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Tell the Truth

What a simple concept, really.  Whenever you speak, whatever you write, or however you communicate, always tell the truth.  Although this is a simple concept, humanity has been struggling with telling the truth for millennia.  Why is telling the truth sometimes so difficult, and why is it so important?

A doctorate in human psychology is not required to understand how lying became part of the human condition.  At the heart of it, lying is about self-preservation or self-glorification. 

At a base level, we have a need to feel safe and a need to be accepted; sometimes, in the moment, a lie seems to be the shortest path to achieve those goals.    

Over the centuries, as civilizations have developed, the lie has also evolved.  Instead of making a statement that is entirely untrue, some have learned that intentionally omitting certain facts from a narrative will achieve the same ends.  In addition, we all have a friend or family member that exaggerates to the point that their statements ‘lose some truth’ along the way.  Perhaps they feel that their reality will not meet with the approval of those around them, or maybe they enjoy being the center of attention as the ‘great storyteller’. 

History tells us that lies can be devastating both on a personal and on a global level.  The vast majority of human heartache has, as a root cause, a lie.  Marriages and families have been torn apart and kingdoms have been destroyed.  Hitler and the Nazis tried to perfect the art of the lie during WWII and were very successful using the lie to advance their maniacal plans to conquer the world.   Paul Goebbels was the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.  Goebbels and Hitler believed that if you tell a lie often enough and loud enough, people will believe it; this is especially true if the lie involves demonizing another person or a group of people.

Many politicians and most of the media have taken this strategy to heart in an effort to gain influence, power, and control.  Much of popular culture (Hollywood, politicians, media) is promoting lies consistently, ubiquitously, and with intimidation, that fly directly in the face of truth as we know it in our hearts and minds; nevertheless, those lies are slowly becoming truths for a significant segment of the population because the lie is easier than the truth in the short term.

So why tell the truth if lying has become so prevalent and beneficial? 

Simply because if you avoid the truth consistently enough, you will literally lose yourself in the lies.  As Jesus himself states in John Chapter 8 verse 32, “The Truth will set you free”.  God is Truth and Love, and running from truth is running from God, love, and the best version of yourself. 

Truth develops integrity and trust.  Truth allows us to be people who say what they mean and mean what they say.  When we mess up or do something we are not proud of, as we all do, being truthful requires us to admit that mistake to others, which can be a very painful process; the pain will make you think twice about making that same mistake again in the future and telling the truth will renew your faith in yourself and cleanse your soul.

Kids lie.  This fact can be very frustrating and confusing for parents.  Even very young children will deny hitting their sister or ‘messing’ their diaper in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Teenagers will lie about friend groups, reasons for missing curfew, or being too sick to go to school. 

Much of this is normal kid behavior; however, we as parents must teach our children that although a lie might provide short-term benefits, lies always cause long-term damage and hurt. 

In some cases, you can explain to your kids why lying is dangerous and how it will negatively impact them as they grow older; in some cases, punishments like ‘no phone for a month’ need to be implemented to give them a taste for how lies will create pain and suffering for them when they are older; in all cases, your children are watching to see if you value the truth over lies, even when it hurts. 

So tell the truth.  All the time.  Especially when it’s hard.

The Dangers of Low Expectations

As parents, students, and educators look ahead optimistically to next school year and getting back to ‘normal’, we should pause to re-examine what ‘normal’ should look like and make concrete plans to rebuild an education system worthy of this great country. 

The covid pandemic aside, over the past 30 or 40 years there has been a significant decline in the quality and substantiveness of the education our young people receive, and we need to aggressively reverse this trend today. 

There is plenty of blame to be scattered about when discussing why this has happened; some parents have completely washed their hands of being the primary educators of their children and in some cases have abdicated the parenting role as well, making it nearly impossible to educate their students; politicians have become overly involved in the education process as they mine for votes, choosing to throw tremendous amounts of money and unproductive ‘mandates’ into the system, causing some in administrative roles to chase the money versus doing what’s best for the students; teachers who have long ago lost their passion for teaching or perhaps were never truly called to be an educator wait out their time until retirement with no risk of being fired or replaced.

So where do we go from here, and how do we turn this massive ship? 

The first and most important step in this process is for educators and parents alike to dramatically raise the educational expectations for their students.  Whether our students struggle to learn due to behavioral or neurological challenges, or whether our students come from erratic home situations, or whether our students have the intellectual ability to become the next Isaac Newton, we are obligated to provide our students with the tools and the encouragement they require to achieve their full potential. 

There have been many inspirational true stories (and movies made about them) detailing the successful transformation of miserably failing schools that were transformed when a leader steps in and demands those high expectations.  But the transition to improved educational standards does not need to be that dramatic.  Many private schools, charter schools, and rural schools are providing excellence in education in very traditional ways.  These schools have many things in common: they rely on curriculum and teaching/learning strategies that are uncomplicated and have a proven track record over decades or more; they demand certain standards from their students including behavior, dress, and effort, and if those standards are not met, alternate means of educating those students are created to allow for the rest of the student body to reach their potential (even if graduation rates suffer);  and the staff and administration of these schools are committed to fielding the best teams of teachers and staff to provide the highest level of education, even though that requires them to fight the politicians, the status quo, and the education ‘system’. 

As this transition to excellence in education takes place, parents will need to take the lead in encouraging their students and demanding more. 

Instead of ridiculing the idea, parents will need to embrace the idea of homework on a daily basis and schools will need to provide parents with the tools they will need to assist their students with that homework.  When parents, educators, and the community all work together to raise educational standards in this country, our students are incredible, and they will step up. If we choose to do nothing, our young people will be unable to think critically, they will be relegated to occupations that do not challenge or interest them, never reaching their full potential, and they will be sheep all too willing to follow the next politician that promises them ‘safety and security’. 

If we choose to act, our young people will develop the confidence that comes with working hard and being successful, which will ultimately allow them to boldly pursue their rightful place in the world.

Hobbies

When I was growing up, most of the kids that I knew in my neighborhood and in my school had some sort of hobby.  I enjoyed riding and caring for horses; some of my close friends enjoyed gymnastics, some were into the exercise craze that was brand new back then, and others were amateur DJs who spent hours making ‘mixed tapes’ or buying the newest album.  Guy friends played the guitar/were in a garage band, some enjoyed hunting and fishing with friends, and others were ‘car guys’. 

Back then it seemed like everyone was into something outside of school and school sports, and most of my peers pursued their own interests outside of their parents’ involvement.

As Mike and I have raised our own children over the past 20+ years, we have noticed that young people are less able or willing to pursue hobbies unique to their passions.  Is that because video games and social media have sucked all of the oxygen out of our children’s world to the point that they do not have any free time/down time to investigate or imagine other possibilities?  Or are organized sports so ubiquitous and all-encompassing that our children can not see past this ‘hobby’ which has now become a money-making behemoth? 

Whatever the reason, we as parents need to be more proactive and intentional in helping our students learn about and experiment with different hobbies, even those that do not match perfectly with our own interests.

One example that we have experienced in our home relates to one of our sons and his interest in ice fishing.  Mike does like to fish, but ice fishing was not on his top 10 list.  I do not really like fishing and I hate being cold, so I had no interest.  In spite of that, we spent some time and effort and a little of bit of money to help our son get started.  He now has a group of friends that share his passion for the outdoors and we think this may be a life-long interest of his. 

Similarly, we had all of our children take piano lessons for a few years.  Two of our adult children still play, while our other three children have not touched a piano key since their final lesson.  All of our children have been taught how to cook for themselves; one of our children could make a month of tasty meals, two of our children could “make-do”, and two of our children would eat a lot of frozen pizza.  They all have been introduced to cooking, but only one had the passion to pursue it.

The key to assisting your child to develop interests outside of school and sports is to spread a wide net without spending a lot of money. 

