Unbabbled: Coronavirus Resources (Part 2)

Engaging Children in Learning at Home

The second of our 2-part series on coronavirus resources, we look at ways to encourage and continue learning at home during a school closure or extended break. The Parish School’s Director of Elementary, Amy Richard, and Director of Early Childhood, Anne Powers, speak on keeping a regular routine, activities of daily living that have language and math built in, the power of reading aloud to build literacy and language skills, and the importance of staying active. Amy and Anne also provide digital resources for parents including Epic, Libby and Pinterest.

About Amy and Anne

Amy Richard, MS, CCC-SLP/CALT is the Director of Elementary at The Parish School. She has 20 years of experience working with school-age children with language and learning disabilities, with extensive training in dyslexia and reading therapy. Amy is also a mother who implements hands-on multi-sensory activities at home.

Anne Powers, MS, CCC-SLP is the Director of Early Childhood at The Parish School with a background in drama and early intervention. She is a Hanen-Certified trainer who is passionate about providing families with practical methods for building language, literacy and social skills at home.


Helpful Links

Stephanie (00:05):

Hello and welcome to Unbabbled a podcast that navigates the world of special education, communication delays and learning differences. We are your hosts, Stephanie Landis and Meredith Krimmel and we're certified speech language pathologist who spend our days at the parish school in Houston helping children find their voices and connect with the world around them.

Meredith (00:26):

Following our discussion with Dr. Rob Crowe, I sat down with Amy Richard, director of elementary at The Parish School and Anne Powers, director of early childhood to discuss ways to encourage and continue learning with your child at home in the event of a school closure. Amy and Anne are both speech language pathologists and together they have 31 years of experience in education and speech and language intervention. For more information on COVID-19 please listen to our episode with Dr. Rob Crowe and don't forget to subscribe to the Unbabbled podcast on your app of choice so that you never miss an episode.

Meredith (00:59):

I'm sitting here with Anne Powers, the director of early childhood and Amy Richard, the director of elementary. Thank you all for being here.

Anne (01:04):

It's a pleasure. Thanks for having us.

Meredith (01:07):

So we just finished a conversation with Dr. Crowe about recent developments of the COVID-19 virus and how it's affecting our community and I wanted to sit down with you guys so that you can help parents in the event of a school closure with some ideas and things that they could do at home to promote learning. I know we have a lot of parents who are feeling nervous about that.

Anne (01:27):

Understandably, that's a huge stressor in one our community's really concerned about and we're concerned about as a school. One of the biggest things that you can start doing is thinking about putting in a regular routine and schedule for your child as much as you can. Obviously their daily routine is very different, but we want to offer some stability to their days, thinking about what are regular patterns within the day that we can start establishing regular meal times, maintaining regular sleep schedules, those sorts of things.

Meredith (01:59):

And I know that can be tricky. I'm a parent myself and sometimes when you don't have school and work as part of your schedule, it's hard to maintain, so that's really good advice. Maybe keeping bedtime around the same time if possible, trying to wake up early and have your breakfast at the normal time. What about ideas? Uh, for language development? I know a lot of our parents are worried about regression or loss of therapeutic time?

Amy (02:23):

So reading is always something that you can continue to do with all ages. You can enjoy books together with your children for you know, the young children. You can, you know, read storybooks together, talk about the pictures, talk about the events in the story for older children. Maybe start a chapter book. This is a good time to really start expanding their time for listening and start a chapter book that they might can get really into.

Anne (02:46):

There's also great resources. Some of us have books, a lot of books and others of us just have a small library and what if you're tired of the things that you have in your home and are looking for something else. The library has a lot of digital resources, both for audio books. It's a good time to practice those listening skills as well or digital books that you can rent or even apps such as Vooks, V. O. O. K. S. they have a digital resource for children that first story read alouds that are more appropriate for the early childhood, and I know in elementary they use an app called Epic, E. P. I. C. feel free to reach out to your child's teacher and ask them the different software that they're using on their iPads to help with that reading process.

