By Julie Diamond
Coming up on a year since the world changed forever, has me reflecting on the year my family has had and thinking about what it has been like, overall, for other families especially those with children. With schools closed for months, playgrounds off limits, summer camps cancelled, so many jobs lost, there were a lot of tough challenges facing families. The families I spoke to were fortunate – they were able to meet their basic needs and some worked from home. While they expressed it was one of the toughest years they had experienced, many said it was also eye-opening. They said it gave them more time with their children who actually taught them how to be better parents. Here are some things these parents learned from their kids last year:
1. Every Child Learns Differently. The sudden switch to online school last March, and for many provinces again in December/January, proved challenging for parents and children. Many students, typically high-performing pre-pandemic, struggled to transfer their learning to the virtual space and needed the interaction with their peers and teachers. While other students, typically who struggled socially or behaviourally, excelled online. There were a lot of confused and frustrated parents left to piece together the online school assignments or teach their young children. A big takeaway from parents was their sheer shock at how differently their kids learn. A parent I spoke to with eight-year-old twins was perplexed at how differently the twins approach the same question but came to the same answer. There was a newfound appreciation for teachers across the board.
2. Simplicity = Happiness: When all the extra-curricular activities and summer camps were cancelled, panic set in with one parent I spoke to. She was not sure how her kids, 10 and 8, would react. Her kids were always on the run to some enriching STEM program or playdate. They were not used to sitting at home together. Surprisingly though, her kids not only came up with so many ways to entertain themselves but, for the most part, got along with each other (she said mainly because they only had each other). From inventing new games to creating an art museum to new dance routines, they proved that all they needed was their imagination, and some sick dance moves, to have fun together.
3. Family Is Most Important. A parent I spoke to in B.C., admitted that pre-pandemic, he worked way too much. He was typically away from home on business trips during the week. He consistently missed family dinners and quality time was confined to some, but not all, Sundays. When the pandemic hit last March, and he was furloughed, he was stressed at first. But he quickly realized that he now had all the time in the world for dinners with his family, Candy Land with his 6-year-old and making forts with his 5-year-old. While he is happy to be back at work now, he said that his time with his kids last year gave him new perspective. They grew closer and taught him that family is the most important. He is planning to take less business trips and make more time for play time.
4. Kids Are Rock Stars. We took away school, their friends and all extra-curriculars with one word: COVID. Regardless of your child’s age, it is hard to understand the complexities of a global pandemic. Even we as adults struggled this past year so imagine how impossibly difficult it has been for a child to understand and accept all the changes. Another parent, who has a 15-year-old and 13-year-old, was anxious about how her children would react to the loss of their lifelines as teenagers (friends, peers, and school). She said that they not only surprised her with how resilient they are but inspired and supported her to get through the tough times too.
Here is hoping we can carry over these lessons into the post-pandemic era. What has your child (or student) taught you this past year? Comment below.
By Julie Diamond
If you are a teacher in Ontario, Alberta, Newfoundland or Saskatchewan, you still have another month or so until Spring Break which may seem like light years away. With the hectic school year, switching from in-class to online, wearing PPE all day, along with all the other changes, teacher burnout may seem inevitable. Here are some tips that, while they may seem like no-brainers, serve as gentle reminders to reflect, and reset.
1. Eat Healthy & Exercise: You are always on the go, especially if you teach primary, so you need snacks that you can eat quickly and possibly with one hand. Some healthy options include air-popped popcorn (sprinkled with nutritional yeast), veggies and hummus, dried fruit & dip (mix yogurt with dry JELL-O mix), and pickles (if you are craving something salty). One thing I have really gotten into (on those busy days for lunch or as a late-night snack) are smoothies. I like to try different varieties using different things like spinach, apples, frozen fruit, hemp and chia seeds, Greek yogurt, along with protein powder or nut butter so it acts as a meal replacement high in protein.
As far as exercise, that may be exceptionally challenging to incorporate into your daily routine. If you can not seem to find the time to make it to the gym, or if the gyms are still closed where you live, here are some ideas for at home or, dare I say, in between classes. I bought a jump rope and on breaks I will skip for 2-3 minutes about 3 times a day. If you can manage that in between classes or marking at home, 10 minutes of jumping rope is equivalent to 30 minutes on the treadmill. It is a time saver and also super fun! Or, if you are looking for an option with less impact, try 20 squats after each bathroom break. Whenever you do not have the time to do the squats, you can keep track and catch up when you do.
2. Make Time to Unwind: How do you unwind? Whether it is with a book, tv, or hanging with the family, make sure you make time for it every day. Catch up with a friend over video or sit down for dinner with your family. Maintaining this balance between work and down time will keep you happy and ready to take on the workday.
3. Focus on the Positive & What You Have Done Well: This may have been a frustrating school year with all the changes and new things to learn and/or implement so it may be easy to spiral. Buddy up with another colleague or teacher, or even a non-work-related friend/family member, to keep each other in check. When either of you are speaking negatively, the other gives a gentle reminder to focus to the positive. It may be easy to think of all that has gone wrong this year, but for your sanity, shift gears and reflect on what you have done well. When you think positively, it makes the busy school days a lot more manageable.
4. Know When to Ask for Help: Whether you are teacher in their first or twentieth year, this school year is completely different, and you may be feeling stressed from learning new technology to mental exhaustion from being online and/or in class. You are NOT alone. Check in with yourself or your colleagues and know when to ask for help and/or recognize if a colleague needs your help. Teaching may feel really isolating being alone in the classroom, or this year online, so open the door to communication with other teachers to share lesson ideas or simply to vent. If that outlet is not available to you, talk to your partner, friend, or family member.
5. Prepare Ahead (With Flexibility): Procrastination during a school year like this one is only going to create unnecessary stress for you. Though preparing too far in advance may also be frustrating given all the last-minute changes with COVID. This past year has taught us to be flexible. Create your plans with lots of room for changes and ability to adapt to online (if needed).
6. (If Possible) Leave Work at School: If you find yourself taking your schoolwork home with you and then struggle to disconnect at the end of the evening, try keeping your work at school. Go in earlier or stay later (if that is a possibility) to finish and create that mental separation from work.
How are YOU managing this school year? What did we miss? What helps you prevent teacher burnout? Comment below.
By Julie Diamond
**Reposted from January 24 2020 and updated**
February is the time of year when you get your child’s report card. You may also get the opportunity for a parent-teacher interview to discuss or ask any questions. It’s important to take the time to review the report card with your child. The report card is a great resource to reflect on your child’s achievements and areas to work on. Here are some suggestions to make it a positive and effective experience:
1. Review it independently. Read the comments and make notes of the successes and areas of improvement. Planning what you want to discuss with your child beforehand makes for a more productive and positive discussion. Keep in mind that every year is different, and some grades/subjects are generally more challenging than others.
2. Read the report card with your child. Ask them about their thoughts. Listen to what they have to say because they will have valuable insight. Celebrate their successes and keep the conversation positive. Don’t compare your child with another friend or family member. It’s important to remember that every child learns and performs differently.
3. Discuss learning and/or IEP needs (if applicable): If your child is on an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and receiving accommodations or modifications, it is also a good time to discuss if they feel supported in class, if they are getting their extra time, etc. For children ages 12+, encourage them (with small steps) to communicate their needs to their teacher. They may be skeptical to do that in front of their peers, which is completely understandable. If this is the case, then try to keep the communication open between you and your child so they can feel comfortable to come to you with ideas of how to troubleshoot any issues with their learning and/or IEP needs on their own and/or with your support.
4. Make a plan for success on the next report card. Together with your child, identify areas or subjects that could use improvement. Then create goals and steps to achieve each one along with how you will provide support. Write them down to provide a visual. If there are subjects that are out of your comfort zone or realm of expertise, tell your child and discuss the possibility of getting other support from a tutor, other family member or friend.
