Expect Unexpected Engagement When you try Hexagonal Thinking in ELA


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Staying home: We can do this.

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On my favorite daily news podcast, What a Day, when they finish talking about Covid 19, the news headlines and the political campaigns, the hosts play ten seconds of chill flute music and then talk about their regular lives right now. They call the segment “life under lockdown.” But they don’t take it very far. They usually share one album they listened to or the kind of lunch they made and then boom, it’s over. Frankly, I’m always looking for a bit more. Because at the moment I’m definitely in the market for ideas, how about you?

Today, I want to share what it’s like around here.  The good, the bad, the tasty, the comforting, the incredibly difficult surprises. The nice surprises.

We’re all home. So grab a smoothie and sit awhile. I hope you’ll find something in this picture of life here that gives you an idea for life there.

(If you prefer to listen to this post as a podcast, you can listen on the player below or on your podcast platform of choice).

Let’s start with the good. I’m pretty introverted, and to be honest, staying home all the time hasn’t been as hard for me as I expected. With my kids’ activities Pinterest page and my giant art shelf, I’m pretty preschool-teacher leaning anyway.

I like wearing the same cozy jeans and stripy sweatshirt every day.

I like planning special meals and actually having my whole family there to eat them. I like not feeling guilty about watching movies with the kids more often. I like teaching my son to play our tiny red electronic toy piano. He’s got “Mary had a Little Lamb” down pat, and we’re preparing for a “Sound of Music” themed singing + piano concert for grandma over FaceTime. Frozen 2 and Moana songs will also make an appearance, alongside the upbeat Spanish version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” we’ve been frenziedly practicing.

Spring is springing here, and I pick flowers on all my walks to bring in and splash around the house. The daffodils are as sunshiny as ever, our lilacs are covered in buds outside (a huge improvement from the two flowers we got last year), and the peonies we planted last fall are sending their curly little red shoots toward the sky. That all makes me really happy.


Then there’s the bad. I’m not yet the master of Google Hangouts that I hoped. With my five gmail accounts, millions of open tabs, and use of multiple browsers (Chrome, Safari) for different things relating to my work as an ed writer, I keep ending up signed into the wrong account or in the wrong browser at the the wrong time. Whoops. I’m trying to get it all figured out, and reminding myself that mess-ups are part of the process.

We’ve been thinking about moving abroad to work for a while, and are deep into interviews (that are now online). But it’s very confusing to think about giving up a safe position and our home in such a time of upheaval. What if we commit to a job abroad and then we can’t even cross the border to begin it? And yet, should we postpone this dream for a whole year or more as a result of this situation? I don’t know.

The worst and hardest thing for me came Friday night when my jazzed up kiddos were racing around the house and crashed into each other in the hall. My baby bumped her head on the corner of the hallway wall and we had to rush her to the emergency room. I couldn’t help but wonder if it ever would have happened if we weren’t all staying home all the time. It didn’t exactly make me feel any safer carrying her in as we passed a lit tent outside hosted by doctors that looked like they were wearing moon landing clothes. But what could we do? She needed eight stitches, and we’ll have to go back to get them out. Hand sanitizer and wipes are all we can defend ourselves with, and I realize we’re lucky to have that. Everyone was so kind, but it was still a terribly upsetting experience. Five days later I’m starting to breath normally again.

Lucky she’s such a tough little cookie. She received an Elsa dress, a pink bunny, a pack of marshmallow peeps and a special balloon as feeling better presents and has pronounced that it was all “definitely worth it.”


I continue to love all the ways I see people supporting each other online. I am hearing a lot about Kahoot, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Screencastify and Flipgrid as solid platforms for helping with distance learning. Many teachers are promoting reading, documenting the pandemic and any worthwhile creative pursuits for students who can’t access consistent online learning options, and I think these are all wonderful options. (You can find more of my teaching ideas for this time here and here, as well as lots of free curriculum you might like to use here).