Meredith (03:29):

And these digital resources through the library, they can all be accessed online? I imagine you don't have to go into the library to read those.

Anne (03:37):

Yeah, that's correct. They, you can access them online. You would need to have an active library membership.

Meredith (03:44):

What about other opportunities that they can do that might be part of their daily routine, like things in the kitchen or things during play?

Anne (03:51):

Just daily routines offer great opportunities for learning, so building in daily chores. That's something that can help structure your days. Hiking, the dirty laundry places and those types of things. Keeping our bodies active, helping fold, laundry, helping set the table, counting how many cups do I need, how many forks do I need? Cooking, all the math and process oriented work that's involved with cooking. All of those things offer great opportunities to not only supplement language skills and build vocabulary, but also bring in reading skills and math and fine motor work. So making your bed in the morning, picking up your toys, all of those things are really working in a very functional way on the things that kids are working on and it can build structure into your time.

Amy (04:41):

And improve your executive functioning for organizing. So going back to cooking, if you're doing a cooking lesson, have the students make the list of the ingredients that they have and the ones that they might need and make a list and either order them online or go go to the store and get them to help prepare for that activity to really help them with their organization skills.

Meredith (05:03):

I know a lot of our kids are over-scheduled and that's a concern some of us have. So this seems like it could be a good time for more natural opportunities for our families and getting outside. Do you have any suggestions of what they could do in those times?

Anne (05:15):

Yeah, it's a great opportunity to kind of de stress and reconnect with one another. Being outdoors, staying active is so important. So yes, absolutely. Being outdoors naturally is a place filled with curiosity and wonder and digging around and looking for things and finding a really interesting leaf or flower and it's a great time to be outdoors and reconnect. But also doing things like playing a game as a family.

Amy (05:43):

And even gardening. The kids have been gardening a lot at school recently, so you know, it's a great time to be planting things and helping the kids to start the process of, of growing something in their own garden at home. Pulling weeds could a chore that they could do. So there's all kinds of things to do outside. They could even work on identifying which plants are good plants to keep and which ones are weeds that need to be pulled. So learning about the different plants that are out there too.

Meredith (06:10):

Those are great ideas. I recently received a letter in the mail for my son. Well my son received a letter in the mail from his cousin. She's a first grader and she read a letter and mailed it, which is really neat. Um, I'm sure there are plenty of opportunities for children to work on writing. Do you guys have any other ideas that they could do?

Amy (06:27):

Yes. So one of the things that I've seen a teacher do before, um, I thought it was so neat was she was working on sight words with um, a child. Then she got a piece of poster board and drew a parking lot on the, on the piece of poster board and wrote sight words in each parking space. You could have the child actually write the words that they're learning. Most of our children all have a sight word list that they're working on in elementary. And then the children can take the cars that they have in their, in their toy box and you know, the parents can have an interactive game about, you know, move the car to the word is move the card to the word what so that the, the children have an opportunity to be practicing their sight words but also playing at the same time.

Anne (07:07):

Yeah. And similar to letter writing, some of our little kids aren't yet writing sentences, but that doesn't mean they can't still write letters. They may look more like pictures. So building on opportunities for drawing and painting and other craft activities and then sharing them with the people that are important to them and helping them understand this is a message that we're sending, can help build those pre literacy skills. And then asking children about the things that they are drawing. Sometimes as adults we'll make a guess that, Oh, it looks like you're drawing, you know, a car. And they're like, that's not a car that's, that's my house, or whatever it might be. So just asking open ended questions like, Oh, you know, tell me more about that or that looks really interesting the way that that line curves and that will often elicit more language and you'll get a better idea of what they're actually thinking about and trying to represent. And then you can write that on the page like, Oh, do you want me to write that down or can I narrate that for you? And just writing their words can help build those skills.

