My new normal as a mom
It has been over a week since coronavirus changed our lives — dramatically.
Our new normal means no school, no sports, no entertainment, no birthday parties, and no date nights. It means staying at home with lots of boredom, sibling fights, constant media updates, confusion and frustration.
As a mom, my new normal also includes concerns about food supply, my kids’ lack of formal education and potential sickness with inadequate healthcare. I’m concerned about my college son who works at the hospital, my high school senior’s graduation, and the long term effects this shut down will have on the economy.
Those are my fears. That is the ugly side of living in a pandemic.
Fortunately, there is a silver lining.
I have never had more uninterrupted family time. My kids spend hours playing and building with Legos. Our family goes on hikes and walks together. We organize, plan and cook meals together. We bake together. We deep clean the house together (not my kids favorite).
I finally have time for my daughters’ to french braid my hair, apply face masks, paint nails, practice yoga moves and learn Tik Tok dances (still working on the last one).
We all miss social interaction, so we set up virtual play dates. My elementary daughter spent one hour coloring with a friend via FaceTime today. My son texts his friends to schedule times to play online video games together. We use apps, like Marco Polo, to video chat with friends and family. I call my parents more frequently.
We sleep in. We watch movies.
I don’t know when life will return to normal, but for now, I’m trying to balance the negativity with the perks of living a new unstructured life.
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Are you sending your child to school?
Update: The West Ada School District closed schools a few hours after this was published.
I have spent more time reading the news this past week, than ever before. I regularly check CNN, the Idaho Statesman, Apple News, Google News, IdahoEdNews.org, CDC and the World Health Organization. I listened to Gov. Brad Little’s press conference on Friday and have listened to multiple podcasts interviewing infectious disease specialists. I am trying to learn all I can, so I can make informed decisions for my children and my family in the wake of at least five coronavirus cases confirmed in Idaho.
Some Idaho districts and charter schools are choosing to cancel classes for the coming weeks. Today, we learned the West Ada School District will still be holding school on Monday.
I was surprised.
My kids asked me why school wasn’t cancelled. They argued, “if everyone is supposed to avoid large crowds, not attend church, and Idaho colleges have moved online, then why are we still going to school?”
Two of my kids attend a high school with over 2,000 students. Two of my kids attend a middle school with over 1,000 students. My youngest attends an elementary school with over 400 students. Each school is a large crowd.
The CDC recommends that no one attends gatherings of 50 people or more.
We’ve decided my kids will not be going to school.
Most of my kids’ friends will not be going to school.
We want to avoid exposure. We don’t want to get the virus or spread the virus (some spread might be possible before you show symptoms).
My kids are worried about the virus, but now they also are worried about missing school. They have assignments due and tests to take (including an AP test and a senior project). They are worried about high school graduation.
I hope schools make a plan for alternate types of education.
There are lots of ways for our kids to keep learning. Elementary schools could create daily packets of worksheets and reading assignments, to be picked up by the parents and returned to the schools at the end of each week. Teachers could find alternate learning methods that utilize online educational tools. Teachers could send students and parents links to the assignments. I recognize it would be a lot of work, but it is possible.
If families choose to keep their children home during this pandemic, I hope schools create plans for helping parents continue to educate their children when they are home.
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What are the struggles and benefits of a four-day school week?
Small schools across the state tend to struggle with a limited budget and teacher retention. One way to alleviate this struggle, is to shift to a four-day school week. Three schools in Eastern Idaho are planning on moving to a four-day school week this fall. Currently, there are 45 school districts and 15 charter schools already operating on a four-day week, or approximately 11 percent of Idaho students.
My kids have been part of that 11 percent.
For over nine years, my children attended school in a small district. Much to my surprise, the district switched to a four-day week when I had three kids in elementary school and one in middle school. It took all of us, the students, parents, teachers and community, a while to adjust to the four-day week. I was fortunate to have the ability to stay home with my kids, while some parents complained of the struggle to find affordable daycare.
In order to get enough classroom hours with a shorter week, the K-12 schools began at 8 a.m. and ended at 3:47 p.m. It doesn’t seem like much, but an extra hour of education every day requires a lot of brain work (for students and teachers). For my younger kids, the school days seemed especially long and they came home exhausted. Aside from the suggested 20 minutes of reading a day, the teachers tried to avoid sending homework home, so when the students finished their day, they could go home and just be kids.
