Managing Behavior at Home – Distance Learning

We struggle with behavior issues on a good day when we have a set schedule, so you can imagine how things have regressed since schools closed and we went to distance learning.

One of the reasons we ultimately decided to put our children in school this year was the need for routine and regiments. With two children who are special needs (ASD and ADHD), life had been getting progressively more chaotic and stressful.  While enrolling the kids in public school didn’t fix every problem (mornings have always been rough!), we did see a positive effect on our ASD kiddo with behavior and communication. Routine and rules just work for him.

Distance learning has been going alright – we are seasoned homeschoolers so getting back into an at-home school schedule has probably gone smoother for us than many other families where this situation isn’t the norm.

However, I will be the first to agree, as I keep seeing in posts and comments online, that distance learning is NOT homeschool. For one, I am not in control of the curriculum or the schedule. Each week we receive school work packets and turn in work from the previous week. This can be stressful because I am trying to keep my kids on track with their work because they still need to turn it in for grading. If we were truly homeschooling, I would have flexibility with work schedules and expectations.

Note – I am not criticizing our teachers – they have done an amazing job pulling together home-based assignment packets, online content and communicating with families during the school closures. Additionally I know our teachers understand the struggles that distance learning may involve and there is a lot of grace and flexibility on their end too. 

With a return to home-based learning, we have been struggling with some of the behavior issues that ultimately led us to public school. Lack of a solid routine, distractions from screens and siblings, fighting between siblings, minor habits becoming major annoyances, inability to stay on task or stay focused, melt downs, etc. It’s been stressful!

Thankfully there are so many resources available to parents to help implement strategies that will contribute to a successful home environment (or at the very least – more successful).

If I can make some suggestions right off the bat, it would be these:

  • Parents should be proactive, not reactive. Don’t wait until chaos and frustration reigns. Have at least a semblance of a plan of how you will deal with school work, chores, screen time, tantrums, etc.

  • Discuss things with your partner and have some expectations, strategies, and plans. Communication and being on the same page is so important.

  • Give yourself grace. Accept that bad days are going to happen – kids aren’t the only ones who have tantrums! But take a time-out, put the kids to bed early if needed, and be ready to do your best the next day. And don’t be afraid to apologize to your kids and admit to them that adults have bad days too.

Thankfully we are nearing the end of the school year, but even if you have only a few weeks remaining, these suggestions may be helpful.

Be organized!

You u may wear your Type B label as a badge of honor, but when it comes to managing school work at home, organization is key to maintaining sanity.

Especially if you are keeping up with more than one child (we have four!) – this is essential. I cleared out our colored bins to keep up with the workbooks that came home. Each child has a bin and school books go back to their bins when work is complete for the day.

For papers, I immediately go through the packets, and separate subjects with paperclips, and then use a metal clip to keep these smaller packets together for each child.

One of our colored bins is mine where I keep these packets.For daily work that can be done sort of independently (spelling pages, grammar pages, reading comprehension etc.), I put on clipboards.

Each child has their own clipboard. On my clipboard, I have weekly planning sheets from their teachers that I can mark off as assignments are done, as well as instructions for assignments that require more guidance.

Carve out independent work space for students, as much as possible.

Images of four happy children quietly doing their own work around the dining room table is NOT realistic for our family.Sometimes we start out working together, but usually the kids need to go off to different corners to not distract or annoy siblings. On a good day, I’ll send one or two to another room to work on their independent work, so I can do guided work at the dining room table with another. Then the kids rotate and I help another child.

Incorporate independent reading.

We’ve had book logs sent home each for two of our children, and even before our schools closed there was an expectation that students would be reading at home at least 15 minutes a day.

Be sure to keep this up even with distance learning. If one child has finished independent and guided work, I remind them to get some independent reading done. Younger children may find reading books together beneficial.

Manage screen time.

Distance learning often includes online content. Even my kindergartner has a list of You Tube video suggestions to watch each week.

Our district has also provided free (to us) access to various learning websites like Brainpop Jr, Get Epic!, ABC Mouse and Adventure Academy.

These are great resources for the kids and I see the benefits of them having these resources available.

However, at least for my family, screens are an automatic attention killer.If I am still helping one child with guided work or going over independent work, and one child is on the computer watching a You Tube video on phonics, attention will be drawn to the computer and not their book work.

Even if it’s in another room, the knowledge that a sibling has already gotten screen time is a major issue. So, to keep things simple and functional, I hold screen time until everyone has finished their other work, and then they have to take turns.

One benefit I have noticed – they tend to group together and watch what the other is watching or doing – so even though one child may have been assigned a Brainpop video to watch, the others also tend to watch and learn from it as well.

One caveat – I have a teenager and she has a lot more computer work than the others – content on Google Classroom, internet research, typing essays, spreadsheet work, etc.

I will allow her to have access for this kind of work, but have to keep her off Adventure Academy or Prodigy Math, because the “game” aspect draws the others’ attention away from their own work.

