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What’s after disaster?

What can the rest of the country learn from New Orleans?

New Orleans is currently being described as a hotspot for all the wrong reasons, having the most active cases of COVID-19 over the last couple of weeks. The lack of national attention over COVID’s rapid spread in New Orleans has drawn the ire of many of my fellow natives because it is an acute reminder of the neglect we felt when the levees failed after Katrina, and many of our city’s most vulnerable were left to fend for themselves.

Walt Handelsman
Credit: Our city’s editorial cartoonist- The extraordinary Walt Handelsman

While there are stark differences between what happened in 2005 and this current situation, the rest of the country would be wise to look to New Orleans to learn about recovery, and how to get back on your feet.  It all boils down to child care.*

  1. Child care is a part of the essential infrastructure of the economy.

My first job after Hurricane Katrina was to open the first new child care center since the storm. A group of parents made the hard decision, after seeing weeks of news coverage showing entire neighborhoods submerged in flood waters, to come back to New Orleans and raise their young families. Every family had some version of the conversation: Will we return to New Orleans? Where will we live? During COVID-19, we may be asking similar questions: When will I feel safe enough to leave the house again? When will things return to normal?

What these families returning to New Orleans may not have realized was that only 20% of child care centers reopened after Katrina. And so they returned home, ready to work, but could not.  Because of the lack of quality early child care centers. Along with the other families of Abeona House, we started the center because that was easier than finding quality care. Can you imagine once COVID-19 is over, not being able to return to work?

We were featured in a story by NPR that year. The same challenges  will remain after COVID-19 without real investment in early learning centers:

  • Families will want to return to work, but early learning centers will close during COVID-19 and not reopen. Centers do not have the working capital to stay open during this crisis because of the thin margins of providing quality care.
  • The workforce will shift. Businesses eager to reopen will offer hiring bonuses, and former early childhood teachers who may have lost their jobs, will be ready for work. This loss of investment in workforce training and skills is huge.

Recommendation: Leaders should recognize the importance of early learning centers in their talking points, current funding decisions, and future planning.

2.  To encourage early learning centers to flourish, regulatory flexibility is a must.

Abeona House opened on September 6, 2006, more than one year after the storm, and we were the first. What took so long?  Local challenges delayed the opening of the early learning center by 6 months or more. Here are some examples:

  • Zoning Variances: The location we identified for the center was not previously zoned for child care. I had to knock on every door in our neighborhood and convince them that a child care center would be a good neighbor. Then, our application was placed at the bottom of a very tall stack (you may laugh at the Donald Trump reference in the NPR story…our application was under his. Small potatoes, comparatively, but our center was so important to families).
    Recommendation: Prioritize new early learning centers in local Board of Zoning Adjustment proceedings.

 

  • Blanket zoning requirements: Right before our hearing, we learned that we did not have sufficient parking in front of our center. We were able to rent a couple of spots from a not-so-proximal, but slightly confused neighbor with an unused lot. Box checked. Tiny budget shrinking. A three month extension to figure this out would have been helpful.
    Recommendation: Be flexible with regulatory requirements that do not threaten the health and safety of children and families. Allow a grace period for non-critical regulatory compliance to help new centers open quickly.

3.  The most important message here: Hold on to what you have. Invest in existing early learning centers now, as they may not reopen after this crisis is over.

It should have been a sign to me back then, of the financial vulnerability of the early learning sector, that only 20% of centers reopened after Katrina. I didn’t realize what I was signing up for, and only did so because I felt the need to be close to my infant son. The work and community was a labor of love, but every couple of weeks, I anxiously paid teachers, nothing near what they were worth, and yet, we were always one bill away from closure.  I lived in the Catch-22 of being in high demand and wanting to scale, but never having any savings to invest in growth. In the early learning sector, I found the most committed professionals, including many owners who never took a salary or a vacation. This dedication was unmatched by public interest or investment in them.

Louisiana has come a long way since then. Our early learning system is ranked number 8 in the country. This has happened because of our state’s deep investment in our early childhood teachers and the directors of centers. They may be one bill away from closure right now. These decisions can turn on a dime.

Recommendation: Engage early learning center leaders today. Learn what supports they need, and partner with them like your community depends on it. Because it does.

*The term “child care” was used throughout this post because, while it is an archaic term, there is a shared understanding that it refers to the early care and education of young children. Please forgive me, my fellow warriors.

