I’ve been following Kate Winn and her blog for years, but more recently, with COVID-19 and families in self-isolation, I’ve looked to Kate on social media for her expertise as a teacher and a mother. I’m thrilled to have the chance to collaborate with Kate for my readers, looking for guidance.
Mama MOE: Kate, tell my readers who might not know you a bit about yourself and what your passions are.
Kate Winn: I’m so excited to talk to you today! I’m a mom of two girls, 14 and 12, and I’ve been teaching for 20 years, currently in kindergarten. I have a website, This Mom Loves, and create content for magazines, TV segments, my podcast (also called This Mom Loves), and my new Instagram endeavour, @evenbetterproject. In my free time I’m a very avid reader and run the This Mom Loves Virtual Book Club on Facebook!
MM: I feel like if we were in front of each other, the first thing I would want to do is take a deep breath with you! As a teacher, how have you felt the energy has been around teachers in general, now that parents may be understanding a bit more about how valuable your job is?
KW: It’s nice to see those memes showing appreciating for what teachers do now! But as always there’s still some criticism when it comes to how teachers are implementing the learning at home system. Parents in our class have been amazingly supportive but I see things on social media…you can never please everyone!
MM: As a mama of three boys, I have very honestly not been a hands-on parent with their homework, ever. I have always encouraged them to do their homework on their own. So, this transition for us has not been too hard since they are very independent (when they are motivated!). Early on, I watched your segment on The Morning Show as you reassured parents that children would be ok with less school work and they would not fall behind. Do you still feel the same and how have you handled your children’s workload? Have you added anything of your own?
KW: On March Break when we didn’t know when online learning might begin, I ordered a workbook for each of my girls to give them some structure and keep things fresh. Once their teachers took over, they’ve been doing all their work as assigned – as far as I know! – but I realize we are incredibly fortunate because they’re older, independent and capable of doing the work on their own, plus they each have their own device to use. Many families aren’t this privileged. As a teacher, I still truly believe that the school closures are not going to have a long-term detrimental impact on our kids.
MM: It’s been over 12 weeks now. Looking at this time we’ve had with our children (so far) what do you think has been a benefit and what has been the biggest challenge (for you and them)?
KW: I have to say I’ve loved the extra family time – playing Euchre or Clue at night instead of running to extracurriculars, letting them sleep in a bit more (or in the case of the 14-year-old, a lot more) than they could during school, as well as all the non-academic things they’re learning. I taught them how to clean the bathrooms, Olivia is now cutting the lawn, and they’ve been able to pursue charitable pursuits and other things that we don’t have the same time for when we’re all at school every day.
A challenge for them has been receiving all their assignments for the week on Monday morning – which can feel overwhelming – and then pacing themselves for the week. Eva, my 12-year-old, is extremely social and misses that aspect of being out and about, though she has done her best to make up for that with tech assistance! Liv is disappointed about missing those Grade 8 things like basketball tournament and class trip, and the idea of virtual graduation is certainly not what she had in mind for her exit from elementary school! But again there’s the resilience being built that will serve them in the future.
My biggest challenge as a teacher has been figuring out the best way to program online for kindergarten kids! I have an amazing ECE partner and we plan together, and our families seem to be happy with what they’re getting!
MM: We heard a lot at the start of the pandemic about how we should take this time to read more, learn a language, etc. but I can say for myself, I did not do those things. I have had a lot of moments of being stressed to the point of inactivity. I’m sure others have as well. Have you experienced that and what would you say to mamas that might now feel guilt for not learning or accomplishing more during this time?
KW: If we were given months of extra “holidays” I would certainly say we should be taking advantage to better ourselves and use the time wisely. But moms are well aware that this hasn’t been a holiday! While I will say I have prioritized daily exercise, because it’s a huge stress-reliever for me, I also don’t have a toddler on my hip and I’m not going out to work an essential service every day – again, I’m fortunate. That saying “comparison is the thief of joy” really holds true – don’t compare yourself to what you see others doing on social media or what you’re hearing about from your friends. Do what’s best for you and your family to get through this!
(* these next two questions & answers were before the year end, but I love Kate’s answers, and they might be applicable to the fall, depending where we are with school openings)
MM: Now that we have a few weeks left of the school year (here in Montreal, our elementary schools end at the end of June), and there are more Zoom meetings than before, how can we help our children stay focused on the amounts of homework they are getting? Do you have a go-to encouraging quote you stand by?
