Preventing Poisoning During COVID-19

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Earlier this month, the Washington Poison Center (WAPC) released its data “snapshot” for 2020. This is something that WAPC puts out annually in order to educate the public about poisoning trends at the state level. These trends are based on the types of calls that WPAC’s hotline receives throughout the year, compared to years prior.

This year has been one for the books in so many ways, and the new data snapshot tells an interesting story. I had the opportunity to talk with one of WPAC’s staff, and I’d like to share what I learned.

But first: What is the Washington Poison Center (WAPC)?

The Washington Poison Center (WAPC) provides immediate, free, and expert treatment advice and assistance on the telephone in case of exposure to poisonous, hazardous, or toxic substances. Each year, its specialists answer more than 63,000 calls from Washingtonians related to poisoning and toxic exposures. All calls are free, confidential, and help is available 24/7/365.

Major Takeaways

COVID-19 has increased our risks of accidental poisoning. Period. So what is the reason for this increase? WAPC staff believe that it is due to several factors, including:

  • We are home more due to social distancing and other safety guidance
  • We may have new daily routines this year that are out of the ordinary
  • More products in the home (perhaps due to stockpiling) may cause increased access
  • More stress can cause people to be less focused
  • Rumors and misinformation can lead to dangerous choices

Calls to the Center have increased in 2020, and staff have seen spikes in calls regarding substances common to COVID prevention (hand sanitizer and household cleaners). They have also seen spikes in calls for vulnerable demographics like adolescents and adults over 60.

This data is concerning, and parallels poison trends across the U.S.

Cleaners & Sanitizers

It isn’t unusual for WAPC to receive calls about household cleaners; however, this year has definitely seen a serious uptick. Most calls have been in regards to accidental poisonings, or poisonings due to misuse (mixing products, using in low ventilated areas, etc).

The vast majority of hand sanitizer exposures have been in children ages 0-12, most likely due to increased access to the products in the home. The high alcohol content in these products can be very dangerous for young children, so it is extremely important to supervise kids when using hand sanitizer and to make sure that bottles are always out of reach.

Nicotine

An interesting find this year has been the decrease in nicotine exposure calls. In 2020, nicotine exposure in children ages 0-5 actually decreased—a trend that even WAPC staff were a bit surprised about. Perhaps the decrease is due to parents being home more? Or perhaps the new Tobacco 21 law has decreased access to these products? While it is difficult to pinpoint direct correlations, it is certainly nice to see this type of data!

That said, it is still very important to keep nicotine products stored safely and away from children. The vast majority of calls for 0-5 year old’s were for raw tobacco, with vape products in second. WAPC staff explained that raw tobacco can be dangerous, but vape liquid—if ingested—can be fatal. Always, always, keep these products away from children, as flavored liquids can be especially enticing to little kids.

Cannabis

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

Trends for THC exposure are less rosy. All age groups saw an increase in THC exposures this year, with a sizeable increase among children 0-5. Among this group, exposures were almost 100% due to unintentional use (getting a hold of an edible, plant-based product, or concentrate). Safe and secure storage of these products is crucial to keeping kids safe.

Medications

This is another area that has historically been a concern for WAPC, however COVID has exacerbated the problem. Stress, distractions, and new routines can lead to user error and poor judgement. WAPC staff encourage people to use medication lists, trackers, and reminders in order to decrease risk of double-dosing or mixing meds.

It is also encouraged that people secure medications in the home. This simple step can decrease the likelihood of accidental poisonings in young children, or misuse among adolescents.

Adolescent Self-harm

By far, this data tells the most worrisome story. Historically, data has shown an increase in youth self-harm/suicidal intent since 2014, and this trend continues. COVID-19 related isolation and stress may increase these risks—something that mental health experts have been concerned about for months.

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

It is encouraging, however, to see this data and to realize just how amazing our kids are. Despite all the ups and downs of 2020, our youth are showing resilience in magnitudes. We must not forget that we can all make a positive difference everyday in the lives of our young people.

Two steps that each of us can take today are: 1) locking up medications (even over-the-counter meds like Tylenol and Advil); and 2) talking to our children about substance use. Don’t know where to start with this? Visit Start Talking Now for some ideas.

What to expect when you call

It doesn’t need to be an emergency to call the Washington Poison Center—you can call to get advice or directions if you are concerned or confused about poison-related issues.

You will speak with an expert (nurse, pharmacist, or poison information provider), and there are always Board Certified Medical Toxicologists on-call if necessary. You are not required to give your name, however providing your age and gender can be extremely helpful in order to gauge risk. What was taken, when, and how much are other vital details to provide to the staff.

These calls are always confidential. You do not need to be worried about law enforcement or CPS getting involved. WAPC is concerned about your safety and about providing care.

Staff are trained to provide direction on what to do, what to watch for, and most of the time this can all happen with the caller at home. If/when it is decided that the caller needs medical intervention, staff can advise the caller to go to the emergency room, or WAPC can actually contact EMS on the caller’s behalf.

Finally, WAPC staff will follow-up with you—just to make sure that everything is alright!

It is important to be vigilant when it comes to poisoning prevention—now more than ever. With that said, I feel comforted in knowing that there are trained professionals available to answer my questions. If you don’t have the Washington Poison Center’s phone number somewhere in your home, I encourage you to jot it down! 1-800-222-1222

You never know when you might need it!

To view the Washington Poison Center’s full data report, visit: www.wapc.org/programs/covid-19-resources-information/covid-19-data/.


Red Ribbon Week & Youth Substance Use

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Red Ribbon Week is dedicated to spreading awareness about youth substance use prevention and the mission of keeping all kids drug-free. It takes place every year from October 23 through October 31st, and this year is no exception. Your student’s health teacher or prevention specialist may be touching on some prevention messaging right now, so it could be a prime opportunity to continue this conversation with your child (if you aren’t doing so already). So let’s talk prevention!

Why is it important?

Ninety percent of people with addictions started using substances in their teen years. Beginning at age 10 through the mid- to late-20s, massive changes are underway in the brain. This includes the development of capabilities related to impulse control, managing emotions, problem-solving and anticipating consequences. Substance use during this time period can cause the brain to be more susceptible to addiction and other mental health disorders, especially for kids who are vulnerable.

Substance use and COVID-19

Some early research is coming out that shows that youth substance use rates are being negatively impacted by COVID-19 and social distancing measures. An article written in the Journal for Adolescent Health noted that, of those adolescents surveyed, “the percentage of users decreased [since the beginning of COVID-19]; however, the frequency of both alcohol and cannabis use increased.” Perhaps of more concern is that, while the majority of those using substances were engaging in solitary substance use (49.3%), “many were still using substances with peers via technology (31.6%) and, shockingly, even face to face (23.6%).” For parents who are actively working to keep their kids COVID-free, this added information may be worrisome.

Risks of use and COVID-19

We do not know yet if the occurrence of COVID-19 is higher for people who use drugs or have substance use disorder than for those who don’t use drugs, however some underlying medical conditions seem to increase risk of severe illness from COVID-19. For example, vaping may harm lung health, and emerging evidence suggests that exposure to aerosols from e-cigarettes harms the cells of the lung and diminishes the ability to respond to infection. For this reason, it is possible that drug use could make COVID-19 illness more severe, but more evidence is needed.

Can parents really make a difference?

Absolutely! Parents are the biggest influence in a teen’s life. Even though it may not appear to be true at times, deep down they still want you involved. A strong parent/child bond, especially during the teen years, helps reduce the chances of them engaging in unhealthy behavior and helps set the stage for preventing nicotine, alcohol, and drug use.

When and how to talk about substance use?

These conversations should happen frequently, and typically work best when a parent and child are already engaging in some type of activity together. It is important to listen, show empathy, and be understanding. Connecting often, communicating about your expectations and setting boundaries, and even encouraging healthy risk taking are all things that parents can do to set their children up for success.

Parents can begin talking with their children about drug prevention at a surprisingly young age! These early conversations may not sound exactly like “drug prevention;” instead, the focus should be on laying a strong foundation of trust and openness, while also teaching (and demonstrating) healthy habits. For tips on how to talk to your child at any age, visit: https://drugfree.org/article/prevention-tips-for-every-age/.

What should parents be looking out for?

Figuring out if your child is using substances can be challenging; many of the signs and symptoms are typical teen or young adult behavior. However, sometimes they can be attributed to underlying issues.  Mental health concerns like depression and anxiety, as well as traumatic events or periods of transition, can create a greater risk for the development of problematic substance use. Children and teens are dealing with a lot of changes right now, making it all the more important that parents be looking out for concerning behavior.

