recommendation is not easy but maybe an extremely important challenge for a teenager to take on.
All the best and be well, David