Back to School Q&A

After our last episode, Educating Your Child in a Pandemic, I got a lot of questions. Today I’ll be answering your questions about returning back to school this year.

Show Notes/Links:

Hi there and welcome to episode 230. Today, I am doing a back to school question and answer session. After the last episode, educating your child in a pandemic. I got a lot of questions. Today is just going to be a real straight talk, giving you my thoughts and opinions in this hard, tricky season of life. And I want to tell you first and foremost, that what's right for me and my family is right for me and my family. It's going to look very different than you and yours. You are the expert on your family. Trust her gut. You have all of the answers inside of you.

Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of Simple Families. Simple Families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based in my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

Hi there. And thanks for tuning in. I want to first bring you a 62nd message from our sponsor today, which is Pred Dish. I have been using Prep Dish our house for a few years now, and I am so thankful for it. Prep Dish has given us a whole new approach to meal planning each week Prep Dish sends a list of recipes for the week. Along with it. They also send a Grocery Shopping List and a Prep Day List. So I order the groceries, pick them up and then designate a certain time that my partner and I worked together to prep the meals for the week when it comes time to serve the meals on the day of it only takes 10 or 15 minutes to put the finishing touches on and get it on the table. This makes the mental and physical load of cooking dinner during the week. So much lighter. If you want to try Prep Dish, I encourage you to go to That's And you'll get two weeks free. I did not intend to go dark on you all last week, but we got hit pretty hard by tropical storm Issais here in New York and it knocked out our power for pretty much the whole week.

Along with the cell phone towers, it was pretty rough, basically camping at home, which can be fun except for the fact that we're actually heading out camping this week. It's funny that being without power by choice going camping is something that many of us do for fun and for the experience. But when those same luxuries are taken away from us unexpectedly, we have a whole different mindset towards it. All right, before we dive into today's episode, I wanted to let you know that if you were looking for my list of the top 15 simple toys that I love for kids go to That's I had a lot of people emailing me looking for that after episode 228 on moderating the toys. But for today's episode, this is a follow-up from last week.

Last week, we talked about educating your child in a pandemic, and that was a big, full dense episode. You might need to listen to it more than once. I really poured my heart and soul into that one. And after that, I got a lot of questions and state the questions I'm going to be taking are very practical, very hands-on. What would you do? Type questions. Now, I'm going to answer these from my own perspective. And I want you to remember that you are the expert on your own family. The things that I say today may or may not resonate with you if they do take it, if they don't leave it. And my first question comes from Lauren. She asked how much time should a first grader spend an actual formal type learning? So Lauren, my son is going to be entering first grade in the fall.

And while you talked about in episode 223 and the homeschooling episode that I am actually sending my kids to school this fall, but we have been homeschooling. We're still homeschooling through the summer. Now what we're doing is somewhere around 45 minutes to an hour a day. Usually we spend about 20 minutes on reading and spelling and writing, and then about 20 minutes on math. And that's the time that we actually spend sitting at the table doing more formal curriculum work. Now had a couple of people ask, are you doing history and science? Yes, we're doing all the subjects every day in life. We read books all the time and you know, books about space and animals. We've been reading a lot of books about diversity and race relations. We go on a lot of nature, walks, examining and exploring what we find. We're absolutely doing science and history and geography, world studies.

All the time. We're not doing any form of curriculums around those things, but when we do find a particular topic that picks the interest of my kids, we'll dive deeper and learn more about those topics the past few months, actually the past 18 months or so, my son has been super into Mars rovers, and that's one area we've really been diving deeply into. I thought it kind of culminated when the new Rover launched in July, I'd spent about 18 months answering the question, how many more days, how many more days until perseverance launches. And then he launched. And I was like, woo, all right, we can move on to the next thing. But now it's a seven month journey. So now for the next seven months, I'm going to be hearing how many more days until perseverance lands is perseverance. Okay. Can we check on him or her?

There's a lot of arguments over whether the Mars Rover is a she or a he, but I like to tell my kids much like colors, rovers don't have gender either. Anyways. Yes, so most of our education doesn't come sitting at a table in workbooks and curriculums. It just comes through life, especially in these early years. So AJ M. Rotner, her asked, how do you deal with tutor slash pod slash private school guilt about privilege? Now, I'm not an expert to speak on privilege, white privilege, economic privilege. It's a topic that I have been learning more about as I've been doing my own anti-racism work. But one resource on this that I really loved that opened me up to some new ideas was an episode by Jasmine Bradshaw on her podcast. First name basis. I'll put the link in the show notes at 230.

But the episode was from May 19th and it's called what is privilege? And what do I do about it? And in this episode, Jasmine talks about the idea of spending privilege. If we just sit around feeling guilty about it, that's not going to help anybody. So what do we do with our privilege and how do we spend it? This is a great episode. And if you haven't read white fragility yet by Robin de Angelo, it's a must read. She talks a lot about white privilege and that, and white privilege and economic privilege are very much intertwined. So those are two good resources to start with. All right, Kee VK asked, how do you set up a schedule for doing virtual school? Now for me, our schedule has been flexible and it has shifted along with our needs, but I first look at my kids' energy and I find that my son, my oldest, who is really the only one who gets any kind of formal schooling in our house, well he is a kid that wakes up all on at six o'clock in the morning.

And my daughter wakes up a little bit later. So for the most part, we've done a lot of our schooling during that first hour of the day. Usually while we're eating breakfast, I have the table all set up. So when he gets up, we get going and that works for us, but it's not going to work for everyone. I recommend not using a set schedule. If you don't have to, don't live by the clock, live by the rhythms and the energy of your kids. You got to be flexible. Now, when I say live by the energy of your kids, I find that it's really helpful for me to pay attention to when my kids need to move. And when they need something quieter and calmer, which is something that I talk about a lot on the podcast called expansion and contraction. When do they need to expand and move apart and exercise their bodies?

And when do they need to come together and do something more focused now for my kids after breakfast, they need to move. So they often go outside and run around. We have a little dome climber in our yard that they climb on. Sometimes I'll sit outside and read a book to them while they're climbing. Other times I'll just be doing the dishes in the house, but that after breakfast movement is really important for them, they need that movement to settle in, to do anything else for the rest of the day. Another time that they need a lot of movement is after dinner. So we usually eat dinner around 5 or 5:30. And after that, they bolt back outside and move their bodies doing something or other lately it's been Ninja warrior obstacle courses. All right, now Lindsay said, I hope you'll include something about distance learning.

It's not my preference at all, but I think it's, what's safest for kids, teachers and all school staff. So I'm not going to speak to safety from a physical or medical perspective because that's not my area of expertise, but I will say that if you are a family who is going to be distance learning by choice this year, and you'll be sending your children back into public schooling, that it is important to keep your kid enrolled in school so that your child's school continues to receive the funding. Now, the other option would be to take them out and to homeschool them with a different curriculum with completely different programming. Now, if you do that, there's a good chance that your school is going to be losing funding. And a lot of our schools are already dealing with budget cuts. So if you're going to do that and you're going to keep your kid home forever and homeschooled, that's fine.

That's great. But if you're intending to put your kid back into school, as soon as possible, that's going to make things extra hard for the school from a financial perspective. So keep that in mind. I do think there's a balance to be found with distance learning and doing some of your own thing while your distance learning, maybe you decide you're going to do distance learning and the reading curriculum that your teacher is using, just isn't working for your kid. Can you have a conversation with her about veering off and doing something that suits you better suits your child better, trying to figure out where you can get a little wiggle room to make it work for your family.

I'm the kind of parent who is pretty persistent, especially when it comes to advocating for my kids' needs. And I think in this case, everybody really wants the same thing. The school wants your child to succeed. You want your child to succeed. Your school wants your child to stay enrolled. So if distance learning isn't working for you and your teacher is unwilling to accommodate any thinking outside of the box, personally, I'd probably go to the administration and it would go something like, Hey, I really want to keep my kid enrolled in school and I know that you really want my kid enrolled in school too.