In case you might be looking for fun entertainment ideas for your young kids currently at home with you, recipe ideas for your family, and distractions for yourself, I wanted to share what’s been working best for me. Here goes.

Cooking (because I might be a food blogger in my next life)

As usual, I’m totally obsessed with Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (I wish they would sponsor me, wouldn’t that be dreamy?). You can actually watch how it works right now, because super awesome Zoe from Zoe Bakes did an IGTV video about how to make the dough since she’s at home like the rest of us and wanted to help entertain and inspire us all! You just stir together a batch of regular dough, olive oil dough, or brioche dough (those are my favorites) and then you can use them to make things all week. I spent ten minutes on a brioche dough last Sunday, then used it to make cinnamon rolls, caramel rolls, and apple raisin turban challah this week.

I made this chicken satay stir fry last night (an old stand-by from when I first learned to cook). It’s my husband’s favorite and even my four-year-old loved it. My eight-year-old came suddenly down with a tummy ache (diagnosed by me as fear of different food) briefly but managed to recover in time for chocolate layer cake from Joanna Chang’s new cookbook, Pastry Love. You guys, my color-coded cookbook shelf (ummm, shelves, they’re encroaching on the play doh toys) are getting out of hand, so I was lucky to get this new one at the library. Still, I think I might buy it.


My kids and I made homemade granola bars as part of homeschool this morning that were very popular, as was this sweet potato marshmallow recipe we put together with roast chicken last week.

Homeschool for little Ones

I was pretty sure my children (4 and 8) would destroy each other (you know, with love) if we tried to free play with occasional bursts of reading, writing and math for the next month. So I channeled my early Coronavirus anxiety into turning our playroom into a Montessori space, buying early childhood TPT sets, and putting myself on the mailing list of every early childhood blogger with amazing free printables I could find (here’s looking at you, Picklebums).

This general schedule is carrying us through the days pretty well:

We start by looking at the calendar and talking about the weather and the date. We do a quick mindfulness exercise like finger breathing or a body scan (or one day, mindful snacks).

Next, we practice Spanish, using songs like these, color flashcards, and funny puppets. Lucky for me, I already knew Spanish.

Then we talk about a different country of the world. I really like telling the kids stories of places their dad and I have been and sharing a fun drone video, whether of Morocco, Istanbul, Bratislava, etc. When we talked about China we watched highlights from the opening ceremonies in Beijing – so fun!

Next comes art. I’ve gotten so many ideas from Picklebums, Tinkerlab, and Art Bar. We also started doing the Mo Willems daily doodle from The Kennedy Center today and had a great time with that.

After art we usually end up having a snack while I take a minute to clean up and reset for music.

Both kids like music, so we either listen to songs (we love Laurie Berkner, Moana, Frozen 2, etc.) and play instruments or sing along. We watched The Sound of Music last week in installments which was really fun, and now we’re learning two of the songs for a concert for Grandma. I enabled the free three month Apple Music trial on my phone so we can access pretty much any song in the world free right now without dealing with Youtube ads.

For math, my oldest does some multiplication activities or builds a K’nex challenge, though I think we’ll soon start doing some of the activities on the math website, Zearn. Someone in our community is hosting a Lego Masters challenge where you can email in pictures of your creations, which I think is really cool. I hope to get the kids into it eventually. Yesterday the challenge was to build a school, but only I did it while the kids built their usual amazing space blaster ships.

By this time, we’re ready for either recess or gym, which are kind of mixed up in my head. We try to get outside and play unless it’s pouring. If we have to have indoor recess, we go into the guest room where I’ve stashed a few special toys that are just for that purpose right now.

For writing and reading, my youngest does Montessori-type works from our shelves while my oldest has been working on his own Mo Willems’ “Don’t let the Pigeon…” book, reads, and listens to books on Epic. My daughter actually likes to be read to by the Epic narrators too. We’re doing the free thirty day trial of Epic, and I’d definitely recommend trying it out. There are tons of audiobooks and other great reading options on the platform.