When a hobby ‘sticks’, you can then invest more dollars into the activity or guide your student to spend wisely on the equipment or materials needed.  Try to get them comfortable with many different types of activities including sports, music, outdoor activities, reading, building things, etc.  Remember to include those hobbies (like ice fishing) that may not be in your wheel-house.  The challenge will be to do your research and to show the same amount of passion that you would show if it were a hobby that is interesting to you.

Now more than ever, our young people need to find pastimes that they can be passionate about and that move them away from social media and video games.  At the very least, these hobbies will provide them with a stress-management tool and a lifetime of enjoyment; ultimately, these hobbies may be a gateway to building a successful career in a related field.  Either way, we as parents may need to be the key that opens these doors.  

Don’t Wish Away the Early Years

As I watched a young couple in the front pew at church today in constant motion attempting to contend with their four young children, I couldn’t help but smile at the innocence of the scene.  The parents certainly were not sharing my smile, and if I had asked them after mass how they were feeling, their feedback may not have been entirely positive. 

Caring for young children is not easy.  Babies and toddlers require constant attention and parenting can be very physically and emotionally draining. 

As children that age cannot articulate what they need and often don’t know themselves what they need, parenting can be very frustrating.  Young children do not travel well and generally are on very fixed napping schedules, so parents can feel isolated; some new parents have a sense that life on the ‘outside’ is passing them by.  New families often have limited budgets, and with diapers, formula, and rent/mortgage there is often little left for spontaneous vacations or even dinner out on a regular basis.

Mike and I have experienced all of those challenges when our children were young.  We often felt overwhelmed by the daily grind and unqualified to take on such an intimidating responsibility.  I chose to stay home with our children for some years, and there definitely were days that I would have submitted my resignation if that were a possibility.  Mike will remind me of days when he would return from work and I would meet him at the door, place a baby in his arms, and then drive off in the car without saying a word.  He knew that my day must have been rough and that I need some time (at least a few hours) ‘away’.

For a number of years, our focus was almost entirely on raising our children and there was little time for a thriving social life.  Mike and I leaned on each other to get through the difficult days; we understood the awesomeness of our vocation and we invested much of ourselves into our family. 

We were very tired, but we were very happy.

Now that our children are older, our memories of those years are entirely positive.  We remember little people in footie pajamas, carrying a special blanket, snuggling in to read “Ten Little Bears” and falling asleep in our arms.  We remember big-eyed babies smiling a fat-faced smile, ‘talking’ without using words, or sucking on our fingers between meals.  We remember first steps, band-aids on bloody knees, and walks in the woods.  We remember bubbles in the tub, tiny fingers grabbing Cheerios off the tray, and warm bottles. 

If you are fortunate enough to have one or more little people in your home, try to be as present as you can be to this season in your life.  There is nothing in your life that you will do that will be as significant or as meaningful as what you are doing today.  Do not wish it away.  Parenting will require everything you have to give, but know that you alone are uniquely crafted for this role.  Trust us when we tell you that life goes fast, and that you will be sending your baby off to college before you know it. 

Life after little ones is great, but life with little ones is truly awesome. 

Give Your Student the Gift of Joy

When discussing the malaise that many of us are feeling, an associate of mine recently observed, “The world feels heavy all over”.  Many factors have contributed to this mental fog, including the Covid virus, the lockdowns, extreme political and ideological division in every aspect of our daily lives, the caustic and partisan media on both sides of the aisle, and our general feeling of disconnectedness.

Although many of us as adults are experiencing the discomfort that comes with this current reality, most of us have the necessary coping skills and the benefit of a lifetime of challenges to navigate our way through these troubling times.  Our young people may not have these life skills and may well be suffering far more than we realize.

So how do we assist our children to develop a lasting sense of joy, in spite of the negativity and hardships they may be facing from the outside world.  Before we answer that question, we need to discuss the difference between happiness and joy.  By definition, happiness is a response to happenstance, contentment, good luck, prosperity, or good fortune. Happiness is also a reaction to pleasure.  In other words, happiness is a response to worldly influences.

Joy, on the other hand, is a personal fullness or sense of completeness in one’s entire life; or, a deep peace which comes from the indwelling of God within a person, and lasts despite hardship.  Happiness comes and goes, but joy lasts and cannot be taken from us once we have it.

