My name is Julia Cain Murray. I am the Head of Royal Oak School, a teacher and a mom of three.
Being any one of these on any given day makes me a very lucky person — these are three of the best jobs in the world. I’d be remiss however, to say these roles aren’t without challenge, and particularly now. Over the last few days, I have been thinking of you — parents and grandparents, foster parents, aunts, and uncles, as this is an unprecedented time to be a caregiver and a human.
We found out yesterday that schools will not resume on April 6 as we had previously hoped, and now our thoughts turn to the important questions: how can we best engage, nurture, challenge, and keep, our kids “on track.” Though I have lived in the world of education for 14 years, having worked with universities, ministries and private, public, and community schools alike, I have been stumped at times these last few days about how best to meet my kids’ needs. Our mental health as a collective community, as families, parents and children, is the most important thing always, but at a time like this especially so, as anxieties are at an all-time high and uncertainties abound.
I wanted to share where my mind has settled with regards to helping our kids learn at home, in case it can be of help to other families out there.
Get out of pyjamas. If your child stays on track with school week routines, getting a good night’s sleep with a regular bedtime, waking up and getting dressed, having breakfast and really preparing for a full day, they will be more productive.
Hardest first. Children tend to be most energetic and attentive in the morning. Whatever subject area is most challenging for your child is best at the beginning of the day.
Involve your kids in the planning. The night before, I sit down with my kids and a schedule with five blocks in it, and ask them to pick one outdoor activity they want to do, one “life skill” activity they want to do (helping out around the house, baking, cooking, raking leaves, walking the dog), and then choose when they tackle language and science (math always comes first for us though). Children buy in to having some control and choice over their day, and this sets a great expectation for participation as well as mutual respect.
When at all possible, make learning a game. Games are one of my favourite teaching tools in the classroom, because they help children practice skills over and over to mastery, without them even realizing it. Putting a worksheet in front of a child and asking them to solve equation after equation will have you both pulling your hair out in no time, but a game of BINGO where you are finding five math answers in a row for B-I-N-G-O, and creating the equations – that’s fun.
Take breaks often, and think about a screen-free day. As soon as you see things are going south (and they will), take a break. Grab a snack, head outside to go around the block, do something else for a short time, and then get back to it when you are both fresh. Consider a day with the job of breathing fresh air, helping a neighbour, learning a new skill, or whatever feels right.
Happy children are the most important thing. When our kids are home, they are usually in relaxation mode, and having more time with you, their incredible caregiver, is a treat. Staying on track is important, but not more important than a positive connection and looking forward to each day.
Lastly, at Royal Oak, we have entered into the world of virtual learning, and are doing our best to help parents follow some of the tips above as we arm them with daily schedules, online learning resources, and games and tasks that promote learning and progression of our curriculum. If you find yourself in need of some vetted resources, sample schedules, those math games for mastery (and fun!), please head over to our Royal Oak website on the ‘programs’ page and feel free to use what we have put together for our own students. Each day, we will add as we go, and as we learn this challenging new terrain too.
Being here for one another is what will get us through this very difficult time for our community, and we are so grateful to be a part of it.