For science we’ve done some nature walks and exploring outside, tried the crazy Skittles rainbow science experiment (so pretty!), and are going to watch some mini documentaries on Curiosity Stream. I paid $2.99 for a month of unlimited access to this documentary streaming platform, and I’m interested to dig more into it. We’re all set to watch our first short film there this afternoon – all about the bugs that live in a photographer’s garden. The footage is pretty stunning.

I’ve enjoyed listening to The Homeschool Sisters podcast on my walks sometimes, to get ideas for more things to do with the kids. Though I usually fast forward the first fifteen or twenty minutes where they just kind of chat. That’s a lot of chat for me, personally.


Exercise wise, I try to get out for a walk every day and just see the flowers and listen to What a Day or an audiobook. As I often do at times of stress, I am listening to Jim Dale read Harry Potter. How can he be such an amazing narrator? All those voices to keep track of! And he does it PERFECTLY. I always like to put Jim on if I’m feeling anxious at bedtime, because it just plain turns off my inner monologue and I go straight to sleep. I just click the sleep timer for eight or fifteen minutes, but I think I usually fall asleep in one.


I’m hearing from lots of people about the great books they’re reading. I’ve got an easily digestible lineup in my room at the moment, including Darius the Great is not OK, See you Sunday (yes, it’s a cookbook, but written by the longtime food editor of the New York Times and so fun to read), Harry Potter, and Magnolia magazine. No crazy dystopia for me at the moment, thank you.

My husband showed me this funny little video series made by a family stuck at home the other day, and we laughed. I’m in the camp that we need to take all this very seriously and make good choices to help our world get through this, but that we also need to laugh at the insanity sometimes and it’s OK to go down a meme rabbit hole or binge a funny homemade youtube series just to feel that community in crisis.

As I go to bed tonight, I hope we can all keep supporting each other in this stay-at-home adventure. I hope our president chooses to invoke the supply power he needs to work with American businesses to build ventilators, masks, and disinfectants for our brave health care workers. I hope we can all bring our own unique gifts and creativity into this strange time to help others and help ourselves.

If you’re feeling strong, share your strength with someone. If you’re feeling scared and alone, lean on me, and so many others who want to help.

We can do this.


hey there!

I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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  • Betsy, you are amazing and I found this post to be a calm amidst the storm. So glad I took a few minutes to read it. If you move abroad, you will still post, correct? 🙂 Sending good vibes fora big decision like that.

  • Thank you so much! Yes, if we move abroad nothing about my work will change, except my Instagram will feature more of Europe. 🙂 Thanks for asking!

  • Here in Indiana, we aren't as fortunate in weather. The past two days were nice, but otherwise it has been rainy. Personally, I need to take walks outside. That has been a struggle for me with this rain and cold.
    I, too, love cookbooks. I can look at them for hours. Baking bread sounds glorious! I baked homemade fresh blueberry muffins with a crumble top yesterday. I must say they are very tasty!
    I teach high school English to freshmen and juniors. Our district has told us we are not to hold Zoom meetings, etc. with them. Most of us are pretty upset about that. They need us just as badly as those elementary kiddos. I feel like my students need to see me. And, frankly, I need to see them. I'm hoping the requirements change soon. This week is our official spring break, so we aren't e-learning this week. We will return to that next week.
    Stitches?!?! Yikes!
    Take care!
    Nina Graue

    • Hi Nina! Those blueberry muffins sound amazing. I am always hoping to find the perfect blueberry muffin recipe, but it's elusive. Tonight I made naan and cinnamon sweet potato wedges. Yum. I find I'd rather walk outside in the rain (or even snow) than stay inside. I just gear up and try to make sure my headphones cord is staying dry! I'm sorry to hear you don't get to see your kids at all. I bet you can still find ways to connect creatively and meaningfully. You can still make a big difference in their lives, and support them so much in this strange time.

