According to a UNESCO report dated over a week ago, over 300 million children worldwide already were no longer in school due to coronavirus closures. That number is quickly rising as more cities and entire countries go on lockdown. Suddenly, parents and caregivers are left with the unexpected and often overwhelming task of teaching or at least helping to educate their kids – many while attempting to work remotely themselves. It’s one thing to entertain your child all day on the weekends, and a whole other ballgame when you have seven days to fill with activities for the foreseeable future, possibly while locked in a small apartment, potentially while also trying to keep up with your own job.
Here, four founders and leaders of children’s educational companies share their tips on how you can survive school closures and even help your kids thrive with at-home learning while you work from home.
Elinor Huang is the founder and CEO of MEandMine.
· Elinor Huang, Founder and CEO of MEandMine
Elinor Huang, the founder and CEO of MEandMine, is also a mother of two. MEandMine creates educational play kits (a new read-play-experience that comes with a book and hands-on projects) that make a child’s journey of self-discovery and social-emotional learning a fun, inspiring and interactive adventure.
The creation of MEandMine began with Huang and a team of pediatricians, educators, psychologists, and Silicon Valley power moms talking and realizing that kids these days are growing up in a world where performance is king. Oftentimes, even young children can become overwhelmed with performance-based expectations. Huang herself has a background in healthcare. As a professional and mother, she saw the need for a greater focus on social-emotional learning in the early years.
A conversation with the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University revealed to Huang that from as early as three years old, the foundation of a child’s social-emotional development is built into the architecture of their brain. Social-emotional development is highly correlated with the development of problem-solving skills that contribute to a child’s fulfillment in life.
After chatting with 1000 parents across the U.S. of different backgrounds and various parenting skills, Huang realized that they all had one thing in common: the deepest hope was for their children to develop a resilient core through a fundamental love of self and ability to make healthy life choices. She set out to create products that would help parents facilitate the development of those skills in their kids. “As parents, the best gift we can give to our little ones is to empower them to have fun with challenges, make friends with uncertainties, and discover the magic hidden inside them,” Huang says.
Here, Huang offers her top tips for homeschooling:
1. Keep a routine. Design schedules with your children and keep to the same usual routine as much as possible. This is critical.
2. Incorporate both seated and active activities. Alternate these to keep engagement high.
3. Use checkboxes to keep your kids engaged and take responsibility for their daily schedules. After each item is complete, have your kids check it off the list.
4. Make time for free play. Free time allows for creative activity and spontaneous free improvisation. Do these play breaks every two hours to foster their imaginations.
5. Hype things up with real-life explorations. Your curriculum doesn’t have to be all about academics! Teach your children about completing chores, cooking a meal, sewing a button, gardening, baking, knitting, etc. Do scavenger hunts while out on a walk or playing in the backyard. Make a list of native trees, plants, and flowers with your kids. To make it more advanced, have the kids choose their favorite plants and do research on them, draw them and add interesting facts about them.
6. Encourage collaborative play. Conflicts between siblings are very common, especially when they are spending hours at home. MEandMine play kits offer sibling add-ons and are designed for multiple players. If you have more than one kid at home, it’s important for each to have a role, while also empowering them to team up on a common goal.
7. Have your kiddos teach you. Let them pick a theme-based project that they are good at or interested in. It can be anything from their favorite toys to travel destinations. Have them do a show and tell to teach you about this place or object.
8. Put technology to good use. There are so many free online lessons, virtual museum tours, and music performances being put out by individuals and organizations.
9. Hold virtual playdates. Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Use web conferencing to build in social time, connecting your children with their peers and loved ones, like grandparents. They can talk about the books they’ve read, crafts they’ve build, or anything fun they did during the week.
10. Talk about what’s going on. It is pertinent and necessary to talk about coronavirus and its impact on the world. With the many changes and disruptions that have taken place, children can often feel confused, scared and anxious. Find some time to talk about what they need to know about the virus, how they can protect themselves and others, and generally just allow them to express any feelings they have about what’s going on.
Charmaine Pattinson is the founder of Plinkit.
· Charmaine Pattinson, Founder of Plinkit
Plinkit is a leading online resource for early childhood development designed for children ages two to six. Content is written by experts and designed for busy parents. From social skills, to challenging behavior, to life readiness, to pre-academic skills, Plinkit provides a curated roadmap for intentional parents. The company hosts master classes in preschool communities in the Bay Area, as well as workshops among progressive employers.
Here, Charmaine Pattinson, the founder of Plinkit, offers her tips for balancing schoolwork, your work, and self-care – when it’s all being done from home.
1. Keep a clear and simple routine. Having a schedule provides security for children. When they feel secure, safe and stable, their minds are open and ready for learning. Once a routine is established, you will find time for your own to-do list while your children are engaged in their tasks. This is also a great way to promote independence.
2. Allow for variety with the routine. Even with a routine, be sure to have time for unstructured play throughout the day – a lot! Children need brain breaks to be able to focus on the heavier subjects.
3. Give yourself the space and time to do the work you need to get done. Model respectful patterns of communication by planning your own work with your child. Developing patience is a learned skill that comes with developmental maturity for a young child. But it is equally important for your child to respect that you have boundaries and other commitments. For example, you can say, “I see you are really excited about something. I’m talking to Leila at work right now on the phone. It will be your turn as soon as I’m done.”
4. Be kind to yourself and your child. Many people in a home with differing interests for an extended period of time is a recipe for conflict and short tempers. As challenging as it is, the resilience and flexibility it builds in all of us is a gift. Try not to sweat the small stuff.
5. Introduce or increase the number of chores. Do not be afraid to designate significant time for your child to help take care of the house. Chores are important life skills – not to mention they build visual-spatial and executive functioning skills.
6. Institute independent quiet time and stick with it. You do not need to be ‘on’ constantly just because you are at home together at all times. Children need physical and emotional space from you and from each other, even if they are not able to articulate it.
7. Build family time into every day. Get serious about taking time each day as a family and play together! Go on a walk, play tag, read together, start a puzzle, play a board game. Your child will remember these moments; they fill everyone’s buckets.
Elena Favilli is the founder and CEO of Rebel Girls.
· Elena Favilli, Founder and CEO of Rebel Girls
The Rebel Girls franchise aims to be an educational resource for both parents and children as we work together to pilot the uncharted territory of coronavirus. The company creates books, podcasts and interactive journals. Right now, Rebel Girls is offering 40% off of all books and free shipping. Additionally, the company is doing a free digital giveaway of the entire PDF of the “I Am A Rebel Girl” journal, which includes activities at the end of each chapter. For parents who are looking to minimize screen time, Rebel Girls will be rearranging their podcast episodes in chronological order on Spotify in order to create a “Rebel Girls Through History” audio class, available for free.
Here, Elena Favilli, the founder and CEO of Rebel Girls, offers her tips for homeschooling:
1. Keep up with routines in the household or replace your old routines with new ones. Do you typically walk to the bus with your kids in the morning? Instead you could use that time to cook breakfast together, puzzle as a family, or listen to a podcast (Rebel Girls has a great one!) Establishing routines can help create a sense of normalcy for your family.
2. Create a soothing bedtime routine. Some parents have told us that their kids are having a harder time sleeping at night. If you don’t already have a soothing bedtime routine, now is the time to make one. Try to dedicate at least 45 minutes to prepare for bed. Turn-off all screens, read an inspiring book, and put your children to sleep with happy thoughts. If your kids are having nightmares, this is a great opportunity to open up the conversation around sleep. Ask them about their dreams or supply a journal to write them down. I also recommend watching this video together, which explains the science behind dreaming.
3. Boost creativity and independence. Establish dedicated solo time every day. It’s important to give your kids personal space, especially as your family adjusts to spending more time together. If possible, have everyone work from a separate room, or break out that old tent. Alternatively, you could supply your kids with materials to build their own fort.
4. Give yourself a break. Try to appreciate this increased time with your family by practicing calming activities together, like yoga and meditation. Being aware of your family’s needs on a day-to-day basis can help relieve the pressure to “do it all.” Every day is different, and nobody expects you to carry out a perfectly formed schedule. Above all, don’t forget to prioritize your health and happiness.
Jessica Rolph is the cofounder and CEO of Lovevery.
· Jessica Rolph, Cofounder and CEO of Lovevery
Lovevery is an award-winning early learning platform for stage-based play. Lovevery’s play products and guidance for parents are created with child development experts to promote brain development and give children the best possible start. Lovevery products include The Play Kits, The Block Set, The Play Gym and various other play products.
Here, Lovevery Cofounder and CEO Jessica Rolph shares her tips for keeping at-home learning simple and inexpensive, while still highly engaging and effective for your children.
1. Read out loud.
These are super tricky times, so take this advice from wherever you are. We don’t need to buy up all the workbooks on Amazon, do time-consuming crafts, or spend money on expensive at-home lessons. Learning from home actually can look pretty simple. What might be surprising about this is that it applies to all ages of young kids, from babies to early elementary school.
The top thing we can do to help our kids right now is read out loud – to our babies, toddlers, and even older kids who can read on their own. The emphasis for children from birth to age five doesn’t need to be memorizing the ABCs or trying to teach them to sight read words. And for older kids, with less distractions right now, home education goals can be as simple as re-igniting what educators call “print motivation,” a genuine love of reading.
Reading is the foundation for academic success and opens the door to math, science, art, and pretty much everything. The best way to “teach” grammar, spelling, and vocabulary – even empathy and writing – is by exposing your child to print. Fun fact: children’s picture books contain 50% more rare words than primetime TV or college students’ conversations!
Research shows that children can hear and understand stories that are more complicated and more interesting than what they could read on their own. They are also getting a richer vocabulary from the books you read to them, especially when you pause and explain new words.
Even if you think your kids are “too old” to be read to, try to find times to read to your children. Even a few minutes at a time can make a big difference.
2. Play with blocks.
My second super simple piece of advice is to make time for block play. Blocks are a classic in early education. Very few toys, even in their simplest form, offer the same advantages blocks do, from emotional growth and resilience, to art and visual-spatial practice, to the more obvious engineering aspects.
There are whole courses in child development programs that educate teachers on the developmental benefits of block play. But Lovevery’s parent research discovered that kids were no longer really playing with blocks. Blocks have been replaced with magnetic tiles. These are great for open-ended play, but aren’t the same because they click together and don’t teach balance and engineering the same way a classic block set does.
Babies love to bang blocks and put them in and out of containers. Three-year-olds are learning to build towers higher and higher. At four, if they have been exposed to blocks a lot, children will start building wider and taller structures, and incorporating fantasy play. Block play is relevant for older kids much longer than you might think. First grade teachers often include blocks in their classrooms because of the rich learning about space, balance, engineering and math.
Take this time to see what your children discover in open-ended, screen-free play. They get so little free time in regular life, yet undirected play is linked to big cognitive and social-emotional benefits. Children adapt quickly when screens aren’t available. I find that about 10 minutes after my kids start whining about being bored, they are immersed in something I never would have thought of.