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.
Love and kindness, Monika