If you have reason to suspect use, don’t be afraid to err on the side of caution. Prepare to take action and have a conversation during which you can ask direct questions like “Have you been drinking, vaping or using drugs?” No parent wants to hear “yes,” but being prepared for how you would respond can be the starting point for a more positive outcome.

Where do I go for help?

There is help available if you are concerned that your child may be using substances—or even if you’re struggling with how to begin a conversation! Drugfree.org has one-on-one help available for parents: visit https://drugfree.org/article/get-one-on-one-help/ for ways to connect.

Want to get involved in your community?

Between now and December 15th, our three prevention community coalitions are collecting information from Skagit County adults (18+) about their perceptions regarding local youth substance use. Do you live or work in one of these communities? Consider filing out the survey! Your feedback has direct influence on prevention programming available for youth and families.

Mount Vernon
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKMTVEEN2020
Spanish- https://es.research.net/r/SKMTVESP2020

Sedro-Woolley
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKSEWOEN2020
Spanish- https://es.research.net/r/SKSEWOSP2020

Concrete
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKCOEN2020

For more information about prevention in Skagit County, visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Health/preventionmain.htm


Take Time to Invest in You

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest post by Kari Pendray at Brigid Collins Family Support Center

As we find ourselves well into our sixth month of living with Covid-19, many parents have one thing in common – we are all juggling multiple demands in a time that leaves us feeling more uncertain. The idea of being at home for some is isolating and for others it feels more like a safe haven. No matter which side of the aisle you are on, the role of a parent has suddenly become more demanding. That’s because stressful events, like being in the midst of a global pandemic, adds a layer of unpredictability in our lives.

Whether you are feeling stressed out, burned out, or just plain tired, you are not alone. Stress is sometimes defined as when the need to respond exceeds our capacity to respond. How can you recognize stress and burnout? Stress comes in three forms. Acute stress is healthy stress, like when you have a deadline for work or school. Episodic stress is short episodes of high stress, such as taking on too much work, then, being unable to get the stress out of your system. Finally, chronic stress is one that has been linked to chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Chronic stress is very serious and needs to be managed with care and helping professionals. Burnout is a complete feeling of exhaustion and can make you withdraw from other people. Burnout can lead to cynicism and can cause you to delay tasks.

During our Coping with Stress virtual seminars at the Parenting Academy, we talk to parents and caregivers about managing stress and building our capacity, as parents, for emotional well-being, which centers around three main strategies:

  • Awareness of unhealthy thinking
  • Shifting negative self-talk and automatic thoughts
  • Challenging unhelpful thoughts
Focus on the things that you can control, and let the other things go.

First, ask yourself, “What evidence do I have for this thought or idea?” Then, ask, “What could be another explanation?” Finally, ask yourself, “What can I do to change or shift my thinking that would lead to a positive outcome?

To prevent stress and burnout, it’s important to plan daily activities that alleviate stress, just like you would plan to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks or watch your favorite show on Netflix. It’s important to invest in yourself in ways that add years to your life.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Invest in your heart – Eating heart healthy foods such as leafy green vegetables, lean fish and meat, and minimizing sugar, can contribute to having a good nutritional balance. (See My Plate.gov or Harvard Healthy Eating Plate). You can use cooking as a way to learn math, science, experiment with food and enjoy eating new foods.
  2. Invest in your body – Pumping oxygen into your blood is not only good for your heart it is also good for your mind. Studies show that exercising can release positive “happy” hormones into your body and relieve stress. Children love to exercise with their parents. Families are taking more walks, riding bikes, playing soccer and making the most of their own backyards.
  3. Invest in your brain – Has anyone ever given you a prescription to laugh? Well, if not, consider this your first one. Laughing soothes tension, stimulates organs, re-wires new neural pathways in your brain and alleviates stress. When parents take time to play with their children, this can involve 5-10 minutes of mutual enjoyment, laughter and a break from your day. Children learn from play and play can be a great way to co-regulate.

When you invest in yourself, you will not only improve your own health, you will also be modeling health and wellness for your children; you will be more present for your child, and you will be having fun in the process. That’s a gift that will last a lifetime.

If you would like more information on the Parenting Academy or wish to register for parenting coaching or virtual seminars, please go to www.parenting-academy.org.

