Thoughts from an Elementary Teacher, Holistic Nutritionist, and product of a homeschooled education…
This is my 10th year of teaching. I’m still not exactly sure where the 2010s went, but here we are… And I never expected that in my 10th year of teaching, I would wake up each morning, pour my coffee, and swallow the reality that I won’t be seeing my students again today.
I put the smile back on my face like a reset button each day, and I continue learning how to best teach and support from behind my computer. Our new “normal” is getting a little easier, I suppose. I’m falling into a routine here, taking comfort that my students are safe and healthy. I miss them, though, and I think of students elsewhere that are not so safe or healthy… and I pray for them.
I know that the new “normal” in your homes is an unbelievable challenge, too, for so many reasons that you don’t need me to tell you! These challenges are valid. I want to simply offer you my thoughts, as an educator and health professional (as well as someone who spent seven years of her own life homeschooled!), for keeping your kids healthy and your days running a little smoother!
10 Tips for Healthy & Happy “Homeschooling”:
1. Create a schedule that works for you. Your schedule doesn’t need to look like the one at your sister’s or neighbor’s house. It doesn’t have to follow what would happen at school. It doesn’t need to be the same for each child in your house. It might be different on different days of the week. That being said, having schedules in place keeps it from feeling too much like a vacation. There’s still a lot of learning to be done!
Kids crave the routine. If I forget to go over the daily schedule in the classroom, I can’t tell you how many, “When is…?” questions I get! Think in blocks of time, sectioning off time for both academic work (packets or computer assignments) and hands-on learning (art projects, cooking, experiments, building, etc). Don’t forget time for snacks and brain breaks. If your child is old enough, consider having him or her help decide what a day of home learning could look like. Put the daily schedule somewhere where it can be easily followed.
2. Keep a consistent sleep schedule, too. There is plenty of research to support that going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is just as important as the amount of sleep you are getting. Staying up late and sleeping in can be fun for your little ones, but it is going to quickly impact their mood and their learning. If the schedule gets shifted an hour or two later right now, great, but stick to whatever times those are!
Read the sleep guidelines recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics here: https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Supports-Childhood-Sleep-Guidelines.aspx
3. Get outside & get moving! It is recommended by the CDC that children and adolescents get at least 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity each day, and that they should include muscle and bone strength in a activity at least 3 days a week. Exercise doesn’t have to be all at once. Schedule in breaks throughout the day. Go for walks or jogs, play games in the yard, jump rope, play sports, put on dance and workout videos, have family fitness competitions… Just keep moving!
Here’s a huge list of fun ways to move at home! https://www.growingajeweledrose.com/2012/11/winter-activities-to-keep-kids-active.html
4. Encourage healthy snacking. I’ve seen the picture below going around Facebook this week. In the morning, the parent adds the snacks, and when they are gone, they are gone! This limits the endless asking or mindless eating, and teaches kids portion and pacing. I LOVE THIS (and should probably start doing it for myself…)
All I would add is to make sure you are offering healthy options: fresh fruit, containers of raw veggies, portioned containers of nuts or trail mix, whole grain crackers, peanut butter, granola bars, etc. Sugary snacks or things with a lot of additives definitely impact behavior and learning.
5. Limit screen time. Expert organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association, agree that school-aged children should have a limit of 2 hours per day of screen time. *Insert panicked gasps here.* I know that seems nearly impossible these days, especially when you have work to do from home too, right?!
Consider ways to cut back: Don’t allow screens in the morning before breakfast, academic work, etc. Set timers, and when they go off, everyone put their devices down and get up and move for 10 minutes! Make books, drawing supplies, building materials, and board games just as accessible as devices. Playing kid-friendly music in the house, or asking Alexa to play a game or tell a joke, can increase screenless mental stimulation. Oh, and no phones or tablets during meal times! (That means parents, too – after you get that great shot of your home-cooked dinner, of course.)
6. Cook something together! Math, science, reading, teamwork, art, nutrition, and fun, all rolled into one! Kids are more inclined to eat healthy meals that they have helped prepare and have ownership over. They consume more vegetables when they have handled them and they seem “safe.” There are actually research studies that show that giving healthy foods a fun name, like “Sarah’s Silly Salads!” or “Olaf’s Oatmeal,” make kids eat more of them, too!
Not sure what healthy meals to try with your kids? Check out these kid-approved plant-based recipes: https://www.ahealthysliceoflife.com/plant-based-kids-meals-snacks/
7. Handwashing, etc… Try my favorite classroom game: Stamp their hands with an ink stamp (a smiley face with washable marker works, too). Any time they wash their hands, they should wash long enough and well enough that the stamp comes off! Kids hear what is being said around them and on the news. Take this opportunity to practice not only hand washing but good hygiene, proper coughing, etc. Watch the video below for more about how germs spread!
8. Socialize, even from a distance. Your kids miss their friends (and obviously their teachers, like yours truly). Adults turn to social media. Where can kids turn? Some ideas: Connect with parents and set your kids up Facebook’s Kids Messanger. Set up virtual playdates through FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom! If you live in a neighborhood, go for walks and chat with neighbors from the sidewalk. Go for a drive and chat from the driveway. Take pictures and send them to friends and classmates.
TALK with you kids about their opinions on topics, ask them to list their favorite things (movies, colors, ice cream flavors, superheros), discuss books they are reading, or what their favorite YouTuber is up to… That’s what they’d be telling me all day long, so now they need to tell you.
9. Find a way to serve others. Do you have elderly family members, neighbors, or community members that could use a card, letter, or picture in the mail? Is there a cause your family is passionate about that you can “earn” change toward? Are there old clothes or toys that could be cleaned out and donated? Could food or groceries be delivered to someone who can’t get out? Could you make a picture or poster to hang on your door or window, offering encouragement to others? Is there something you can do to thank your mail deliver or garbage collectors?
(Hint: The answer to all of these is yes.)
10. Encourage Growth Mindset. Growth Mindset is the belief that you have the ability to improve your intelligence through effort and the use of good strategies. It is different from a Fixed Mindset, which can cause someone to think things like, “This is just too hard, I’ll never be able to do it!” Encourage your kids to build a Growth Mindset by using phrases like the ones on this poster.
I know that these days are challenging.
Life is hard. But as my class always says,
You can do hard things.
You are tough and capable (even when it doesn’t feel like it sometimes) of raising kids who are healthy and happy and LOVED.
Teachers miss your kids, and they want to support you. Let them know what you need.
Let me know what you need, too. They say, “It takes a village”… Well I say, it takes a WORLD.
❤️ Stephanie / Ms. Genco
What do you think? Do any of these changes inspire you? I’d love to hear from you!