I must confess, when I first read the news that our school was shutting down due to COVID and that we were all to learn the ins and outs of Google Classroom, Loom, and the likes, my first thought was: may I be exempt? I teach Spanish at a small private school, and since my class is just an elective, surely they could do without it…right? The answer was no, of course. All elective teachers were required to teach their courses as regular.
This was my main reason for resisting to teach an elective during COVID: do kids really need it? I know why electives are important. They’re an essential way to broaden a child’s horizon and provide them with a well-rounded education. But during a pandemic? Pandemic means (or should mean, anyway) going back to basics. Keep your essentials, forget the rest. Learning a second language hardly seems like an essential during a global emergency. Not forgetting how to add and multiply? Yes. Reading? Definitely. Conjugating Spanish verbs? Not so much.
I fought long and hard to convince my principal that I was not an essential worker during this pandemic. But alas, my objection was in vain. I was expected to pick up my textbooks from school, learn how to upload worksheets, record myself teaching, and be available to answer students’ questions at least three times a week. I negotiated, again. I would teach upper-grade levels what they were supposed to learn from the textbook without using a textbook, and I would review everything we had already learned in lower grade levels so that language acquisition would not be lost, but I would not teach any new concepts or vocabulary. I would not quiz or test. My requests were granted (mainly because my supervisors had so much to take care of, they probably skimmed through my long texts and replied “okay” without much thought).
Sisters Janike and Alexis Ruginis started their own small book press when they realized there was a lack of Spanish-language books for young children in the U.S. Veoleo published its first book, ¿Dónde está el coquí? in 2018 and it’s currently working on two new books aimed at bilingual little ones.
In this episode, we talked to Alexis about their business and their current efforts to bring enjoyable activities to kids and families who are staying home due to COVID-19.
In times of physical distancing, everyone seems to be looking for ways to connect socially. From Zoom happy hours to birthday parades, we’re all adapting.
Trying new things
For E, it’s been hard looking out the window and seeing the neighbors that she typically plays with and not being able to join them. Early on, we allowed bike riding with neighbors, but with time, we’ve cut back. There have been a few times when we’ve run into them while walking our dog and the girls end up riding around the block. This small amount of contact with her friends does wonders, but it doesn’t happen very often anymore.
Most of her socialization in the past two weeks has come from Minecraft. She didn’t play video games before this but her friend down the street invited her to play and it has become their social hour. They talk to each other as they work on building tree houses and hiding spots out of virtual chunks of stone and wood. It’s the closest thing to building the pretend houses they used to build when they had in-person playdates.
Another thing we’ve done is play bingo with my family in Colombia. I use a bingo card generator, which gives you bingo cards and the ability to call the numbers on their site. During the Zoom call, I share my screen so they see the numbers as I’m calling them. It’s been a hit and we’ve been playing once to twice per week, but E usually plays a couple of rounds and is then off to do something else.
And then there is FaceTime. We’ve been using it a lot more than before with my parents, who also live in Houston, and with family in Colombia. An added bonus has been that all of her conversations with them are in Spanish at a time when she’s missing on the Spanish input she would get in school. None of these options replace face-to-face interactions, of course, but it’s what we have to work with for now.
Strange but necessary
We are still finding our space in distance connections. The one-on-one interactions we’ve had with family and friends tend to go better since the interaction allows for plenty of two-way input. I have a tiny extended family, so now that we’re home, we speak on the phone daily. Z is a part of these conversations, she pops in from time to time to say hi. It works because I let her come in and out as she pleases. As time goes by, we will have to get more intentional with these interactions. Our family conversations are our primary source of Spanish input, and they continue to be crucial as Z develops her language skills.
We used to be a low-tech house, opting into more hands-on experiences. Now, Z has a Chrome book and uses it for at least two hours every single day. This is undoubtedly weird but necessary as there is no other way to reach out to the world outside. A few weeks ago, we video called one of Zoe’s preschool friends for a chat. The call turned into an almost two-hour-long drawing session where they were telling each other what to sketch and then comparing their works. In between they would talk about their life: school, friends, what they ate, their favorite movies, everything. It was a moment of peace for everyone involved. As parents, we were so happy to see our kids at ease and engaged without much adult intervention. That was the first and last time a virtual connection went smoothly, but we’re hoping for more.