My older kids who were involved in sports seemed to spend the entire day at school. So, Monday through Thursday, my kids were either totally worn out and grouchy, or not home.
There were some nice perks of a four-day week. The middle and high schools attempted to plan most of the athletic away games on Thursdays. With smaller school districts, this is really important. The athletes travel long distances to compete with other small schools and end up returning to the school around midnight, sometimes even later. With the four-day week, when the bus full of athletes and coaches returned home late on a Thursday, it did not negatively impact the next day.
There were lots of other perks to having a four-day school week, perks like: the ability to plan appointments without having to pull the kids out of school, taking the family to visit the zoo or a museum when everyone else was in school, and sleeping in. I also enjoyed the opportunity to run errands with my kids and having an extra day to get house and yard work done together.
Does your school operate on a four day week? What are the struggles and benefits your family encounters?
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How is your family discussing the coronavirus?
Now that the coronavirus is gripping the globe, it has become a topic of discussion in our home. My family regularly reads the news (Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and other forms of social media) and comes to the dinner table with loads of information and questions.
We have been tracking the outbreaks, the quarantined locations and the death rates. A few of my kids especially love to read up on the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding the outbreak (all in the hopes school will be cancelled).
While I’m not too worried about the actual virus, it has brought up a lot of great conversations. We have discussed the importance of coughing into a tissue or sleeve (which seems to be quite a challenge for some of my ‘less than hygienic’ children), the need for food storage in case of a local outbreak, and the things we would do if we were stuck in our house for two weeks.
I really hope we don’t have any local outbreaks or a quarantine. If we do, my family decided we would need to buy long lasting proteins, like peanut butter and beef jerky, carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables.
When we considered being quarantined, we all agreed it would be awful. We have not come up with a good plan to keep from going crazy. Board games and the many different types of media would only be able to hold our attention for so long. We all agreed it would be OK to go outside and play games, as long as we didn’t interact with anyone else.
My youngest has been considerably worried by all of these discussions. So, to ease her fears, we have also talked about what to do in case of a zombie apocalypse. Unfortunately, we have not finalized our plan of action, because we are still in a heated debate about whether or not zombies can be killed.
What kind of discussions is your family having about the Covid-19?
Here’s a picture of some peanut butter Hershey kiss cookies, because that’s what we would be making if we needed to eat a lot of peanut butter while being quarantined in the house (assuming we have all of the other ingredients and the zombies don’t find us).
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My kids’ favorite class … by far
I have an eighth grader taking a careers class. It is by far the most influential and favorite class my kids take in middle school.
The reason this class is so great is the subject matter. Every week, the students learn about real life responsibilities and decisions. The last three projects my son worked on were:
- learning about taxes,
- credit cards and stock investments,
- planning a family vacation for four,
- and purchasing a car.
When my son came home with his investment project, he spent a considerable amount of time with his dad looking up stock prices. My son had to find companies to invest his allotted $5,000. He was required to track his ‘pretend’ earnings or losses, over the course of a month. And just like that, my son had an interest in and understanding of investing in stocks.
After working for several days planning a family vacation, my son came home exhausted and exclaimed, “taking kids on vacation is expensive!” He had planned a two week Hawaiian cruise, including meals and additional costs, right down to the Uber from the house to the airport. Unfortunately, we could not capitalize on his hard work, due to our much larger family size and incompatible trip date.
This week my son told me about the Jeep he has planned to buy. He also informed me of the importance of looking for a car with less than 50,000 miles and the best month to buy a car. (December is the best month because auto dealers are anxious to clear their lots for new inventory.)
My kids enjoy learning about all of these topics and I enjoy the excellent job the teacher does communicating with the parents. She emails regular updates (twice a month) about the topics she is teaching the students. Her emails include suggested discussion topics and questions to ask our child. Last month she sent a link to a TED talk titled, “When Money isn’t Real”, to watch as a family.
How do you talk to your kids about life skills and future planning?
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I am a big fan of community college and trade schools
I am a big fan of community college and trade schools. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the value of a bachelor’s degree, but community college can be a great stepping stone into post secondary education.
Each one of my four oldest kids have taken classes through the local community college. Some have taken concurrent credit classes through the high school and some have taken summer courses. My oldest son was able to become a Certified Nursing Assistant after taking a six-week summer course, and the qualifying exam.