5. Communicate and track your child’s progress. If you choose to go to the parent-teacher interview, ask your child for their input and follow up with them about the discussion. Share your child’s goals with their teacher as well. As the new semester progresses, set aside time to check in and have daily discussions with your child. Refrain from asking yes/no questions such as: Do you have homework? Instead ask questions like: What was the best part of your day? What was the hardest thing you had to do today? Can you show me something you learned today? What is something you’re going to review tonight?
6. Keep things light. Try to focus more on progress versus grades this school year. It has been a rough year for everyone, but especially for children. Praise your child when you see them working hard on an assignment, when they ask for help or when they express their frustations and keep going. They are showing grit, determination and expressing their feelings - all traits that are helpful to get through challenging times.
By Julie Diamond, OCT
The sudden change to remote learning last spring was a challenging transition for most students. Here we are again almost a year later, and students are back online, and your child is still struggling with it. What can you do to help them be successful with remote learning? Here are some tips:
1. Compare Your Child to Your Child. Get them to compete with themselves. Encourage them to set weekly goals and chart their progress. It is a great way to motivate them, focus on the momentum and keep going on those tough school days. It is best to compete with yourself rather than compare yourself to a sibling or someone else in class. It only leads to feeling overwhelmed and defeated because no two learners are the same.
2. Get Organized. Successful remote learners are organized. Create a daily routine with a month- or week-at-a-glance calendar using one colour per subject. Daily to-do lists and timers (15-minute increments with scheduled breaks) are helpful to stay on track during the asynchronous periods.
3. Daily Check-in & Review. Online learning requires the student to be an independent learner and hold themselves accountable. If your child struggles with this, then a daily check-in and review of the day with you may be necessary to keep them accountable with schoolwork and not fall behind. A quick 15-30 minutes where they run over what they’ve learned, their homework, and if they have any questions or need help. If this suggestion creates some push back from your child, you may want to get an outside party to take over these check-ins at least until they can navigate things themselves.
4. Stay Positive! Life changed so suddenly last year, and your child may be harbouring a lot of frustration not related to school. You may feel negative some days too. Negativity can lead to procrastination. Make the days at home fun and do some activities together to keep a positive mindset. For example, as a family recall 3 things you are thankful for at the end of each work/school day, schedule meditations to start each morning, and exercise breaks for walks as a family or YouTube workouts.
What are you doing to help your child navigate remote learning? Comment below.
By Julie Diamond, OCT
With many cities across Canada tightening up their COVID restrictions, and many businesses closing, winter may be challenging for families to keep kids happy at home. Rest assured, here are a few ideas that incorporate learning in fun ways both inside and outside this winter.
1. Paint snow by mixing food colouring and water in a spray bottle. Or try painting snow with a paintbrush or take it up a notch with spray paint. You can have your child practice writing their name, drawing shapes, or experimenting with mixing primary colours (red, yellow and blue) and/or secondary colours (orange, green, and violet).
2. Organize a winter scavenger hunt. For younger kids, it is best to create a checklist with pictures of the items. Check out this free printable winter scavenger checklist from Teaching Mama.
3. Have a snow fort building contest as a family. For older children you can set specific perimeters for the fort or circumference for the snowballs to make it more challenging. For younger children, you can say things like, “the snowballs should be no bigger than an apple or the fort should be the same size as your bed.” Then they have a frame of reference rather than measurements to use for building.
4. Learn about igloos and teepees with your child and build one together either inside or outside (depending on the weather). It is important to teach your child about the history, the people, and purpose of these types of shelters before you build them. For younger children, start with this video from CBC to learn how to build a teepee. You can use some problem-solving skills and discuss how to improvise with the tools and space you have at home.
5. Go tobogganing. Check out this article from CBC to make your own duct tape sled.
6. Make a pile of snowballs the same size. Measure things using snowballs. Your kids can measure the length of their legs, the length of your backyard or driveway, the length of the park bench.
7. Do a good deed. Shovel a neighbour’s driveway or sidewalk. Run an errand for an elderly friend, neighbour or family member.
