By Cayde Collins
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
Did you wake up this morning unsure of what day it was? Maybe you had ice cream and a glass of wine for dinner last night after your kids ran out of excuses to not go to bed?
I’m here to tell you you’re not alone.
Parents across the country are feeling the heat. Whether you’re working from home, finishing a degree, or just trying to make ends meet, parents – new and seasoned alike – are juggling task after task in the attempt to maintain balance within their households.
Homeschooling and Challenges of Online Learning
From kindergarten to college, students and educators around the globe are feeling the daily impact of the COVID-19 crisis. With parents now solely responsible for their children’s education, many are feeling overwhelmed and underprepared for the role at hand.
Furthermore, those families who have multiple school-aged children are faced with additional struggles related to the ability to focus and the motivation to do class work when surrounded by household distractions such as toys, video games, and the biggest distraction of them all, one another.
However troubling homeschooling may be, there are a laundry list of online resources available for families to utilize for additional learning opportunities. Some of these websites include ABC Mouse, Scholastic Kids, National Geographic, Crayola, Epic and The Weather Channel. Additionally, many of the country’s biggest attractions are offering virtual field trip opportunities for the whole family to enjoy. Take a family day trip to Disney World, to the Cincinnati Zoo, the Kennedy Space Center and many, many more.
After taking these tours, base an activity around them. Have a contest for who can build the best rocket ship or who can make the best lion roar. Talk to your kids about what you saw and ask them what they learned. You can even give them an option of what they would like to see – kids thrive when you allow them to take control of a situation.
YouTube can also be a wonderful source for learning. Many content creators have taken the time make videos dedicated to history, science experiments, the human body, and even learning a new language. Some of our families favorites are based around mummies from ancient Egypt, and American Sign Language.
It’s amazing what you can learn when you do a little exploring.
Maverick, 7, and Ember, 6, complete daily assignments using iPads their school has allowed them to borrow.
Beyond the Virtual Classroom
On top of education concerns and endless Zoom meetings around the clock, teachers are wondering if their students have what they need during these unfortunate circumstances.
Kathryn Eckstein, a 36-year-old special education teacher at Lewiston-Porter Primary School, said, “Preparing for something that you don’t know when will end, how it will affect your kids or how you can help your students from afar is daunting. Every day I hope that they have the learning materials they need, but also, food, safety and security.
“The stress of the pandemic in education reaches farther then just homeschooling. When your students leave you at the end of the day you hope they are learning, but more importantly that they are safe, fed and happy.”
If your family is struggling, know there is help available. Many school districts in the Buffalo area are offering daily pickups for breakfast and lunch meals. These meals are available to all school-aged children and can help to ease the financial weekly burden that comes with feeding a family.
Another wonderful resource in many of our communities is the local food pantries. You can locate the food pantries in your area by going to www.foodpantries.org. These pantries remain stocked with items such as peanut butter, pasta, and canned tuna, and are able to remain a vital resource due to hundreds of local donations from businesses and citizens alike.
Calming bottles, like the ones seen here, are super easy to make and are an invaluable resource for children or adults who suffer from anxiety.
The Delicate Work-Life Balance
With many parents now working from home, the pressure they feel to remain present in their children’s lives can be exhausting.
Jennifer Lara-Torres, a 29-year-old single mother of two, said, “Working from home while having kids is difficult while trying to be attentive to their education and feeding them three meals a day. It is important to be forgiving of myself and to allow myself breaks. Working for a company that understands that I am home with family and that will allow me to take breaks to attend teacher meetings and give me sick time to be with family has given me the work-life balance that I need, especially at this time.”
It is important to remember that this is not an ideal situation for any of us, including our children. Taking time for yourselves, to engage in self-care – and to encourage children to do the same – will make such a difference in the energy and attitude surrounding these long, tiresome days.
If possible, set up individual spaces for each of the members of your family to destress. These designated places will be theirs and can be utilized for times when someone has become overstimulated, overwhelmed or frustrated. Let each member of the family fill their space the way they see fit, and reiterate that their feelings and emotions are valid.
Sensory play can also be utilized for calming. Using things such as calming bottles as shown in the picture above, homemade cloud sand, Play-Doh, water beads, putty, and even weighted blankets can help a child destress and refocus to continue about their day.
