April 20, 2020
Tags: Community-Building, Inclusion,
Last week marked the 5th week that students across our state have been out of school. While some are settling into a new routine and finding their rhythm now, the fact is kids are missing their friends, their social and extracurricular activities – they’re even missing their teachers (and not just their favorite teachers)!
We have been meeting frequently with our ANYTOWN Ambassadors (students who have graduated from the ANYTOWN leadership program and are still in high school) on Zoom, helping them process what they’ve been experiencing since school became virtual back in mid-March.
In these conversations, they’ve shared a range of feelings. Some are thriving, relishing this opportunity to manage their own schedules. Others feel disoriented as days seem to melt into one another, with no clear direction or sense of balance. They’re frustrated that people they look to for guidance (teachers, parents) don’t always have clear answers. But they’re also empathetic, as they see their parents try to balance all their worlds at once and care for their own needs as well.
When we went searching for ways to help young people thrive at home and find some balance, we found some insight right within our office. Erika, NCCJ’s development director, knows a thing or two about home learning. Erika spent most of her childhood being “unschooled” (What’s “Unschooling?” Click here to learn more), which involves lots of self-guided and interest-focused learning for young people. We asked her to share some advice for parents and students as we all navigate this strange time.
Erika shared these 4 suggestions:
1. Don’t focus on their grades.
Grades are a powerful form of validation. For some students it’s devastating to feel that the grades they’ve worked so hard to achieve suddenly don’t matter as much (at least right now.) If they are excited about learning and want more than what they’re getting from their virtual coursework, focus on ways they can use this time to delve deeper into subjects they are most interested in. Encourage them to identify a subject or two that they want to know more about, or a skill they want to learn, and explore online classes or videos.
You can sign up to receive daily emails from TEDEd that share lessons for a variety of interests and age groups.
On the other hand, maybe they just want to do the bare minimum of schoolwork and then text with their friends or play video games all day. That’s fine, too. They might eventually get bored and feel like doing something else. In the meantime, texting with friends gives them essential social connection. Video games teach problem-solving, strategy, and collaboration (depending on the type of game) and can help relieve stress. Plus, they’re fun.
2. Boredom can be useful.
When you’re used to filling all your waking hours with school, friends, scrolling through social media, studying, and watching TV, being ordered to stay home from school might feel like a vacation at first. But after a few weeks, Snapchat streaks and binge-watching Netflix gets old. Now you’re faced with figuring out what else to do with all this free time on your hands. That’s not necessarily a bad thing! Before the internet and cell phones (hey, you remember!), people sometimes felt bored. So, they found creative ways to occupy their time. Maybe they’ll learn to play guitar. Or draw. Or fix their car. Maybe they’ll just daydream. It’s OK to leave them alone and let them figure out what to do (in fact, I highly encourage it.)
3. Focus on how they’re feeling.
Chances are, they’re having feelings of stress and anxiety (I’m guessing you are, too.) We aren’t always good at talking about how we feel. But learning to acknowledge and understand our emotions can help transform negative emotions.
Listen to them. Ask them to tell you how they feel about what’s happening. Try not to tell them how you think they feel, or how they “should” feel. Avoid the temptation to “solve” any sorrowful or negative feelings they express. Just listen.
But, if it seems like they want your advice, you can offer to help them find some options for practicing stress-relief on their own, like an online yoga class or a meditation app. Here are a few of NCCJ’s app recommendations that may help with managing feelings of stress and anxiety:
- For younger kids, check out the PeaceOut podcast. “PeaceOut features short stories that help children calm down and relax by guiding them through visualization and breathing exercises. Perfect for parents or teachers who want to teach mindfulness and self-regulation.” (It can work well for older kids and adults, too.)
- For older kids, try Stop, Breathe, and Think, an app recommended by one of our GCS counselor friends and ANYTOWN advisor Jasmine Pearson. This app is “an award-winning meditation and mindfulness app that helps you find peace anywhere. It allows you to check in with your emotions, and recommends short-guided meditations, yoga and acupressure videos, tuned to how you feel.”
- You can also check out this article by Elisha Goldstein for list of easy-to-follow processing tools to help students of all ages process what they’re experiencing.
4. Find ways they can help.
With normal school and work routines on pause and everyone gathered at home together, your family is a little, self-contained community right now. Communities thrive when everyone has an opportunity to play a meaningful role. Help your children find age-appropriate ways to contribute that add value to your “family community” and make them feel good. Do they like cooking? Maybe they can find creative ways to make meals from what’s in the cabinet, or practice making soup or bread (and both happen to be good ways to learn some practical chemistry.)
We hope that you find these tips and ideas helpful as you all continue to navigate this time together. Next week, we’ll have something just for the kids – so stay tuned!
P.S. Check out our new, three-part virtual community programs considering how we can maintain a compassionate community while we stay safe at home:
- Your Brain on Uncertainty: Why Checking Bias is Still Important in Times of Crisis (Recorded Tuesday, April 21)
- The Power of Language: Standing By What You Say in Tough Times (Recorded Tuesday, April 28)
- Developing Our Moral Imagination: Learning from the Past to Envision the Future (Recorded Tuesday, May 5)