Communicate with the teachers!

The teachers are still available to give feedback and answer questions as needed. I encourage my teen to email her teachers directly with questions or if she needs clarification on an assignment.

For my younger students I may include a note about any issues we’ve had during the week when I send in our packet of completed work. I also communicate with the teachers through email as needed.

For children with an IEP, how a school implements individual plans is going to look different, depending on the child’s needs and restrictions placed on the schools.

Our ASD kiddo had been getting pulled once a week for Speech Therapy at school, and had a SpEd resource teacher checking in with him each week to help with focusing on assignments and making sure he understood what was expected on independent assignments.

With the schools closed, our plan obviously looks different. The speech therapist checks in weekly, and provides activities we can do at home to keep working on social skills and communication. The SpEd teacher who would check in on him weekly in class (and who has had a wonderful impact on our child) also checks in weekly to see how we are doing, and if there are any supports we need at home.

Give your child grace.

Children thrive with consistency and routine. The abrupt change to distance learning is likely stressful for children. Additionally, these changes are not isolated.

Visiting friends, sports, extracurriculars, going to the playground, even just running errands with mom or dad – outlets that would normally help alleviate some of a child’s stress are in most cases curtailed.

As we wrap up the school year, I am looking forward to our summer break. I will be switching over to “mom school” which involves read alouds, educational computer games, documentaries and some basic workbook stuff. All our children are officially readers (yay!) so independent reading will be a big part of our day.

Spring Terrarium – Praying Mantises

My kids wanted to collect snails this week to observe in our terrarium. The stick they chose to put in for leaves just so happened to have a mantis egg sac attached!

It took less than a week for the babies to make their appearance, and we happened to be checking on the snails when we saw one or two babies walking around. We were so lucky to have the opportunity to sit and watch many more come out.

It was fascinating to watch the babies wriggle their way out of the slits in the egg case, and then hang for a bit before slowly extending out their limbs. This process seems similar to how butterflies emerge from their crysalis and slowly extend and beat their crumpled and wet wings to get blood flowing so they can fly.

Want to learn more about praying mantises? Here are some great links to check out!

National Geographic – Praying Mantis

Wikipedia – Mantis

Keeping Insects – Mantises

Texas A & M Field Guide – Praying Mantis

Reading With Your Ears – March 2020

On any given day, our family has several audio books going. Our Audible membership has definitely been a great investment for our family.

Here is what our family is listening to this month.

This is my oldest’s current read. She also has the book, but wanted to be able to listen as well.

I have this book on my Kindle, but to be honest, I tend to put off reading books on Kindle (probably because my Fire wanders off to one of the kids’ rooms…). I love the story but wasn’t making enough progress, so I bought the audiobook as a Whispersync – if you buy a kindle book the audio book can be purchased for cheap. Now I’m enjoying the book again!

This is the second novel I’m listening to – I alternate between my two fiction selections. This is a wonderful book and I love the narrator. As an aside, there are books on Audible that have different versions with different narrators. One of the review areas (Performance) gives feedback on the narrator and of course you can listen to a sample. Sometimes the narrator makes the book!

Somehow I’ve managed to survive this long without reading Harry Potter series. In my defense, I have seen the first movie! This is our new car listen – when I am in the car with the kids we listen. They love it! Don’t tell them I listened ahead several chapters though!

This is my first Ravi Zaccharias book. Each chapter is under 10 minutes and yet gives the listener much to ponder. I’ve gotten a lot out of this book and am finishing soon. I look forward to my next Zaccharias title.

This is an Audible Original from Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma), and goes through the impact of caffeine on humanity. It’s a short but fascinating listen.

Another Audible Original, this has been a fun listen. An AI has fled her creator and is explaining her life story to an investigator. My son listened enthralled and now my older daughter has started listening to it.

I am so glad Audible has teamed up with the Great Courses Company and is offering their audio courses (and these usually include a downloadable course notes PDF!). Each lecture runs approximately 30 minutes.

My daughter LOVES Ramona – if this was a tape or CD it would be worn out from listening so often. She queues up Ramona each night to listen to when going to bed. And Stockard Channing as the narrator is SUPERB!

My husband is currently going through the Aubrey Maturin series by Patrick O’Brien (this series includes Master and Commander, which was adapted into the Russell Crowe movie).

New to audiobooks? Audible has several membership options, great sales, and apps for listening across platforms. And there is so much content available – fiction, nonfiction, Great Courses, Audible Originals, children’s books – it’s impossible to NOT find something you want to listen to.

In Common – March 9, 2020

I’ve gotten back on track with my regular reading schedule, for the most part. I am currently reading two new books.

Love Kindness is a great book so far. It examines what kindness is (and isn’t), how Christians are expected to live out this virtue, and some side effects of not practicing this virtue.