Attending community college and earning his CNA helped my son tremendously. It gave him the ability to find a good paying job to cover his expenses, while he continued to pursue his education. He is still working towards his bachelor’s degree, but has considered going back to community college to earn additional certifications.
My high school daughter is considering a similar path. She is interested in the medical field and wants to complete as many undergraduate classes as she can, before graduation. By taking classes through the community college, her four-year college expenses may be significantly less.
There are a lot of jobs available to people with an associate degree or technical certificate. Here is a brief list of careers for those considering community college or trade school.
If you are trying to help your high school graduate decide what post secondary education to pursue, community college or trade school might be a good start.
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Do you have family rules about screen time?
The West Ada School District invited parents and students to a viewing of ScreenAgers, a documentary about families struggling to find balance with internet usage and screen time. The movie is not available online and can only be viewed at select locations.
I was able to watch the movie with my two middle school kids last night. If you do not have the chance to watch it, here are a few highlights and insights I learned from the movie:
The average teenager spends over six hours a day looking at screens. Because our brains are wired to release dopamine when we receive new information, scrolling through social media or watching short clips (like Tik Tok), makes us feel good. While we may ‘feel good’, overstimulation tires the brain. This rapid stimulation compromises the brain’s ability to think clearly and solve problems.
Several experts in the movie explained how difficult it is for our brains to pay attention. Staying focused at school is already a challenge for a lot of students and when one phone is out in class, the students sitting adjacent to the phone also tend to be distracted.
Some kids argue, using a mobile phone when they are bored is no different than daydreaming or doodling — but daydreaming and doodling are both good for your brain. They allow the brain to process information from the day. Using a device does the opposite.
The movie was not full of data or statistics about internet usage, which I would have preferred, instead it focused on the real struggle of teens and parents trying to find a healthy balance. One family decided to give their daughter a phone, along with a list of guidelines and rules about her phone usage. Here is the phone ‘contract’ they created, along with one created by a different family. If you want to create one that is individualized for your family, there is also a link to information that will help you get started (determining your family rules, principals, incentives, and consequences).
The movie also discussed internet gaming and it’s potentially addictive qualities stating; the average boy spends 14+ hours, or two full school days every week playing online games. The movie also discussed the pressure girls feel to be pretty, due to constant exposure and praise for people’s physical appearance, displayed on social media.
When we left the movie, I asked my kids what they had learned. We discussed my husband’s and my phone usage (it’s not just a kid problem), the benefits of limited screen time (my 11-year-old admitted she would be on Tik Tok all day if I didn’t limit her to 30 minutes), what our family could be doing with our free time instead of being on our phones (playing outside, cooking together, being more creative, or learning a musical instrument) and what is a reasonable amount of time for gaming every day.
The best thing about the movie was the conversation I was able to have with my kids about the positive and negative qualities of internet usage. If you would like to have more conversations about technology with your families, here is a link to ‘tech talk Tuesday’s’. You can sign up to receive weekly topics to discuss with your family.
Does your family have conversations about technology usage in your home? Do you have a mobile phone contract or a clear list of family rules? If so, please feel free to share them!
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Today was a good day to be mom
Today was a good mom day. I chaperoned several second-grade classes on a field trip to the Idaho Discovery Center in Boise. It’s been over a year since my family’s last visit, so I was anxious to see the new exhibits.
The trip began with a herd of excited second graders wiggling on the benches, while a staff member explained the instructions (no running, no yelling, don’t touch the dinosaur sculpture and don’t take apart the Lego exhibit). She did an outstanding job of keeping the kids engaged and attentive while she explained each of the four exhibit rooms.
Each section could have held the kids attention for the entire two hours, so the adults had to encourage the students to move from room to room.
Some of my favorite interactive displays in the first room were; a paper airplane making station with launching machine, a building block station with air blower to check the integrity of the structure, the giant Light-Brite replica made from colored water bottles, and (of course) the large bubble maker.
The second and third rooms focused on the sun, the Earth, the universe, and a giant t-rex named Tinker. The kids loved laying on the bed of nails, playing with robots, and reading about the dinosaur.
My favorite room was the Lego brick room. The kids were able to create wall art, build a dam (with flowing water), build a car and race it down a track, and create a stop motion movie. I’m not ashamed to say, I spent a long time building my car. The second graders were engrossed in play, creativity and engineering the whole time.