And parents, let your kids make slime, I promise you will be the best parent for at least an hour!
Jenn Martek, a 35-year-old mother and wife to a local volunteer firefighter who had previously sworn off the slimy stuff said, “We haven’t done it yet, but I finally caved on the slime making and we're going to make butter slime and cloud slime.”
Her three daughters will be thrilled, I'm sure.
Cloud sand, similar to kinetic sand, is made using 1 cup of flour to 1/4 cup of baby oil.
Making Education Interesting
Long, monotonous days cooped up inside can push any family to the brink. With kids buried in what seems to be never-ending comprehension packets and math worksheets they avoid like the plague, it can be helpful for many to take a new approach to learning.
Children love hand’s-on activities – activities where they can get their hands dirty and their bodies moving.
Do you have a stash of pipe cleaners from that last craft you did as a family? Challenge your family to shape letters and numbers with them. The same can be done with things like LEGOs, string, and even food such as pretzel sticks.
Another fun spin on learning comes with counting, addition and subtraction. Take small items such as M&M’s, marbles, paper clips, Goldfish or anything else you may have on hand and use them as a visual demonstration of the number equations. You can even get your kids involved in the decision-making process.
Scavenger hunts are also another activity that will get your little ones’ bodies moving. Make up lists of shapes to find, different colors, textures, or even a number and letter hunt. These fun activities can be done either inside your home, or around your neighborhood/community, and encourage kids to learn while making it into a game.
And last but not least, don’t forget to stay active. Everyone’s body needs exercise – and let’s be honest parents, the more you tire the kids out, the better and harder they’ll sleep for you at night.
Some of the best children’s resources for this are GoNoodle, Cosmic Kids, Yoga and even KIDZ Bop, which has its own YouTube channel with Zumba-style videos that are easy to follow along with (and your kids will want to do them over and over again).
Get creative, and think outside the box: There are so many things you can do from the comfort of your own home.
An ice cream and doughnuts cookie decorating kit from Retro Baker Cookie Company.
Local Businesses Offering Family Fun
Is your family interested in supporting local business and having a fun memory to share with your kids? There are so many local businesses offering pickup orders and fun kits for the whole family.
Shop local when you can!
Imagine That Olcott is a small-town staple still serving up some big fun. The paint shop offers a large selection of custom, hand-drawn paintable canvases, an abundance of adorable ceramic figures spanning from Marvel characters to Halloween pieces and everyday items such as spoon rests, lanterns and cookie jars (ranging from $10 and up).
The wonderful staff will provide the paints needed for each piece, a brush for each person, and disposable art smocks to keep your clothes clean! The shop has options for pick up curbside and delivery.
If you’re interested in finding out more information about Imagine That Olcott, “Like” and follow its page on Facebook.
Retro Baker Cookie Company is a one-woman show based out of Tonawanda. It’s serving up DIY cookie decorating kits in a wide variety of themes ranging from Buffalo Bills to ice cream and doughnuts, to birthday. The kits come with a variety of different frostings and decorations with free delivery within a 10-mile radius, or free porch pickup. If this is something you think your family would enjoy, Retro Baker Cookie Company’s Facebook page is open for orders weekly.
It may not be a local business, but if you’re looking for a quick, inexpensive, fun thing to do with your kids, Tim Hortons now has doughnut kits for sale. Much like a cookie kit, they come with six unglazed doughnuts, chocolate and vanilla icing, and two different kinds of sprinkles. The kids love the idea of decorating their own doughnuts!
I will leave you with this quote from Lewiston-Porter Primary social worker Erin Myers: “Do not jeopardize your sanity/mental health, that of your child's (or children's) in order to complete school work. While the academic side of things are important, your relationship with your family is paramount to your children's view of themselves, how they see the world and their future learning. Keep calm, work together, and sometimes, it is OK to walk away. We all need a breather sometimes.”
Hang in there parents. When the days are long, and you can’t see that light at the end of the tunnel, remind yourself this is a temporary situation. One of these days, faster than we realize it, we will all be living and thriving again.
A DIY doughnut decorating kit from Tim Hortons ($5.99).
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