Over the summer, kids tend to lose some of what they learned during the academic year—and that slide may be greater this year, with schools being shut for months during the pandemic. Today we'll get some tips on how to manage the "COVID slide." Plus, award-winning children's book writer Grace Lin brings author visits to your home, and comedian Rob Huebel has some tricks for getting through the monotony of spending every freakin' day with your kids.
With the school year coming to an end, parents and caregivers might be feeling a mix of relief and worry: relief that they no longer have to play makeshift teacher … and worry that they didn't do enough to help their kids learn this year. In today's episode, Amanda Morin from Understood shares tips on how to support your kids in these last few weeks of whatever school is now … and whatever summer is going to be. Understood is an organization that provides support for children with disabilities and learning and attention issues like dyslexia and ADHD.
Plus award-winning children's book author Grace Lin joins us to spice up learning at home -- by giving kids a chance to speak to their favorite writers.
And comedian Rob Huebel has some tricks for getting through the monotony of spending every freakin' day with your kids.
After the show:
And we want to hear your tips and suggestions! Send your questions and tips—especially the strange ones—to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we might invite you on the show.
Parent Trapped was brought to you by founding sponsor First Republic Bank. To learn more about their services, visit http://firstrepublic.com.
AMB: Hey, this is Anne Marie – again, host of the show Parent Trapped. Have you been enjoying our podcast every week? Want to support what we do? Here's a way to help – tell your parent friends! Post about our show in a Facebook group (I know you're in one). Or text a link to a friend. Just try to find one person in your life to send Parent Trapped to – someone who you think might need these tips. Or you can write a review or rate us on Apple Podcasts. Any of this would be super helpful. We know you're busy, so thanks.
[1:03] AMB: Remember school? You would send your kid there every morning, and they would stay there all day and maybe learn stuff? You really didn’t know, but it seemed like they learned stuff. It’s been – checks calendar – 2 and a half months now, and I know in my house, we still don't have virtual learning down. You would think we'd have a schedule and routine worked out, but there are still hiccups that turn into screaming fights. There’s still homework that doesn’t get turned in. And as what we are still calling “the school year” draws to a close, I still want to know how to support my children’s learning, and I’m wondering what we should be doing during the summer. I’m truly afraid that I failed as a virtual teacher, and I want to know how not to make it worse. From Common Sense Media, I’m Ann Marie Baldonado and this is Parent Trapped.
[2:01] AMB: Today we get some tips on how to support your kids in these last few weeks of whatever school is now – and whatever summer is going to be. Plus award winning children’s book author Grace Lin connects kids to their favorite writers. And comedian Rob Huebel has some tricks for getting through the monotony of spending every freakin' day with your kids.
[2:34] AMB: Parents and caregivers, my fellow makeshift teachers – if you’re like me, you’re a little relieved that this weird school year is coming to an end. But you’re mostly nervous that you didn’t do enough to help your kids – learn things.
AM: I think that the first thing I would say is take a deep breath and applaud yourself. Because it's been a little bit of a rocky road for people to sort through remote learning.
AMB: Amanda Morin is letting us all off the hook a little, which is nice, but she has some great advice for moving forward. She was a kindergarten teacher and an early intervention specialist for over 10 years, and now works with an organization called Understood. They provide support for children with disabilities, and with learning differences like dyslexia and ADHD. She has 3 kids of her own. Two of them have learning differences. But she says everyone is having trouble focusing right now. And she has some simple strategies to help with that.
[3:33] AM: I think the first thing is to remember that kids don't have the same sense of time that we do. So when you say you're going to work for 20 minutes, it's really important to maybe set a timer that shows 20 minutes or to show on the clock – here's where the hand is now. And here's where it will be 20 minutes from now. Making sure that kids have built in breaks – we call them brain breaks a lot of the time. But it's just a way of giving them an opportunity to get up, move around, refocus a little bit and then get back to the work that they're doing. A lot of people are putting routines in place, and visual schedules and picture schedules. I think that's another great one. We actually put one together on Understood that you can print out, which I love because then you can cut them apart and make your own schedule. And what I would recommend is making it not fixed – that you can move the strips around. So if reading isn't going to work right now and math is, you can move the strips around and you can choose your schedule for the day. But at least your child is able to see what that schedule looks like and help you build it together.
[4:37] AMB: Now, there is this concept of summer slide – that students lose academic skills and knowledge over the summer. And, you know, that's under normal circumstances. What are you thinking about, going into this summer and what some are calling the Covid 19 slide?
AM: I think right now the Covid slide, which sounds to me like a dance, but is actually more of – it's the idea of regression of skills. I'm thinking about the fact that we know how to support kids who would have what we would call the summer slide anyway. So this is not a new concept. I think we're just looking at it on a bigger scale. We're talking about not remembering multiplication facts, or not being able to remember sight words. But right now, what a lot of parents are seeing is sort of behavioral regression too. Kids are a lot more clingy. They're anxious. They're not sleeping as well. And, you know, I'm not speaking for all kids. So some of that behavioral regression and social emotional learning skills are the things that I really want parents to think about over the summer, in addition to some of those academic skills.
[5:40] AMB: What do you recommend parents do about the supposed Covid slide? You know, quite simply, should you try to teach over the summer, and in what way? Or should you let it go, or what should you let go?
AM: I would remind parents that it's okay to remember you're not a teacher. Right? I mean, I happen to be a teacher. And the idea of teaching my own children over the summer makes me anxious. Right?
[6:09] AM: So I think it's to take a step back and realize like – it's the same kind of teaching you've always done as a parent that you need to keep doing. Things like life skills, that are really actually teachable moments. Right? If you're doing the laundry, have your child help you sort the laundry. You know, younger kids, can you find all the socks and put them a pile? Can you find all of your shirts and put them in a pile? Can you find everything that’s blue and put it in a pile? So you’re starting with those life skills and hopefully getting help with the laundry too – I don’t know about that necessarily. If you do things like have conversations at the dinner table or whenever you're spending time together and talk about what you did during the day, you're practicing conversational skills. You know? If you have the opportunity to go take a walk together, practice things like skipping and hopping and jumping. So you're practicing some of those motor skills. I will add that my 10-year-old is much better at doing all of those things than I am. So I would probably just cheer him on, as he's hopping and skipping and jumping.
AMB: Do you think it's important to think about where kids are supposed to be in their learning? You know, should we be asking – okay, you know, a second grader is supposed to be doing this certain set of skills by the end of the year. You know, I'm not sure my child is doing that. Should parents be concerned about that kind of thing?
[7:27] AM: I think parents should be aware of the developmental milestones that we would expect of kids of a certain age. And that's something that I actually have loved writing about for Understood, is writing pieces about all the developmental milestones that you should expect to see at different ages. I think it's a good way to understand what you should be seeing, or could expect to be seeing from your child. And then as you look at those developmental milestones, you can start thinking about what's a challenge for your child at this time?
AMB: So you can ask yourself, can my kindergartener jump rope pump their legs on a swing? Does my 3rd grader understand more complicated ideas like cause and effect, or is my middle schooler starting to question authority?
[8:11] AM: I think it's really hard to know right now where they should be academically, based on the standards of schools, because things have changed so drastically and things are shifting. But it is important to know what you should expect at the age your child is. And it gives you sort of a roadmap of things to – not worry about, but aspire to. And I think that's the difference that I really want to make clear is – don't use this as a way to worry. Use it as a way to look through the skills that your child can learn. It's a way to say – we're going to get there, as opposed to – uh-oh.
AMB: What do you tell parents that feel like, you know, I've already messed it up. I don't want to mess it up anymore.
AM: Oh, I'm one of those parents. Let me just be 100% honest.
AMB: As am I.
