Fun Learning: A Working List

Schools across the United States are closed right now, leaving more than 41 million students without their regular daily routines and learning schedules. (link) There’s a lot of confusion and frustration and grief running through hearts and minds here in America, and adding the expectation of schooling at home onto parents’ full plates is not my idea of a good time.

There are so many ways that our children can explore and learn that don’t have to be formal educational experiences. To help you navigate all of the information out there, I’ve compiled a list of resources that I have used with my students and my own children to give them opportunities to learn and grow without breaking out workbooks. (Not that all workbooks are always a bad idea, but let’s be real. They’re usually boring. Especially when done in isolation.)

I found many of these over the years through Common Sense Education, one of my favorite go-tos for digital learning. The list is organized by subject and grade bands are provided, too. I hope you’ll find some of these to be helpful!

As always, I would encourage you to screen these apps, websites, and activities before giving your child access just to make sure it’s developmentally appropriate. :)

Know that I am rooting for you, mama, as you navigate this new normal. We’re all in this thing together.

Reading

Epic! (K-5) // A digital library collection to encourage a love of reading

TIME for Kids (K-6) // News magazine for kids on current events and informational text

Storybird (K-12) // For creating and publishing storybooks

Newsela (2-12) // Current news stories and text library, leveled for students’ reading ability

Grammarly (6-12) // Writing tips for improving composition skills

Math

CodeMonkey (K-12) // Game-based learning experience to help kids learn coding

Khan Academy (K-12) // Excellent resource for teaching, practicing, and re-teaching math skills

Prodigy (1-8) // Responsive math platform that adapts to children’s skill needs with game-like features

** Click here for more STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) recommendations.**

Science

National Geographic Kids (Pre K-8) // Stories and beautiful images about the world and wildlife

Mystery Science (K-5) // Science activities and lessons based on big questions and children’s curiosity

Generation Genius (K-8) // Videos and lessons to get kids interested in science.

Google Earth (K-12) // Awesome for virtual field trips and world exploration

Social Studies

PBS KIDS (Pre K-6) // Loads of engaging content for children

Google Lit Trips (K-12) // Bridge the connection between stories and the places they occur

National Museum of African American History and Culture Learning Labs (K-12) // Helps children understand American history through the African American lens

Cast Your Vote (5-8) // Learn about the voting process and political issues

Race to Ratify (6-12) // Engaging game-based learning centered on the Constitution and persuasion techniques

Smithsonian Kids (2-12) // Interactive activities across many disciplines including US history, inventions, animals, and more

 

 

 

Finding Your People

Today I had the pleasure of participating in the #LeadLAP Twitter chat and was once again reminded of just how powerful personal learning networks are.

Education in America is a funny thing. Teachers are encouraged to promote collaboration and collective learning every day for students, but we are typically isolated in our classrooms and given very few opportunities to engage with each other during the work day.

This creates an environment where educators have very little face time with their peers, making it difficult to build relationships and collaborate in any meaningful way. And because of the heavy responsibility of fostering relationships and inspiring learning for 150+ students every day, our emotional and mental energy is often sapped by the time the dismissal bell rings.

It’s hard to know what the answer is, quite honestly, on a large scale. From underfunding for schools to leadership that can be slow to change, it feels impossible.

But for those like-minded educators out there who want a change, take heart. We don’t have to wait on the budgets and class schedules and construction of our school to shift in order for us to build collaboration and camaraderie.

Here are a few things I’ve done over the years to foster those important relationships within the current structure of our educational system.

  • Set aside 30 minutes of time each week to meet with your team. Be it grade level, content, or just those teachers you naturally gravitate toward, find time to meet with people in your building who inspire and empower you. Use that time to reflect, share teaching strategies, or discuss your strengths and growth areas. Keep the conversations uplifting and solutions-focused as best you can so that you leave that time and place feeling energized and seen.
  • Seek out feedback and insight from school leaders you trust. One of the most professionally rewarding relationships I have has grown out of a deep need I had of tackling a challenging situation with a student. I walked into the office of my assistant principal earlier this year with tears in my eyes and simply said, “I don’t know what to do here.” He gave me time to share, listened to me, and together we developed a plan to help this child. I learned many valuable lessons in this experience, the most significant being that it is okay to admit when you need something. From your principal to the leader of your grade level, find a person you respect who has a bit more experience than you and let them walk with you through the mess. You will both be stronger for it.
  • Make time for your own personal growth and development. We educators tend to be laser focused on helping our students grow while neglecting our own needs. The oxygen mask example still rings true: you cannot help someone if you’re not helping yourself first. Whether it’s on Saturdays mornings while you sip that second cup of coffee or a weekday evening after dinner, find time to invest in yourself. Read a book by one of your favorite education authors. Or listen to an education-related podcast. Maybe just write a few paragraphs of self-reflection on your practice this year. Whatever strikes your fancy, just do it.

At the end of this school year, I’ll be walking into my second decade of teaching. I have grown immensely over these ten years, and I couldn’t have done it without relationships. People pouring their knowledge and expertise into my open, willing-to-learn soul. And I couldn’t have done it without pouring into myself.

So as we continue on in this second semester of the school year, I encourage you to look for ways that you can use the relationships with people around you – and your relationship with yourself – to help you grow. And I can’t wait to hear how this practice molds and shapes you. Find me on Twitter and tell me about it!

The Value of Struggle

When you hear the word “struggle,” what feelings crop up for you? Looking at the world around us, it’s clear that struggle is something we’ll often do anything to avoid. But as you and I both know, pushing through challenges develops many character traits and skills that we need to be humans who are full of good things like determination, commitment, and kindness.

Just like in life, struggle is a necessary part of learning in the classroom. In order for students to truly learn at the deepest levels, they must grapple with academic challenges and learn how to stay the course. “Struggle” will mean different things for different students, of course, but in order for all students to learn and grow, they must each face appropriately difficult tasks and lean into them instead of trying to find a shortcut or give up altogether.

When I allow my students to struggle and walk with them through it, I am telling them that I believe they have what it takes to succeed. I am giving life to my students’ self-confidence. I’m empowering them to believe in themselves and do difficult things. And I’m building trust in our relationship, too.

Don’t get me wrong. It is difficult sometimes to let this process play out, but removing important obstacles in my students’ experiences will ultimately be calamitous. Doing so robs them of opportunities to develop life skills they need to be successful adults. I choose to sit with my students in their struggle, helping them put words to their feelings and fears. I encourage them to problem-solve on their own in order to find their own light at the end of the tunnel instead of carving the path for them.

And I believe that this is what every teacher – and parent, for that matter – should do for the children in their care. It’s tough work. But it’s worth it.

For further reading on this topic from a parenting perspective, check out Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: the Heart of Parenting by John Gottman.

3 Spring Break Secrets for Parents

During the Snow Day Debacle of 2018 in January, I came upon this hilarious video of a mother pleading with Atlanta schools to open up so her child could get back in the classroom and get out of her hair. I have probably watched this video a couple dozen times and I am laughing right now thinking about the frustration and desperation and all-out fear in her voice as she shamelessly begged school officials to give her a break.

And here we are, on the Saturday of Spring Break. I envision mamas and daddies all over the state bracing themselves for nine straight days with their children. Even if you’ve got a fun vacation planned, there’s usually a lot of stress involved when it comes to 24/7 face time with your child for more than a couple days in a row.

As a teacher and a mama myself, I feel you. I get it. So today I’m bringing you a few secrets to make your life a little bit easier over the next few days. Lean in and listen up, y’all!

Secret #1. It is okay for your child to be bored. My children know that it is not my job to entertain them. Even when they were little bitty and less self-sufficient, I provided them opportunities to entertain themselves. Don’t feel like you have to plan out or fill up every minute of your child’s waking hours. Part of growing and developing is learning how to self-soothe and self-entertain! If your child complains of boredom, say, “Oh wow, really! That means it’s either time for chores or creativity. You choose!” If my sons can’t find something creative to do, then I’ve got a good long list of chores for them to tackle so they won’t be so bored. Works every time!

Secret #2. It is okay for you to need alone time. My planning period is from 9:55-10:45am every day. I cling to every single second like my life depended on it. It’s not because I don’t like my job or my students. It’s because everyone needs a few minutes of peace and quiet all by their lonesome self. I’m surrounded by hundreds of people every single day. I interface one-one-one with nearly two hundred students every. single. day. I THINK it’s okay for me to need a minute by myself in the midst of all that.

The truth is, being a parent is draining. And being a parent when your kids are on spring break… Lawd. Give yourself grace. Give yourself permission to find some quiet time, even if it’s during nap time or five minutes locked in the bathroom eating a Snickers bar.

Secret #3. This too shall pass. In just a few days’ time, your schedule will return to normal. Your child will go back to school or day care or weekly programs that give your schedule a bit more flexibility. When you are knee-deep in parenthood this week, remember that come next week, you’ll be back to the daily grind. It’s easy to miss the magical moments when we’re so focused on what’s coming in the days ahead. Try to slow down and lean into family time this week. I know it’s not always easy. I know you probably have a hard time finding two minutes to brush your teeth in the morning let alone celebrating all the madness that Spring Break can bring. But even in the midst of all the crazy, there is beauty to be found. Look for it. Call it out. Celebrate it. You and your sweet family will be better for it.