Building Boys & Learning During a Pandemic

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Learning during a pandemic is challenging.  Hell — LIVING during a pandemic is challenging.

Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

But you already know that. The chaos, confusion and sense of overwhelm are likely intimately familiar to you now.

What you want — need –– are answers. Answers that will help you figure out how to keep your boys learning during a pandemic, without losing your #&$* mind.

When I started building boys all those years ago (both metaphorically and literally), I never imagined that I was developing crucial pandemic survival skills. But I was. All those years of homeschooling and working from home taught me lessons that can help you survive (and thrive) in spite of the craziness.  Here are 4 tips for learning during a pandemic: 

#1: Stop stressing about screen time

When historians study this era, one thing they will note is the drastic rise in WiFi & broadband usage. Our screens are now everything: our schools, workplaces and the safest place to socialize.

That’s not ideal, for all kinds of reasons. Humans are designed to interact with one another; we learn better from another human than we do from a machine. But due to circumstances beyond our control, your children (and you) will probably be spending more time in front of screen this year than you’d like.

Stop worrying.

Yes, it’s OK to be concerned about what your kids are seeing and doing online, and it’s a good idea to keep filtering software in place. And yes, some common sense rules (screens off a half hour before bedtime, for instance) make perfect sense, even during a pandemic.

Don’t worry about the number of hours your kids are spending online, though. You can drive yourself (and them) crazy that way. Instead of tracking time, aim for balance. Everyone (including you) should spend some time inside and some time outside every day.

#2: Let go

Drop all your expectations of what should happen. Let go of preconceived and pre-pandemic ideas about when kids should learn how to read or multiply. Release yourself from the idea that your house must be clean and tidy, or that your kids must be fully dressed every day. (I don’t care what school policy is. I’d rather have kids learning happily from home in pajamas than stressed out, angry kids sitting in Zoom class, fidgeting with an uncomfortable shirt.)

Nothing is normal now. That’s scary and unsettling, but it’s also an opportunity for you to do whatever works in the moment. Whatever brings you joy and peace — do that.

#3: Take care of yourself

My dad often said, “Everything is better after a hot bath and a good night’s sleep.”

He was right.

You will have good days and bad days, and OK days filled with some crappy moments. You will feel tired and overwhelmed – and when you are tired and overwhelmed, everything is worse. Remember how your son used to kick and scream and throw temper tantrums over the tiniest thing after missing a nap, or after a long day of errands? That’s kind of where a lot of us adults are right now. Our nervous systems are frazzled, so even small things can trigger big reactions. That’s not what our kids need from us right now. Our kids need calm. They need understanding. So, it is absolutely essential that you prioritize self-care. REAL self-care: sleep, exercise (a 20 minute walk can do wonders for body & soul) and time in nature. Add in music, art and conversations with friends and family.

#4: Embrace your boys’ interests

Your boys are probably not interested in the same things you are. They probably aren’t all that interested in whatever topics school is trying to teach either.

That’s OK. That’s normal.

One of the best things you can do for their boys — pandemic or no pandemic — is recognize, embrace and facilitate their interests, whatever those interests may be. So many of boys’ interests are not represented or included in traditional school curriculum: fishing, Minecraft, dance, motocross, BMX biking, video games, cooking, etc. But all of those interests have inherent value, and so much can be learned by pursuing them.

Put aside your judgments of what’s a “valuable” or “worthwhile” interest. One lesson that homeschooling taught me is that a deep interest in anything can lead anywhere. My oldest son’s interest in fishing led to science, reading, writing, geography and business. So, give your son time to pursue his interests, and do whatever you can to encourage him. Listen to him. Help him get supplies. Make space for him.

This is what “making space” for their interests looks like at my house right now

Notice: I haven’t said a word about “sticking to a schedule” or prioritizing assignments and school. That’s intentional. We’re living through a pandemic. Learning will look different, and that’s OK.

Want to hear more about boys, school and learning during a pandemic? Check out Jennifer’s recent appearance on the Basecamp for Men podcast.

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