Parenting in times of uncertain health

Brian Crus
Dr. Cruz and his crew

 

Recommendations from a palliative care doctor during COVID-19

 

This past week, two friends of friends passed from COVID-19. One was healthier and younger than me, prompting me to reflect on what plans I have in place (or not).  I’d much rather write about child engagement, but this seems par for the COVID-19 parenting course, these days. Thankfully, my social media queries about drafting a Living Will was met by someone who deals with this every day.

Brian Cruz is a Palliative Care doctor, a role that provides an extra layer of support to patients and families at any stage of a serious illness. He took some time (THANK YOU) to provide tips and guidance for those of us who might be considering this kind of planning for the first time.

You may have already made your arrangements, but need to update it. There’s information for you at the end.

Disclaimer: Please conduct your own research. This guidance is provided to give you a starting place, not to replace your own investigation and planning. Neither I, nor Brian Cruz, are responsible for any issues arising from your utilization of this information.

Identify a decision-maker
The advice provided here is straightforward, but unfortunately not enough of us take the time to make this happen.

  • Have a documented decision maker in the event you are too sick to talk about your wishes for your medical care.
  • Think about the things that matter most to you, and convey to your decision maker.

A decision maker is also often referred to as a surrogate or healthcare power of attorney. She/he/they is only asked to make decisions for you in case you can’t make decisions for yourself, and is asked to let the doctors know what decisions about care you would make (not what she/he/they wants). So long as you are able to convey your wishes on your own, the doctors will respect them. Not all healthcare decisions are about end of life or stopping life support; these decisions may involve whether to undergo a risky surgery, or what type of care you might want following a severe stroke.

If there is no appointed decision maker, most states have a legal order of preference. For example, in Louisiana first preference is the person you are legally married to. But if you are separated without a formal divorce and don’t want that person to make decisions for you, or if you are engaged to be married and want your fiancé to be the decision maker, that should all be written down.

Key decisions and your personal wishes

As for things that matter most, it’s hard to predict all the possible health challenges you may face. You might say “I don’t want to live hooked up to a ventilator”, but what if you were very sick and the doctors thought that if you were on a ventilator for 3-6 months you might get better? But going further, what if there was a low chance of you getting better; would you be okay with living 6 months on a ventilator if you only had a 10% chance of coming out alive? And what if you survived a prolonged illness but had suffered damage to the brain and could no longer work for a living?

Since there are an infinite number of questions, what helps doctors most if you are very sick (and can’t make decisions for yourself) is having a decision maker who knows what’s important to you. Then we can discuss the options with her/him and ask “If your loved one could talk to us now, which option do you think they would choose?” Or, “Tell us about your loved one’s wishes so we can give recommendations about the steps to choose that are in accord with her/his wishes.”

Thinking through the process

There are great websites that help take you through some of these questions and scenarios, and have templates to complete Advance Care Documents (which list your decision maker and some of your wishes). Two that I think are helpful and easy to navigate are:

Prepare For Your Care (https://prepareforyourcare.org/welcome)

The Conversation Project (https://theconversationproject.org/)

These resources have helpful information and videos to give examples and guide  the process. There are also documents to complete indicating your desired decision maker.

Of note, if you are (or are likely to be) the decision maker for a spouse or parent, going through this together with them, or going through on your own and then asking them appropriate questions, will be incredibly beneficial for everyone should you or your loved ones get very sick and complex health conversations need to take place.

Preparing now

As a parting note, these are challenging times for everyone. I worry about COVID or other severe illness impacting my patients, my colleagues, my family, and myself. Having these conversations and preparing advance directives is a way to take some degree of control amid uncertain times. Doctors aim to respect patients’ wishes in delivering care, even when the patients are too sick to communicate it directly. Having expressed these wishes to an appointed decision maker helps make sure doctors can fulfill that goal.

  • Check out the excellent and gentle book A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death, by Dr. BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger

Thank you, Brian, for taking the time to share your expertise with all of us when your days are filled with caregiving, and stressful life decisions. We know this came at the expense of time with your family, and we value this guidance.

Updating information

If you have a will and power of attorney drafted, it’s a good time to revisit these documents to make sure your wishes are reflected, and your assets are updated.  This advice comes from a Louisiana-based source, but again, please:

  • Conduct your own research
  • Consult your attorney
  • Move forward with a plan that makes the most sense for your life
Louisiana law allows you to hand-write a will according to Louisiana Civil Code Article 1575, entitled “Olographic testament” states:
A.  An olographic testament is one entirely written, dated, and signed in the handwriting of the testator.  Although the date may appear anywhere in the testament, the testator must sign the testament at the end of the testament.  If anything is written by the testator after his signature, the testament shall not be invalid and such writing may be considered by the court, in its discretion, as part of the testament.  The olographic testament is subject to no other requirement as to form.  The date is sufficiently indicated if the day, month, and year are reasonably ascertainable from information in the testament, as clarified by extrinsic evidence, if necessary.
B.  Additions and deletions on the testament may be given effect only if made by the hand of the testator.

