Parenting during coronavirus and school closures- week six recap

Three weeks ago, I mentioned that the US had 9,149 deaths from Coronavirus. According to the https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ website, today there have been 54,947 in the US alone. That trajectory is beyond terrifying. My heart goes out to everyone who has been infected and/or has lost a loved one during this. My gratitude goes out to everyone who is doing something to help during this time, from those who are sheltering at home to flatten the curve to those healthcare professionals on the front lines and everyone in between.   

Besides thinking about the health impact the pandemic is having on so many lives (not to mention the economy), with our kids home 24/7 I also have school and learning on my mind a lot. Now that school has switched to distance learning, I think all parents are rethinking what school and learning mean to them and their kids. Last week I wrote an ode to teachers https://theordinarymom.com/5jn8. I am grateful to all teachers who have had their jobs turned upside and are embracing this new world of distance learning with gusto. Ten-year old Lucy’s elementary school just released a video collage of the teachers holding up signs from their homes with encouraging messages such as “I miss my students”. “You will do great with distance learning!” and “We can do hard things” (from one of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle). It really warmed my heart to see these hardworking teachers showing the students how much they miss them and giving them words of encouragement even as their own lives have been turned upside down. 

We are so lucky that all three of our kids have such amazing schools and devoted teachers. We had a video meeting with our eight-year-old Ellie’s speech teacher this week. She said she is responsible for over 50 students who are all on IEPs (short for Individualized Learning Programs) and she is trying to connect with every family to figure out how to support the children with speech services via distance learning. She’s young, energetic and an amazing specialist who has an almost impossible task. When my wife told her that we are grateful for all she is doing and we understand how challenging this must be for her, she looked like she might cry with gratitude.

With our kids’ schools officially closing for the rest of the school year, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on what learning used to be, what it is now and what the future may bring. Those of us who are old school (pre Common Core) did a lot of rote memorization of facts and, if you are like me, you forgot most of it. Thank goodness for Google and Siri, my best virtual friends. 

Our children are being taught with a consistent set of standards that will allow them to think critically and solve problems that will prepare them for life. During this time of shelter at home and distance learning, our family is trying hard to balance traditional schooling with life schooling. We are not letting our kids get behind in their distance learning schoolwork (although see the note below that we just learned Lucy was behind this week) but we have definitely told them that anything optional is truly optional and they are welcome to opt out. We are focusing more on their mental health than their grades right now and our kids are doing alright because of it.  

We are trying to take time with them to play board games, take walks, ride bikes, bake cookies, do the dishes together, clean the house etc. We think that all of those things can be teachable moments without cramming learning down their throats. We look at it that they are learning math through board games and cooking, science through taking walks and looking at nature, art through drawing and creating comic books, English Language Arts by spending more time reading for fun, ethics through the social responsibility by sheltering in place, economics with supply in demand when we ran out of eggs and Pirate Booty last week for a few days, physical education by riding their bikes, jumping on mini trampolines or doing daily PE with our 13-year-old PE teacher, Jackson. They are also learning important life skills by having to wash dishes, clean the house, pulling weeds, etc. Even though it isn’t always smooth and there are lots of complaints, I am going to give us an A for lifeschooling. 

Speaking of lifeschooling, last week Lori taught the girls how to play blackjack. We have poker chips that we’ve had for ~15 years (I can’t even remember where we got them) and decks of cards that we put in their stockings for Christmas so we figure we might as well put them to good use. The girls are loving playing blackjack and in our house, we call that math lessons. They have to count and make quick decisions. I have been taking quick 10 minute breaks from work or after dinner to play a little blackjack with them. They love it. We let them bet real money (not too much) and they realized that they can possibly add a little income to their weekly allowance…or lose some of it which they are starting to learn. The good news is that they are getting really good at math. The bad news is that we may be creating gambling addicts. Ellie said to me the other day, “When you are losing, put more money in”. Hum, not exactly what I want her to learn but, hopefully, she’ll lose enough with that philosophy to change her strategy. If not, she’ll learn about debt at a young age and, hopefully, get it out of her system before she has to pay her own bills. 

Since we don’t have much feedback as we are sheltering in place, I assume other families are like us and trying to be supportive of the teachers and schools but trying to not overly stress about this new world of distance learning. I was reminded the other day that is not necessarily the case when I was taking in the trash and recycling cans and a neighbor walked by as she was walking her dog. From a safe distance, we checked in on how the other was doing.  

The neighbor had recently moved to Davis for the schools and a slower pace of life from the Bay Area and she told me how disappointed she is with the district. She doesn’t think the district is giving kids enough schoolwork or online lessons and she didn’t want her kids to get behind. I listened to her for a while (and remembered when we lived in both the Bay Area and DC there were a lot of helicopter parents) and I finally said, “I totally disagree with you”. She looked shocked so I said that neither the teachers or the district have ever been through anything like this before and the district has to think about student equity issues above all else. Our kids are fortunate to have a house, food, computers and internet access but the district has to take into account those kids who don’t. I said our focus was on our kids mental health and so I was grateful that the district was not trying to recreate a full day of school at home. I said I think teachers are going to have to focus in the fall bringing up the kids who fell behind for various reasons and if her kids are far ahead of the curve they may be a little bored. I have no idea if that is actually true but that made her stop and think. I suggested she lower her expectations and enjoy the extra time with her family. I suspect next time she sees me taking in the trash and recycling, she may just nod and keep walking.  

I have no idea where the future of education is going but I know it will change in some profound way. Lori and I were talking to our 12-year-old, Jackson, yesterday about college as we were hiking (yes, we got out of the neighborhood but still socially distanced, see below in the weekly update).  He was asking about our colleges, how we selected them and our experiences we had there. We had fun telling him about our college choices (and each still remembers the colleges we didn’t get into), told him that the college landscape may look different by the time he applies in seven years and many colleges are going to have to adapt to a possibly hybrid model of some or all online versus all time on campus or close. It was weird thinking that our kids might have a totally different college experience than we had, maybe not even on a physical campus.  

No one has a crystal ball to see where the future of education is heading but to get through this immediate time of a pandemic, I think we all need to lower our expectations about what our kids need to do in a traditional academic sense, focus on their mental health and lifeschooling and be supportive of our teachers and schools. This is overwhelming for everyone and we don’t want to add extra pressure to ourselves, our teachers or our kids in an already stressful situation.  

Here are some things that happened in our bubble in the last week:

  • Lori attended a bar mitzvah via Zoom. Pretty cool. 
  • The kids are starting to learn what it takes to keep a house clean. In full disclosure it’s a painful experience all around but at least they are learning that the house doesn’t magically clean itself.  
  • Video games and technology were taken away several times last week due to fighting. 
  • We started taking sunset walks on a path next to the farm behind our neighborhood. It’s a nice way to wind down after dinner and our sunsets are beautiful. 
  • I have a standing Saturday Zoom meeting with some moms from Ellie’s school and it is a welcome ritual. So nice to take the time to connect with them and hear what other parents are going through. 
  • Lori gave Lucy and Ellie haircuts. She cut 3-4 inches from each. They look adorable, even if the back is crooked. I have memories of my dad giving us bowl cuts as kids and all five of us looked the same regardless of gender. Lori did a better job than my dad used to do but I won’t tell him that. 
  • Lucy’s teacher sent a note that she was among the kids who did not complete their work this week so Lucy is reluctantly finishing her school work on a Sunday. We have been working on an honor system with our older two so hopefully that will teach her to keep up with her distance learning.  
  • I started a 30 day yoga challenge. It only requires 20-30 a day and I’ve done it most days (but I’m not perfect) and it feels good.  Check it out at: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLgucfsRJS-Y-deWcDRdRXSRlHAaFZieTL
  • Our county just announced masks are mandatory in public. Luckily, they are not required for exercising if you socially distance and our neighborhood has nice, wide walking paths that are not very crowded.  
  • We had a big day on Saturday and went for a hike outside of our neighborhood. We brought our masks, drove ~4 miles (the first time our kids have been in a car in ~6 weeks) and did a simple hike. We only saw 2 other people on the trail and they didn’t get within 10 feet of us. It really lifted our spirits (well, maybe not Ellie, who complained the whole time about how hot it was) and was the most exciting adventure we have had in the last six weeks. 

Stay safe and remember to lower your expectations around school without letting your kids get behind. Learning can take many different forms and whether your kids are doing all the optional work and more or, like ours, are playing blackjack to practice math, let’s not judge each other for our parenting choices right now. We are all doing the best we can during unprecedented times and parents and teachers need to support each other. 

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