Learning At Home With Your Toddler

Here in Toronto, Canada we are on the cusp of our second wave of the Covid 19 pandemic. Although I know a great number of people who were brave enough to send their children back to daycare and school, I knew after our personal brush with the virus we wouldn’t be one of those families. That meant I had to figure out how to provide my ever curious daughter with a learning environment at home where she could thrive until higher safety measures are in place or our city finds a new normal.

As a former nanny I can definitely see the benefit, even outside of a pandemic, of making a habit out of learning at home. With this “Play to Learn” education plan in place for a lot of Junior Kindergarten and Senior Kindergarten students in public schools, a lot of students don’t settle down into an actual curriculum until they are on to grade one, and at that point they are trying to play catch up.

I remember spending the summer before my kids (when I was a nanny) went to school teaching them both to write their names. It was a moment to be celebrated for the kids and myself. We worked really hard at it. I also remember a few months into school speaking to the teacher when I picked the kids up about one of them not knowing how to write their name and how we should be practicing that at home.

You can imagine my frustration.

Put simply, his new skill wasn’t being used enough during school for him to retain it, and I had gotten a little slack on our at home education because I felt they needed a break now that they were in school.

I think that experience definitely opened my eyes to some holes in our education system and how a lot of parents, regardless of your child’s age, are forced to take a more active role in your child’s education. I know a lot of this is about funding. Teachers are overworked and underpaid, and I definitely sympathize with that, but I don’t remember my mother ever having anything to do with our education when we were kids.

Outside of signing permission slips, my mother never had an active role in our education, thankfully so. I think if my mom got some of the notes my kids got when I was a nanny outlining all the things their teacher expected us to work with them at home, she would have done something overly dramatic like showing up at our school with a briefcase and asking out principal for her paycheque, since apparently she was a teacher now. (She would 100% do something like this.)

Being a nanny definitely opened my eyes. I live in the same neighbourhood I worked in, which means eventually my daughter will end up at the same schools. This is why I have always tried to do my best to get her comfortable with the idea of learning activities at home. I want her to be prepared going into school, and I want her to have those skills and not feel like she is drowning when she reaches grade one.

As soon as I could I introduced her to things like flash cards, learning songs, and cognitive play. A lot of my friends who are also parents often asked me how I get my daughter to sit for one to two hours every morning and do flash cards, puzzles, or scheduled activities. First, with everything and our children, it is mostly about routine. When you do something often enough, they get locked into that schedule and everything gets a little easier. Second, I find it’s so important to learn how to engage with your child in a way that entices them. Just like you, they are little people and they have interests. Play on those interests to achieve the desired learning result.

I recently have been reading up a lot about Love Languages, and how important it is to learn your partner and your child’s Love Language. If you’re familiar with that, you know everyone has different needs and everyone needs to be shown love in a specific way (if you don’t definitely read up on it to improve the important relationships in your life). Just as each person has their own Love Language, I feel every person also has a Learning Language.

How often has someone been teaching you something and you’ve pulled out a notebook and needed to write that down? Or how often have you not been able to grasp something when you read it but have someone show it to you and you get it down right away? Finding out your child’s Learning Language will definitely help you gear each and every activity to ensure your child’s success.

From a very young age, my husband and I both knew our daughter was musical. If it was singing George Costanza’s answering machine jingle to get her to stop crying in the car at four-months-old, or watching The Greatest Showman around the clock for around a year, it became abundantly clear our daughter’s whole mood could be changed with music. When she was about ten-months-old we learned that Music was her Learning Language. Whether it was singing what we wanted her to do, coming up with little songs for anatomy, or the alphabets, or even animals, she seemed to pick up anything extremely quickly if it was set to music. Luckily for us, in the age of Youtube, there is a kid’s song about everything under the sun which means, learning has come easily to our daughter.

When music isn’t working, games is a safe bet for pretty much every kid. Everything is always more fun when it’s a game, especially if your child has very limited interest in learning.

For one of my kids (nanny) Active Play was the best way to learn. He could pick up spelling if he was hopping from letter to letter better than he could reading a book or even singing out the spelling. Find out what your child is interested in and use that interest to make learning fun for them.

If you do this right, they will actively seek out activities where they are learning because they will relate your lessons to fun.

If I’m being completely honest, this will make it less painful for you as well. It’s getting hard out here for us parents. We have been quarantining with our kids, some of us have been doing remote learning and been thwarted back into a classroom we swore we would never go back into. Trying to force our kids to learn is just another thing right now that pulls at the thread of our mental health, and it’s okay to admit that. It doesn’t make you a bad parent to admit you had no intention of being your child’s teacher on top of everything else. We’re already chauffeurs, maids, assistants, nurses, chefs, friends, entertainment, and so many other things to our kids, a lot of us (especially those of us who made it through school by the skin of our teeth) had thought Thank f*ck our kids are in school and I don’t have to worry about all of that. Then of course 2020 came knocking, and by knocking I mean it kicked in our doors like we owed it money, and suddenly we are doing that too.

Once we created a learning space for our daughter in our living room, it made our mornings pass a little more quickly and just improved both our moods.

A lot of parents just don’t know where to start. As I said, we are not teachers. Just start with the basics. ABCs, counting up to ten, colours, and shapes are a great start for your and your toddler and flash cards for these are readily available and inexpensive.

Learning at home definitely benefits your toddlers, but it benefits you as parents just as much. You are teaching them basic understanding. Which means it will be easier to teach them outside of your little lessons, whether it’s teaching them to be a little more independent by being able to identify things and grab them themselves when asked, getting them to do tasks like brush their hair or teeth, or even just working on their listening in general. Any type of learning you do at home with your child is starting a solid foundation for their learning when outside the home.

