How to make school reopening safe for everyone in COVID-19 season

Next week, my eldest will be heading back to school. She’s confident that she can wear the mask for the entire day, but I bought a face shield for her just in case. I will also pack 2 disposable masks in case her cloth one gets dirty or damp with sweat.

  • School bags packed – almost
  • School shoes – check
  • Snack box – check
  • Stationery – check
  • Sanitiser – check
  • Homework – check
  • empty Ziploc bag (Labelled, for storing mask during PE) – check
  • 2 Ziploc bags with extra disposable mask in each, in case a change is needed – check

*Ziplocs should ideally be wide enough to slip in a mask easily without folding it.

I asked her how she was feeling and she said:

  • Happy – to see her friends again in real life after only zoom meetings and virtual play dates
  • Scared – “What if I get the virus?”
  • Irritated – have to wear mask the whole day

Still despite the mixed feelings, I get the sense that she’s generally looking forward to getting a slice of normal back.

While some kids just can’t wait to get back to their school routines, many parents are feeling worried.

“School where got safe distancing? Still 30-40 kids in a class what?”

“Kids where got hygiene standards? Cough into the air or in someone’s face also!”

It’s true. If you want to talk about worries, the list can be endless. But let’s focus on what we can do to stay safe.

Here is my wish-list regarding school reopening in Phase One:

  1. Stagger recess timings such that only 1 primary level is in the canteen at any time. (Many schools already implementing this)
  2. Allow flexibility for children to have recess in class (for those who have packed food from home).
  3. Stagger drop-off timings, or demarcate different areas for parents to pick up different primary level kids.
  4. Allow sufficient catch-up time’ for students who may have had difficulties completing their homework. So they don’t feel unnecessarily stressed at having to hit the ground running.
  5. I hope teachers don’t zoom straight into full-on academic learning. Instead, spend some time reflecting on our individual and collective COVID experiences in class. Maybe even using it as a starting point to talk about the different emotions as well as challenges that we’ve experienced during the circuit breaker period.

But what about those weeks where they have HBL? From my position as a WFH mum, here’s what’s on my wish-list:

  1. Streamline HBL and limit to 1 or 2 different platforms per day, so it doesn’t wreak too much tech-havoc in the family.
  2. Allow kids to hand in work physically the following week, instead of emailing or uploading onto Google drive. Remind them to store homework in individual subject folders.
  3. Instead of meeting kids on Zoom all at one go (with younger kids, it gets too noisy, and it’s mostly one-way lecturing by the teacher), engage kids in small groups (about 5 pax) so that each child gets a chance to speak up, ask a question or clarify anything they don’t understand. You may say, “so time consuming”, but at this point I think fewer but better quality interactions matter.

What about you? Are you feeling more relieved or worried? What is on your wishlist?

**Here’s little Josh happy with his new face shield. Because he’s in Primary 1, and less likely to be able to wear a mask for the entire day, I got him this as an added option. It props up on his head well, so he can eat comfortably with this too.

Face shield

The Secret of The Chatter Blocks – A Game Book By Don Bosco

We recently received a copy of The Secret of the Chatter Blocks by Don Bosco and were quickly ushered into New Toy-ko City, the capital of the world’s toy industry.

We became part of a team whose mission is to find out who stole the Chatter Blocks. The Chatter Blocks are an ancient toy; when you roll them like dice, these Blocks actually talk! You have to help Kei and Will catch the thief and recover the blocks. And watch out for the Perplexity gang while you’re at it!

The Secret of the Chatter Blocks Don Bosco

My kids found the book really fun and exciting, as this was one of their first choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA) books!

My eldest, V, said, “That’s because you don’t know where you’ll end up next.”

My middle child said, “It’s thrilling, because it’s unpredictable and not easy to get to the end. If you make a wrong move, you may get kicked out of the team.”

I like it that there are many stories and possibilities in one book, and that the kids get to exercise the power to choose their actions and handle the consequences. I appreciate that it is really an art (and maybe a science) to craft a coherent plot while still allowing the reader to interact and make decisions about how it will turn out!

Recommended for ages 8-10, it is quite a short book, so maybe those around 7yo can also handle it.

Now that we are all staying home, it is fun to let the kids try new things. If you’ve never done a CYOA book before, you may want to get your hands on a copy of The Secret of the Chatter Blocks – from Book Depository or Amazon SG.

Read more about Don’s book here!

