“In order to understand someone, walk a mile in their shoes.”
This old saying is so great for helping me understand empathy. Sometimes it’s enough to just imagine walking in someone else’s shoes/circumstances, but this spring I have learned that there’s really nothing to develop empathy quite like REALLY walking in someone else’s shoes. (And no, I’m not talking about quarantining-at-home-slippers. I’m talking about actually being put into someone else’s circumstance.)
See, when the schools shut down and kids were sent home, I became a schooling-at-home parent, too. I’ve had to help my kids transition to digital learning just like many other Americans. I have a newfound respect for all of you who have been thrown into this suddenly, as well as those of you who have been sitting alongside your kids for years in a more traditional homeschooling setup.
And my hat is off to you a thousand times more than ever before.
It’s hard. Rewarding but hard. But if you have been around here for long, you know I’m a natural problem solver, so I’ve tried to use the last few weeks to come up with ways to solve the biggest problem I see while teaching my own kids: the lack of confidence that comes when trying to learn new things.
Don’t we all understand that? If you are learning something new, you naturally lack confidence in it because you have no idea if you’ll get it or not. So not only is it important to teach the concepts or skills, but it’s also vital to help kids believe that they can learn it!
Since it really is worthwhile to help your kids learn new things, I wanted to pass on some things I’ve learned that have helped build them up as they take on hard tasks in a new environment. Many of these are tiny tweaks, and you don’t need to pile them all on at the same time. However, I’ve seen them each make a big difference when I’ve implemented them.
1. Praise. It’s amazing what a sincere, heartfelt, “Good job,” “Great effort,” or “I’m proud of you” will do. I’m not one for false praise, but when they deserve (and right now, we pretty much all deserve it), give it to them! At the very least, it will establish the goodwill that you want to be there when you inevitably have to give correction.
2. Recognition. This is a step beyond praise, and often requires some pre-planning. Plan a reward. Let them know what they are working toward. If it will take time, try to mark it incrementally so they gain some momentum.
3. Fun and Silliness. Who said learning has to be boring? A lesson read in a funny voice, telling a simple joke to break up the tension, or singing a song to reinforce a concept–they all help make the atmosphere light. And while you don’t want to add distractions, I think we all know it’s easier to learn when the pressure is off.
4. Energy/Excitement. I’ve found that when I can approach lessons with some excitement, or at the very least, a little energy, it is infectious to my kids. It makes sense–anytime someone else is excited about a topic, I tend to perk up too. And yet I know this is so hard right now. We are all in a new, weird world. All the days run together and there’s nothing to do and yet it’s also almost impossible to get everything done. Trust me, I’m right there with you. You don’t have to be cheerleader-levels of enthusiasm every minute of your teaching. But if we can all muster just a little extra oomph from time to time, our kids will generally meet us there, and the lessons will go better.
I am so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to walk in the shoes of more of my subscribers these last few weeks. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m grateful nonetheless. I hope that what I’ve learned helps you, too–I’ll be sending out some more ideas next week.