Unfortunately, we cannot share what we do not have.  Do we have a sense of joy in our lives (ie: personal fullness / sense of completeness / deep peace) that is not dependent on what the world throws at us?  Or are we consumed and overwhelmed by outside influences and the negativity of others?  Perhaps an important first step in developing a sense of joy is to turn our attention inward versus outward.  Not inward in the secular sense of selfishness or narcissism, but rather a self-analysis of what aspects of our lives may be working against that joy.  Are we overly focused on what others think, or what others have, or events in the world that are out of our control?  Do we count our blessings and realize that in the whole of human history, including 2020, we are the most fortunate human beings in regard to personal freedom and opportunity for self-fulfillment?  Do we see the good in others despite the fact that all of us will disappoint one another on a fairly regular basis?

As that sense of joy begins to build, some of our anxiety, frustrations, and anger will begin to dissipate.  Joy will not make the challenges of our lives go away; however, joy will provide us with a new sense of perspective that will allow us to view those hardships through a more positive and grounded lens.  Eventually we will be able to share that joy with others as it will become a part of who we are.  We can be more present to those around us instead of being self-consumed and pre-occupied.  As joy becomes a habit, we will naturally navigate away from those influences (people, social media, ‘news’) that steals or disrupts our joy.

This joy should direct every aspect of our lives, from how we greet each other in the morning to how we deal with difficulties or personal conflicts within our homes.  If our kids come to us stressed or obsessing on a negative aspect of their lives, we can provide them perspective on the issue and assure them that they are good.  We can celebrate the little things in life and focus on the joy of being together.  We can complement our children daily and limit the negative comments.  We can shut down our screens and laugh more as a family.

Focusing on today will become our priority and we will worry less about the future.

We will then model that joy to our children.  We will be able to guide our children in accepting / rejecting various inputs in their life to create their own sense of inner peace and contentment.  They will see our joy and that joy will be contagious.

This Christmas season, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 13: 15)

The Changing Face of Education

Subsidiarity is a principle of social organization that holds that issues should be dealt with and managed at the most immediate (or local) level that is consistent with their resolution.  This principal is definitely at work regarding the current state of education; as we have seen, each state, each school district, and in some cases individual schools are creating their own safe and hopefully effective education models.

Now that we are a week or two into the adventure that is education during the Covid chaos, many parents are finding that virtual teaching and learning may be a realistic possibility after all.  Although most would agree that virtual learning still lags behind in-person education (and when done poorly lags dramatically behind in-person education), that gap is closing.  In working with our students spread throughout a number of local school districts, our team at Life Tools is observing teachers becoming much more savvy with technology; instead of creating a virtual lesson plan and an in-person lesson plan, many teachers are simply live-streaming their lectures.  Whether the students are physically in the classroom or observing on-line, they are receiving a traditional amount of material presented in a very familiar and comfortable format.

The technology barrier has also been effectively overcome due to heroic efforts by school administrations, local governments, and local technology providers.  In spite of the fact that many of us parents and teachers needed to be dragged unwillingly down this road, even the ‘old-schoolers’ have found the technology to be useable and effective (if not ideal).  

Now it is true that virtual education is not a panacea for all students.  In fact, the younger the student, the more ineffective virtual learning becomes.  As any first-grade teacher will tell you, a 6 or 7-year old student requires intangibles and relationship-building that only in-person education can provide.  Regardless of how ‘good’ we become at virtual education, effective K-5 education will require in-person learning or a very engaged and available educator within the home.  In addition, the teacher-student interaction is more limited and more difficult for the virtual students; one-on-one attention for those students needing more assistance is challenging when teaching virtually and additional resources will need to be focused on providing that assistance.  We can also agree that some classes like band, choir, and certain tech ed offerings simply do not work virtually.  In spite of these shortcomings, we as a society have been exposed to the possibilities of virtual learning and the choices that lie therein.