[9:01] AM: From the very get-go. I just want to be like, really clear. I'm one of those parents who is looking at all of these wonderful, beautiful visual picture schedules and rules and the routines, and I was just like I – I could aspire to, but I'm not there. So I think to go easy on yourself is really important, and realize you're doing the best that you can, and the best that you can is okay. This is a moment in time right now. And yes, we need to make sure our kids are learning. But sometimes learning is about learning what you need to do to take care of yourself. And for some parents, that comes first. I mean, we think about the fact that some kids' parents are essential workers. They're not available to help teach. Right? And for other reasons, we're, you know – some families don't have the space to actually have a specific learning space. And I think remembering that your life is okay the way it is – like you can't change your entire existence and space and what you do, is okay. Take a breath – take a deep breath and sort of prioritize what needs to be done. And I think for kids who learn and think differently – for kids who have disabilities, that starts with whatever learning plan they have in place and looking at the goals. And looking at those goals and saying, “Okay, what are the skills that go into this goal?” So, for example, if your child needs to learn how to read a little more fluently, which means, you know, reading with intonation and actually getting the character voice down and things like that, what are the skills that go into that? How do you start looking at the littler pieces? And I think that's a really good way for parents to really approach this – is realize it doesn't all have to be done at once. If you work on the little pieces, that's okay too, because those little pieces build up. They build up to a bigger picture.
[10:55] Amanda Morin writes for Understood[dot]org. You can find all kinds of educational resources there, including Amanda’s list of developmental milestones. We’ll also throw a link to that in our show notes.
AMB: So now I feel a little better about my shortcomings as a teacher. But I still don’t feel great about how I deal with my kids during all of this extreme family time. Coming up, we check in with comedian Rob Huebel about how he’s feeling. And author Grace Lin gives you a break from your kids, by giving them a chance to talk to authors. Stay with us.
AMB: And we’re back.
[12:10] AMB: When kids went to school in an actual school, they used to have assemblies. I’ll remind you what those are. It’s when loads of kids pile into an auditorium. And if they’re lucky, there’s a special guest.
GL: Before this whole pandemic was happening, I used to do a lot of school visits. Maybe 50 schools a year!
AMB: Sometimes that special guest would be an award-winning author, like Grace Lin. She writes and illustrates picture books, like the Ling and Ting series and middle grade novels like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, which received a Newbery honor. Grace loved doing school visits because it gave her a chance to connect face-to-face with her audience.
GL: I could see just from my experience how valuable these author interactions were.
[13:01] AMB: Meeting artists in person like that can really help make reading fun for kids and can make things like being a writer and an illustrator feel possible. Grace wanted to bring this connection to kids who weren’t privileged enough to get an author at their school, so she figured she’d bring authors directly to kids’ ears. She started a podcast called Kids Ask Authors. It’s such a great companion for kids now that they are stuck at home. The episodes are short, usually less than 10 minutes long, and as you’ve probably guessed from the title, kids get to ask authors questions. Mo Willems talks about where he gets his ideas. Rajani LaRocca reveals her favorite food. (It’s chocolate chip cookies.) And then the show ends with a kid book review or a kid joke.
KID: What did the science book say to the math book?
KID 2: What?
KID: Wow, you've got problems.
[14:02] GL: That’s my favorite part actually. You know, so anything that kids creates that they want to read, and we like to try to end with that. So we end with kids' work – it's kind of like an audio showcase for them.
AMB: On your show, kids ask some of their favorite writers questions and you always chime in too, and you answer the questions as well. But I actually have a kid here who would love to ask you some questions.
AMB: Is that ok?
GL: Yes. I'm happy to answer any questions.
LENA: I'm Lena!
AMB: So this is my daughter, Lena. And actually her third grade class at Meredith elementary school in Philadelphia just finished reading your book, The Year Of The Dog, while at home. Yeah. So Lena would love to ask you ask questions on behalf of her class.
GL: I’d be happy to.
AMB: You wanna say hi?
GL: Hi Lena!
LENA: What makes you like writing books for kids and not adults?