Resources:
www.choosemyplate.gov
www.hsph.harvard.edu
www.hhs.gov/fitness/beactive/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html
www.parenting-academy.org


Halloween How To’s: Let’s Get Creative!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

One of the things that has kept me going mentally over the past six months has been my garden. Trust me…this thing is nothing to write home about! But it gives me a sense of pride when I look out from my window and I see the tall stalks of our corn blowing in the wind. While I haven’t been able to control a lot since March, I know that this little space I’ve created will be there every day, ready to be watered and weeded. The champions of my garden, without a doubt, have been my pumpkins. I’ve watched these things grow from tiny green balls, to beautiful orange spheres. I’ve been waiting with so much anticipation for October so I can finally cut them off the vine and bring them into our home. Halloween, here we come!

With our Health Officer’s recent announcement about in-person trick-or-treating, along with recommendations from the CDC, I will be honest: I was disappointed. It is okay to feel this way (something I tell myself frequently), and it is normal to mourn our “normal” holiday traditions. That being said, to dwell on this would do a great disservice to ourselves and our loved ones.

So traditional in-person trick-or-treating isn’t happening this year? Okay. There is so much that we can still do—and still control—despite these challenges.

So let’s explore these creative options!

1. Decorate your house and/or yard. You can even hold a contest with your neighbors and vote on the spookiest house!

2. Carve your pumpkins in the front yard this year and have your neighbors do the same. Enjoy this holiday tradition with other families, while keeping a safe distance. Play some Halloween-themed music (Monster Mash, anyone?), and do your best Thriller moves.

3. Coordinate a Halloween scavenger hunt by giving your kids a list of Halloween-themed decorations to look for while they walk outdoors (think cobwebs, ghosts, and black cats).

Make it a bingo game and use this template, or create your own!

4. Hold a virtual costume party via video chat with family or friends. Hold a contest for most creative, scariest, sparkliest, best overall, etc.

5. Exchange candy with a few families you know. Do a drop-off delivery at their doorstep for a Halloween surprise for the kids. If you are preparing goodie bags, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 second before and after preparing the bags.

6. Trick-or-treat inside your home—or in the yard—by hiding candy for your kids to find. A few jump-scares may be in order for older kids (so long as this is something that they would find enjoyable!).

7. Have a spooky movie night or Halloween craft party with the family. Call your local library and ask to have some Halloween-themed DVDs or books put together, and pick them up using the library’s curbside pick-up.

If none of these strike your fancy, ask around and see what other people might be planning. Get creative and try some new things. Who knows…you may incorporate some of these 2020 Halloween activities into your future holiday traditions! For some more helpful insights into COVID-safe holiday fun, visit the CDC’s holiday page. Take care of yourself, and happy haunting!

Note: Skagit County’s Health Officer has recommended against in-person trick-or-treating this year because it “presents too much of a risk for widespread community transmission.” We realize that there may be families who still participate this year, despite the recommendation. For those who intend to trick-or-treat, it is imperative that the following health precautions be taken.

Handing out candy:

  • Offer no-contact treats by bagging up separate treats and placing them away from your front door or in your yard or near the sidewalk. Allow trick-or-treaters to gather candy while remaining physically distanced.
  • If you are preparing bags of candy, wash your hands well before and after preparing the bags. 

Trick-or-treating:

  • Do not substitute a Halloween mask for a face covering. Wear an approved face mask. Find one that fits in with your costume!
  • Maintain six feet of distance from other trick-or-treaters or residents who are handing out candy.
  • If you are trick-or-treating with others outside your household, keep six feet of distance between yourselves.
  • Stay away from large costume parties or trick-or-treating events.
  • Bring plenty of hand sanitizer with you.

Are playgrounds re-opening? What you need to know.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I was scrolling through my social media newsfeed on a recent Saturday morning, when a particular post caught my eye: Mount Vernon playgrounds have re-opened. As a mom of a toddler who has been shut out of all playgrounds and splash-pads this summer, I nearly jumped for joy. My first thought was, “FINALLY! Shoes on! Let’s go!” … But then reality set in. Is it too soon? Is it safe? All the anxieties of the past six months flooded my brain and I spent the rest of the morning debating about our next move.

After quickly scoping out our nearest park, I decided that we would give it a try. My daughter couldn’t put her shoes on fast enough when I told her we could go. Before I knew it, we were walking up to her favorite twisty slide, and she looked back at me with reservation in her eyes. It felt so alien to be at a playground again, and even weirder to encourage her to climb onto the steps.  

All in all, it was a wonderful morning. She had a blast! But I was glad that I’d talked to my daughter about my expectations before we went, and about how we had to continue to be careful about keeping our distance when around others. Here are some things that I took into account before we left the house that may be helpful for you and your family.