  • Betsy, thanks for the reality this whole pandemic is putting on your family. I am home with an 8th grader and a college sophomore. My oldest decided to stay at her apartment at school in an attempt to complete her college degree by May. Each morning we all get on our respective devices and begin our virtual day of learning and teaching. I am grateful for a few little things during this new normal. I can stay in my comfy clothes until well after lunch. We are all having more meals together. Yesterday, in my attempt to break away from the screens and emails I made a nice lunch. All 4 of us dined together and it was a pleasant and calming break to the day. We did not to talk about remote learning, teaching or covid for 45 minutes! Last night, after dinner, our oldest did a video call, my son (20) made a very cool phone tripod out of k'nex to put the cell phone on and we played a virtual game of Parcheesi. So fun and it brought us all together. I am grateful we are comfortable in our home, we have the necessities, and thus far, obtaining groceries has been fairly easy. I am grateful it is spring time, and I can feel the touch of warmer weather. I am grateful that this slow down in the world is reducing greenhouse gasses. Most importantly, I am grateful for our family, and our health, which is prime concern. I wish you and your family peace and comfort as you teach, learn and explore new possibilities abroad. Stay healthy!

    • It's so nice to hear all this! I love love love the k'nex virtual tripod. I should challenge my son to try to make one of those for a virtual game of Sorry with his cousins. (I love Parcheesi too, but we always played it at the coffee shop and don't have it at home!). How lovely that you cooked a special lunch and you could all sit together. That kind of thing is just so meaningful right now. Peace and healthy to you too!

  • What a day! My kids are all teens and are sleeping until noon and then do their own things (no e-learning is required yet here) so the amount of time you are spending homeschooling just floors me. You are truly amazing!
    My husband and I also want to go live and teach abroad in a couple of years so I'd love to follow your adventures. It is such a big step and so much to learn. I'm sure the current situation really makes it a lot harder.
    I'm going to go to your breadmaking link.
    Thanks for your positivity and suggestions. You make me feel very tired!

    • Amy, you're making me smile. Thank you. I'm so glad it's been pretty chill for you so far. I can't even imagine my children sleeping till noon yet but I hope I remember to enjoy it properly when that day comes! At this point I'm totally psyched when they sleep until 7:15. I hope you like the break making link! I seriously love that bread, it is a major part of my life. Tonight I made naan from it for dinner. 🙂 As for teaching abroad, this is just such a weird time to be considering it, but it is a pretty amazing adventure! We were able to visit 20 different countries on our breaks when we taught in Bulgaria for two years, and I just love the memories I have of all that travel. At the same time, there were a lot of things I missed. I wouldn't want to be abroad forever… Take care, Amy, and keep in touch!

  • Thanks, Betsy. Our Middle school was on Spring Break last week, and this week we have used ixl learning while we set up Google Classrooms and learn Zoom. My 254 year old daughter is home, but packing to move to Atlanta. (She was furloughed from Barnes and Noble last week.)
    I'm exhausted by all the new technology, my lack of focus, and being a teacher on-call 24/7. I marvel at your keeping it all together especially with the ER visit.
    I am doing more yard work, reading 4 books, and playing ball more often wit h my three cocker spaniels. Today, I hope to get comfortable with Screen Castify. Cheers from Dallas.

  • Hi Elizabeth! Hee hee, I guessed your daughter was not 254. I love to hear about your three cocker spaniels, your time with your daughter, and your quest to learn Screencastify. (I like that platform!) Give yourself time. This e learning thing is new for us all! I've been seeing a lot of great advice out there that you don't have to be an online teacher 24/7. Though teens may do all their work at night, it's ok for them to wait until morning to have their questions answered. You're doing so much already, and you have a personal life that needs you, so I hope you'll be supported by your admin to set boundaries like no expectations of replies after 4 pm, etc. May things get easier, calmer, and more normal as each day goes by…


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