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When the school year began, it's safe to say that no one envisioned a pandemic would shutter our schools and force our classrooms online. I debated homeschooling my own son just a few months prior to his enrollment in kindergarten, but decided he would try school out. We did not sign up for distance learning, and my son's teacher didn't either!
I spoke to a teacher friend recently about her newfound responsibilities while teaching from home, and she said, "I feel like I have a new job that I never applied for, and I don't like." Suddenly forced to learn an entirely new set of tools, use those tools to reach all of their students, and—in many cases—teach their own children at home as well, many teachers are struggling.
Teacher Appreciation Week (May 4-8, 2020) has taken on a new meaning in this time of distance learning. No longer can parents, Parent-Teacher Organizations (PTOs), and school administrators show their gratitude for teachers with Taco Tuesdays. Even though showing our gratitude as parents will be different, it’s still possible to thank them on a daily basis!
Here are some ideas to show your child’s teacher some appreciation while social distancing:
- Keep it positive. Refrain from voicing your opinion about every decision teachers make and be supportive. One week, I got three different emails from school that described three different processes for doing the same thing. Although frustrated, I refrained from writing the teacher about it because I knew this was new territory. Teachers are figuring out how to navigate this new system for learning and are writing the guidebook as they go. If you are confused about something or need help, definitely reach out. Teachers want to help, but be mindful of the tone in which you’re asking.
- Follow instructions, no matter how tedious. Teachers understand that what they’re asking of parents and students can be burdensome, but they're asking for a good reason: it will help them and our children. When teachers ask us to navigate some new process for submitting our children's assignments, we can support them by following their instructions. It's also a good opportunity to share with your child that sometimes things can be frustrating. Help them work on being patient and show them how to take some time out to calm down and feel better.
- Send in videos talking about assignments. Whenever it’s possible or realistic—check with the teacher to make sure it's helpful—send in a video with your child speaking about their assignment. Teachers rely on student's verbalized thoughts to help them assess how much a child understands. Hearing your child’s voice will not only put a smile on their teacher's face, but will help them assess student learning as well. Check with your teacher to see how they want to receive these. I’ve used the free web-based tool Vocaroo for audio recordings and my phone for video recordings.
- Write a thank-you email. Teachers appreciate hearing from parents, especially when the correspondence is about something positive. Send a thank-you email to your child’s teachers, and be specific about what you appreciate. For example, my child's teachers always write an email response for every assignment he submits. I love this because I know that they got his assignment, and he gets a note from his teacher. This is one thing I want to thank them for!
- Help kids write a letter to the teacher. Educators love hearing from their students. Have your child show some love to their teachers by writing a letter or sharing kind wishes with pictures. These engaging activities help keep your child focused on positive thoughts and gratitude. You can either mail your child's work or email pictures of it until they can deliver it to their teacher in person.
- Give a shout-out to teachers on social media. If your school or PTO has a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media page, you can write a post thanking teachers. Ask other parents to comment on the thread about why they appreciate their kids' teachers. Have people tag teachers they know to share the supportive messages. Your child’s teacher may see the message, and it will inspire other parents to think about teachers and the hard work they put in to educate their students.
- Send a gift card. You may not be able to see your child’s teacher in person, but many stores and websites allow you to send gift cards through mail or email. If you were planning on sending teachers some monetary encouragement anyway, electronic or mailed gift cards can be a good alternative to that gift card you might have hand-delivered under normal circumstances.
- Send them a meal. We cannot buy teachers a coffee or bring them breakfast, but we can still serve them. Some restaurants will deliver within certain areas, while many others use delivery services, such as PostMates, GrubHub, DoorDash, and so on. During this time, most restaurants will provide delivery options on their websites, or you can call the restaurant directly. Be sure to coordinate with your child's teacher before placing any orders.
- Volunteer to help the PTO. PTOs are thinking of ways to support teachers. Your school’s PTO may have some ideas for you, or they may be able to put you to work.
- Hang a poster on your window. Window art is all the rage right now. Neighbors are walking around admiring children's artwork and posting art in their own windows. Have your child make a poster thanking their teacher, hang it on a front window, and let your teacher know it's there! It will be a great way to offer teachers some encouragement and inspire neighbors to do the same.
Whether educators are in their classrooms or on a video conference call, they are still changing the world one student at a time. Let’s appreciate their efforts and help them in any way we can.
I am the parent of a middle schooler, and I'm here as the voice of the future for parents of younger children.
Even when we're not in the middle of a global pandemic, parenting a middle-school kiddo is full of drama—there's sweetness and heartbreaking vulnerability and unpredictable mood swings and crushes and screen time battles and mean girls. It's also a time when your kids need you more and simultaneously pull away from you and focus on their friends. This is incredibly bittersweet as your baby is growing up and making her own decisions with her own agendas, while at the same time she is—maddeningly—making her own decisions with her own agendas!
Speaking from the future, I want to share some important words of wisdom for parents of young kids: create family rituals. They help us stay connected and grounded, especially when everything else feels like it's spinning out of control. We had many rituals when my daughter was young. When she became too "cool" for us, we set aside many of the old ones in favor of a Netflix movie night and the occasional Sunday hike.
