Distance Learning: What I’ve Learned After I’ve Survived the First Week

I survived the first week of distance learning…did you?

Last week, I was asked to participate in an interview for a local paper about the impact of distance learning on children and working families, and more importantly, the barriers that may interfere with success. To read the article, please click here.

Preparing for this interview encouraged me to reflect on this issue from both lenses: that of a parent and that of a Social Worker. I thought for this week’s blog, I would share my personal experience with distance learning, as well as, my professional advice to families.

My Personal experience with distance learning

Prior to the distance learning curriculum being launched this past week, I was one of those parents who tried to “homeschool” my kids in the mornings in order to give them something to do other than playing on their video games and watching television (yes, I totally added the ” “). I bought the curriculum books online and went through “lessons” with both my sons, who are in grade 7 and grade 3. For the most part, I tried to be flexible: let them pick the subjects they wanted to do, start the day whenever we were finished breakfast, let them take breaks whenever they wanted. “Homeschool” went pretty smoothly and the boys both actually seemed to like it. Last week, when the distance learning curriculum launched, several observations came to light, like a gigantic beacon in the dead of night (yes, I’m aware that rhymed).

First, homeschooling” by my standards is not the same as distance learning. Distance learning consists of designed lessons in a structured order with deadlines and processes to submit or turn in assignments. It does not consist of one worksheet with a short paragraph at the top of the page with directions and then a brief exercise – only to move onto a new concept on the next page. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a formalized education setting, and you would think, grade 3 and grade 7 concepts should come naturally. So untrue. I have had to give myself permission to learn (or re-learn, I mean) concepts with my boys and be okay with telling them that I don’t know something. Sometimes, I will ask them to teach it to me. That seems to work.

Second, distance learning is not the same as regular school. As I had to explain to my eldest son during his brief episode of frustration at the beginning, I am not a certified teacher and am going through each lesson the way it is outlined by his real, certified teachers. The workload is significantly less but seems like more to the kids because there are not used to this. They have been out of school for a month. Real school, I mean. But our kids are being given, at most, two hours of work per day, as opposed to 6 hours per day. It should be manageable, user-friendly, and, most importantly, not considered a replacement of their formalized education. That’s too much pressure for any parent.

Third, as technologically capable I believe myself to be, learning the new platform to access their lessons, utilize electronic textbooks, submit work and communicate with teachers is foreign territory. For the most part, I am fascinated by the ease of information being shared and am grateful that there are avenues that are available to make this learning process somewhat easier. But I am learning as I go along and I have had to remind myself to be patient with my process and ask for help from the teachers whenever I need it.

My advice to families from the lens of a social worker

The advice that I gave the reporter last week was really a combination of my personal and professional experiences. In theory, I have to remind parents and families that anxiety, as a basic emotion, tends to show itself in times of uncertainty and unpredictably. We like to know what to expect and we like it even more when we feel like we have some control over what it happening in our lives. This can be helpful to remind us all that the overwhelming feeling that you may be experiencing or your children may be experiencing is understandable – it’s coming from somewhere…more specifically, the unpredictable pandemic that is currently impacting the entire world and restricting our day-to-day civil liberties.

I think I’ve said this in pretty much all of my blogs during this pandemic because it is so important: Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best that you can. You are not a teacher. And if you are a teacher and you’re teaching your children, they may still not see you as a teacher, they see you as a parent. When I think about the lessons and struggles that I experienced last week (and this week) as a parent, I couldn’t help but think of the systemic issues that could serve as barriers for some families. Those include: poor internet connection in rural areas; working parents who still have to work a full shift from home and may not have the time to go through each lesson with their children; single parents and/or parents of multiple children at different grade levels who may or may not have access to more than one electronic device; families who cannot afford strong internet services or electronic devices needed to complete distance learning; families whose first language may not be English and may have difficulty understanding some of the lesson plans; families whose educational training may find it difficult to understand some of the concepts being taught; students who may struggle with learning disabilities or require additional support that may not be able to be provided through this distance learning method; parents or other caregivers who may not be technologically knowledgeable; etc. I know I am missing more, but those are just a few, at the top of my head.