What does all of this mean for the future of education?  Beginning at the top of the educational food chain, this new understanding has opened a Pandora’s box that cannot be closed.  As the cost of higher education has become unsustainable and out-of-line with the product being offered, many parents and students were already questioning the wisdom of the ‘college education at all costs’ mentality.  Since March, parents have been presented with a first-hand glimpse of the curriculum their children are paying for, and in some cases are rightfully unimpressed.

Covid has forced parents and students alike to question the ‘given’ that to be successful, a young person must go into debt and purchase a four-year degree.  Virtual post-secondary education will give students and parents the freedom to choose.  If university A requires my child to pay $1000 for ‘international basket weaving’ and another $1000 for ‘competitive table sports’, and college B allows my child to become certified in supply chain logistics in two years without the required ‘general education’ courses, many of us will be choosing option B.  Or if there are several successful marine biology programs across the country offering virtual learning and a student is ok with foregoing ‘the college experience’, he or she can choose the most cost-effective program, live at home, and become a marine biologist for a fraction of today’s costs.  Virtual options will also allow students to choose a course of education with or without the political indoctrination that occurs at many universities and high schools today.

Middle and high school students will have access to similar choices as this trend continues.  If a family’s local school is a failing school, they can choose to opt-out and pursue a quality education with a virtual ‘school’ of their choice, located anywhere across the country (or potentially internationally as well).  On a less dramatic scale, if a student’s local school is good in many categories but lacks a strong science or math department, a parent can find suitable substitutes on-line to keep the student on-track in pursuit of a medical career.

This reality will force us as a community to re-think education and the most effective way to serve our students. 

How will sports / band / clubs / etc. work in this new reality?  Will communities suffer without the ‘home team’ and the unity that a local school provides?  What non-for-profit or government agencies will need to step-up to fill the gaps regarding mental health or child-safety issues?  How do we as educators raise the bar for ourselves and our education teams so that we are able to compete with the rest of the nation and eventually with the rest of the world?

Perhaps it will be some time before the full effects of virtual education are known, but we would be wise to heed the clarion call that has sounded loud and clear.

Students Need “Hope and Joy” Message

It goes without saying that all of us have been negatively impacted by the Covid virus and the media and political firestorm that has ignited as a result of the virus.

Some of us have lost jobs or have had businesses shut down, some of us are isolated and unable to connect with others, some of us have heightened anxiety based on what we have seen on the news, and others of us are simply exhausted and tired of the conflicting data and contradictions.  As adults, we understand that life can be difficult, and we are gifted with various coping mechanisms that allow us to endure and persevere.  We can disconnect ourselves from the news and social media, and we have lived long enough to realize that this too shall pass with time.

Our students, on the other hand, have a more limited perspective and fewer coping skills.  They have been inundated over the past five months with fear-mongering on social media, cancelations of school and sports, confusing and contradictory mandates from all sorts of adults, and anxiety within their own homes.  If we as adults feel as though we have lost some control of our lives through this hysteria, we need to take a moment and step into the shoes of our students to realize how dizzying daily life has become.

With our youngest child going into grade 8, we do not have ‘littles’ in our home anymore.  But my heart goes out to the kindergarten or first grade student who may struggle with the first day of school because it is a big step in a little person’s life.  If we add anxiety and fear related to the Covid virus to this process, some students will be overwhelmed and shut down.

As the new school year approaches, parents, school teachers / administrators and politicians need to be cognitive of the mental and emotional well-being of our students, while at the same time keeping them physically safe.

Most of the local school districts have announced their re-opening plans, and all of those plans include the widest possible array of safety measures.  These measures are important and necessary, but how parents, teachers / school officials, and politicians present these ‘changes’ to the students will make all the difference in whether or not our students make a healthy transition to the new reality.

This messaging certainly begins at home.  In spite of the anxiety or pressures we as parents may be dealing with during this frustrating time, we must shield our students to the extent that we are able.  As every living human on the planet is now intimately familiar with the Covid virus, less information may be better than more information moving forward.  As all students in Wisconsin will be required to wear a mask for the first month of school, try to make it a fun, new experience for your younger students.  Spend the extra money on a personalized mask, or wear masks around the house while playing together.  Let your student know that there is no danger to them if they do contract the virus, but they are wearing the mask to keep older adults like grandma and grandpa safe.  If you are upset that your student is required to wear a mask, do not share that with your child as at this point, Governor Evers’ mandate requires it.

We have noticed on many school district press releases that much discussion will be had with students reviewing the daily safety requirements and impressing upon them the importance of following the new guidelines.  As most students need to hear new information a number of times before it sinks in, this strategy definitely makes sense.  However, the tone with which this message is shared with the students can assist our students to thrive in spite of the chaos, or, on the other hand, can heighten anxiety and cause them to recoil further within themselves.  Apocalyptic death sermons are not an appropriate strategy to cajole students into following the new directives.  Smiling faces (behind the masks), positive reinforcement, and a ‘let’s work together to keep everyone safe’ attitude will keep our students safe physically and healthy emotionally and mentally.

At this point in the lifecycle of the virus drama, our students need joyful hearts and hope that life will get back to normal sooner than later.  We as adults need that as well.

Getting Our Kids Back in School

Over the past 30 plus years, elementary and high schools have evolved into community service organizations that go well beyond academics.  Most neighborhood schools are providing free or reduced-cost meals to students who come from financially disadvantaged families.

As mental health issues are on the rise among our young people, many of our schools have medical professionals on staff and have trained the teaching staff to look for signs of mental distress and then to provide assistance to the identified students and their families.  Most teachers and administrators are also mandatory reporters – always on the lookout for students showing signs of abuse or neglect – and again connecting the student to organizations in the community who work to rectify the situation and keep the student safe.  In addition, students with every type of physical or cognitive challenge are provided academic and social training within the traditional classroom, many of them receiving individualized instruction and support.

There is certainly an argument to be made that the teachers and administrators of our elementary schools and high schools are overwhelmed and spread too thin given the diversity of the services they are required to provide and the immense challenges that accompany many of those offerings.  Perhaps a discussion should be had regarding what other organizations should take on some of these responsibilities from the school systems, which in turn would allow the educators to focus more of their energies on academic and social development.

The reality of today, however, is that our communities and particularly our young people depend on the professionals in our schools to provide all of these services and protections.

The home lives of a significant number of students in our local, state, and national communities are less than ideal in some cases and dangerous and toxic in others.  Escaping that reality to the safety and security of the classroom is a welcome and critical reprieve for many students.  The personal interaction with adults who care about them and who have their best interest in mind is critical to providing a foundation upon which the student can build a stable and prosperous future and escape the cycle of poverty or chemical dependence or abuse.  Although school discipline and behavioral expectations have taken a turn since I was in school, there is still a clear set of right and wrong within the school setting as well as an understanding of the respect and reverence owed to others; this is an understanding that some of these students will not learn at home.

It must also be acknowledged that even the best version of on-line learning has been and will continue to be an abject failure without the full support and engagement of parents in the process.

Effective learning at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels requires in-person, face-to-face learning or a homeschooling parent that is fully engaged in and capable of navigating the digital learning experience.  Many parents simply do not have the time, ability, or in some cases, interest in providing this support.

Some powerful individuals throughout the country are advocating that we not return to school or that we do so within mandates that drain the efficacies from all of the school-provided services (including the academic training that the schools are primarily charged to provide).  Some districts are proposing half-time digital and half-time in-school learning; this split-the-baby solution will ensure very limited learning along with scheduling chaos, both for the school systems and the parents who in many cases need to work outside the home every day of the week.

The truth of the matter is that the Covid-19 virus will not be gone within the next 12 months.  If/when a vaccine is developed, polling has shown that upwards of 25+% of the United States population is not willing to be injected.  And what if a new strain of ‘serious flu’ should break out in the future, which it surely will.  Is reverting to these half-measures the wave of the future?  If it is, we must all seriously reconsider how education is administered in the country and how we can transform it to better serve our students moving forward.

Covid-19 is a serious threat to some individuals, and teachers, administrators, and staff that are high risk may need the option of a temporary furlough or layoff until their health situation improves.  Students who are immuno-compromised will need an alternative to the traditional school setting.  Thorough and regular disinfecting of surfaces should be implemented as the new normal in school buildings.  Parents do need to keep students home who are showing signs of sickness, and schools need to send students home if they arrive at school displaying those symptoms.  Masks could be part of the solution as well.

There is no perfect solution to the threat of contagious illnesses.  Teachers, staff, and administrators will be taking a bit of a health risk as they have been for decades.

Like health care, grocery store, service industry, and manufacturing workers, teachers will need to take their rightful place among the ‘Heroes’.

There is too much at stake if they don’t.

What Did our Kids Really Learn?

Since the schools began shutting down in March and shifting to an on-line format, there has been much discussion and debate regarding how to effectively teach students remotely.

School administrators and teachers had several large hurdles to overcome, including the abruptness of the change, technology challenges, and a huge disparity of support / learning environments within the student homes.  As a result of those factors, and in spite of the best efforts of teachers and parents alike, most would agree that student learning was significantly hampered for the last three months of the school year when compared to in-classroom learning.  Most educators would agree that in-person teaching and learning is the most effective as it utilizes the dynamics of personal relationships and human emotion to develop a student’s true potential.  Let us hope and pray that our leaders allow us to return to this style of education when school begins again in the fall.

If we acknowledge that our students did not gain as much ‘book learning’ this quarter as they should have, we also need to acknowledge that they learned many ‘real world’ lessons that will serve them well.

The first and most important lesson that our students learned is that life is about relationships and being present to one another.  No matter how far technology advances or how simple and easy a Zoom meeting becomes, nothing substitutes for a hand on the shoulder from a teacher, or a pat on the back from a coach, or a poke in the ribs from a friend, or a grandma’s hugs.  People are the most important.  We are at our best when our lives are spent with others and for others.

Students may have also learned that school isn’t so bad after all.  During our remote tutoring sessions here at Life Tools Tutoring, many of our students are sharing with us that they miss their traditional school day; they miss their friends, they miss the structure of the day, they miss the sense of purpose that the school day provides, and they miss the creative teaching techniques that in-person teaching allows.  Academics can become very one-dimensional when all of the learning is done on-line, and a bored student sometimes loses interest.

Life can be hard sometimes, and we are not always in control of what happens next.  For most adults, this message has been learned through many hardships, challenges, and disappointments.  We understand that we are not always in control and that sometimes bad things happen to good people and there is no explaining it.

With parents’ assistance, our young people can learn that even though challenges and difficulties in life will arise, they need to put on courage and continue to move forward.

They may not be able to control every aspect of their lives, but they can control how they react to those events and the attitude they bring to those around them.

And remind your student that they are blessed to live in the United States of America with all of the freedom and responsibilities that come with that privilege.  Let them know that most people throughout all of human history, including most of the current population of the planet had/have no freedom except those bestowed on them by tyrants or oppressive governments.  Our ability to move about as we wish and to make our own choices without the fear of imprisonment or death is very unique in the context of human history.  Sometimes freedom can be best taught when some of those freedoms are taken from us for a time.

Although most young people are high-energy and are usually looking for their next adventure, perhaps our kids now realize that we do not have to be chasing from one activity to another 24 / 7 in order to live a happy, fulfilled life.  Quiet time is ok.  Dinner with the family on a regular basis creates bonds that will last a lifetime.  The simple things in life are often the best, and they can be missed if we are moving too fast.

As the safer-at-home order winds down, talk to your kids about their experience.  Perhaps they learned much more than we realized.

The Bright Side of ‘Remote Learning’

As about a month has passed since the schools were shut down in our area, most parents and students have grudgingly made the transition to digital learning.  That transition has been challenging for some and downright miserable for others.  In some cases, families were not equipped with the proper technology (hardware, software, or internet), or technology know-how, to make on-line learning manageable.  In other cases, parents who are considered ‘essential workers’ were required to continue working outside of the home, leaving little time for them to assist their children with homework.  For other parents who were traditionally ‘hands-off’ regarding their student’s academic journey, they have been forced to engage in a world that is very unfamiliar to them.

As an aside, many teachers and school districts have done an outstanding job in walking parents and students through the technology fog and in providing ‘remote hot-spots’ for internet access, etc.  As our Life Tools Tutoring tutors have transitioned (temporarily at least) to on-line tutoring, we have been awed and gratified by the tireless and very personal approach that teachers and school districts have taken to this change.  Their collective response was quick, professional, and, as important, robust in regard to workload and content.  A shout-out to those teachers – keep up the great work!

Now that most of us have this remote learning thing more or less under control, and our students have fallen into a routine of sorts, is it possible to make this challenging time an opportunity for our students and our families?  The answer is a resounding ‘YES’ if you are open to taking that journey.

At Life Tools Tutoring, we believe that all parents should be involved in their student’s academic journey.  That does not mean that all students (specifically middle school and high school students) need to be micromanaged by their parents.  It does mean, however, that parents be engaged in the details and walk with their student on their academic path.  With the schooling taking place in your home, now is that opportunity.  What, exactly, is my middle-school student learning in math class?  If I see her struggling, can I find additional on-line resources to provide review or repetition of those concepts?  Do I feel that my student’s teacher has gone off the ‘new-math’ deep end?  Maybe take some time and investigate the new math strategies to learn how they work and what the value is to those strategies.  Or, after having investigated those strategies, you feel that a more traditional approach would be more useful, reach out to your teacher or you school administration and share your thoughts.  You do have a voice in your student’s curriculum.  At the very least, learning the new math strategies together could be a bonding opportunity for you and your student.

If your student is asked to read an article for English / Language Arts or Social Studies, read the article along with your student to learn what your student is being exposed to.  Prompt your student to investigate all sides of a particular societal issue or period in history and help him to develop a unique opinion based on facts and historical perspective, versus emotion or knee-jerk.  Bring those discussions to the dinner-table (we can actually eat dinner together as a family!) and see where they go.  Or ask your student what about history intrigues them; if war is the topic, there are countless documentaries available on-line that do an outstanding job of sharing the history while recounting the very personal tales of courage and sacrifice.  Turn off the video games and ‘America’s Got Talent’ and sit with your child.  Learning world history and/or our country’s history is time well-spent and provides our young people with a much-needed perspective.  Or, better yet, find a book on the topic and read it together.  Now is a perfect opportunity for your entire family to discover the joy and wonder of reading.

And your young-person’s curriculum does not need to be limited by what the school sends home.  Teach your kids how to cook or bake; let them experiment with different spices or recipes; ask them to double the batch and have them work out the math on the ‘½ teaspoons’ and ‘¾ cups’.  If fishing is your thing, have your student construct a home-made booklet of ‘Common Fish in Wisconsin’, complete with pictures and a short description.  Prep your fishing gear for the upcoming season with your children and take the time to teach them how to tie a hook or why some baits are more effective than others depending on the time of the year.  As God is no longer included in public school curriculum, maybe now is a chance to rediscover your faith, along with your children, or to pass along the beliefs and traditions that you were taught as a young person.  Utilize the website of your local place of worship or connect with like-minded friends and family as resources on that journey.

Spend some time outside every day if possible.  As planting season is upon us, involve your students in the planning process and let them have a say in what vegetables make the cut.  Plant the seeds in a seed tray in your house so you can watch the growing process day-by-day.  Your student will learn patience as well as an appreciation for the wonder of nature.  Take the family on a bike ride or encourage your middle-schooler to run a mile every day and then increase the distance as they feel comfortable.  Or, simply let your family know that everyone needs to spend at least one hour per day outside and let everyone use their own imagination and creativity to occupy that hour.

Education begins at home.  As parents, we all know this to be true, but often the busyness of life gets in the way of that responsibility.  Now is our opportunity to reclaim the role.  Now is our opportunity to be truly present to our children and intentional in how we are shaping them.  You may even look back at this difficult time with gratitude.

By: Beth Voet