There’s nothing like the anticipation of a new school year. Kids are filled with excitement to see their friends, meet new teachers and learn. But this year the global pandemic has robbed our kids of the joy of returning to school safely. So, what will it be? Distance learning, hybrid (online and in-person) home school or learning pods (kids learning with two or three friends at home with a tutor or teacher)? Everyone is trying to figure it out. All hands on deck.
The one thing we can agree on is that our kids must be educated. So, as parents, while we wait for health and education officials to work through the logistics, we can work to ensure the role we play is as meaningful.
Brain research shows us that when fun stops, learning often stops, too. Students can become bored and anxious. Engagement decreases. This keeps students from real and concrete learning. This is not what we want for our kids. Joy matters in education.
So how can we, as parents, bridge the gap during this difficult time and maintain joy in learning for our kids? Being aware of the research is a good start. This knowledge allows us to look at the whole picture, take a deep breath and figure out how to help our child instead of just accepting what is or allowing frustration to set in, like many parents experienced in the spring.
School administrators and district officials are asking for your opinion, so use your voice! Fill out the questionnaires they are sending your way and tell them what your child needs. Ask for flexible learning and grading strategies that might work better while learning during a pandemic.
And talk with teachers. They are looking at new ways to teach our children, engage them, evoke enthusiasm and bring back the joy during this unprecedented time. How might teachers do that without the structure of full-time in-person learning? This is the time to work as a team: parent, teacher and kid.
We all have to get creative, compassionate and communicative. If you find yourself, once again, as both a parent and a teacher when school starts this fall, here are some strategies toward a joyful learning environment.
Start the day with joy, first and foremost. Find ways to laugh. Whether it’s beginning the day with some jokes or reading a book that can get kids to laugh out loud, do it. It will set the tone for the day and get kids to loosen up and engage. Help your kid find his joy.
Get outside. Fresh air and nature are good for the brain and the spirit, so let kids learn outside. Whether it’s reading or a math assignment, a scenery change can be of benefit.
Allow for independent work. Give kids a chance to take control of their own education. Give them the ability to buy in to their own learning.
Build in time for “joy breaks.” Remember, a child doesn’t have to be learning from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. When they’re at school, on campus, there’s recess, lunch and moving from class to class. Let this time be their time to work on something that brings them joy: playing music, focusing on an entrepreneurial opportunity or just reading for pleasure.
Get curious. Ask questions to find out how your child is doing. Are they enjoying what they are learning? If not, ask, “How can I help?”
Practice compassion. Be compassionate to yourself and your child. This is not anything we have ever dealt with. Know this will not last forever and find joy in today.
Get creative. Ask teachers to allow kids to build, draw or write poetry to learn about a particular subject. Advocate for what works for your child.
Teach your child to advocate for himself. If your child has an idea about how he can learn something in a joyful manner, help him talk to his teacher. Give him the guidance to work out a plan that will be teacher and kid approved.
Donna Tetreault is a parenting journalist, host of the podcast Kids Under Construction and former teacher.