We can only do the best we can. We need to modify our expectations and be okay with not knowing how to do some of this. We need to use our resources and ask for help when we need it. We can still be flexible. The teachers don’t expect you to be teachers either. I commend all educators for the work that they have had to put in to help our children continuing to learn and I understand that some of the teachers may also be facing some systemic barriers too. We are all in unfamiliar territory and we are in survival mode, meaning that our main focus is to get through each day healthy and safe. If something is not finished today because you and your child(ren) are about to throw the laptop out the window out of pure frustration, put the laptop down gently and carefully walk away. It will be there tomorrow. Because unfortunately, this is our reality, our normal, for now. Our children will likely not be as prepared for the next school year as we would want them to be. That’s okay. We have been put in the position to be creative in continuing the education of our children, and I am referring to both families and educators.

So be kind to yourself. You are doing a great job. Be grateful that in the current mode of survival, you have succeeded one more day. Your home is not a school, and it’s not meant to be. Your children will be fine. They are resilient. They will learn to adapt to new environments and unpredictable changes. Everything after this will hopefully be more manageable. Just think, one day in our future, we will be able to say, “You think that’s bad? It’s not a pandemic, remember??”

Today, Be Kind to Yourself.

You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

Buddha

It is so easy to be hard on ourselves for not coping the way we think we “should” cope with these changes. In many of my sessions this week, the message that I have been consistently delivering is this: Be Kind to Yourself.

There is no formula or protocol that we have been formally or informally trained to practice during a global pandemic. We have no idea what to expect. We are in survival mode at this point. So what do we do now?

Continue reading “Today, Be Kind to Yourself.”

It’s Exam Time!

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With the end of the school year approaching, there is always excitement about summer vacation.  But with this, is the seemingly gigantic obstacle that needs to be overcome before the bliss of sunny days and freedom: exams.  Your teen may be experiencing some anxiety about this time of the year because of the cumulative projects and upcoming exams.  You may see more irritability or expressions of stress and frustration rise in their words and their behaviour. Just remember that it’s only temporary and once that final exam is completed, the excitement of summer will return!

During this time, I always try to remind myself when working with my teenage clients that it can be a very stressful time.  I try to incorporate strategies to help in managing test anxiety, whether or not they believe they experience it. So, I wanted to share a few main points that I find to be helpful with surviving exam time:

1. Studying requires breaks! Our brains can only retain a certain amount of information before it begins to shut down on its own.  Therefore, even though we are entering into our third hour of studying, the likelihood of remembering is quite low.  So take those breaks to give your poor brain a rest, please.

2. When we “blank out” during exams, it is usually not because we are unprepared.  It is usually because our anxiety is so high that it is interfering with our ability to remember.  If this is the case, it is important to enter the exam environment in a calmer state.  Right before the exam, put away the notes (you’re not going to learn anything new in the next few minutes) and focus on relaxation.  Sit and listen to your favourite song, sketch in your sketchbook that you haven’t used in a while, watch a television show.  Bring your anxiety down from a 10 to a 7. It will make a big difference.

3. Try to reframe your thoughts if they are negative.  If you think that you are going to fail, remind yourself of the good (or “okay”) marks you have received in this class so far this semester. Instead of focusing on what you still don’t understand, think of the things that you studied and know backwards and forwards.  If you think that it will be a long and grueling process, remind yourself that you will be on summer vacation in less than a week.  This time tomorrow, this class will be done and over!

4. Before you start writing anything down on your exam, read over all of the questions and take a deep and slow breath. Exhale all of the worries and remember all of the work that you have put forth to get there.

5. Get a good night’s sleep and eat something small before the exam.  Fatigue and exhaustion will make it very difficult to focus, formulate your thoughts, understand the questions, etc.

6. Once the exam is over, IT IS OVER. Don’t spend too much time thinking about the questions and whether or not you got this one right or that one wrong.  Leave it in the classroom and take the night off if you can by doing something enjoyable.

7. If you feel panicked or anxious before your exam, remind yourself that it’s normal to feel this way.  It may not mean that it is because you are going to fail. But it is definitely a reflection of your desire to do well, which means it is important to you.

Below is a link to a pdf file that has a lot of helpful strategies to prepare for exams and write them.  I give this to my clients all the time, even if they are not worried about their exams.

https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/Test_Anxiety_Booklet.pdf

Good luck to all and I hope this post was helpful to you!!