Distance learning: it’s the new thing. Most of us with school-age and even preschool-age kids have started some form of it. What it looks like seems to vary from district to district, school to school, and even teacher to teacher. It’s no surprise because this is a massive change for everyone, not only us as parents and our kids as students, but also for teachers completely new to this way of teaching, so it’s natural that there will be bumps in the road and some trial and error. We wanted to share our experiences so far and would love to hear about yours.
We started distance learning about two weeks ago. Emilia’s teacher sends us a weekly schedule with tasks and assignments to complete each day of the week. She also broke up the class into four groups, and each group meets via Microsoft Teams three times a week for 45 minutes.
They use these virtual meetings mostly to review what they’re learning at home, but I’ve found there’s so much value to them because even if they don’t get a ton accomplished, it’s good for the kids’ wellbeing to have some connection with their teacher and classmates. It’s also amazing how much they’ve learned about the features of Microsoft Teams – and Zoom – in just a couple of weeks.
From my end, it’s been good having a curriculum because it gives us structure, but some days are easier than others in terms of getting her engaged. It’s almost as if her interest wanes as more time passes. For me to fit in some work, I break up her schoolwork work into two blocks – some to do in the morning and some to do in the afternoon – and it’s worked so far, but there are days when she’s just not that into it or when I simply can’t sit with her for extended periods of time because I have to get other stuff done. I realize that working only part-time, I have it easier than other families, but striking the right balance isn’t always easy.
We’ve also been having dance classes via Zoom. Pre-COVID-19, she attended a modern dance class every Saturday morning and I hadn’t anticipated for them to continue, but the dance studio she goes to has been doing a great job offering the kids their classes via Zoom. It’s not the same as going to class in person and she sometimes dreads connecting to Zoom, but it’s an activity she enjoys doing so I’m glad we have it. It helps that her dance teacher really pays attention to what the kids are doing during class and gives them feedback.
One thing I’ve noticed is that getting feedback or knowing that the teacher “sees” them is key to keeping the kids engaged and enjoying a virtual class, whether it be dance, art or music.
When I stop to think about all of this, it’s amazing how life for us and our kids changed in a matter of weeks, but I’m thankful for how schools, dance studios, and others have adapted, even if it’s not always perfect. When she got her first schedule from school, Emilia told me: “I’m so happy to have work. I don’t know why, but I am.” The following week, she said: “I know I love being on the iPad at home but I miss school.”
Our experience with distance learning has ranged from frustrating to fulfilling. Zoe is in Kindergarten, so schoolwork is not very intense. Her teacher just started sending us a weekly schedule organized by day with very clear expectations of “must do’s” and “may do’s”. This is helpful because we can prioritize the “must do’s” for those days when we can only manage the bare minimum. We have about two hours a day of work, an hour of which is entirely online. This is a very big change for her because we had opted her out of these online courses only to now see them being transformed into grading tools that are required. Zoe does the things she enjoys fast (reading, math) and the ones she doesn’t (writing) with as much friction as possible. Last week she decided that wearing her uniform made it easier to do schoolwork from home and to that I say, go for it! I am grateful that her teacher is taking it easy on the children, putting their well-being first before anything. Working full-time while also managing family life creates real frenetic energy, and it truly feels like I am getting nothing done. At the end of the day, I remind myself that within these four walls, we have accomplished two full days of work, a full day’s worth of school work, and stayed sane (mostly) and fed through it all.
It was vital for us to keep as much continuity as possible with Zoe’s interests, so we have kept up with her art, theater, and music classes. All of these have been delivered live via digital software service, and they’ve had varying degrees of success but getting better as time goes on. My main takeaway for online classes is that they need a proctor on the kid’s end, no matter how good the instructor is on the other. You also need a certain amount of warm-up and preparation. For young children, these activities serve as transitions, and they should be treated as such. You need to prepare them and yourself for the activity so that it goes smoothly. This can mean making sure you have all of the materials needed for the activity, creating a space in the house that is quiet so that focus is possible, and giving your child notice that the activity will be taking place soon. Piano class is in the morning, so preparing means finishing breakfast and getting dressed. Our piano routine is very similar to our pre-COVID days, so it brings a certain amount of comfort.
Zoe’s beloved Imago Art and Theater classes have transformed more drastically. This was an activity she used to do after school and was a much needed artistic relief. Imago is a space that she has been going to for three years now, and it’s like a second home. It has been harder to adapt to not seeing her friends and teachers in person, but we have made it work. Zoe is very chatty and asks lots of questions, so she struggles with the new interaction dynamics where she is not able to communicate with everyone freely. When she begins to get frustrated, I jump in to answer any questions and get her re-engaged. This is happening less and less as she becomes more comfortable with this type of interaction. Like Paula, I am so grateful that our village has swiftly transformed into our online support team keeping our kid engaged and connected to what she loves.
This situation is as strange as it gets, and we are using our entire toolbox of coping mechanisms to get through it. There really is no right way to go about it. I think about people close to me that have lost their jobs, are worried about getting themselves or their loved ones sick. People that were already living in very stressful situations only to be made worse by this one. There’s this nagging sense that the future, always unknown yet familiar, is now untethered.
The other day I noticed a new note on our fridge. Zoe put the affirmation there quietly as if she wanted to make it subliminal. Now my purpose is to embody these qualities by making it my main priority to be kind to my loved ones, myself, and everyone I encounter. Leading with empathy fills me with a sense of purpose and serenity.
Listeners of our show may have heard Monika mention Imago in Miami, a wonderful creative space where kids can learn and enjoy activities in Spanish. While they’re currently closed, they’re offering a series of activities to do at home and, luckily, those of us who don’t live in Miami can partake. So, join us as we participate in the ImaGO Challenge, an effort to document our days at home.
Here’s how it works (translated from Imago’s post):
¿What did you do during the day? Draw it.
1. One drawing per day. 2. Add your name and the date. 3. Share it on Instagram and tag @imagoartinaction. 4. Use hashtags #imaGOatHome #imaGOchallenge
We’re together in this. Share this post and more people will draw their days at home. And remember to wash your hands!
Things are beginning to settle in. The reality of intentional isolation is the new normal and we need to figure out how to get through this as best we can. We love to share ideas on how to make sure the kids feel engaged and keep a sense of continuity but today, we want to check in with you.
With all the free resources, online classes, schedules, and more making their rounds, it can feel overwhelming to keep up. It’s probably a good idea to let go a little and focus on the basics: keeping our kids safe, comforted and healthy while we go through this situation. We like this advice for moms from Vanessa at PsicoKids: “This quarantine is not a time to take advantage of or to get ahead, it’s to live (while caring for our mental and physical health).”
Things are hard, especially for those who don’t have help with childcare and are expected to keep up with their jobs, whether from home or physically at work. Give yourself grace, relax your expectations, spend time with your kids and do what you can.
We’ll leave you with some articles we’ve found useful:
As we mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, we want to be a resource to you during these unprecedented times. We will be posting resources we find interesting to help you keep your kids engaged – and practicing their language – while they’re at home. Our goal is to post daily but we’re taking it day by day.
An upside of all of this is that people are being very creative and generous with their talents, offering virtual story times, concerts, classes, and more. Here’s what we’re loving today.
Talking to your kids about the virus may help them process what is happening.
COVIBOOK – Colombian psychologist and play therapist, Manuela Molina created a book to explain the virus to kids and to gauge the feelings they may be experiencing as a result. You can view the PDF in Spanish here. Other languages are available for download on this page.
Hello Entre Dos Community! How are you and yours holding up? We hope you are safe and with your loved ones. We hope that your local community is coming together in solidarity to get through flattening the curve of this outbreak.
Most of you are likely triaging your home right now for what might be weeks of homeschooling. We are, and it’s both exciting and daunting. It’s important to keep a sense of normalcy and structure while being flexible to what these rapidly changing times may bring. Make sure you create an open and safe space for everyone to talk about how they’re feeling, this is an unprecedented circumstance that some of us have only imagined. We are comforted, in a way, by the fact that we are all together in this. We will be in all of our usual spaces – Instagram and Facebook – if you want to vent, give/get advice or just want to talk to other parents going through the same thing.
This situation is a work-in-progress, we will be blogging and recording episodes more frequently in the next few weeks but, for now, here are a few initial thoughts on how we plan to get through this.
We’ve seen a flurry of useful and ambitious daily routine schedules in social media, but we won’t share them here (yet). Instead, we offer a modest proposal. While structure and predictability are essential maybe also use this newfound time to rest and reconnect with your family. Everyday life is exhausting, take some time to get back to basics and then slowly build your routine around what feels right for your family.
Can’t stop, won’t stop. This is a great opportunity for immersion! If you live in a heritage language-speaking home, use this time to infuse your child’s learning with it. We will be sharing lesson plans and activities for all sorts of subject matters.
Technology is on our side here. Check-in with loved ones regularly. Make sure your neighbors are well. Make time to catch up with friends.
Tough times call for extreme goofiness. Let loose!