Architect / Parent / Teacher: Maintaining Mental Wellness During COVID-19
As long as I can remember, I’ve compartmentalized my professional role as an architect and my family role as a parent. When I arrived at the architecture studio in the morning, I’d leave my personal life at the door. At night, I’d take a deep breath before entering my apartment and leave behind the office for a while. Then, after putting my kids to bed I’d crawl out of their cozy bedroom, post-bedtime story, and wrap-up unfinished work. But since COVID-19 my neatly compartmentalized life has collapsed into an entangled live-work-school world, where I suddenly find myself as a stay-at-home teacher, integrating my architect-self and parent-self.
While some structural tools like calendars, a schedule, and color-coding have been crucial to navigating this newfound reality from a logistics and planning perspective, I’ve found that a few conceptual approaches to educating my kids at home — inspired by Universal Design for Learning (UDL) —have been extraordinarily helpful and holistic in their nature. The simple tenets below, inspired by UDL, help me maintain mental wellness while being an architect, a parent, and a teacher (all in the same 1,000 square feet!)
Encouraging self-directed learning
I’ve learned from years of working with educators that motivation is a key facet for learning. Are your children interested in dinosaurs or baking? Help them learn about their personal interests through plays, projects, or activities. For example, my five-year-old son wanted to construct a basketball court for dinosaurs, so we turned it into a learning opportunity. We counted wood planks and used fractions to figure out how much tape we needed for the court in the living room. Meanwhile, my three-year-old is learning to count by scooping cupcakes into tins. Through this process, I’ve learned that my role is to inspire curiosity and provide resources, but not to provide exact answers all the time. Kids feel empowered deciding their next activity and digging further into the topic. My husband and I use breakfast, lunch, and dinner to discuss those discoveries or fun facts. Encourage your kids to explore something new — and learn with them!
Panicking about missing two months of schoolwork is fruitless and essential life skills are far more important
I’ve realized that I can’t 100% replicate school, just like school can’t 100% replicate home — and that’s okay. Outside of schoolwork, I’m using this time to teach my kids how to be self-sufficient and helpful family members. I have to remind myself that it is far more important that my toddlers learn how to get dressed by themselves (hey, we are not in a hurry to get out of house) or get in the habit of bringing their dishes to the sink and load dirty laundry, than keep up with the alphabet of the week. We have a chart on the wall recording positive contributions to the household, with small prizes for good behaviors. This exercise teaches life skills like community thinking, self-sufficiency, and problem solving that will be very useful down-the-road. This seems obvious and overly simplistic, but surveys from today’s leading employers around the world tell a different story. Essential life skills become valuable enterprise skills when our kids enter the workforce.
Lean on family, friends, and community
It takes a village to raise a child. I try to schedule a virtual call with classmates or our teacher daily. When on the phone with a family member, each of my children reads a book out loud, leads song singing, or shares the latest projects, plays, and/or toys they’ve made. I try to make sure that some of the projects my kids undertake consider other family members, like creating a birthday or thank you card. Through this experience, I’ve learned its okay to rely on my network to help guide and teach my children, even if that network is physically distant.
The shelter-in-place order may be around for another two months, or more — the truth is: we don’t know. But it won’t last forever. Through this time, I’ve learned to be spontaneous yet responsible, and adaptive with my whole self. I try to remember that I don’t have to be perfect, and every day is another day of trial and error, because the sun will rise and set again. While I may not be a seasoned educator, I understand that one of the most important lessons I can teach my family right now is to be resilient and courageous when all our familiar compartments fall away and the world is turned upside down. Remaining organized, adaptable, and generally positive during this crisis will teach my children how to handle the unexpected — and cope with the unprecedented. Parents can find solace knowing that not every lesson our children need comes from their curriculum at school. Life skills are proven to be among the most powerful tools they’ll take away from their youth in order to survive in the rapidly changing 21st-century economy.