Talking to your Child or Teen about Tragedy

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Wishing that our children can be free of tragedy and sadness (Photo Credit: Teresa Sumerfield Photography)

It seems like more and more frequently, we find ourselves bombarded with media coverage about tragedies that occur randomly and unexpected.  School shootings.  Bus accidents.  Innocent children and youth dying. Acts of violence towards strangers.  Sometimes, watching the local news can be more terrifying than the movies and television shows we “responsibly” use our parental blocks to shield our children from the horrors of computer animation and gratuitous gore and bloodshed.

It is not surprising, then, that our young ones are becoming increasingly anxious about arbitrary and general and unspecific situations.  We may wonder why our sons and daughters are worried about practically everything and we may try to comfort them by telling them that they have nothing to worry about.  However, in my work with children and youth, although this interaction is, at best, full of positive intentions to support and help, it is often viewed as minimizing and insincere.  It can also send the message that these feelings are not okay or “normal”.

Continue reading “Talking to your Child or Teen about Tragedy”

Our Latest Newsletter is Ready!

Embracing the Powerful Mind is a newsletter that is developed by myself and a very talented colleague, Uresha Salgado.  The purpose of it is to share our knowledge on various issues and keep you updated on upcoming events, programs and services.

We are happy to share our latest edition, Volume 1, Issue 2, which focuses on upcoming groups that we are planning and developing for the new year.  We are very excited to be able to work with groups of parents, youth and families to help strengthen their knowledge and relationships.

For more information about Group Services, please click here.

To read our past newsletter, please click here.

To register for one of our groups, or to request to receive our newsletters regularly, please refer to my Contact page.

Happy Reading! 🙂

My first article for Marriage.com

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I have officially been named an “expert” by marriage.com, a leading website providing resources and information about marriage and related topics.

Please check out my first article, “Differing communication styles can both fail and strengthen your relationship”, using the link below:

http://www.marriage.com/advice/communication/differing-communication-styles-can-both-fail-and-strengthen-your-relationship/

 

Upcoming Groups Coming to Orangeville

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My colleague, Uresha Salgado, and I are excited to announce that we are preparing for groups that we would like to have in the Orangeville area for parents and youth!  We are hoping to launch our first groups in January/February 2017 and are looking for topics that are suitable and needed in the Orangeville and surrounding area.

Please take some time to complete our survey at the link below to give us idea of your interests and needs:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/QP2V9MM

We are looking forward to this extremely exciting opportunity!

Thanks in Advance,

Cindy

If you have any question, suggestions or ideas, please feel free to contact me by visiting my Contact page.

The “tip of the Iceberg”: Looking beneath our child’s behaviours.

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You are feeling utterly exhausted as you endure your child’s latest “meltdown”.  You watch him (or her) helplessly as he (or she) thrashes about, yelling and screaming, and saying hurtful things to you and others.  You desperately want to help your child but don’t know how.

For some of you, reading this scenario resonates with you.  Observing angry or aggressive behaviour can elicit feelings of sadness, fear and frustration.  You can’t seem to understand how your sweet, loving child can switch, almost instantly, to someone who seems inconsolable, uncontrollable, and unrecognizable.

In my practice, I share with families the theory of the Feelings Iceberg, which can be helpful in understanding a child or youth’s behaviours and guiding effective responses.  Continue reading “The “tip of the Iceberg”: Looking beneath our child’s behaviours.”

When you need more than “I don’t know”: The High/Low Game

The school year has finally begun and you are dying to know how your child’s day went.  How was their teacher?  Were their peers nice to them? Did they find the work hard? So you ask your child and, after a long pause where you think he or she is thinking about a response, you get, “I don’t know” or “Nothing”.  You are left starving for more but you don’t know what else to ask.  And now you are just frustrated.

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Getting your children to talk about their day can be challenging, especially if you want to know if he or she is experiencing stress oranxiety.  On one hand, you don’t want your child focusing only on the negative parts of the day.  We don’t want to begin the pattern of mental filtering early, after all. (Note: Mental filtering refers to the tendency to filter out the positive things and focus on the negative things, even when the positive things outweigh the negative).  It is essential to encourage balanced thinking by prompting our children to think not only about the negative parts of their day, but the highlights of their day as well.  We also don’t want to ask them close-ended questions that require them only to answer with one word (ex. “How was your day?” Good. “Did you learn anything fun?” No.). Continue reading “When you need more than “I don’t know”: The High/Low Game”