For most of us, distance learning last spring was a shit show. I mean, maybe some people found a way to rock it out, but plenty of us struggled.
I know my kid’s district was overwhelmed. My family could not get our shit together, and my son’s poor teacher described her job as “trying to push a rope.”
I felt that so hard. It was impossible to effectively teach kids remotely on zero notice.
When school ended and we entered summer break, I was so sure that we would be back to normal by fall. Well, I was wrong, and here we are, months later, still arguing about wearing masks. Loud morons on the internet still think this whole virus is a hoax. Nothing is better. My state is worse.
This pandemic is a freaking train wreck.
And now, fall is upon us and one way or the other, we are adding school back into the mix.
Most of us are either doing full distance learning or some kind of hybrid schedule. If we aren’t yet, we should be prepared to tackle it soon, because schools that opened early are already experiencing outbreaks. Distance learning is probably going to be our reality at least part of the time for this entire school year.
I’m no expert, but I’ve spent a few months trying to plan for this and make it a little more successful than our totally bonkers spring.
Here’s what I’m going to try to make our fall semester as successful as possible:
1. I’m taking in all the distance learning material my district has created for parents.
Do I want to watch all the video content explaining things I likely already know, like how to turn on the tablet or access the learning apps? No. I don’t. At all. But I have already carved out an entire afternoon to watch, read and make notes. The school district took the time to make all this distance learning content, and even if it’s repetitive or geared toward people less tech savvy than I am, it’s my duty to take it all in and be as informed as I can be. I know that I don’t know it all, and knowledge is power.
2. I’m setting a school day schedule, including packing a lunchbox and backpack.
One thing that my kid needs in order to feel like distance learning is a “real” school day is some semblance of a schedule. At school, he tends to break his day down into “before lunch” and “after lunch.” If he can just make it to lunch, he knows he on the home stretch.
In order to combat the feeling of one long, droning day, I’m going to pack his lunchbox and put his books in his backpack. Every day at 11:30, he will be able to stop whatever he is doing and “go to lunch.” It will already be ready to go, just like at school. Maybe it sounds like extra work I don’t have to do, but this will also help me get in the swing of the school year– packing lunches and backpacks at night was part of my routine, and something I love doing for my kids.
3. We are prioritizing breaks.
I am scheduling in breaks for my kid, including time to just run around outside. Our district recommends no more than 40 consecutive minutes of learning before allowing for a short break. I’m glad. I can’t let myself feel guilty every moment my kid isn’t glued to his computer. We will do our very best with the actual assignments, but I’m not going to let myself forget that play is learning. Playing, relaxing and exploring are still important activities for my kids, and I need to protect their time to do that, even when I’m playing the role of learning coach.
4. My kid and I are working together to create a cool work space.
I saw this cool Facebook post about creating a work space out of a tri-fold poster board, and I knew immediately that this would work for us. We don’t have a quiet room for my son to work, so he will be at the kitchen table. Creating a little space that shields him from the visual distractions of the rest of the house will be the closest we can get to a dedicated distance learning “classroom.” I’ve already started designing customized print-outs to keep him motivated, and collecting some things to help keep him on track- like a small clock so he will know when it’s time to move to the next task.
5. I’m consulting an expert for ideas for social and emotional learning.
My trusted friend, Anna Skates, has dedicated her life to working with children and understanding how kids relate to the world around them. To help parents through this transition from our seemingly endless summer to distance learning, she is facilitating organized online discussions for parents and kids about social and emotional learning. I am happy to have her as a resource to help me think of new strategies to help my child learn more than grammar and math.
Social and emotional learning is so important. This year, some kids might struggle with academics in this totally bananas setting, but they can still learn important lessons about how to connect with other people, and better understand their own feelings.
6. Our family is removing all expectations about distance learning grades.
My husband and I decided long before our child ever started school that we would not put pressure and anxiety on specific grades. Each of our kids will have to give it their best effort, and we will support them to be sure that they pass, but we don’t want our kids to lose a minute of sleep over the points between an A and a B. If they’re learning and trying, that’s good enough.
This philosophy is magnified a zillion times during a school year like this. I sat my second grader down and said, “Listen, kiddo, we are going to do our best this year, and you’re going to learn, but it’s not going to be perfect, and that’s okay. Let’s just get through it, and hopefully you’ll get to go to third grade at regular school.”
7. I’m creating a totally honest alliance with my kid’s teacher.
Teachers have so much on them this year. If we think learning from home is hard, imagine how they feel trying to accommodate 25 different kids and potentially up to 50 or 60 different parents and guardians who are trying to help these kids learn. It’s humanly impossible for them to notice subtle signs that your child needs help like they might be able to in person. Nothing good can come of pretending you have it all together. Your kid’s teacher can’t help them or you if you’re not totally honest about what’s going on at home. School hasn’t even started here, but I’ve already emailed my kid’s teacher about a potential scheduling conflict that I just can’t work around. She and I have to be close allies this year to make this work, and I’m already starting to foster that connection.
I have no idea how this year is going to go. I am planning to give myself, my kid, his teacher and the school district so much grace. Heaps and heaps of grace. This is totally new territory for every single one of us. I know there are challenges coming that I didn’t anticipate, but I hope being prepared and flexible will make this year less shit show and more doable.
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