So, if you DO NOT HAVE A WILL, or need to CHANGE your will from how it exists now, you can do the following TODAY:

  1. Take out a sheet of paper (it does not matter which kind) and pen (blue or another non-black ink, preferably)
  2. Write the date at the top, long-form would be best (Friday, the 13th (thirteenth) day of March, in the year 2020 (twenty-twenty)
  3. Without skipping lines, write out in clear, simple language, what you would want to happen to your property and kids under 18/pets if you were to pass away (Coronavirus or not) and to whom they would go
  4. Include the name of the person that you would want to manage your affairs if something were to happen to you
  5. When you are done, sign your full legal name after the last line (without skipping lines)
  6. If you have a lawyer, take a photo of it and email the photo(s) to them to be included in your file.
  7. Finally, put the Will in a sealed envelope with the name of that person in #4 (or my name) on the envelope. Put it in a safe place and hold on to it until we see each other again and can talk about what is needed.
If you own businesses (or own an interest in a business), it’s important to list what you want to happen to your business/business interest should you pass away. You can include this after your personal property and kids under 18/pets (#3 above).
Wishing you all good health and many years to come.

 

Over-resourced

If my newsfeed is any indication, parents, WE ARE TIRED. If we are fortunate enough to have internet connectivity and the opportunity to work from home, we may be attempting to implement home curricula while managing work-related emergency response protocols. If we don’t have tech, we may feel anxious about what our children aren’t learning, and concerned they might fall behind academically. And I’m sure all of us wonder if we have the skills to help them in the way our children need, emotionally and intellectually right now.

We are so inundated with links to cool free stuff and resources (including those mentioned in this blog) that we don’t know where to begin. And I’m guessing some parents like me, put a lot of pressure on ourselves to find and use the right ones, while limiting screen time and making nutritious meals. It’s kind of ridiculous that we are lumping all this on our shoulders during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC.

flowers 2
All of the flowers in this post come from Renee’s.

And because it’s an unprecedented situation, everyone is scrambling. I need some peace, y’all. Some fresh air, beautiful things to see and smell, the earth in my hands, breathing. Let’s engage ourselves and children in the beauty of nature today.  Maybe we can be a part of creating beauty and life when there’s so much darkness around us.

I reached out to my old roommate, lifelong friend, and passionate educator Renee Rednour, who runs a pop-up florist company using the beautiful blooms from her home garden.  I asked her to share some gardening tips for families to use with their children and she offered the following advice, with some classroom learning tips in case its wanted. But it’s ok to just have fun in the garden, friends.

renee
Renee Rednour, in her element

Try direct seeding or planting these flowers and vegetables exactly where you want them to grow, without transplanting, or disturbing the roots in any way.

Works best with: sunflowers, zucchini or yellow squash, cucumbers and bush beans.

They will grow and produce quickly.

Kids can: dig, find seeds at the store, measure distance apart and growth, take photos, use rulers and measuring tape, write poems about flowers, and paint. Use dates with your measurements, and incorporate the calendar with math.

flowers 4

Transplant seedlings: These can be moved from one container to another.

Try cherry tomatoes. They grow and produce fast, and children can enjoy eating them at the dinner table. A cherry tomato plant pumps our an abundance of fruit in 3-6 weeks.

Kids can: Count the yellow flowers and observe which ones turn into a tomato. Record the kinds of pollinators you see near them. What is a pollinator? What does it do?

Let’s give ourselves a break today. Savor our time together when we can, and look to natural resources to bring us comfort and joy.

Love these arrangements? Consider sending someone you love
Renee’s flowers on Instagram at Fiorentina 504.

 

 

 

 

 

Supporting your young learner

For Cay Adams<3
During COVID-19, parents with school-aged children may have children working through workbooks, on web-based platforms, self-directed learning, or helping with younger children and housework.  Families with younger children are likely unsure of how to fill so much open time, and want to honor the potential for learning that children under 5 can access because of this critical time of brain development.