Family rituals are different from habits. Rituals are done intentionally with the purpose of creating and sustaining closeness between family members or other groups. Habits happen unconsciously, or without thought. On the surface, rituals and habits can look the same, but rituals have a deeper psychological benefit, particularly during unstable times. Behavioral neuroscientist Nick Hobson, Ph.D., writes that engaging in these ritual activities amid stress can "trick the brain into thinking that it's experiencing the pleasant state of predictability and stability."
Rituals can be done daily, weekly, monthly, or during special times. The important thing is for the rituals to be consistent and predictable.
Predictability: A Three-Part Structure
Dr William J. Doherty, author of The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties, writes that meaningful family rituals are composed of three parts, or phases: Transition, Enactment, and Exit.
- The Transition Phase signals to all family members that the ritual is about to begin and you can focus yourselves on connecting. Lighting candles at the dinner table is a good way to signify to everyone that the special time is beginning. When my kiddo was younger, we used to hold hands before a meal and say, "Thanks to all the creatures great and small who made this meal possible," with each person saying one word at a time around the circle until we came to the end. At a certain point, we went crazy and added other words like "and nutritious," "and delicious," "and yummy," which would go on forever until someone became impatient and dove in.
- The Enactment Phase brings everyone together in a shared activity, during which you are connecting and sharing authentically. This might be the dinner itself or a bedtime ritual. Many families play the game Rose and Thorn, in which you share the highlights of your day (rose), the biggest challenge (thorn), and maybe something you're looking forward to or are grateful for (bud). Try to be as specific as possible. Gratitude for little things is a practice that builds resilience, as does talking in an age-appropriate way about your frustrations and how you intend to approach them tomorrow. When you reflect on your challenges and thoughtful responses, you are modeling good behavior and decision-making as well as the messy but critical skill of grappling with uncertainty.
- The Exit Phase signifies to everyone that the ritual is over. Blowing out candles, a bedtime kiss, or a secret handshake all work here. For our daughter's bedtime, we had an elaborate combination of kissing both sides of her face plus a Kissing Hand from the classic children's book. We would kiss her palm and she would kiss ours, and we'd put our hands over our hearts and make a little whsssh! sound.
With so much uncertainty these days--not to mention the fact that we're all home and in each other's faces a lot now--rituals provide a predictable structure for us to enter into quality time with each other and deepen our connections as a family. While our family is sheltering in place, we brought back the ritual of thanking all the creatures great and small who made the meal possible. This simple ritual inspires thoughtful conversations of all the incredible interdependence of those who provide food--the farmers who grew the wheat, the packaging designers, the delivery people, the people behind the FDA standards, the folks at the grocery store.
Although rituals started during this difficult time may fall away once the world starts up again, the groundwork is laid. As your family's time starts filling up, talk about which rituals are the most meaningful to them and find ways to adapt them to your lives. When you start building rituals while your kids are young, there's a good chance they will be more resilient and maybe develop resilience-building rituals of their own.
More Resources for Ritual-Making
- "Family Rituals: What Are They?" Raising Children Australia
- "A Dozen Fun Family Rituals," HealthyChildren.org
- 14 Family Rituals to Savor Life, Parents
- The Importance of Rituals and Routines for Families, HuffPost
- Creating Everyday Rituals that are Meaningful for Your Family, Psychology Today
"Bangun, bangun, bangun!"
My dad used to call these Malay words for "Wake up, wake up, wake up!" before dawn so my siblings and I could eat sahur before the sun rose during the month of Ramadan. Growing up Muslim in Malaysia, I have fond memories of those early mornings and preparing to fast. At sunset, the streets were quiet and empty as Muslim families all over the neighborhood gathered in their houses for iftar when we could finally eat again. It was a special and sacred time of year.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Islam follows the lunar calendar, and the dates for Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr--the celebration at the end of Ramadan—change every year. During this holy month, Muslims renew their spiritual beliefs by abstaining from all food and liquids from sunrise to sundown. Children, the elderly, those who are sick, and pregnant women do not have to fast. It is a time of generosity and reflection, and Muslims often perform good deeds by engaging in charity and partaking in additional spiritual activities, such as extra prayers or Quran readings at the mosque.
The Quran is the holy book of Islam, like the Bible in Christianity or the Torah in Judaism. According to the Quran, during this holy month, the Prophet Muhammad, the last and most important prophet in Islam, received the revelations of the Quran from Allah, or God. For Muslims around the world, Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr are the most celebrated occasions of the year.
Families celebrate Eid al-Fitr by visiting each others' homes, cooking up feasts of traditional foods, and donning new festive clothes. Children typically receive envelopes containing money as they visit their extended family and friends' houses. People play traditional music and set off fireworks as well. The lively and joyful festival goes on for a few days.
If you are interested in exploring the Ramadan or Eid al-Fitr celebrations with your children, try the following activities:
- Read Lailah's Lunchbox. This Ramadan-themed story by Reem Faruqi and Lea Lyon is about a Muslim girl who figures out a way to help her classmates understand her religion and its traditions.
- Decorate a Ramadan Coloring Page. Arabic calligraphy is beautiful. Your child can get creative as they color this calligraphy page that says, "Generous Ramadan."
- Make Mosque Pictures. Help your child find their inner architect with this Ramadan-themed art activity.
- Complete What Is Ramadan? Learn more about Ramadan by filling in the blanks and reading this passage.
- Make a Crescent Moon and Star. The crescent moon and star is the symbol of Islam. It is especially important for Ramadan because the sighting of the new crescent moon marks the beginning and end of the holy month.
- Compare and connect. Discuss parallels between Ramadan and fasting with your religion or another faith you have learned about. One example may be giving up something for Lent before Easter.
Islam is one of the major religions with around 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide. Learning about other faiths and traditions fosters tolerance and empathy—important skills for all of our young people.
Depending on where you live, you're likely spending a lot of time at home. Yet as the days get longer, the sun grows warmer, and new shoots spring forth from trees, it is a good time to bring your children outdoors and celebrate Earth Day.
This is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which began as a response to an environment in crisis. Even as we are confined indoors, the day still brings awareness to the importance of helping clean our planet and appreciate its wondrous beauty. Celebrate the planet and all its inhabitants this Earth Day with some simple activities you can do from home.
- Virtually Tour U.S. National Parks. Google Earth provides easy access for people at home to explore some the of the United States' natural wonders. While there is no great substitute for the real thing, the photography is stunning and is sure to make you want to visit. After you've checked out a few parks, have a conversation with your learners about which ones they would like to visit someday. You can even create a bucket list of parks to visit.
- Discover Earth from Space. NASA has curated some amazing images of our beautiful planet. Explore different regions, cloud patterns, city lights and even the aurora borealis--from space!
- Explore the Messages of Earth Day Art Installations. Peruse the Earth Day website's artist gallery, or look at a few of the pieces linked below. Ask your learners about what they see, what they wonder, and why the artists would use certain elements. Prompt them to think about the message each piece is trying to show by asking questions such as, "What is the artist's point of view?" or "How does the artist feel about Earth?" Possibilities for conversation abound, and your children may be inspired to create some art of their own!
- Write a Letter to Earth. After your learners virtually explore Earth, challenge them to think of things they appreciate about the planet and write a Love Letter to the Earth. This is a great way for kids to practice their writing skills and think about what they appreciate most about the planet. Looking for more resources? Check out this Earth Day Bingo worksheet or other Education.com Earth Day worksheets and activities!
- Recycle and Reuse Materials. Simple, eco-friendly lifestyle changes can help the planet. Choose products with materials that can be recycled to help reduce waste. If something cannot be recycled, reuse it! If you can't reuse the items, instead of throwing them away, share them with neighbors or donate them.
- Clean Up Your Yard and Neighborhood. I live in a fairly windy area, and every trash day, bits of paper and plastic blown about during the transfer from bin to truck litter the yard. Grab a bag and some gloves and take a walk with your children around the block to pick up any garbage you see. Do you know that most of the plastic in the ocean is blown there by the wind? Litter left on the ground can blow into rivers and streams that flow into the ocean.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors. There are so many things your children can do outdoors, even if they're just outside your front door:
- Trace your children's shadow with chalk, and have your artists add details to create a character.
- Dance or do other physical workouts.
- Build a birdhouse or bird feeder.
- Bring the inside toys outside for a new playtime experience.
- Play yard games.
- Have storytime outside.
- Plant a garden or seed your grass.
However you choose to celebrate the planet this Earth Day, I hope your time is filled with learning, laughter, and family.
Our world is undergoing rapid and considerable change as schools close and parents scramble to figure out how to support their children as they learn from home. In this post, I will share some of the best Education.com resources for parents who are taking on this new role as their child's primary teacher.
If your child is experiencing confusion about why their daily routines have been flipped upside down, please review the post "Tackling Tough Topics with Young Children" as a primer to help navigate these uncharted waters.
Here are some additional blog posts to provide information and ideas about how to best use your time with your child while at home:
- Social Emotional Wellness. These blog posts feature important mental and emotional tools to help for children to develop. This includes handling stress, feelings, and different situations.
- Reading. These blog posts focus on ways to support your child as a reader.
- Math. These math-focused posts share ideas about how you can incorporate and strengthen your child's math skills in fun and creative ways.
Art and Music. Along with the academics,it is super important to establish time for creative activities--especially during stressful times. Allow your child to move, create, and express themselves. These posts offer some ideas for amazing stress busters, too!
- "5 Ideas to Teach Children Creative Expression Through Dance"
- "10 Recommended Netflix Shows for Young Children"
- "Using Sensory Play to Support Brain Development"
- "3 Mindful Twists on Classic Games for Young Children"
- "10 Quick Brain Breaks to Increase Your Child's Focus"
- "12 Art Activities to Build Literacy Skills"