PS. Thanks Don, for sending us a copy for this review!

Working at home? Here’s how you can juggle work and home-learning

This week, some of us will be homeschooling kids while working from home.

It could be a disaster of a different scale.

My planner instincts have kicked in so here’s a peak into how my Wednesday is going to look like. (Kids comp schedule based on their schools’ allotted time-slots for SLS (Student Learning Space.)

home-learning timetable*Some exercise videos here and here.

**Free time options included at the end of the post.

***The blue slots are my own work time. I’m assuming the kids will need tech support and learning support during their work times – at around 9am, 11am, and 1pm – so I’ll try to be available for them. At most, once they get settled in, I’ll work on simple admin tasks or editing work.

Obviously, not everything is going to run like clockwork. But at least there will be some structure amidst the chaos.

Here are some of my reminders to self:

  • Remember to get kids and self appropriately dressed. (You don’t want to be caught in your PJs over a Zoom lesson)
  • Less is more. Don’t over-plan, leave some empty spaces, and pre-approved options for free time.
  • Don’t over-stress yourself or your child. Value the relationship above the task.
  • It’s okay for kids to be bored. (Love this quote by Brene Brown: “Boredom is sacred. We shouldn’t deny our children this holy experience.”)
  • Tempers may run high and patience may dip to an all-time low but let’s remember we are in this together. Our kids may be learning content online but they are learning resilience and adaptability from us at home.

If you need ideas on what to include in your free time options, here they are.

Free time options (pre-approved, no need to ask mummy again)

Non-digital:

  • Books
  • Boardgames
  • Kick a ball (outside the home)
  • Badminton (outside the home; seek approval if going downstairs)
  • Balloons
  • Art
  • Puzzles
  • Charades
  • Make something (as long as you clean up after)
  • Chores (fold and pack laundry, pack up toys, or help mummy with dinner prep)
  • Literacy and math worksheets by Lemon & Kiwi Designs (suitable for preschoolers to Primary 1 kids!)

Digital:

  • Scratch (30 min)
  • Lego Boost (30 min)
  • Audio book (30 min)
  • Netflix in Chinese (30 min)

*Limited to 2 digital slots a day  (max 1 hr)

Free snack choices (max of 3, throughout the day):

  • Nuts
  • Bread with choice of spread
  • 1 cup of juice/day (if we have any in the fridge)
  • Fruits
  • Granola

Here are other tips on working from home and how to stay sane and manage conflicts during this COVID-19 time.

Being our children’s safe place

Our devotion was about how God can use our mistakes and fold them into His greater purpose for our lives.

When it came to reflection time, we all took turns to share about the mistakes we have made and learnt from recently. The hub and I started first. We talked about how we lost our tempers recently and how we are learning to control and manage our triggers better.

Then one kid came clean. “I played a game with my friends on the phone even though I was not supposed to.” (Context: My daughter had just learned to take public transport on her own so we’ve given her an old phone to hold on to and use in case of emergency.)

The hub and I were a bit taken aback but we asked questions to clarify and get the essential info about how it happened. There were conflicting emotions in our head and heart. On the one hand, we felt disappointed, but on the other, we wanted to be the safe place that our kids can run to in times of failure or mistakes. We wanted them to know that no matter what they’ve done, it cannot remove or affect our love for them. (Much like the love of our Heavenly Father.)

So we focused on restoration. “Thank you for confessing and bringing this mistake into the light. Now let’s see how we can put in place better safeguards so you won’t give in to temptation.”

“You were brave to admit your mistake to us.”

The emotions ran high at one point. For sure, we felt upset too. How did this happen? Have we been too lax? Have the kids gotten addicted to a particular game?

Questions like these ran through our minds.

But the over-riding thought in my head was: She came to us first.

She came…even though she knew there would be unpleasant consequences.

She came…with a heart open to correction.

Now, when we come to God, confessing our mistakes, doesn’t He forgive us, restore us and assure us we are His beloved children?

My dearest child, know this. You can always always come to us. When the times are tough, when the thoughts are confusing, even when you’ve made some bad choices…you can always come to us.

We will try our best to be your safe place.

Love, mama

safe haven family

People photo created by jcomp – www.freepik.com

How to make working from home work for you

I’ve been working from home as a freelance content creator, writer and editor for the past 6 years.