8. Teach your child survival skills. Show them how to build a winter campfire, how to build shelter, forage for food and water. Start by making a survival kit. Here is a helpful article about what should be included in the kit as well as other ideas for teaching your child how to survive in the colder weather.
What do you have planned this winter with your family? Comment below and let me know what I missed.
By Julie Diamond, OCT
Remembrance Day is on Wednesday, November 11. Whether your child is back to school in person and/or learning at home online or doing homeschool with you, there are many teachable moments to honour this day together. Here are a few that we brainstormed:
1. Read: Books are a great place to start learning something at any age. There are so many books that you and your child can read for Remembrance Day about past veterans and current soldiers. Here’s a list of books by Canadian authors to get you started.
2. Make a Poppy: Whether you use popsicle sticks or pipe cleaners for the stems and a cupcake liner or felt for the red poppy, making a poppy can be a fun and creative way to help your child learn about why we wear one in the first place.
3. Visit a War Memorial: Make some extra poppies and bring them to a local war memorial and pay your respects. Here’s a list of war memorials by province:
4. Fold a Crane: The Peace Crane Project teaches children how to fold an origami crane, write a message of peace and then exchange it with another child in the world. This project teaches hand-eye coordination, geography and introduces children to new languages and cultures. Check out their website for more information.
5. Write a Letter to a Veteran: To help your child understand the significance of the sacrifices and achievements of Canadian veterans, have them write a letter to them. This is a nice way to practice their spelling, vocabulary as well as learn how to write and address a formal letter. Here is a link to connect your family with veterans to ensure your letter gets to your intended recipient.You and your child can make someone’s day a little brighter with an unexpected piece of mail.
6. Donate to your local legion and discuss with your child about the importance of giving back to your community.
How are you and your family commemorating Remembrance Day this November? Share with us in the comments!
By Julie Diamond
This school year, many teachers have been adjusting to teaching online with students they have never met in person and many who have had little to no experience learning online. To create meaningful learning experiences, every educator knows the importance of building relationships and trust with their students before any meaningful learning can take place. But how do you do that online? Here are some ideas we have:
1. Start Later: Use the first couple of minutes online to let your student settle in, get organized and ready. With short sessions, time is important but taking these few minutes can help ease your student into the session, disarm them and get comfortable with you and this new way of learning.
2. Create a To-Do List: Show your student a To-Do list template and review what you are going to do together. Depending on your student, you may want to create this together completely and/or have it created and get their input on a thing or two. Don’t forget to add the mini breaks and fun activities. This To-Do list will help your student feel in control of their learning by checking off things as you go through the sessions. It will also do wonders for their attention knowing when their next break/fun activity is!
3. Warm-Up Exercise: Begin with an activity like a journal entry, mood metre or fun get-to-know-you game that gets your student involved. Once you grab their attention, they are more likely to stay engaged.
4. Use the Chat Box: To keep the flow of the sessions, ask your student to write any questions they have in the chat box. That way you can finish your thought and then review their question(s).
5. Give Your Student Control: Encourage your student to be the teacher. Have them prepare a presentation, lead the guided reading, create a math question for you to solve, etc. These activities push them out of their comfort zone and empowers them to believe in themselves. With all the anxiety and stress this school year, they need the confidence building and support from you now more than ever.
Did we miss something? What do you do online with your students to empower them and create meaningful learning experiences? Comment below!
By Julie Diamond
It is that time of year again though this year looks quite different than the past. The transition back-to-school, with everyone being out of the classroom for the last 6 months, sparks much more anxiety and frustration for everyone. Here are some ways to help set yourself up for a good year:
1. Set Goals- Sit down with your child/teen and create academic and personal goals for the school year. Think about where you would both like to be by the end of the semester and school year. Creating goals with your child will keep you accountable to each other. Maybe they want a high mark in a certain subject? Maybe you want to score 3 goals in a sport? Or try something new together? Attend class everyday? Raise their hand in class at least 3 times? Think of goals that will motivate you to work hard together.