KW: It might not be that encouraging, but we say “Just get it done!” a lot around here. The more you procrastinate and dwell on something the bigger it looms over you. We’re also big on “work now, play later” – finish homework, chores and music practice in the mornings and have the afternoon for online time with friends, Netflix, etc. This philosophy will serve them well as adults too. When it comes to young children who need parental assistance with their work, I keep telling families to cut back if necessary if it’s stressing you all out (keeping the teacher in the loop), giving breaks and rewards – whatever works for your child. Honestly, we just need to get through this – it’s not the same as bringing home some math to finish after a regular day at school. This is a pandemic and the usual homework rules don’t necessarily apply.
MM: I know a lot of parents have been having a hard time scheduling computer time for virtual classes, especially if they have more than one child, and they too need their computer for work at home. As a teacher, do you have any suggestions for that moving forward?
KW: Communicate with the teacher! If both kids have 9 a.m. sessions, or your work meetings are always at 1 p.m., let the teachers know that you just can’t make those times work. And if your child has to miss a class, again just talk to teacher, in advance if you can but afterwards if not, and I promise that under these circumstances they will understand!
We have lots of devices, but not the strongest internet out here in the country, so we can only have one video chat or streaming session happening at once, so we try to look a day ahead to coordinate everyone’s schedules and adjust as necessary.
MM: Fall semesters will be looking very different. As a mama, I can tell you truthfully, I am scared to even think of sending my boys back to school in September. I know I am not alone. How do you feel about this new reality and how will you potentially be handling it with your children, and as a teacher? How do you feel about it?
KW: There’s so much speculation about how things will look, and the only thing I feel confident saying right now is that September will not look like a usual back-to-school September. I can’t even imagine the idea of starting new Year 1 kindergarten students virtually – that would be crazy – or making them sit at desks 6 feet apart, not playing together or sharing toys. That’s just not kindergarten. As for my daughters, I will trust whatever the government comes up with, knowing that they will be working with health officials, and certainly keep them home if there’s any high risk or outbreak in their school communities. I think things will be very day-to-day!
MM: This lends itself to another big topic right now, our mental health. How do you find ways to “check-in” and make yourself feel calmer? How about your girls? Do you have any family traditions that have begun during this time for mental health care?
KW: When you’re working from home – even as a student – you can never really escape the work, so making a decision to end your work day and move on to your evening is very important. School books and laptops away, time to relax. (Still working on this with my husband!) As I mentioned earlier, exercise is great for me. I do a long walk on the treadmill in the morning, which actually kills two birds with one stone as I have a treadmill desk and can accomplish a lot in that time! My girls have taken after me and enjoy the hot tub and baths to unwind. Walks, hot tubs and drives are also great opportunities for conversation with kids – they seem to open up better than when you’re sitting in a room looking at each other! While I am not at all a meditation-y person, I do like the word we use with kids when teaching Christian meditation at school: Maranatha (meaning “come, Lord Jesus”) which I actually repeated to myself last night with deep breaths when I was lying awake in bed with anxious thoughts! As a family we’ve spent a lot of time on card and board games – something all four of us can enjoy together at the dining room table.
MM: School subjects cover so much in a yearly curriculum. But now that we are home, and we are managing school learning differently, I would love to know from you, what can we as parents add to our children’s learning? For example, my boys have taken music outside of school for years because I think it has a wealth of benefits. I am adding a reading list for our family around history and specifically Black history and Indigenous history. As well, home economics is BIG right now. Do you have any subjects or topics you suggest?
KW: I think you’ve already named most of the recommendations I would make! My girls also play guitar and piano, sing and dance, and they’ve been great to keep up their practicing while at home. I love the idea of learning about Black history as well as Indigenous history and issues and finding age-appropriate resources and having conversations on sex ed topics – the biology but also consent, harassment, compassion for differences. Parenting experts always remind us that our job is to raise good adults, so I also try to think about the skills they’ll need (like cooking and laundry) and incorporate those teachable moments into our routines.
MM: And finally, Kate, do you have any other words or wisdom for mamas as a mother yourself and a teacher?
KW: Your kids love you – they don’t care if you’re perfect and they probably think you are anyway despite your perceived failings! (Unless you have a teenager, of course! Haha.) Trust your judgment and rely on good sources of information (like accredited medical sites over someone’s Facebook post, your mom’s advice over a stranger on Twitter). And when it comes to your children’s teachers, I promise on their behalves that they care about your kids and are doing the best they can too!
MM: Thank you so much, Kate!
KW: Thanks for inviting me! This was fun!
After our chat, I asked Kate about teacher gifts – especially since this is a very different year end. This was her answer:
Online gift certificates are perfect! You can’t go wrong with coffee shop or bookstore and now’s the perfect time to support a small/local business if you can!
To follow Kate and all her great advice as a teacher and mama, visit her here: