Indigenous educators, kokums and parents share tips for schooling kids at home

It’s been six weeks since Canada went into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and forced parents to become educators.

Candy Volk is a north-end Winnipeg kokum, home schooling six of her grandkids from kindergarten right up to Grade 9.

She has turned her home, and yard, into a cozy classroom where her six grandkids complete assignments from their teachers, plus add-ons from the keen grandma who isn’t about to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to school her grandbabies.

“We’re always doing new things,” Volk said. “We’ve learned about the birds migrating at this time of year and made little bird houses out of popsicle sticks and filled then with bird seed to hang outside.”

The kids have learned basic cooking, baking and how to sew on a button. And the older ones, in their early teens, have learned basic car maintenance.

“How to put in gas, pop the hood, where all the fluids go. Things they’ll use in life,” she said.

That includes gardening – starting seeds from scratch to nurture until they can be put in the ground where the lessons will continue.

But it’s not all baked goods and roses.

Every day has its challenges and every child deals with his or her own stresses differently and never at the same time.

She says every day they carve out time to sit and chat about how they’re feeling, what they miss from regular life, and they journal.

If things reach maximum stress for the kids or their home schoolers, she has this advice: “Don’t stress. If things aren’t going good one day – early dismissal and try again the next day,” Volk said.

Alice McKay is a fourth year education student in Winnipeg but also a mother of four who found herself thrust into the role of full-time teacher before she got her university diploma, and like the rest of the sudden at-home educators, isn’t getting paid for it.

But she’s figured out through trial and error that what she thought would work, wasn’t and she needed to shift gears for the sake of everyone’s sanity.

That includes not doing the assigned work from school if it’s not working out and adding stress during an already stressful time.

She’s got four kids on two laptops. Her husband has been working up north since February.

“We need to realize that parents have different relationships with their children than teachers do and we can’t just switch into that easily,” said McKay, whose husband has been at a northern workcamp since February.

She said parents need to embrace downtime each day and find inventive ways of filling young brains with learning – even looking to the TV for help. Find nature or science or history shows to fill time.

Chris Scribe is the director of the Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan and  creator of Think Indigenous, which hosts  seminars and professional development for North American educators who want to create space in their classrooms to think, speak and live from an Indigenous perspective

When the pandemic hit he knew there’d be parents and teachers struggling in the new norm and grew Think Indigenous to be an online learning tool geared towards a K-Grade 8 audience.

The Facebook page, with the help of first-year teacher Curtis Vinish, grew to 12,000 people.

“We have a specific education that was created from own understanding and relationship to the land on which we walk, live and breathe,” Scribe said. “We have so many powerful educators that don’t have the letters behind their name, like (bachelor of education, masters of education or doctorate in education) that are at that same level of understanding and at that same level of knowledge (as those) and when we share that, what happens is that we start to connect not only to Indigenous ways of knowing, but we find that it attaches itself and it meets outcomes and indicators that are outlined in the provincial curriculums.”

The site is full of bite-size life lessons from educators across Turtle Island thanks to him and Vinish who keep wrangling people who have invaluable knowledge to share.

Vinish – who has 26 Grade 9 students to educate online and is doing it fresh out of the door of his education degree, understands how it’s overwhelming and frustrating.

“Recognize this is a pandemic and this if obviously not normal. I think the most important is taking care of the spirit and the mental health of the home and the students,” he says. …” At the end of the day try your best and that’s all you can do.”