You’re not the teacher – and that’s OK


I just counted, and it’s been 28 days since my two kids have left our house. (This was written on April 10, 2020)

Other than bike rides and nature walks, it’s been a lot of Minecraft, Simpsons episodes, pyjama days, Lego, backyard soccer, one almost-finished 1,000-piece puzzle, lots of sibling quarrels, some awesome moments of them getting along, and as of yesterday, we have four days of home schooling under our belts. That’s not full days of school, mind you: That’s just the concept of having them get dressed, do a couple chores, and settle in for three or four hours of reading, learning apps, writing and drawing – whatever I set up for them to do when I wake up earlier in the morning, based on instructions from their teachers (shoutout to them!)

Ideally, my kids, who are ten and seven, would spend those hours quietly working away while Rob and I tend to our jobs in our basement office, but of course, this is not the case. There’s questions and complaints and bargaining and many comments and opinions, which have us running up and down the stairs between interviews, conference calls and working on the website. I have a new appreciation and understanding of one reason why teachers hand out worksheets: It buys you time! We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of ink for our printer.

We’re in the same work / homeschool boat as many parents, and it’s been a real challenge balancing the one-on-one time each kid needs for their learning, with the time we need to put in for our careers and livelihood. As a result, there are days the kids’ Minecraft sessions exceed the time spent doing math or journalling, while we work away. We may be in this for the long haul, and already I feel guilty.

The key to minimizing schooling stress as parents, I realized yesterday after making a few phone calls, is to not consider yourself the teacher. In fact, the trustee chairwoman for our school district says we shouldn’t put ourselves in this role at all.

“We’re hoping parents don’t think they have to be the teacher,” Moyra Baxter says.

“We understand this is a really unusual situation and we want to make sure people know we’re not expecting anybody to homeschool their students.”
The same message is echoed by both my kids’ teachers. Assignment number one from both of them is to keep your family healthy – physically of course, but also mentally.

And while you’re doing that, there’s actually a lot you can do to help your kids without homeschooling them to tears. My second phone call was to my mother in law, Dr. Sharon Friesen. She’s served as Vice Dean of Education at the University of Calgary, is the co-founder of Galileo Educational Network, and speaks internationally on inquiry-based education. I also worked as her research assistant / writer for nine years, so I always want her input on this kind of thing:

“There’s all kinds of things you can do with your kids which can help them get ahold of this situation we’re in, rather than making it to be a scary time, or a boring time,” she says.

“The COVID-19 situation can actually be an opportunity to really extend learning, and do it in a more explicit way.”

Kids are going to hear the news and listen to us talk about all this, so Dr. Friesen suggests opening up a discussion by asking questions.

“Who are the people who living in the countries they’re talking about? Let’s look at a map and see where the country is. How many people live there? For older kids, you can look into what percentage of the population does this represent. How many people in total are we talking about? What this does is allow students to kind of grab ahold of their own world and what’s going on right now,” she says.

“Otherwise, it’s just all these numbers being bandied around and it doesn’t give kids an opportunity to be able to situate themselves, or the people in another country, within that larger milieu. And that’s really important.”

She also suggests we look at what you’re doing during the day. Did you go for a walk? Well, how many people do you think walked this

Yes, nature hikes count as school. My mother in law told me so 😉

forest path, and how did it get here? Why does it zigzag around, rather than go straight up that hill?

When it comes to dinner prep, all parents have heard that letting kids measure out ingredients is a good way to practice math skills. What my mom-in law means about making learning explicit is to extend that by asking kids to calculate the measurements based on if you’re cooking for half the number of people the recipe calls for, as an example.

“If you think about the different ways to see the current situation, that opens it up for really good exploration,” she says.

“So, what I would say is to look at your everyday activities and allow yourself to be more explicit about how you’re starting to see them and ask questions about that. And get them to start asking questions and then you both go figure it out. Go and see if you can find answers and solutions to those problems and questions.”

Another expert I wanted to talk to is my son’s favourite teacher and actually, a former student of my mother in law. Amber Hartwell is a library learning commons teacher who works in Kelowna but Peachland parents will remember as the school’s tech expert. She’s now on maternity leave, but generously shared her thoughts with us. She says sticking to things you already do as a parent – like setting clear expectations and a routine, extend into how you approach learning time for your child. If your kid is anxious, has had a fight with a friend or isn’t sleeping well, adjust the expectations for the day accordingly.

“And by adjust, I mean adjust the amount of work the child completes, not the schedule you have, or your expectations. The more consistent your routine, the easier the day becomes.”

And that anxious feeling a lot of us parents and students have?

“The best learning I ever facilitate comes from real-world, authentic conversations. Kids want to talk about what’s happening,” Hartwell says.

By way of my occupation, that’s the case at our house. And while our family is sad about no Kung Fu and swimming lessons and Acro, no spring camping in the trailer, no family visits or playgrounds or playdates, it brings forward one of the best lessons right now: Resiliency. Look at the kids in your life. This pandemic is going to define a big part of how they grow up. And watching them play and be generally happy people despite having a lot of things taken away, shows the majority of us are raising some pretty awesome little people.

Written by Kristen Friesen

April 10, 2020

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