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

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?

Two parenting skills I’m practising in the new year

What are you looking forward to this year?

What hopes and dreams do you hold in your heart?

I haven’t been blogging much. With all 3 kids in primary school now and my writing work on the side, I just don’t have the mind-space to write as much as I used to. But I will keep trying.

And today, I want to share about two new parenting skills I picked up in December.

1. Empathetic listening

A person who sits down with you, opens his ears and heart to listen to you, doesn’t judge, and tries to understand what it’s like to be in your shoes—this is empathetic listening.

As with many parents, I’m prone to giving instructions and advice. Perhaps we live in a pragmatic society that values efficiency and we won’t want our kids to make too many mistakes. We tend to go straight to problem-solving.
But by listening empathetically, actively, with your whole presence, we give our kids “psychological air”—the space to feel what they feel and to know they are safe in spite of those huge, hard feelings.

In doing so, we also get to help them identify some of those big emotions. They also learn to be more in tune with their feelings.

Left out during recess? “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that… did you feel more lonely or sad?”

First day at school? “How do you feel about your first day tomorrow? Are you feeling worried?

Favourite snack sold out in the supermarket? “Oh dear, that must feel so disappointing. You were really looking forward to eating it.”

Crying because she had to leave a party early? “I can see you’re feeling really upset and frustrated we have to leave. Do you want to talk about it?”

Results so far?

Practising this skill at home has helped me be more patient in handling my kids when they’re having difficulties or feeling upset over something. I find that they calm down faster, and are more willing to listen after they feel like I’ve understood.

I’m definitely motivated to continue this. I feel kids in general need help in building their emotional skills and EQ. I believe this will strengthen their foundation in coping with life’s stresses and challenges!

2. I-messages

This isn’t the first time I’m learning about I-messages but it is the first time I’ve practised it consistently with others in different scenarios and contexts. Basically, I-messages focus on my (the parent’s) feelings when a certain behaviour is seen. It could be positive behaviour, for example, “I like it when you are honest with me.” Or “I enjoy seeing you try your best in practising violin.”

It could also be negative behaviour, such as “I get very agitated when you guys shout or fight in the car. It makes it hard for me to concentrate on driving.”

At times it can also express a certain belief or value, for example, “I believe in working together as a team to tidy up.”

What is so powerful about I-messages?

I-messages are opposite from you-messages, which are unfortunately what most of us are used to dishing out daily. (“Why are you so untidy?” Why can’t you just listen to what I say?”)

The power of I-messages is that they don’t accord blame or guilt; they simply describe the feeling that is caused by a certain behaviour.

The best form of I-messages that I like to use is “I feel ______[emotion] when [describe the situation or action].”

So, they are compassionate and respectful, while also communicating the need to change the behaviour or to reflect on one’s wrong actions.

I think it’s powerful because it helps me be assertive without being aggressive. Thus reducing the need to shout or yell over anything that goes awry. 

Results so far?

Similar to active listening, I feel this skill has helped me to slow down and express my wishes in a gentler, less aggressive way. In the beginning, my kids laughed because they weren’t used to it. Maybe I was still using an angry tone, rather than a reconciliatory one to express my needs. But I think they are slowly getting the hang of it!

Parenting classes in Singapore

If you’re keen to start the new year with new parenting skills under your belt, check out Parent Effectiveness Training (PET). Developed by psychologist and three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Dr. Thomas Gordon in 1962, PET offers proven communication skills that enhance relationships in and out of the home.

There are weekday and Saturday classes coming up in February, so do check them out and sign up early! Classes are also available in Mandarin here

Here’s to building stronger relationships with our kids this year!

 

mum and young son bonding

Disclaimer: I was offered to attend the PET training workshop for free in order to write this review. Views shared above are my own.

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