Talk to your child about keeping their distance

Even though playgrounds may be reopening, we should be trying our best to keep a six-foot distance from others, and this can be really hard to accomplish between children at a playground! Talk to your child before you leave the house about what your expectations are, and even practice what six feet looks like. Discuss some things that your child can say if another child is getting too close, and reassure them that you will be there to help them.

Note: While you may be able to control what your own child is doing, it may be difficult to make sure other children are keeping their distance. Stay close to your child and discuss any concerns that you may have with the parents/caregivers of the other children at the playground (if it becomes problematic). If it is too difficult to keep distance, be prepared to leave.

Go during “non-peak” hours

Go to the playground when it isn’t busy, and leave (or take a snack break and come back) if it gets crowded. Though the park was empty when we arrived in mid-morning, within several minutes we were greeted by two other families. I think if we went again, I’d make a point to go earlier (since it was a sunny Saturday, after all) or maybe even a bit later in the afternoon. Keeping your distance—as mentioned above—is much easier to achieve if the playground isn’t crowded.

Take the usual health precautions

This is nothing new, but it is important to keep in mind regardless! Adults and children must wear masks when at the playground (exception being children younger than two  years old and those with health exemptions), and sanitize your hands often. Bring some hand sanitizer with you to have in your pocket, and talk to your child about avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and mouth.

Be sure to follow the signs!

Some parks may not have opened their restroom facilities yet, so make alternate plans for going to the restroom. If the facilities are open, be sure to wear your mask and try to avoid congregating in big crowds. When you are using the restroom families, take the opportunity to wash everyone’s hands! Hand sanitizer is great, but nothing beats good, old-fashioned soap and water.

Weigh the pros and cons

I had to wrestle with the pros and cons of going back to the playground and even made a few false starts before we actually made it there that morning. Even though being outdoors lowers the risks of infection, there are absolutely some risks associated with crowding and contaminated surfaces. In the end, I trust the benefits to our mental health outweigh the potential risks. That being said, I made sure to follow instructions on all posted signage, and practiced safe distancing and proper hygiene throughout our trip. I also don’t know if we will continue to go if the parks begin to get crowded. I guess I’ll make that judgment call when and if the time comes.  

Take care of yourself, and take care of others. Oh, and don’t forget the sunscreen!


Back to School: Create a Schedule that Works

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Along with Skagit school districts’ back-to-school reopening plans, each school has provided students with a schedule. While it is very important to become familiar with this academic schedule, it is also important to develop a schedule at home that will work for your student, as well as the rest of the household. Here are some ideas that may help bring a sense of clarity to your weekly routine. 

1. Compartmentalize your day

For anyone who’s been working from home the past several months, you have probably weighed the costs and benefits of compartmentalizing your day. When the work day bleeds into the work evening, then into the work weekend, it becomes really important to define your time—for your mental health, if nothing else.

The same holds true for your child! Create a routine in which your student gets up, gets dressed and has breakfast, then progresses into their school day. While it can be tempting, it is important to change out of pajamas (at least from time to time!) and put on some day-time clothing. Compartmentalize the day into natural chunks of time: morning classes, lunch, afternoon classes, and end-of-day. The late afternoon should include a period of free time to allow your child to decompress from the day and to wrap up their school work.

2. Take breaks and eat well

Along these same lines, be sure that your student takes breaks and sets aside a time to have lunch. It can be easy for kids to snack while they work, and to eat lunch at their study space. However, it is good for the mind and body to take a breather and spend some time in a different part of the house or outside.

For breaks, it may be helpful to take 15-20 minutes every few hours (or more often, for younger children). Be sure that your child knows that taking a moment to breathe, stretch, and come back to their work is extremely important (even adults need to do this!). If your child is really struggling with a project or assignment, encourage taking a quick break.

3. Get organized

It may be helpful to work with your child on reviewing their weekly academic calendar and any due dates that they may have for assignments. A planner (either paper or digital) could be a great tool for some students, while others may need something that is easily accessible and clearly visible. Just like in a school classroom, your child may find it helpful to have a whiteboard by their desk with a list of assignments, or even a large calendar with due dates clearly marked. This may also be a good thing for you, as the parent, since you can keep track of your child’s schedule from afar.

4. Get active…daily!

This is critical for your child’s physical and mental health. When the weather still permits, encourage your child to go outside to take a walk or bike ride. For younger kids, their local playground may be re-opening! Be sure to talk about keeping distance from others, even when outside, and wear a mask if in a more crowded area.

When the weather starts to turn chilly and/or rainy (or smoky), find some things to do indoors that get their blood flowing! Exercise and dance videos can be fun, and even stretching can be done in small spaces. Doing the same activities every day can get tiresome, so encourage your student to try different ways to get moving. And if you can, do it with them!

5. Encourage socialization

Your child might be excited to get back to school, even if it is remote and online. It may be the first time in a while that they have seen some of their friends and peers after a long COVID summer, and this re-engagement might be a seriously needed mood-booster. But don’t be surprised if by October your student is feeling burned out on online schooling. This kind of socialization might not be enough for many children, and it is okay to admit that!

When your child is feeling antsy or moody, encourage some socialization with friends. While it isn’t advised to schedule in-person meetups with large groups of friends, an occasional get-together between “besties” can be really good for your child’s mental health. Arrange a playdate outdoors for young children (being mindful of the 5-person per week limit), and for older students, maybe a study session outdoors? Take care to maintain social distancing and have your child wear a face covering. While it isn’t “school like usual” with the variety of opportunities to interact, a few social activities a month can go a long way to promote health and wellbeing.

6. Be flexible!

Expect the need to shake things up. A routine is awesome and a schedule is great, but sometimes things just don’t go as planned, and it is okay to modify it if necessary. There will be days that your student is rocking it and crossing off one assignment after another. However, there will also be days when PJs and a bubble bath are the most important thing. Both are okay. 

What we are asking of our youth right now is unprecedented, and we must always keep our children’s health at the forefront. If you ever feel like your child is struggling, connect with their teacher (or other school staff) and ask for some advice. You don’t need to take on these challenging times alone.


Back to School: Set Them Up For Success

Reading Time: 3 minutes

For this week’s edition of the “Back-to-School” blog, I wanted to write about communication. While our routine schedules are out of whack and our minds may be racing with all the new information about remote learning, parents can further the success of their children if they engage in ongoing and healthy communication during this new school year.

Here are some things that you can do to help prepare your at-home learners this fall:

1. Reflect on last spring

It is okay to talk about trying times—we learn and grow from them. Ask your child about how they felt the spring went: what worked with distance learning and what didn’t? What would have made the transition from in-class to at-home better?

For some students (and adults), the quick transition from one system to another may have been really tough, and the thought of starting back this fall in a remote setting may bring up fear, anxiety, and frustration. While you discuss what a good system would look like for your student, make sure to reassure them that a lot of time and preparation has gone into each school’s reopening plan. This fall will not look like last spring!

2. Get to know their teacher and other school contacts

Many teachers are taking the time to introduce themselves to students individually this fall. Some educators are writing personalized letters, others are setting up Zoom meetings, and others are even meeting in-person with incoming students while adhering to social distancing. Take advantage of these opportunities and encourage your child to get to know their teacher—and have the teacher get to know them! That way, the first day of school will seem less intimidating, and you will already have introduced yourself in case there are any issues that need troubleshooting early on.

3. Review the lesson plan or syllabus with your child

This goes for itty bitty kindergartners all the way up through high school! While you may not need to read the syllabus to your 17-year-old, it can be helpful to look through some of the main highlights with your student. For some students, it may even be helpful to work through a schedule or project calendar together (something I will be blogging about next week).

Take a bit of time to check out the various online platforms that your student will be using, and ask the teacher if you have any questions or concerns. The schools are here to work with you, and if you don’t feel like you are getting the support you need, reach out!

4. Talk about how your student learns best and make a plan

You probably already know this from raising your child, but this knowledge can be really helpful when moving to a full-time remote learning set up. Does your child work better in groups? Does your pre-teen need to do something active every day to get the blood flowing? Does your teen struggle with asking for help? Try to make a daily schedule that incorporates some of these needs, and even communicate to the teacher about your student’s specific learning type.

5. Give positive feedback

During a regular school year, there are so many opportunities for feedback, praise, and celebration. Between awards nights, sports play-offs, recitals, and parent/teacher evenings, your child is most likely used to looking forward to these moments of celebration. While teachers and school staff are working tirelessly to provide some normalcy to an otherwise bizarre situation, it will be hard to provide these same types of opportunities for each child.