[15:00] GL: What makes me like writing books for kids and not adults? Well, there's a couple of things that make me want to write books for kids. One is that the most important books to me in my reading life have been the books that I read as a child. Those are the books that have meant the most to me. Those are the books that I remember the most. Those are the books that I read now. Those are the books I love with all my heart. And in some ways, those books were my friends and still are my friends. And because those children's books meant so much to me, I realize those are kind of the books that I wanted to make. I want to make a book like that – a book that would mean so much to a person, like those kids' books meant to me. And the other reason why I like writing children's books over adult books – I just think kids are the best audience. I mean, they're so much more fun, they're so much more honest. Usually if kids don't like something, they'll tell you. But if kids really like something, they really like it. And that's what I love in kid audience. So I know that if I wrote something good and they like it, they'll really love it. And if they don't, then I know exactly what to change for next time.
[16:16] AMB: At this point, my 8-year-old thanked Grace and handed me the mic.
LENA: Here Mom.
GL: Alright, thank you.
AMB: You talk a lot about the need for diversity in children's books, as far as authors and also protagonists. You even have a great TED talk about it. And you ask people to look at their bookshelves and check to see what's on that shelf. What books do you have? Do the characters and the authors – are they coming from diverse backgrounds? Can you talk a little bit more about why it's important?
[16:46] GL: What it comes down to is that it's important for building self-worth, as well as empathy. For kids who don't – who aren't used to seeing themselves in books – that would be somebody like me when I was younger – I never saw anybody that looked like me in a book. And so that had a huge influence on my self-worth. I think it gave me a huge hunger for this – for belonging, for acceptance, for approval. And I think that if I had seen books with people that looked like me in it, I think it might have gone a long way. It might have made me really feel like I could be the hero in a story. On the other hand, it's also very, very important for empathy, right?
[17:35] GL: So for kids who are used to seeing characters that always look like them, who are always used to seeing heroes that look like them, for them to see a hero that doesn't look like them, it's all of a sudden a way to open their eyes and to realize, oh, these people who don't look like me, they also have a story. They are also worthy of being a hero and realizing that the world is larger than their own reflection. And that's really important because we all have to kind of get along in this world, right? So I think for a long time, when we talk about diverse books, a lot of people have kind of erred on the side of – well, I don't have any Black kids in my classroom. I don't have any Asian kids in my classroom so we don't really need to have those books. You know, and that, I feel, is a grave error, because maybe you don't have any Asian students in your classroom, but there are Asian students in this world. And eventually, hopefully your students will grow up and encounter an Asian person or a Black person in this world. And it would be great if they could see them as someone just like themselves. And the way that we do that is by planting the seeds in a book, right when they're young.
[19:00] AMB: Grace Lin’s podcast is called Kids Ask Authors. To find out how your kids can submit their questions, or get their own work featured on the show, go to KidsAskAuthors[dot]com.
RH: I know we're all trying to do our part right now and lift each other up with music. And I want to do my part also, so – I took it to the studio tonight, and – hope you enjoy.
[sound of xylophone]
AMB: Rob Huebel is a comedian who you’ve probably seen on TV, in shows like Transparent, The Goldbergs, Children's Hospital and The League. He often plays funny jerks and does killer cameos in movies, like I Love You, Man and The Other Guys. But right now this celebrity is just like us — he's sheltering in place with his wife and 3-year old daughter. Even though he’s not on a stage or on a set right now, he’s still performing. He’s been keeping busy, making these funny Instagram videos, like crafts for kids.
RH: Hey guys, it's time for more crafts – for the kids. Keep them occupied! So today you're going to need a pot of ice. Pour that out like that. You're also going to need a whole box of tissues. It's empty.
[20:17] AMB: Okay, I’ve gotta stop there because Rob’s videos are not PG-enough for this podcast.
RH: It'll be fun.
His “crafts for kids” are not actually crafts at all. He usually takes an abrupt turn into absurdity and jokey despair. Most of the videos are about something parents can relate to – the frustrations of being at home with your family, who you love – but it can get to be a lot. Right now he is dealing with something I remember well – his daughter’s Disney princess phase.
