“My mother-in-law keeps sending me links to language-learning apps, with the suggestion that the kids and I learn French while we’re all at home together. You know, with all our free time.”
This was a friend of mine in early April. The pandemic was young, the kids were home, and we were all just trying to figure out what the heck our lives were going to look like for the (un)foreseeable future. That’s when the suggestions started rolling in. And they haven’t stopped! It isn’t just language-learning and bread-baking. It’s everything: 50 e-learning resources to help our kids not fall behind. Every newfangled toy to keep the little ones from destroying the house during our Zoom calls. A thousand celebrities reading aloud on the internet. The best devices. Organizational tools. Home learning plans. Recipes. Crafts. Self-care ideas (LOL).
So. Many. Suggestions.
We felt it at EdNavigator, too. It’s why we kicked off the shutdown period with a resource we called One Great Thing for Tomorrow, not 100 Great Things Forever and Ever. We wanted to cut through the noise. All these ideas are well-intended—after all, people know that caregivers are overwhelmed, and they want to help. But the result can be even more overwhelming, because it isn’t always obvious which of the many tools and resources and shiny things might actually be helpful for our actual lives.
Here’s how we’re figuring out what suggestions to take and what to (politely) toss aside. (And please excuse the fact that this too is a list of, well, suggestions.)
Articulate your own family’s current priorities. When schools were first closed, a lot of us went into panic mode and started trying All the Things. (Remember all those Instagram-ready homeschool schedules?) Now that we’re well into what’s sure to be a long and abnormal school year, it’s a good time to articulate what your family actually needs help with, so you can focus on getting those needs met. Are you looking to cut down on screen time? Cook more? Keep the kids busy before and after remote school? If so, the internet has plenty of ideas. (We might even have you covered.) But suggestions for cutting down on screen time aren’t that useful if you’re not worried about screen time to begin with. And weeknight recipes don’t matter much if takeout is working just as well. So instead of letting other people’s suggestions make you start spinning in circles, take a minute to get really clear about what matters in your household. Once you’ve identified what you want help with, then you can reach out and crowdsource for ideas—or Ask a Navigator for some suggestions.
Look for patterns and outliers. If multiple people or sources you trust are suggesting the same fill-in-the-blank (resource, activity, strategy), it might be worth investigating for your own household. But if you hear a one-off suggestion for some “latest and greatest” whatever from your one friend who always goes for the latest and greatest, you can probably disregard it.
Speaking of sources, know yours. If you know where to look for trustworthy recommendations, it’s that much easier to avoid the clutter. Our list of go-to sources for recommended products and activities is pretty short. We like Common Sense Media for trusted book, television, and movie reviews. For anything related to babies and young children, the folks at Lucie’s List know what they’re talking about. If K-12 e-learning tools are what you’re after, we’ve listed some of our favorites right here, and stay tuned to The Kinda Guide for an updated list in the weeks ahead.
Do a trial period. If you’re launching something new in your house (say, a different approach to keeping the kids engaged in remote learning, or a parenting hack like a snack station or exit slips), give it a minute to take effect. The kids will take time to adjust to a new routine or expectation, so don’t throw in the towel and reach for something different if the first few days are a mess. Reset expectations and keep trying.
Stick to a few things that work. My preschooler regularly uses a couple e-learning apps. She loves them. And she’s learned a lot from them—letters and sounds, counting, matching, the works. She hasn’t outgrown them yet, but I still feel compelled to keep downloading new things that come recommended by other parents. Why? Because it’s our nature to want the best for our kids, and we often assume that what other people are doing is better than what we’re doing. But most of us—kids included—thrive when we only have a few options to choose from. So as my grandmother loved to say, “If it ain’t broke…” You know the rest.
Trust your gut. When it comes to your kids, you do know best. (Even if it doesn’t always feel like it.)
“Now that we’re well into what’s sure to be a long and abnormal school year, it’s a good time to articulate what your family actually needs help with, so you can focus on getting those needs met.”
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