High quality early learning centers (once called “day care” or “child care”) fully take advantage of this time, and have curriculum for infants through preschoolers. These curricula focus on children’s learning in key areas or standards, and can be costly.  However, with a little research, you can effectively plan for your time with your young child.

organize
From Ricardo Levins Morales Art Studio

YOU ARE YOUR CHILD’S FIRST TEACHER.

We all loved this popular video on “serve and return” interactions between a father and his young child. You don’t need to suddenly become a teacher to have engaging learning experiences with your child. In fact, you’ve been your child’s first teacher all along. Here are some resources to help you remember what you’ve always known:

  • Relationships are the foundation of it all.  You want your interactions to be rich and enjoyable, and not a source of tension. Vanderbilt’s Center for the Social and Emotional Learning has long been a go-to place to learn how to lovingly support young children. And they have this amazing page full of resources, just for families to support learning, interactions, and behavior challenges.

 

  • Create a language-rich environment with young children is a key to learning.  This resource focuses on talking, singing, and reading activities you can easily add into your day. If your child is stressed, use books as vehicles to discuss the issues. This is an incredible book list from Vanderbilt’s CSEFEL for many of the stressors your child may experience.

 

 

  • Keep a relatively predictable routine. Parent of two young ones, Michelle Lopez, shared her school’s schedule. While you don’t want to try to recreate a formal structure, this will help create a flow for the day that you can stretch out if your child is highly engaged or change if they are not. Notice activities change every thirty minutes, and routines like eating, resting, and bathroom is built into the schedule. Also notice that more structured activities take place in the morning.baby schedule
  • Learning is everywhere. You can make every day experiences, like cooking, cleaning, gardening, and laundry, into learning opportunities. This resource from the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center focuses on zeroing in on higher level questions that build strong brains.

What Teachers Do.
Strong early learning teachers do a lot of planning. If you are getting serious, and want to create a similar experience at home, here’s a picture of what goes into the effective teaching of young children in formal care.

Teachers then use curriculum to meet those standards. So much and preparation goes into it. You don’t need to become an early childhood educator to be a great teacher to your child.

This is a challenging time, and we don’t need to be perfect. We need to be present and gentle with each other. And most of all, loving with our little ones.

 

Homeschool calibration from an amateur

In early childhood education, you learn to anticipate, plan for, and continuously improve transitions. The change from one thing to the other, particularly with young children, will inevitably result in chaos if you don’t approach it with intentionality.

Even as I wrote blog posts to support *other* parents to get ready for the COVID-19 mass homeschool effort, I under-prepared my own kids (3 unique learners ages 11, 14, 16), resulting in a frustrating first day for us all, as my work challenges are currently bringing  new levels of stress and challenge.  I really need homeschool to work, even if I think that my kids’ schools have little to no expectation of a rigorous regiment. The kids need to be engaged and independent every day so I can work from home.

gratitudeThankfully, I had scooped up a Gratitude journal (on clearance) while grabbing craft supplies for “homeschool.” I’m so bad at sticking with routines like these. I’ll pick up a novelty item and try it out for a days and then stop. Something about the quarantine and where I am in my life seems finite, so I put it in the cart.

Having the journal helped me realize I hadn’t given us time to transition, or as I like to call it in my work life: calibrate. They’d gone from a predictable school routine to an expectation that home time come with a new level of structure. Plus, I was demanding quiet, with no attention to give while working from home. Not exactly teacher of the year material.

Over dinner, we discussed expectations for the next day with intention. We had a much better day today–and certainly have a way to go. But in case you’re also figuring it out, I wanted to share some helpful moves:

  • Ground it in psychology: What’s appropriate for the age of your child?
  • Set the stage with mornings: You can wake up later (we negotiated time) because brain research (and my groaning children) have made clear that school starts too early in the U.S. Because they decided on breakfast at 9:30, this meant they have to cook so I can work. Oliver agreed to make his signature pancakes, which meant while I was on my third call of the morning, he and his sister (who fought incessantly the day before) worked together, and even brought me breakfast. pancakes
  • Schedule around resources: The most in-demand resource in our home right now is the home computer. So there’s a schedule for its use. Otherwise, the daily plan is driven by what we agreed are important priorities for the day (see below).
  • Priorities: We discuss what should happen each day at school.
    • Math skills–utilizing software platforms from school. This inevitably leads to an educational computer offering.
    • Fresh air–walking the dog, playing basketball, chasing each other
    • Reading–my book lover has a few novels to choose from; for my non-reader, audio books count
    • Making something or writing– legos, painting, journaling, planning out long term projects, songs, poems, all count.
    • Personal interests–long term projects–what are the needs of your learner? Learning is fun and driven by curiosity. Encourage your child to plan their time wisely to invest in their interests.
    • Lunch-recess-Sandwiches and screen time check-in

Kids negotiate time around tech, lunch/recess–and otherwise, they select what activities to do next.