2. Stay Positive – Focus on positive behaviour management and be kind. Your child(ren)/students have been through a lot these past 6 months. Negative feedback won’t work when they’ve already been dealing with so many other negative things in their lives – not seeing their friends, not being able to go to school, outside or extra-curriculars, along with other issues that you’re not aware of. Establishing good practices and routines is usually enough to keep most children/students in line with gentle reminders.
3. Stop, Breathe & Reflect – When your child(ren)/student(s) are busy on a task, sit down. Watch them. See how they are interacting and observe the choices they are making. Do they need some downtime? Are they doing ok? Think about how you did today/this week. Praise yourself for the good you did. Acknowledge any mistakes you made and brainstorm how you can do it differently next time. During this challenging time it’s important to stop, breathe, reflect and praise yourself. You are present and trying your best.
4. Admit When You Need Help – You can not do it all. Parents and educators have A LOT on their plate lately. Show your child(ren)/student(s) that you are human. It will help them learn that it is okay to not know everything, make mistakes and ask for help. As a parent, if you are finding the after-school homework routine overwhelming, hire a tutor (we are here to help!). As a teacher, if you are finding the daily grind to be too much, pause and assess your expectations. Are you expecting too much? Give whatever you can every day and be at peace with that. This school is not going to look like last year.
5. Model – Model the right way to do things for your child(ren)/students. Then have them model it. It is important to model the above into your life so your child sees how it can help. So set goals, stay positive, reflect and admit if you need help too.
Is there something we missed? Leave us a comment below.
Wishing everyone a safe and happy start to the school year!
By Julie Diamond
When the weather gets nicer it can be challenging to get your child to sit still to do math worksheets. Who can blame them? It's important to continue the learning through the summer so they are confident and ready for September. But math doesn't have to be boring or inside! Get outside, have fun and prevent summer learning loss. Here are some ways you can incorporate math with your child on the go:
1. Painted Rock Scavenger Hunt: Take some paint, or improvise with some nail polish, to paint numbers and/or addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and/or equal signs on each rock to make complete equations. For example, for 4+4=8 you would use 5 separate rocks. Make a few of these equations together with your child then hide the individual rocks around your house, yard or in a small area at the park. Get your child to go on a scavenger hunt to put the rocks together to make the correct equations. It gets them running and learning!
2. Skip Counting with Hopscotch: Use chalk to make a hopscotch up to 20 or for a challenge make it up to 50 or 60. Hopscotch is a great tool to use for making math active. Get your child hopping on one foot to skip count by 2s, 3s, 5s or 10s. This is a great way to prepare your child in grades 1 & 2 for multiplication.
3. Number Line: Using chalk, create a number line from 0 to 20. Unless your child is learning negative numbers, which most provinces are not doing this until grade 6, stick to positive integers. Make your own cards saying things like “subtract 3, add 5, etc” to draw from for the game. This is fun for your child to play with another person to make it more of a race to 20. The players start at 0. Draw a card for the first player. If it says ‘add 5’, and the player is at 0 they run or walk to 5 to ‘add’ 5. Draw a card for the each of the other players. If you draw a subtraction card and it would take the players below 0 then simply draw again. Keep going until a player reaches 20.
4. Patterns with Nature: Start a simple ABCABC or ABBABB pattern using different objects you find outside. You can use pinecones, twigs, rocks, or leaves. Make sure to repeat this same pattern at least twice then ask your child to find the items and continue the patterns. You can make this more challenging with switching up the patterns.
5. Hunting Shapes: Either print or draw the different shapes on a clipboard for your child. Make sure to include a triangle, square, circle, rectangle (if your child is in Kindergarten), and then add arrow, pentagon, oval, rhombus, and/or kite for older kids. Each time they find a shape get them to trace the object (or print the name of the object) on their worksheet and make a mark to keep track of how many of each shape they find.
6. Action Dice: Practice your child's basic addition, subtraction or multiplication with rolling a pair of dice. For an added challenge, add additional dies. Create a small wooden die and write words like 'jump', 'hop', 'skip', 'spin', 'blink, 'tap', etc on each of the sides. You then have your child roll the dice with the wooden die, add/subtract/multiply the dies together then perform that action that many times. For example, if you asked them to add and they rolled a 1 and 3 and hop. Well 1+3=4 so they would have to hop 4 times.
7. Measure Nature: Give your child a ruler, pencil and a clipboard with a recording sheet of the different things to measure around your yard or at the park. Some examples can include sticks, flowers, leaves, or rocks. Try to choose items that can be measured using the same unit (cm, mm). They can print the item and record how long it was on the recording sheet. You can even take it a step further by creating a graph together! This activity is geared towards grades 3 & 4 but you can make revisions to suit your younger or older child.
Share with us in the comments any outdoor math games you like to do with your child.
By Cassie Camara who is the mama behind @camara.crew on Instagram and click here for her blog Camara Crew.
I have three kiddos under the age of 4. Our oldest daughter will be 4 in July and is supposed to go to school in September. Being a mom to 3-pre K toddlers can be extremely busy but we do our best to try to implement various learning opportunities at home for all of them. Each time they can look very different but as long as our kids are having fun and learning something new in the process that is all that matters to us.
A lot of the time the focus for structured activities is on our 3.5 year old daughter. We are trying to prepare her for starting JK in September. She is starting to ask a lot of questions about going to school and they mostly are about what the day is going to look like and those common fears about being away from mommy and daddy. So a lot of our preparation right now is being led by her and her questions. We don’t want to force activities on her, she will learn when she is ready to and we have found forcing her to do learning activities can sometimes increase her anxiety about going to school and results in less participation. By letting her lead the activities and questions we have found our daughter has opened up to us more, asked more questions and participated in activities about learning more.
We’ve been using books to help prepare her for what school is going to look like. Our favourite right now is from Usborne Books “All You Need to Know Before you Start School". Click here.
This book is great for learning what a day at school would look like and also has some activities you can do throughout it. Another favourite is the dry erase books from Usborne which you can find here.
They have a great variety in their wipe clean books and I find Lily enjoys doing these most. It is a great quiet activity for her to sit and practice writing her letters and numbers. I love that there is no pressure if she makes a mistake she can just wipe it clean and start over again. We can also give our 18 month old one to scribble in to be just like his big sister. I find that when we set up an activity for our daughter our 18 month old son typically shows interest in what she is doing. It may just be watching her but it could be copying what she is doing also. I find that by encouraging them to do an activity together it helps teach them to share, be patient and work with others.
The other activity we do often is sensory activities in our Active World Tray from Scholars Choice. This has probably been one of our best purchases. What I love about this tray is it is great for setting up activities, keeping it contained and encouraging our kids to explore their senses. We’ve been using this tray for years and had so much fun playing in it. Whether it is through making a volcano, setting up a farm, a car wash station or some paint the kids love to explore together or individually. We often will set up an activity in the tray and leave it over a period of time for them to go back and forth to. It usually results in lots of imaginative play and some questions about the topic of the day.
Ultimately I find learning at home for us right now is a lot about play and exploration. By getting down on the floor with our kids and playing with them we have learned so much from them. Also by letting them help us with daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, organizing and taking care of a newborn. We are able to implement so many learning opportunities such as patience, sharing, cooking (numbers and food groups) and so much more. I find we see what they’ve learned already coming out through their play. Oftentimes in Lily’s play she will start asking questions through her dolls or we play school and it's a great opportunity for us to answer her questions in a normalized way for her. It doesn’t always have to be in a structured sit down activity. It is amazing what children will pick up through the use of play and their imagination.
We are working on some new content about helping prepare your children for school and would love it if you followed along and shared how you are helping your kids prepare for school too.
Julie Diamond is a certified teacher in Canada and the founder of Teachers to Go.
Julie Diamond speaking at the OISE conference for Alternative, Innovative and Inspiring Career Paths for Teachers at the University of Toronto.
Jenna Srigley is the administrative assistant/social media co-ordinator at Teachers to Go and offers invaluable insight as a mom of 2 teens.
Fun Fact: Her and Julie (see above) are also sisters :)