With Idaho winter in full swing, I love taking my kids indoors to explore local museums and discovery centers. The Discovery Center is a bit pricey, $14 for adults, $13 for seniors and $12 for kids, but for EBT card holders, it’s only $3 (up to four family members).
If you don’t live near Boise, consider visiting some of these other museums located all around Idaho.
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Do you know someone who vapes?
I know teenagers who vape. Most of us probably know someone who vapes. In 2017, the CDC surveyed middle and high school students and found over 42 percent of students had used electronic vapor products.
Growing up in the 90’s, I remember seeing advertisements about the dangers of tobacco use. I saw pictures of people with tracheostomies and warnings about the risks of lung cancer, caused by smoking cigarettes. The pictures and dangers frightened me and made smoking very unappealing (like this 30-second anti-smoking clip, produced by the CDC).
From 1965 to 2014, the number of smokers in the United States dropped from 42 percent to 16 percent. According to this article, the decline in tobacco used was caused by the anti-smoking campaigns, stricter tobacco laws, increased tobacco taxes, and the media’s shift away from glamorizing smoking.
Unfortunately, the $35 billion dollar tobacco industry did not slink away quietly. Instead, they created electronic cigarettes marketed toward young people. Ironically, e-cigarettes were invented by a man, Hon Lik, who’s father died from lung cancer after a lifetime of heavy smoking.
Commercial sales of electronic cigarettes began in 2003. E-cigarettes are commonly called; “vapes”, “tank systems”, “hookahs”, “ENDS” (electronic nicotine delivery systems), “mods”, and/or “JUULs”. JUULing is one of the most commonly used nicotine products by middle and high school students. It is appealing because it is easy to hide (it looks like a USB device) and it comes in fun flavors, like mint, fruit, cotton candy and bubble gum. My daughter told me most girls hide it in their bra.
I asked my kids what they knew about vaping, if their friends vaped or if they had ever tried vaping. My two middle school kids were not directly exposed to vaping, but they were aware of kids who hid in the bathroom stalls to vape.
My two high school kids had a different experience. They both know several kids who vape and have even been given the opportunity to vape (via JUULs). My question spurred an interesting conversation about when and where students vape, why they vape and the perceived ‘positive’ and negative side effects of nicotine use. To be clear, I do not believe there are positive effects, but I wanted to better understand the appeal. I was told kids enjoy the flavors and playing with the smoke vapors in their mouth.
I spoke with other high school students who told me they know students who sneak a puff or several puffs, during class, when the teacher is not looking. When I asked about nicotine vaping vs. marijuana vaping, they told me that most kids who vape use both products.
Here is a guide for parents who want to learn more about vaping and JUULing. If you’re not sure how to start the conversation with your kids, you can talk about this teenager who recently received a double lung transplant due to vaping usage. Let’s make sure our kids understand the dangers of vaping and nicotine addiction.
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How do you feel about mastery programs?
I just finished reading an article about Rocky Mountain Middle School in Idaho Falls. RMMS is one of a few dozen schools in Idaho that is using state funds to pilot an education mastery program. Mastery learning allows students to learn at their own pace, with the goal of mastering a subject before moving on. The students work independently from laptops and have the opportunity to attend lessons, work in groups or request teacher assistance when needed.
Mastery learning makes sense, especially for subjects like math, foreign language and science. If a student doesn’t fully understand basic vocabulary, concepts, formulas or theories, how can they be expected to build on them?
I have noticed this dilemma with my own children. When my son began high school he loved math. He was placed in an honors course, but struggled with the teacher’s teaching style. He worked hard, but didn’t get the help he needed and was not able to gain a confident grasp of the subject matter. The following year, he switched to math II (not honors). He did a little better, but was not able to regain his love and mastery of math. By his junior year, math was admittedly his least favorite subject. He was resigned to the belief that he was bad at math. Now that he is a senior, he is taking calculus. It is his least favorite subject and he has lost all desire to pursue any career involving math.
I had a similar experience when I was in high school. I took three years of Spanish. I excelled in my first year, began to struggle my second year, and by my third year I felt like I was in the wrong class. I’m sure these two experiences are not unique.
Students need to have a solid understanding of complex subject matters before moving on. They may even need tutoring, peer assistance or new teaching styles to help them master ideas and concepts. No one benefits from moving a student to a more complex subject without understanding the basics.
Are your children involved in one of the 32 schools across the state implementing the mastery program? How do you feel about mastery learning?
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