In the Introduction, Corey states,

Kindness has become far too often a forgotten virtue. Christians often bypass kindness to begin a shouting match, or we just talk among ourselves about how awful the other side is. We have ranted before we’ve related, deeming the latter too soft on sin. Christians – and I’ve seen this especially in American Christians in recent years -have employed the combative strategy, and it’s not working. (Love Kindness, p. xii)

A little later, he describes kindness,

Kindness is strong yet humble. Kindness is honesty and looks like truth with love… This is our challenge: living from a Christ-centered core that spills out into a life of kindness. It’s a life with a firm center and soft edges. (Love Kindness, p. xvi)

Should we all be expected to practice kindness?

But the Bible never talks about kindness as a gift you either have or you don’t. It describes kindness as a fruit of the Spirit, a virtue that is meant to grow from all Christians even when other people don’t like the kindness they see in us. (Love Kindness, p. 7)

One point that Corey makes, that I think is so simple, yet so profound, is this concept of receivability. It seems we as Christians work to be received, but that doesn’t always happen. Our goal should be on being receivable, and not focused on whether we are received.

… the objective of the receivable life is not to be received, but to be receivable. The goal of the kind life is not to be thanked; it is to be obedient. Whether or not the grocery clerk or the college professor received my overtures of kindness should not be my concern. Jesus never said we would be received. He simply said we need to make ourselves receivable – that is, to remove the distance or the obstacles that keep others from seeing Jesus within us. (Love Kindness, p. 7)

Corey continues on, introducing characteristics that are kindness.

Authenticity is kindness because it allows other to see our struggles rather that hiding them behind feigned perfection. Authenticity is kindness when it admits our imperfections and uncertainties, our fears and anxieties. (Love Kindness, p.14)

How we interact with others has such an impact.

The kinder way is to be present in others’ lives wit an honest spirit that isn’t waiting for the conversation to turn toward me. That’s a spirit that receives others more that is wants to be received. (Love Kindness, p. 38)

I’m half way through the book, and honestly I could share so many snippets, but I’ll end with this one for now.

When civility and humility stop being marks of a Christian, the salt has lost its savor and the light has been hidden under a bushel. (Love Kindness, p. 46)

Current Reads

Books Coming in 2020

I went online last night to look for a particular book I know is coming out this spring. Somehow I ended up doing a search for books Coming Soon on Amazon and was excited to see so many awesome books scheduled for release!

March

On Death comes out March 3, 2020. One of three titles in Tim Keller’s How to Find God series, this book looks at how we deal with and face death, from a biblical perspective.

Anne Bogel, author of Reading People and I’d Rather Be Reading, has a new book coming out March 3, 2020. Don’t Overthink It is about overthinking, indecision, and making good decisions.

In Epic:An Around-the-World Journey Through Christian History, due out March 31, 2020, Pastor Tim Challies explores Christian history through thirty-three relics.

April

Just Between Us, due out April 7, 2020, is a shared, guided journal for mothes and sons. We have the Just Between Us for mothers and daughters, and so I’m pretty excited for this one as well.

A new Marie Kondo book? Yes, please! Joy at Work comes out April 7, 2020.

David Sibley’s What’s It Like to Be a Bird comes out April 14, 2020. This looks to be a fascinating exploration of what birds are doing, and why.

For fans of S.D. Smith and The Green Ember series – the fourth installment, Ember’s End, is released April 14, 2020.

In Uncommon Ground, coming out April 14, 2020, Tim Keller and John Inazu explore what it means to live as a Christian in a pluralistic world.

Have you read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey? A special anniversary edition is coming out April 21, 2020.

The newest installment in the Everything You Need to Ace… series – Everything You Need to Ace Computer Science and Coding in One Big Fat Notebook comes out April 28, 2020. We have several titles in this series and love them, so this will be our newest addition.

If you are a fan of the Julia Rothman Anatomy series, this is the latest installment. Ocean Anatomy, releasing April 28, 2020, joins Nature Anatomy, Farm Anatomy, and Food Anatomy.

May

Here is the sequel to the award winning The One and Only Ivan. The One and Only Bob is released May 5, 2020.

Native: Identity, Belonging and Rediscovering God will be released May 5, 2020. This book caught my eye as I was scrolling. The author, a member of the Potawatomi Nation and a Christian, explores how her native identity impacts her faith.

Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood comes out May 5, 2020. This book , is a response and critique of the biblical manhood and womanhood movement, explores the tension between men and women in the evangelical church, and the roles that each are expected to play.

The newest offering from Jennifer Ackerman, author of The Genius of Birds (which I loved!) – The Bird Way comes out May 5, 2020.

If you are a Hunger Games fan, this prequel – The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – will arrive May 19, 2020.

June

From the author of The Law’s Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling (scroll through my IG feed for some page samples) and The Law’s Guide to Drawing Birds comes a new book – How to Teach Nature Journaling. This book will be released June 23, 2020.