The second hour of the second day. That’s how long we made it into online school before my 4th grader and I had our first blow-up. He yowled and threw a notebook on the floor; I stomped into the kitchen to get Advil for my crashing headache. Our argument was over haiku, friends… haiku.
Perhaps you can relate…
We’re all balancing the same responsibilities as ever, but the balance shifts almost daily. Add in a not-so-healthy dose of anxiety from the adults, a cramped living space that’s looking more like a frat house every day, and a diminishing supply of Cheezits, and this is an extremely emotional time for our children.
Much of my professional focus over the past few weeks has been on supporting teachers in this New World Order, but in my mom-life, I’m paying close attention to how online school is affecting our kids. I realized quickly that I was not prepared for the emotional toll this would take on them. Both of my children (ages 10 and 14) flipped out at least once on their first day of online learning. There were too many assignments, too many separate logins, too few instructions on how to do the things required. New platforms, new procedures, new rules – and all while the rest of the world wasn’t making much sense.
However, as we start to settle into our new routine, moving around one another in our cozy (read: small) house to occupy different work areas, I am learning a lot from my children. It’s early into this adventure, but for the most part, I’m discovering they’re going to be alright.
What I have learned from my kids about learning…
(1) “I miss my friends. So much!”
Friends are a HUGE part of the school experience. Learning is social. Relationships between teachers and students are critical. These are all things we know, but I’ve never seen it so clearly. Without the social aspect, in fact, there’s not much motivating my 10-year-old or keeping him focused. A pre-recorded morning meeting is better than nothing, it’s true, but even that has triggered big emotions. Tears flowed during the recorded morning meeting!
In our district there is hesitation to do anything in “real time” that some kids may not be able to join, and I do understand that — but kids need to see their teachers’ and classmates’ faces for this to feel authentic. They need real moments of connection with their teachers – a phone call, email, text message, anything that says “I see you and I’m thinking of you.” Teachers have spent more than half the year building community; this needs to continue.
(2) “You are not my biological teacher!”
My friend and I laughed at these words from her daughter – but you know what? These words are truth. We parents are NOT our children’s teachers. They have teachers, and their teachers are doing the best they can in a weird and wild situation. Our kids need to seek help from their teachers when they don’t understand a concept. And teachers need to see the real work kids are doing (or not doing) in order to craft lessons for next week.
We don’t have to hover over our children all day, correcting grammar, creating kitchen science enrichment activities, or cramming to learn how to decompose fractions with unlike denominators. Our kids need us to be parents. They need us to show love, support, routine, and safety. The separation of these two roles is crucial. For all of us!
(3) “FastMath is stressful!” or “I did that already!”
What teachers think is going to take 30 minutes may take only 3 — and parents need to be told that’s okay. There will be assignments that don’t make sense and assignments our kids flat out refuse do; we need to be okay with that, too. This is the perfect time for kids to figure out their own learning needs — and for us simply to support them in finding solutions.
I’m also noticing that the simplest lessons are the ones my 4th grader spends the most time with – because he can seek answers, think about connections, solve problems. I wonder if this experience will open doors for new methods of differentiation, or if it will spark new understanding that our kids are capable of learning independently with the right supports.
(4) “James showed me how to graph linear equations.”
When they’re stuck, our kids may be more comfortable reaching out to a friend for help. This may be especially true for older students. And don’t we learn a thing even more deeply when we teach it? For example, I asked my 9th grader how he was managing in his algebra class without daily instruction. “Are you able to talk with your teacher for extra help?” His response: “Not really. But I have James.” Of course! James is his friend in 10th grade honors math – he FaceTimes with James every day anyway, so why not ask him for help when stuck? I’m also going to let my children tutor one another; I think my 9th grader can help his brother with math and my 4th grader can help his brother with ELA.
(5) “Wanna hear something weird?”
There has been a lot of screen time in this house (for all of us!), instructional and otherwise. So we’ve made a point of setting no-screen times, too, times when we plop down some blank paper, a box of Legos, or a container of dice. I’ve witnessed renewed creativity, intricate engineering, and zany ideas come to life over these past two weeks. An elaborate cat fort made from items out of the recycling bin. A new sketchbook collection of Fortnite skins and characters. A hilarious story about our family’s worst vacation. A new song composed on piano, ukulele, and drums through many improvisations and giggles. And a couple of good naps.
I’ve noticed my kids just sit and stare out the window for a while every now and then, which may be the best “activity” right now. They need time to space out and daydream because that’s where curiosity grows. We need to allow that space in which they can do whatever they want…or nothing at all.
Ultimately, our kids are learning how to learn, how to adapt, how to solve problems. Of course, as I write this, I realize my children enjoy tremendous privilege – two parents working at home, their own devices for schoolwork, strong wifi, plenty of food – and not all children have such home circumstances. I know for many children this time at home may widen the opportunity gap that already exists, so it’s going to be critical for us to rally around them and their teachers even more when school is back in session. We need to surround ALL children with as much love and safety as possible – always – but now especially.
But as we all relax into this online school thing, I’m starting to wonder if the lemonade that’s squeezed from this lemon is a true, universal shift in K-12 education that allows even young kids to direct their learning more independently — and gives teachers, administrators, and parents more faith that they can do it with gentle guidance instead of mandated curriculum.