As the parent, be sure to find moments to celebrate your child’s successes (no matter how small) and praise them for their hard work. Provide constructive feedback as they work through their projects and assignments, and congratulate them on a job well done. Consider tacking up completed projects on a “display wall” in the house, or reserve a moment over dinner each week to discuss accomplishments. Whatever it is that you do, your child will have a moment to shine.

Checking in throughout the school year with your student won’t guarantee that they will get all As or prevent the inevitable frustrating moments. But it will ensure that your child knows that you are there for them during these difficult times.

Next week I will be posting about creating a schedule. See you then!


Back to School: Create A Space

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Well, folks … “COVID Summer” is almost officially in the rear-view mirror, and autumn is quickly approaching. Our local school districts have announced their fall re-opening plans, and families all around Skagit County are preparing for remote learning, at least for the foreseeable future. While these changes to normal life can feel intimidating, frustrating, and even emotional, we can take comfort in knowing that there are things we can do to support our at-home learners.

In order to help your student stay engaged this school year, there are several things to consider before school begins. Over the next few weeks, we will be posting about different topics that promote healthy, engaged, and effective learning environments for students, parents, and the family as a whole.

Today’s topic is all about SPACE!

In a typical school environment, students are given space: a desk, cubby, locker, or even a special place on a carpet. These spots are so important because it gives children a sense of belonging and purpose within their learning space. Now that students are doing the bulk (if not all) of their schooling at home, this personal space is even more crucial.

Here are some things to consider:

1. Type of Space

The type of space your child will need depends on their age. Young, elementary-age students will most likely need less structured space than an older child. Younger children will have a lot of questions, and may feel more comfortable being in a family space. While they will still need a table top for a tablet or laptop, much of their work could be completed on the dining room table (or even the floor!).

Older elementary school students and middle schoolers will require a desk with space for their laptop, as well as room for writing. These students will be required to log into virtual classrooms for longer periods of time, and may benefit from having their computer camera face a wall. That way, the student doesn’t need to be concerned about what is happening around them at home, and they can control what appears on the screen behind them.

High schoolers will need the most structured space, so a full-sized desk would be ideal. At this age, it may make sense to ask your high schooler about what type of environment would work best for them, and make a plan with their preferences in mind. For self-starters, maybe a desk in their room would work best. For social butterflies, perhaps having a space that still allows for controlled socialization would be the most effective.

2. Rotating/Flexible Space

Just like in a classroom setting, expect that your student will want to move around a bit. Elementary students are used to having different learning stations in the class, and middle and high schoolers move from room to room throughout the school day. It is okay—and even healthy—to allow for some movement at home. Maybe reading can be done on the couch, but all writing assignments should be done at the table. Maybe artwork can be done on the floor, and “class” can be moved outdoors on a beautiful, crisp autumn afternoon. Plan for some flexible learning space, and have expectations worked out with your children ahead of time.

3. Privacy and Limiting Distractions

There are so many distractions in our homes—TVs, toys, backyards, and soft couches for naps—so it is crucial to create a space that minimizes distractions and creates some privacy. For many, it may not be feasible to create an office space for each child, but there are some ways to get creative with space. An empty closet turned into a learning cubby, a strategically placed tri-fold on the dining room table, or a cute side table at the end of the hall can create “study stations” that feel purposeful—not thrown together—and keep distractions at bay.

For parents who aren’t able to be at home during the school day, talk to your students about cellphone usage during the day and make a plan about when (if at all) things like TV are allowed. Look into parental control options for TVs, smartphones, or tablets, if necessary.

3. Promote Health

Despite our best intentions, there is a good chance that our kids will end up doing a portion of their work from the couch, their bed, or sprawled out on the floor with their feet above their heads. When they are seated, try to make sure that their computer monitor and keyboard are at proper heights, and that the lighting won’t strain their eyes. Encourage your child to get up, stretch, and drink plenty of water during the day. All of these activities have been proven to help with information retention among youth.

4. Personalization

Your child may be feeling a bit bummed out about this new school year, and rightly so. By allowing them to personalize their own space, you can help to bring some of the fun and excitement back to “Back to School” prep. Not only will they be excited to use their new special space, the act of creating this space will give them a sense of ownership. Encourage your child to make the space their own, and allow them to decorate with pictures, quotes—whatever!—that makes them smile and feel good.

It is expected that there will be some bumps along the way, so if your system in September doesn’t seem to be working come October … switch it up! This year is all about experimenting, so try to have some fun with it. See you in the next edition!