keep calm and parent on

Keep Calm and Parent On

Dear Parents of California’s Children,

Keep calm posterI’ve heard you and know you’re freaking out.  Tasked with both working from home and home-schooling your own children in confined spaces, you’re desperately looking for resources to make sure your kids keep learning like they did in school. At the same time, you are worrying about your own parents’ health.  You’ve likely been online lately and seen the links to one website or another – lesson plans, virtual classrooms, and zoo cams promising to help parents structure the day in a reasonable facsimile of a day spent at school. Your children’s teachers have likely sent some materials already – or will do so in the coming week or two.  We’ve put up resources too – and will continue to do that for those of you who are trying to help your children learn during this crisis. 

But I want to make a radical suggestion.  Please take a deep breath and stop beating yourselves up.  Recognize that this is an unprecedented and hopefully once-in-a-lifetime event.  You’ve probably discovered that even your best-laid homeschool plans fell apart by lunch on the first day, right? Have you put on a movie or let them play video games so you can get some of your own work done? Let me clear the air here - you don’t have to recreate your kids’ classroom in your kitchen.  You don’t have to stick to an arbitrary schedule if it doesn’t work for your family.  You don’t have to search online for “edutainment.” (Ew…)  And you don’t have to feel guilty if it’s not done just right. (Note:  if you haven’t already, check out #homeschool for some hilarious fails from your fellow parents).

Instead, I want to suggest that you focus on the bigger picture here.  Your children are paying attention to how you are responding to the crisis.  This pandemic will, for many of them, define their childhood.  They will remember this like we remember 9/11, the assassination of leaders, and periods of civil unrest.  Hopefully life will return to normal this summer or fall, but kids will remember schools closing, not being able to play with their friends, being kept away from their grandparents, and 24/7 news coverage that can scare even the most sanguine of grown-ups. I suspect that, depending upon their age, children will likely think of their past in two distinct periods – the era before the coronavirus and the time after.

Which is why, given my 30 years in education, and 25 years as a parent, I want you to focus on the big stuff.  I recommend just two things that every parent should seriously consider during this crisis:  1) spend time with your kid doing things you both will enjoy, and 2) do something for someone else.  Here’s what I mean:

  1. Spend time with your kid doing things you enjoy.  As Governor Newsom warned his own daughter last week, it seems unlikely that school will resume everywhere before the summer break.  I hope he is wrong, but understand that this lockdown may last a while, and weeks spent nagging kids to complete worksheet after worksheet will likely backfire.  Consider reading a book together, playing board games, having them help prepare dinner for the family, or check out this list of “extreme indoor activities.”  Doing stuff together will alleviate their concerns, develop their skills for living, and continue their emotional growth.  Remember, it’s unlikely you’ll ever get this much time together as a family again.  For those of us with grown children, take our word for it – you’re going to miss them desperately when they’re gone.  Why not take advantage of this time to do something fun and memorable?
  2. Do something for someone else.  In times of uncertainty and fear, one of the best things kids (and adults) can do is to help someone else.  By focusing on the needs of another person, it helps us alleviate some of our own fears, focus that nervous energy, and helps make a concept like “the common good” just a little less abstract and more concrete.  For years, we educators have been desperately trying to find ways to develop children’s civic virtue – their capacity and motivation to put their own individual interests aside now and again in order to help other citizens and society writ large.  This pandemic, surprisingly enough, offers us the perfect opportunity to develop students’ civic engagement.  Staying home and socially distancing in order to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and to reduce the pressure on our already-overwhelmed healthcare system is the most important thing we all can do.  And we’re doing it for each other.

Social distancing and staying at home are a must, but your family can do more to help.  For example, could you organize a neighborhood sing and dance party, like this housing coop did?  Could your children make chalk drawings on the sidewalks in your neighborhood so when people try to get some fresh air, they can see their artwork?  Could your family organize a socially-distant thank you party for local doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers?  Could your family share a list of family-friendly activities to do during the crisis, either online or by calling your neighbors?  Could your family write letters (with pictures) to loved ones or people isolated in local nursing homes and senior living facilities?  Could your children pick a local restaurant to get takeout from in order to support businesses in your area?  Doing something for someone else will pay many dividends for your children - don't let them miss this opportunity.

Finally, let me remind you of your ultimate and sacred responsibility as a parent – being there for your kids, as you’ve done every day.  These are scary times and we don’t know what will really happen tomorrow.  But for today, you’re all together.  Hold them, reassure them, and play with them.  We’ll get through this – and they’ll remember how their Moms and Dads were there for them each step of the way.  You got this.

Sincerely, Nancy McTygue


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