[20:51] RH: One little thing is slowly driving me utterly bananas, and that is – yeah. Just listening to like two Disney songs on a loop. You know, we end up spending a fair amount of time during the day watching some Disney stuff on iPads and stuff like that. And she's so little that we watch it with her. So that's slowly, you know, getting to me.
AMB: And don't get me wrong, like, thank you, Disney, you know. And the songs are actually good. It's just when it's on a permanent look.
RH: Oh, yeah. No, no, no, no. Thank you, Disney. Look – yeah, we you we don't want to bite the hand that feeds us. Disney, you know, you're doing great work, Disney. Keep it up. Yeah. We don't want we don't want to get ourselves banned from the Magic Kingdom. But – but yeah, the level to which kids identify with these movies, and they take it to heart – and, you know, these are the first songs that they memorize.
[21:50] AMB: After awhile, Rob was like, okay. It’s great that these Disney movies are keeping my daughter entertained. But if I’ve gotta watch Frozen a hundred times, how do I keep myself entertained?
RH: So what I do now when we're watching these Disney movies is, now I'm looking in the background for like continuity errors from some of the smaller characters. You know, like in a real movie, sometimes if, like, someone is smoking a cigarette from one angle and then they cut to another angle, it's a different take. So their cigarettes are different lengths or the candles have burned down. And so there's all sorts of little continuity things. So that's what I look for in animation are just like screw ups and mistakes in the background.
AMB: Rob hasn't caught one of these animated continuity errors – yet. But luckily he’s found something else to capture his daughter’s imagination – that doesn’t involve princesses.
[22:43] RH: My daughter became really fascinated with echoes, and so I would find a place to go and yell, so we could find a good echo. So in our neighborhood, there are some apartments nearby that had a big parking garage underneath. That was a good echo place. We would go there. And then we found a bridge near our house where you could go under the bridge. And my daughter would say, let's go to the Echo Bridge and we would, you know, yell Echo! and stuff like that.
AMB: Since the echo trips were going so well, Rob decided he could one-up himself. Not only would he entertain his 3-year-old audience… he’d reach his grown-up audience, too.
[23:18] RH: Well, one day I thought it'd be really funny if I made one of these silly Instagram videos where I was like – me personally, I was like screaming under the bridge as if I was like, losing it. And like at the end of my rope. And so I had my daughter – kind of, she was just holding my hand. And I was filming myself. And I started screaming, like "Why? Whyyyy!?” Well, she thought that I was crying and she burst into tears. And it is the – I have it on video and I can't post it on Instagram, because if I watch it – even talking about it right now makes me want to cry. Like it was the dumbest thing – so it was so loud and so scary. And I was trying to make a funny Instagram video, and instead I terrified my daughter and she burst into tears. And I'm still trying to undo that amount of damage. So – don't do that.
[24:27] AMB: Poor Rob. We've all been there! I mean, not making a comedy video for our fans, and upsetting our daughter – been there, but more like had good intentions that went terribly wrong – been there. I feel bad now asking you to submit your screams to us, but yes, please submit your family screams, and we might use them on our show! Maybe, make sure everyone knows about the screaming before you do it? This week’s screams came from my sister’s family – the Baldonado Sekis from Los Angeles. Also, do you have a weird parenting win? Something like the game What’s on My Butt that we talked about during our first episode? Send all of this to parenttrapped[at]commonsense[dot]org.
[25:16] AMB: This episode was produced by me, Ann Marie Baldonado, with Dennis Funk. Our editor is Hillary Frank. We got production help from Natalie Price. Our engineer is Pete Karam, and our theme song was composed by Casey Holford. We get editorial support from Andrea Silenzi, Fred Graver, Kyra Reppen, and Jill Murphy and Ellen Pack.
Common Sense Media is a national nonprofit that rates media based on children's developmental guidelines. To learn more visit commonsensemedia[dot]org where you'll find age-based ratings and reviews that are written by experts and trusted by families everywhere.
Thanks to our show’s founding sponsor, First Republic Bank, committed to providing you uninterrupted service. To learn more, visit First Republic[dot]com today. And be sure you’re subscribed to Parent Trapped on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you’re listening right now.