So how can we work together to find a balance that supports my kid and helps him to learn the very best way possible? What we're doing right now? Isn't working let's collaborate now of course, you've got to give it some time. In the beginning. Everyone is going to be overwhelmed. Everyone is going to be figuring out how it's going to work both on the family side and on the school side. So be patient and give them a grace. But remember just because your kid is enrolled in school doesn't mean that you don't have a say in their education. It doesn't mean that you don't have a right to advocate because you do. It's not just a right. I think it's an obligation as a parent. All right, next is from a little birdie, told me, and she wrote, how do I deal with feeling like my child is missing out?

If I keep them home, while many of their friends return, this is hard. But the reality is our kids are going to be experiencing FOMO. The fear of missing out and envy for the rest of their lives, giving in to what they want, just to avoid those hard feelings works in the moment, but it's going to return. There's going to be envy. There's going to be FOMO of something else. So you're not really fixing the problem. You're just kind of prolonging, dealing with it. If this is something you feel really passionately about keeping your kid home, keep them home. You're steering the ship. You're making the decisions for them. This is a very important decision that only an adult can make an adult with a fully developed brain and reasoning skills. Your child may like your decision. Your child may not like your decision, but you have to do what serves your family best based on the information that you have available to you.

Adrian asked strict schedule, a late class or looser schedule with three kids, looser schedule, much, much looser schedule. Like I said earlier in the episode, strive to really follow their energy. They're probably going to need a lot of movement breaks. You're going to need a lot of breaks, aim to follow a rhythm in your days, rather than following the clock to do a little work, take a little break, do a little work, take a little break, maybe get all your work done early in the morning and then take the whole afternoon off, play around with different options and see what works for you. And you might find that it changes as the seasons change. Patty asked, how do I keep my three-year-old busy, long enough to help the other kids? Patty, I know this problem well with my four-year-old, it's tricky because I want to involve her as much as possible, but sometimes she can become a distraction.

Now I mentioned that we get up early and do a lot of our work before she wakes up. Although I realized that doesn't work for everyone, a few episodes back, I talked about putting some quiet time in place and that's something I would recommend getting started with your three-year-old start now working up slowly to about 30 minutes of quiet time where he or she stays in his room, her room doing something alone. Now some people have luck just occupying a younger child at the table while the other children are working. I've never really had luck with that because my four year old always really wants to be doing whatever my six year old is doing. So I would rather have 30 minutes while my four year old is in her bedroom doing quiet time where I'm really working, knocking out a few things with my six-year-old as compared to having her at the table with us, trying to kind of juggle both of them.

That's just my personal preference, but it depends on your kid too. For me, it works better to have a small chunks of quiet time, rather than large chunks of time, where I feel like I'm juggling a lot. The next question comes from S. Cassidy Coles who asked, what can we skip so much? You can skip so much that is not serving you. It's not serving your kids. And you're not really skipping things. You're going to be learning things in different ways. So try not to get caught up in this idea that, Oh, we didn't do science at all this week because you're doing science all the time. When you're cooking, you're doing science, you're doing math. When you're taking a nature walk, you're doing science topics and subjects are naturally integrated throughout our days. So don't feel like you are really lowering the bar and you're skipping all these things because you might actually be doing them without even realizing it.

That happens all the time. Marla Chan asked, how do I manage my work and their schoolwork? Last time it was stressful. And there were arguments, for those of us who work to pay the bills and put food on the table. Our work has to come first. If you look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the physical needs like food and shelter have to be taken care of before we can meet the higher level needs like education and emotional wellbeing. So never feel guilty about prioritizing, getting your work done, providing for your family has to be a priority. There's no way around that. We're not used to functioning on the lower levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. A lot of us have been kind of knocked back to those basic levels of putting food on the table, keeping our homes, heated, having a roof over our heads, things that we've taken for granted in the past.

That's what crisis will do to us, right? Banjoure Amor said, how do I include socialization? I'm not sending my three-year-old because I don't have to. And he has a one-year-old sister, but still don't worry too much about socialization for a year, young children, or even for your older children. They're going to jump right back in when the opportunity presents itself, try not to stress too much about socialization. Will your child be grumpy and be bored and those kinds of things? Yes, for sure. But I wouldn't expect this lapse in socialization that a lot of our children are experiencing to really have a profound long-term impact on their development. Now that might look different. If your child does have social delays and receive special therapies for these things, this question is coming from the Danielson fam, how do you talk to the kids about the differences from last year?

So I'm talking to my kids very clearly about what to expect. You're going to be wearing masks all day. You're going to be seated apart from your friends. We don't love it, but it's going to be okay. You're still going to be able to have fun. You're still gonna be able to play games and learn and do the things that you love, but it is going to look different and we're going to make the best of it. Attitude is everything. Modeling a positive attitude is so important. Lauren Young asked will social distancing be good for kids mental health, especially with no art music or recess. Lauren, I don't think it's good for kids mental health, but I also don't think staying home isolated as good for our kids' mental health either. And in weighing those mental health risks for my kids, because I do consider them both to be risks.

I personally have decided that going back to school and the mental health risks that come along with social distancing at school, you know, the weirdness of the masks and staying six feet apart, that sort of thing. Well for our family, I've decided that those risks are lower than the risks of isolation at home. But again, that's just me. All right. I have two good questions from DoSmile 123 you asked how do you structure your days without battles? So expect that there are going to be some battles along the way, and be willing to give in to a lot of those battles. You win some, you lose some. We've got to give our kids the sense that they have power and they have control. Otherwise they will fight us over everything. So figure out ways that you can give your kids control over their days and over the things that they're learning.

How could they learn about the things that they're curious about and the things that they're interested in. And you also asked what are ways to teach a strong-willed child who likes to think about everything differently? Well, I would let them teach you if they have different, unique ways of thinking about things, try to make yourself a listener as much as possible. The more you listen, the more they in turn will listen to you. If you cut them off and try to run the show and make all the decisions, they're probably going to tune you out to be a teacher, but also be a learner. Ashley Lynn Cook asked, how do you set up workspaces and schedules for three kids? Ashley? I don't think we need special rooms and spaces for homeschooling and distance learning. I think if you're really set on setting up a specific space for this, because the rest of your house feels chaotic that maybe we should just work on decluttering and simplifying the whole house.

That way your kids can really learn anywhere, but they really just need a table depending on your kids. They might do better at separate tables, or they might be able to combine and be at one, but try not to distract yourself at this idea that you have, have the perfect space. Personally, I think you just need a decluttered streamline house that works not just for learning, but really works and functions for all aspects of family life. Shannon Marie asked, how do I give my son a magical kindergarten experience? Even if it's all remote learning while we work from home. Shannon, you know, I never really try to give my kids magical anything. I think that everything is already magical to kids. If huge imaginations, little things can be so special to them. Learning is so special and enjoyable to them. So I think you strive to take care of yourself.

You're going to be working from home and teaching. So take care of your own wellbeing and show up as your best self. And I think that's the best way to give your kid a positive experience this year. And the last question I'm going to take us from Catherine. She asked how do you transition from a period of too much screen time to an academic environment, Catherine, that's the topic we're taking on in next week's episode, we're going to be talking about screen-time detox. So look forward to that one. All right. I hope this episode has been helpful. I know that you all are facing a lot of decisions and there is no easy decision. There is no right decision, but the decision has to come from you. It has to come from your gut. It has to come from what's right for your family. You can ask a million people what they're doing and what you should do, but you're the only one with the answers. Trust yourself, trust your instincts. Thanks for tuning in. I hope you've enjoyed this episode. If you have a minute, leave a rating or review on iTunes that helps the show to reach more people, have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.