Amy (08:06):

And then you could also do good news is something that the kids could continue to do while they're at home. I know that the teachers all want to be really interactive with children if we have an extended period of time where we close and they could do good news and email it to their teachers on a daily basis, so that would be something to continue to do. Keeping a journal is also good, whether it's a picture journal full of drawings or whether it's a written journal, anyone would be totally fine and help to document the experiences that they're having during this extended break time. I love the idea of writing a letter to a relative to, I think that sounds great.

Meredith (08:43):

It was, it was super fun when we opened it and I read it to Oh and my son and he was so excited. He had never really received a true letter. He'd received thank you notes, but he had never received a letter and it was just, it was really short and sweet but made his day so it was a win for everybody. We have in our house a science book for kids. I found that there are so many opportunities to build in language when we're doing science projects, but even if you don't have a book, I'm sure like Pinterest could help find some science projects or activities.

Amy (09:12):

Yes, Pinterest can be your best friend. There are so many activities out there that you can just put in a topic and put it in Pinterest and you'll get hundreds of different ideas on how you can incorporate those.

Anne (09:24):

What am I favorite memories as a kid is standing over the kitchen sink and making volcanoes with vinegar and baking soda and just experimenting with that and adding in color and what will that do and my ma, my mother graciously let me do it, entertain myself for hours doing that kind of thing.

Meredith (09:40):

One of the things we'd like to do at home is we have the bath color tablets, so we pick a color at bath time and then we talk about if we mix colors, what color they will be and that's always really fun. My kids are younger, that's more of a preschool activity, but they really enjoy that. I know this is a really stressful time so I guess it's also really important to remember that if we are on an extended school closure to just enjoy the time with your kids, it's a kind of a rare opportunity to get some uninterrupted time. It can be stressful, but playing together, doing activities together is something we don't get all that often really.

Anne (10:13):

I love that point because as a parent you are the most important person in your child's world and it is the gift of time in a way. And it, it is also super stressful. So it's important for us as adults to be self monitoring our own levels of anxiety and stress and being mindful of that and building in self care for ourselves so that we are more available to our children throughout the days if there is a closure. Also just being mindful too of what we're exposing children to, especially young children. Even just listening to the news, they don't have the same capacity to understand what they're hearing and so being really mindful of explaining what's happening in a developmentally appropriate way and watching exposures to the 24 hour news world is really important for young children as well. We want to help them feel as safe and secure and connected to their regular routine as we can.

Meredith (11:10):

That's a great point to be cognizant of what we're exposing our children to the and and our own anxiety. They can definitely feel when we're feeling stressed, easier said than done.

Amy (11:19):

Yeah. I think that applies to early childhood students all the way up through upper elementary students as well.

Anne (11:25):

And one other thing, you know, I know that screen time can be a huge lifesaver sometimes, but it's also something to be mindful of and just balance those opportunities. Yes, absolutely. Sometimes adults need a break and kids need a break, but as much as possible, building in times for co viewing of screens with your child and still putting limits around that and balancing it with other activities within your day would be a good of thumb.

Meredith (11:54):

Do you guys have any other resources for families? We talked about Pinterest, we talked about Epic reading. Are there any other apps or online learning opportunities that parents can access if if this happens, if we are closed for an extended period of time?

Amy (12:06):

The biggest resource is your child's teacher and you know they are, they are all prepared to be able to give you more resources. So I think that, you know, if you, if you're running out of things to do to be sure you access your child's teacher, we're all available to help, to give you some ideas of things that you can do.

Meredith (12:24):

Well thanks guys. I really appreciate you taking the time to give us some ideas in case we do end up on an extended period of closure.

Meredith (12:33):

Thank you for listening to the Unbabbled podcast. For more information on today's episode, please see our episode description. For more information on how the parish school is handling COVID-19 please visit parishschool.org/coronavirus if you would like more information about COVID-19 please listen to our episode with Dr. Rob Crowe. If you're not already, don't forget to subscribe to the Unbabbled podcast on your app of choice, and if you like what you're hearing, be sure to leave a rating and review a special thank you to Stig Daniels, Amy Tanner, Amanda Arnold, and Stella Limuel for their hard work behind the scenes. Thanks again for listening.