Right now when everything, including your child’s education, is so unsure, put in the work to ensure your child is getting the exercise they need mentally as well as physically.

Black Lives Matter: How To Navigate Parenting During A Crisis

I have fallen out of writing the past few months for a number of reasons. Mostly, mentally I am exhausted which has had a major effect on my creativity and my will to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys, as it were). However, in a time so rife with high tensions, waves of emotions, and a feeling of chaos, I felt it was due time for me to write something.

I am a mixed-race woman who identifies as Black. Some people may read that and wonder ‘What does that even mean?’ To simplify, I have one parent who is white and one who is black. However, due to having a single mother and being raised in a low-income neighbourhood (insert any article here about systematic oppression and how it fuels the divide in race and benefits the idea of white supremacy, honestly, any article will do) especially a neighbourhood that for many years was heavily policed due to the placement of a police station right at the heart of our neighbourhood, my white side was ignored. It was invisible. To all those involved, (police, anybody in positions of authority, store clerks) I was a little black kid. End of story. So naturally, during this time, during this period of civil unrest, I am very heavily plagued.

Even here in Canada, I have experienced racism on a spectrum of degrees. Sure, some have been very subtle, so subtle in fact that it made those around me question whether or not I was being oversensitive or overreacting. On the other hand, I have also been called racial slurs and the “N” word has been thrown at me with the intention of harming me. If there is one thing that is indisputable, no matter how much people yell and scream otherwise, it is that in the year 2020 racism is alive and well, and yes… this is a huge issue that impacts so many of us.

As a parent during these times, it’s so important to do two very big things. The first and most important thing we can do is educate ourselves on the issue. It isn’t enough anymore to rely on people handing us information. We are no longer children and the answers to any questions you may have are right at your fingertips. Don’t fall on ignorance or use poor upbringing as an excuse to continue a cycle of racism. If you are a parent in Canada, I urge you to educate yourself on the First Nation Canadians, Reservation Schools, and the role the RCMP has had with them. If you have any false belief that systematic oppression or racism isn’t alive and well here, diving into these topics should be enough to prove otherwise and educating yourself is the first step towards real change.

The second thing you can do is look inward. Ask yourself if you have a part to play in racism, no matter how small. Be honest with yourself, don’t hide behind excuses as to why you may do the things you do. Your children don’t see the excuses, they see what you do and what you say. Be someone your children would be proud of.

This generation is the most accepting I’ve seen thus far. If you do feel the need to cling to your hate, it’s important to be realistic with yourself. In a day and age where everyone is free to be who they want to be and our children accept that easier and easier, just know that your children “outgrowing you” because of your views is a very real possibility. I know more people in these past weeks, while the protests for Black Lives Matter have been going strong, a lot of children have stepped away from parents who cling to outdated ideas about race.

Love your children more than yourself. Love your children enough to change for them, no matter how difficult that is for you.

A conversation I have had a lot in the past weeks has started with “Why is this your problem?” Or “Why are you letting this get to you the way you are?”

The answer to that is so simple; this should be everyone’s problem, and when you sit there in the safety of your home and watch a video where a man is held on the ground, handcuffed with a knee to his neck for just under 9 minutes calling for his mama, you should feel that in the very depths of your soul. It should sicken you, it should break you, and at the forefront of your mind, you should be asking yourself how you can stop this cycle. How can you prevent another George Floyd or Trayvon Martin? What can you do right now, to protect someone else’s baby from calling out to them moments before they are murdered in the street while the world watches?

We are humanity. Asking why we should care instead of what we should do means somewhere along the way, you’ve lost your sense of humanity.

The most important thing I can teach my daughter is how to be a good person and how to be kind. The world is full of people with different skin colours, different religious beliefs, different lifestyles and sexualities. Teaching your child kindness and acceptance is giving your child the tools they need to get a jump start on life. As important as it is to teach children kindness, it’s equally important to teach them to speak out when they witness injustice.

If these protests have taught us anything, it’s that there is unity here. The humanity we thought was withering away has been brought to the forefront as people from every walk of life march together, chant together, cry together.

An open dialogue is so important for those of you with children old enough to understand. Explain to them what is happening, do not ignore their feelings of fear and unrest. Yes, right now is a little scary but it is important. Try to limit their TV time when the news is on so you as a parent can control the dialogue. This is another time when research is really important. Spend some time, find the facts, share them with your child in a way they can understand. Protests are how the people show those in power that something is broken, and something is very broken in the world which is evident in just how many countries have stood beneath signs that scream for justice.

In an age where information is plentiful and the media is often spreading a false narrative, it’s up to you to not only uncover the truth but to share it with your children. Knowledge is so important and I think in trying to shield our children from the worries of the world, we often don’t realize we are robbing them. Yes, our children are innocent and we want them to be innocent for as long as they can, but they are smart and they are resilient and they see far more than we think they do. They can maintain their innocence as they learn if you teach them the right way.

Don’t shy away because it’s uncomfortable. This is your job as a parent, make sure you do it well.

As scary as it is for a lot of you, parents of children of colour have been forced, through systematic racism and oppression, to have these uncomfortable conversations with our children for far too long. We’ve had to explain to them how although they are beautiful and precious, the colour of their skin also makes them a target for police brutality, may prevent them from getting to love the people they want, or cost them the job they’ve earned. We’ve had to keep them indoors when it’s dark, told them games like “Cops and robbers” are off-limits in public, and that they have to have a firm grip on their temper because a raised voice has consequences for a black person. These are conversations parents have black children have had to have, so even though it’s uncomfortable, educate your children on race.

This world is scary, don’t add to the fear and don’t be a part of the problem.

Parents have this power that is unmeasured. We are moulding the minds of the future. If we do this correctly, we can ensure our children walk out of the warm embrace of our arms and change the world.

Isn’t it time for a change?