  • Dinner time round-up- We reflect at dinner time, discussing what worked and didn’t, sharing ideas, and volunteering for breakfast duty.

We are still figuring things out, but today I got to see what could be possible. A special added bonus was the children working together and teaching each other.  There were some sweet moments for sure. And the children created board games, earrings, and researched basketball stats in between figuring these other things out. It’s a good combination of structure and freedom.  I know tomorrow we will continue to calibrate, and get better at figuring this out.

In case you (likely) need additional supports, here are some resources for you:

What tricks do you have? Please share them or tag me–we can have our village, virtually.

 

Cool People reading to kids

Levar Burton
subject to copyright

Remember being read to by people on TV? If you’re from my generation, nothing can bring that back more than Levar Burton and Reading Rainbow (oh yes, this link will play the intro theme song. YOU’RE WELCOME!).  I remember the anticipation, wondering what book he would feature. Nowadays, these kinds of experiences are on demand. However, there’s just so much content online. I’ve done some mining for the good stuff.

 

A woman astronaut reading Rosie Revere, Engineer from space? Yes, please. Other astronauts reading other books here, too.

Betty White reading Harry, the Dirty Dog? and lesser known celebrities reading children’s books herebetty white. Who am I kidding? James Earl Jones reading To Be a Drum is just as cool. Amazing. Gotta love and take care of our old people.

The voice of Frozen 2’s Olaf (Josh Gad) is doing this on Twitter. Little guy just warms my heart.

You *might* be able to view this amazing Pre-K teacher in New Orleans, Jaime Regan, reading When Grandma Gives you a Lemon Tree. Not sure if this is public.

And while we are all in quarantine, trying to build those personal hygiene skills, let’s check in with Levar Burton again on Germs Make Me Sick.

I hope you enjoy this as much as your kids.

 

Self-directed child engagement

turtle
From Ricardo Levins Morales Art Studio RLMArtstudio.com

The Reggio Emilia approach encourages deep exploration of topics that emerge from children’s interests. Given the many school closures with COVID-19, you may be wondering how you are going to keep your children engaged over the next month. Adults often see themselves as responsible for keeping children entertained, particularly during times like these. However, social distancing provides the opportunity to flip the switch.  How can we provide opportunities for children to direct their own learning in ways that engage and sustain their interest?

The following tips come from years of guiding a Reggio Emilia program where children guided long-term projects. I’ve seen children as young as two create irrigation systems, yellow submarines, and larger than life monsters. The sky is the limit for children of all ages.

Like many things, this approach will require the most adult guidance on the front end, and then require adults to give children space to develop their ideas and use materials.

Set the stage

  • Start from inspiration. Ask children to make a list of their current interests and research questions. What are they into? What do they wonder? Are there topics that were discussed at school that they want to know more about? Are there current topics being discussed that they want to understand more fully?
  • Engage in research. Use research as an opportunity to refine their interests, and identify images that match their curiosity. It provides an opportunity to discuss credible sources for information and news. It creates a connection between their interests and your guidance.
  • Encourage big thinking and ask children what structures they want to make to demonstrate pull together their ideas. Do they want to make 3D structures? Paint a large cityscape? Use technology or music to teach or entertain others?

Unleash your artists

  • Check your supply of clay, wire, popsicle sticks,  masking tape,and cardboard boxes. The kids will know what to do.
  • Prep your space as needed with plastic tablecloths, garbage bags, newspaper, or cookie sheets. Have paper towels and baby wipes nearby. This will help keep this experience positive.
  • Think storage and identify a place where their work can go uninterrupted for days at a time.

Use technology in new ways
Richard Byrne has a great blog you should follow.  Two of his articles are referenced below. Such fun stuff!

  • Make toys new again by adding apps, like these for stop-motion animation. Consider sharing them on youtube or another sharing platform.
  • Support child-collaboration through online meeting apps (Google Hangouts and Zoom). What could groups of children working on these projects result in?
  • Make music in new ways that reflect the topic of their interests, or demonstrates the new information they have learned.

Please share your child’s creativity by adding comments below.