BY MIRA OBERMAN, COMMUNICATIONS AND ENGAGEMENT MANAGER, CPAWS MANITOBA
We were on our way to our favourite hike in Whiteshell Provincial Park when the news broke: schools were closing again.
My seven-year-old twins knew the pandemic was getting worse: earlier that week, we smashed a homemade coronavirus piñata at their parents-only birthday party.
But after a brief moment of abject misery over how much they were going to miss their friends, they were soon distracted by a dog chasing a squirrel near the Hunt Lake trailhead.
My abject misery lasted longer.
It took an hour into our Mother’s Day hike before my anxiety calmed enough to be able to enjoy the sound of the lake lapping against the shore below.
As we begin our second week of remote learning, I am still incredibly anxious about the days and weeks to come. But I do have both hope and a plan.
Nature saved my sanity during the past 14 months of this seemingly endless pandemic. Nature will get our family through what will hopefully be the final major lockdown. Nature can help your family too.
Here are some pandemic parenting survival tips from a twin mom.
Get Outside. Every Day. No Matter What. Seriously.
There is a lot of pressure on parents to suddenly transform into teachers during remote learning. When you’re also trying to get your own work done, it’s easy to get sucked into screens all day.
ParticipACTION’s 2020 report card found less than 5% of Canada’s children and teens were meeting physical movement guidelines during the early months of the pandemic, down drastically from 15% in 2019.
Remind yourself: kids have recess three times a day at school for a reason. They need movement breaks. And they need fresh air and exercise.
If you have a yard or a balcony, turn it into a study zone.
If you have the privilege of flexible work hours (or the burden of job loss) take them for a walk, or a bike ride or a trip to the playground at least once and ideally two to three times a day.
Getting outside will improve their mood (and yours) and help children and teens stay focused when they get back to their remote learning assignments.
Nature Heals — That’s a Fact
Most people don’t need a meta-analysis of scientific research to tell them they feel good when they’re out in the woods or listening to waves lapping on the shore of the lake.
Nature is the perfect antidote to the pandemic. Studies have shown it can:
- Reduce stress
- Improve sleep
- Ease symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Increase happiness and social connectedness
- Boost your immune system
- Lower blood pressure
- Support pain management
- Combat obesity and diabetes
- Reduce symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- Improve eyesight
- And so much more.
Get Out into True Wilderness as Often as Possible
I love Assiniboine Forest. It’s one of the largest urban forests in North America. The wetlands are home to waterfowl and the forest to deer and even the occasional coyote. But I can still hear the buzz of traffic and the growl of planes landing.
I breathe differently when I’m in true wilderness. So do you! There’s some pretty remarkable science on the benefits of natural sounds — especially when they are free of human-related noise like traffic. Natural soundscapes can reduce stress, lower your heart rate, improve your mood and even decrease pain.
There are plenty of great parks within a 20- to 45-minute drive of Winnipeg that you can get out to on an extended lunch break or after work and school wrap-up for the day. Beaudry, Birds Hill, Oak Hammock and La Barrière are my favourites.
If you’ve got a full day to explore, put on a good audiobook (free from the library!) and head to the Whiteshell, Spruce Woods/Spirit Sands, Grand Beach or the Pinawa suspension bridge. Just be sure to check to make sure trails are open before you go: extreme fire risks closed most trails south of Thompson on May 13, 2021.
A Hike Counts as Home Learning
It took my twins nearly three hours to hike about five kilometres of trails at Oak Hammock Marsh on the first Saturday after home learning began.
They stopped to chat with a caterpillar (the first of the season) and to dip their hands in the murky marsh water.
We counted goslings and used a (free!) Audubon app to identify birds (barn swallows, yellow-headed blackbirds and red-winged blackbirds were easiest to identify; the ducks and shorebirds were too far away).
We tore open wrinkled rose hips to see the seeds and used the (free!) iNaturalist app to identify plants.
There are lots of ways to turn time outside into learning opportunities. CPAWS Manitoba has pulled together a vast resource guide and has developed easy-to-implement lesson plans tied to the Manitoba curriculum.
What to Pack: Lots and Lots of Snacks
I would lose my mom creds if I didn’t mention snacks and hats. I try to pack light, so typically we do a picnic either along the way or at the trailhead. I also pack water and snacks for the drive.
Here’s what’s in my hiking pack for a typical two- to three-hour hike:
- One bottle of water per person plus one to three extra bottles for refills (depends on length of hike and how hot it is). I prefer stainless steel bottles to plastic, even though they are heavier.
- Three to four snacks per child (two healthy and one to two special treats for motivation) plus some for adults.
- Hand sanitizer
- Napkins and a pack of tissues
- Bug spray and sunscreen
- Bandaids, antiseptic spray and witch hazel to treat bug bites
- A bag for garbage (Leave No Trace)
Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First
It has been a really long pandemic. Especially for parents. We are going into this latest round of school closures much more depleted than the first round. Too many of us have lost loved ones. Too many of us have lost their jobs or seen their wages plummet painfully. We are all missing our friends and our families.
Something I learned very early into being a twin mom was that I cannot take care of my kids if I don’t take care of myself. As they say in those boring airline safety videos (don’t you miss those boring airline safety videos?), you need to put your own oxygen mask on first.
Getting outside will help you manage your own stress and anxiety. So will managing your own expectations of yourself. Life isn’t always Instagram or Pinterest worthy. You will have bad days. You will make mistakes. Your kids will drive you crazy.
Be kind to yourself. Find help if you need it. There is a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel.