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Our lives were so different just a few weeks ago

I know I need to pause and sit in my grief before I forge ahead.

lives were different coronavirus quarantine

In early March, my daughter left school for the last time this school year, though neither of us knew that at the time.

On social media, I saw other parent friends from across the country begin to talk about their experiences with online learning. One friend from college kept posting funny memes which made me laugh because it all seemed so ridiculous then. I didn't know what virtual learning would look like for us and it was easier to laugh about it.

I texted her and she said they weren't keeping up with much of the school work online—that instead, they were busy with games, puzzles and art projects. She said she hoped their young age would make up for any lapse in their education saying, "I figure keeping them healthy and happy is most important right now."

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I agreed because at the time that message felt like a no brainer to me. Her next text is what I should have paid more attention to. When she told me, "My friend has been trying to keep up with all the school work and they have so much that she's about to have a nervous breakdown."

I should have known that that person would eventually be me.


The first week was a "soft start," but nothing about it felt soft. There were invitation codes to figure out and student logins to remember. The outlines were presented and I quickly realized that the only thing "online" about what needed to happen were the instructions. Everything else I had to provide for my daughter—guidance, redirection, encouragement, structure.

I used to teach before I had my daughter and I always had enough self-awareness to know that I could never teach my own child. We have been going toe-to-toe since the day she was born. While I'm assured she is a sweet, eager to please student at school, she sort of morphs into a defiant dictator the minute she gets home. It has always been this way. She has always been loving and kind but she never backs down from a battle of wills.

We stumbled our way through the first week and managed to stay on track despite the fact it took us nearly a week to figure out how to get the math app to work and despite the fact that my teething 8-month-old baby became an efficient crawler at the same time.

But it was the second week that broke me.

During the second week, the teachers introduced Zoom. That Monday, we logged into Zoom and I immediately heard the voices of my daughter's classmates. "Eliana!" I heard several exclaim in glee as we entered the call. Then their happy smiling faces popped up. One by one the screen frantically changed to keep up with the cacophony of delighted sounds. It had been 24 days since we had unknowingly seen them for the last time. I burst into tears and quietly watched my daughter, a small smile on her face, as she waved to everyone.

"It's not supposed to be like this," I later sobbed to my husband. I was stressed by the pressure of now being in charge of my daughter's education in a way I did not feel emotionally or physically prepared to do. More than that though, I was sad for her and her friends.

I was devastated that instead of excitedly greeting each other on the playground each morning they now had to scan a screen and wait to hear the voice of their friend before they saw their face pop up in recognition.

And now, this is our new normal.

Over the course of a few weeks, we lost so much—more than some people fully acknowledge. But among all the trauma and loss, our children's teachers have figured out how to change the face of education at the drop of a hat. I am in complete awe.

When I first started writing this I thought that my biggest issue was the pressure of homeschooling. It's more than that though.

It's how quickly this all has happened which has me feeling as though we've all forgotten to stop to make sure we're okay. We tried to normalize this massive shift in living and moving through the world so fast that we forgot to mourn our lives that once were.

The lives we were just living.

I know I need to pause and sit in my grief before I forge ahead. I don't know how I will survive homeschooling my daughter for the rest of the year, but I want to figure out a way to survive—part of that is processing these feelings. These are extraordinary circumstances. What has happened in our world is traumatic and I don't feel fine. That is okay.

I know I will be. I know we will be. It'll just take some time, and luckily, we have a lot of it these days.

This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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14 Toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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