With three kids in primary school and an elderly at home, working from home is like wearing many hats — at the same time. There are days where I’m frazzled and grouchy, and less than efficient. Then there are days where things run smoothly and kids are cooperative — this up and down pattern is to be expected.

Here are some things I’ve learnt along the way. I hope you find them handy if you’re also working remotely during this period:

how to work from home

1) Give yourself time to adjust and find your bearings

When you first start working from home, it may feel like loads of freedom. It’s true that you enjoy some pros: You can work in your PJs, go without makeup, and in some cases work at your own pace and time.

However it is also a constant juggling act. I may start work at 9, but take a break at 11.30 to get groceries or prepare lunch for the kids.

Once the kids get home around 2pm, it’s a frenzy of feeding them and ensuring that school work gets completed.

When I’m settled in at my desk again, it might be 3-ish. Then I usually start preparing dinner at 430/5pm. So it’s another 2-hour duration of actual work.

It will take time to adjust to this stop-start lifestyle, so don’t beat yourself up if you seem unable to get much done in the early days.

2) Work with your own rhythm, not against it

Everyone has their own natural rhythm. Some get into their zone at night when the house is quiet. Others are morning people and do their best thinking and work at dawn.

It is best to use your natural rhythms to your own advantage. And while there are some timings that are not within direct control, such as team meetings, working from home does offer a bit more control over when you choose to tackle what tasks.

For me personally, I try to eat my frogs in the morning. Once I get my hardest thing done and over with, it makes the rest of the day a lil breezier.

3) Get your kids’ buy-in

If you have school-going kids, it is helpful to let them know about your new work situation. If they understand that you are home physically but need to work during certain periods in the afternoon, it is likelier that they will cooperate and give you room to do it.

For me, the kids are quite used to the fact that I work at home. But it doesn’t mean they always give me the quiet space and time I need. On some days, they are playful and rowdy and just being kids, so I’d just pick up my laptop and shift myself physically from the living area to my bedroom.

When I need to do a work call, I will preempt them by letting them know I am not available between this time to this time. It usually goes without a hitch…but if they do barge in, I try not to make a big about it. I just remind them that I’m on a work call and I’ll attend to them after.

4) Expect disruptions

Sometimes when I’m in the middle of something important, the kids get into a tiff and it can be mighty irritating. Or my littlest will come and ask me to cut him some fruits for a snack.

I’ll usually tell him “10 minutes” then I’ll try to finish my train of thought or hurriedly jot something down so I don’t forget it.

The truth is–it is hard for their young minds to understand that while mum is physically home she is mentally taken up by work. So we have to accept that kid-related disruptions and interruptions are normal.

Understanding this will help us to be more accepting and calm when they do pop up. And after answering their needs, I occasionally find I receive more time in return to focus on work after.

5) Communicate regularly with your team

Now that you’re working from home, it also means you need to make an effort to communicate with your team members about what you’re up to, and the status of various projects you’re handling.

Be proactive wherever you can. Early in the week, update your boss and your team about what’s on your plate, and what your priorities are. This also allows you the opportunity to raise issues or ask for help (if needed) early, rather than struggle with a problem quietly on your own.

6) Set a break time

The whole idea about me working from home is not just to provide for the kids physically, in terms of food and safety, but also emotionally. So I have to intentionally set aside playtime with them.

I aim for 2 afternoons where I will get active and bring them for a game of badminton or just a romp at the playground. It could be just an hour or so, but the benefits we reap to our relationship and mental health are aplenty.

7) Minimise distractions

WhatsApp messages and other notifications often distracts me from work. So I keep my phone on silent and leave it a distance away from my work area so I don’t peek at it so often.

I have a friend who swears by a work playlist on Spotify so you can try exploring that too. Recently I’ve found that putting on instrumental music (in particular violin pieces) gets my creative juices flowing.

8) Keep healthy boundaries

It can be hard to draw the line and say “Ok work ends at 9pm.” Very often I think about my work even when I’m tackling the dishes or doing the laundry.

This can be a bit unhealthy, especially if you’re not getting sufficient sleep. (In the past I would work till close to midnight and find that my brain cannot shut down until an hour later!)

So now, having understood my own body, I try not to work past 10pm; nor check my emails after that time. I will spend the hour or so after that to relax with a book or make a chamomile tea and chat with my spouse. If I have tight deadlines that week, I will channel the worries into a to-do list, which helps me focus on the important tasks the next morning.

Have you started working from home recently? What works or doesn’t work for you?

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