With the news that kids won’t be returning to the classroom anytime soon, parents and kids across the country are looking to fill the void.
“The primary objective that I really think parents need to understand is this is a stressful time for kids too. Emotional and mental well-being are paramount over any kind of fear of learning loss,” says Lydia Kunicki, a mother of two and educator with over 20 years of experience in the field.
“I just stepped out of the classroom this academic year to build my tutoring business. I have developed my business to work in both Toronto and Collingwood,” she says, adding that her kids are ski racers and spend a lot of time in the area.
Kunicki is a reading coach, A.M.I. Certified Montessori primary and elementary teacher, certified Orton-GIllingham tutor, and has training in direct instruction, JUMP math, and science of reading structured literacy programs. Her advice for parents during COVID-19 isolation - go with the flow.
“I think it is really important that parents don’t put too much pressure on their kids or themselves. Everyone needs to find something that works for their household. There is no one size fits all solution here,” Kunicki says.
Since the COVID-19 school closures began, Kunicki has been offering free consultations to help families create schedules and learning plans.
She says, while parents may be worried about recreating the learning that was taking place in the classrooms, this is a time for parents to embrace ‘non traditional’ forms of learning.
“I think it is important for kids to see this time as positive as possible,” she explains. “There are a lot of opportunities now to do things that you wouldn’t normally do. This is a great opportunity to sign-up for classes and obtain unique skills that they wouldn’t normally learn in a classroom. Learning is learning. I think at this time, it is a matter of keeping our kids engaged and growing, regardless of what it is.”
For kindergarten and early years children, Kunicki suggests parents set up an environment that allows their children to be as independent as possible.
“An environment that is conducive to the kids being able to choose things and clean up after themselves, I think that would be really helpful. Having child-size furniture or shelves with their items in reach.”
She adds that it is important for kids to have designated spaces. As many adults have been encouraged to set up a proper space to work from home, kids need a similar setup.
“Setting up a playroom or play space is important and having activities that are contained is also helpful. If you have some trays or boxes, make a place for everything. A place for puzzles, a place for books, so that the child knows where to get them and where they belong,” she says.
Kunicki also suggests rotating books and toys to keep things straightforward and exciting.
“Not having too much out can also be helpful. So, have a bookshelf with 10 different books that rotate, or you are changing the books out once a week so that the children have something new to look forward to, and there isn’t too much choice.”
When it comes to trying to explain COVID-19-related restrictions to kids, Kunicki says to keep your messages short and sweet, provide less explanation the younger they are, and allow kids to have age-appropriate reactions.
“Younger kids are going to have a hard time and that is age-appropriate. If your kid is having a meltdown because they can’t have a playdate or go to the park, let them have a meltdown,” she says. “That would happen regardless of these limitations. There are behaviours and reactions that are going to be age-appropriate and I think parents need to remember that.”
In navigating this new normal for you and your kids, Kunicki says establishing a routine is critical and can give kids a sense of structure.
“Some kind of routine is important. Kids need a routine. For the older, school-aged kids, establishing a time when academic work is done is important,” she says, adding that for her family, academic time is usually done around dinner time.
Parents should also not stress too much about the amount of time kids are spending working on academics.
“No child needs to be working academically for six to eight hours a day. At this time, it is completely unnecessary. An hour or two a day is probably sufficient and they probably get a lot more done at home with more individualized time than in a school environment,” Kunicki says.
She says this is a time when embracing technology is essential and that keeping kids connected with family and friends is important.
“This is a time of [physical] distancing but not social isolation and that is the same for our kids. There are a lot of great ways to keep them connected to their friends and family. Facetime, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts are really important right now. Most kids have been using these tools all along and they are often better at it than we are. So, just encouraging them to stay connected with their circles is important,” she says.
For parents who may be concerned about their child falling behind on a proper curriculum, Kunicki suggests purchasing the specific text or workbook.
“You can purchase your child’s workbooks or textbooks online. They are not too expensive and then you know you are following your child’s curriculum. I really like Jump Math. They have great resources online,” she adds.
In these times of isolation, Kunicki encourages parents to take a look at the resources that are available online as they may be a big help in the coming weeks and months to keep kids engaged and growing.
“I have a list of some homeschooling resources that are really great (listed below). These are all well thought out programs, as most of these are people homeschool their children all of the time. These are some really great assets for parents right now,” she says.
If you are having difficulty getting your children to focus on anything academic, Kunicki suggests leading by example and making it a family affair.
“If you need more structure in your family, then get each family member to pick one online course that they are interested in and have everyone work to complete that one course by the time this isolation is over.”
For high school students who may be more academically inclined. Kunicki suggests that this may be a great time to take additional online classes to get ahead or specialize in something that is a specific passion.
“This is a great time for high school students to get ahead by taking online credits. That is something that could be really positive for some kids,” she says. “I would also suggest taking an online course in something that interests them. There are great online courses right now in app building, graphic design, negotiations. Some really great life skills that may be a little untraditional or not necessarily taught in the average classroom.”
While Kunicki encourages parents to keep their kids growing in some form or another, she also says not to stress over it too much. And that, keeping your family members healthy, both physically and emotionally, should be the top priority.
“Every family has different needs and every family functions differently. I think right now we need to make mental and emotional health a priority. Manage your expectations. Don’t add to your kid's stress and don’t add to your own pressure. Everyone is experiencing pressure in one shape or another,” she says. “Also, try to remember to take advantage of this very rare time we are getting to have together.”
Online resources suggested by Lydia Kunicki:
outschool.com (drawing, acting, writing, video game design, math)
skillshare.com (drawing, photography, digital design)
Educational websites and resources:
Melscience.com (subscription-based science experiments delivery)
littlepassports.com (subscription-based geography and science activities delivery)
education.com (free downloadable activities for all areas of curriculum by age and grade)
teacherspayteachers.com (online marketplace for educational resources created by teachers)
scholastic.com (free resources for school closures - day-by-day activities to keep kids reading)
bighistoryproject.com (free online social studies courses for middle school and high school)
Prodigy (kids math) IXL
Ordering Ontario curriculum textbooks online:
Payed and free subscription online courses: