9 weeks. 5 kids. 4 grades. 4 chrome books. 1 needy preschooler. 1 confused puppy. What could possibly go wrong?
Today was the first day of remote learning for the 2020-2021 school year. Our district chose the option of remote learning for the first nine weeks of the school year with the flexibility to reevaluate the safety of returning to school in person after the first quarter. Considering how much we don’t know about this virus, I understand the judgement towards caution. Like most families, we weren’t sure what the best option was anyway, so we will take this time to give it our best shot. As a mother of five, and a big van driver, people have been asking me for YEARS if I homeschool my kids. I did not. I was a public school teacher before having children of my own. I am the child of two public school teachers and sister to a public school teacher and a public school administrator. I am the product of great public schools. I believe that my education was GREATLY impacted by the passion my teachers had for subjects that wouldn’t have held my interest on their own. I have seen my own children’s interests sparked by their teachers. My oldest daughter was encouraged to submit her poems for publication by her fifth grade teacher. She has been introduced to the world of computer technology in her middle school. These are not things she would have found here at home…at least not as easily. I am so grateful for the wonderful teachers who have impacted my kids’ lives already.
But now, like many parents across the United States, I can say “Yes. I do homeschool.” (Although if we are being honest, I’m more like a home-administrator. I’m not actually the one teaching. I provide tech support, behavior monitoring and food.) I did want to give this our best effort, and so we did all of the things to try to get this year started off right. After trying to share two devices last semester we opted to borrow four chrome books from our school district so each kid can have their own way to access class. I set up a separate desk space for each child after seating all four around my dining room table last semester. The major reason I am claiming for this change is that all four students are in Zoom meetings at the same time and it would become chaotic in the same room. The real reason is that I love my dining room and having it claimed as a giant messy school for months about drove me nutty. I assigned each child their own cube storage container to keep their school supplies tidy. Their boxes are brought to their school space each morning and returned to the storage shelf at the end of the school day. (For the record: when I was a teacher I made sure my classroom was spotless each evening before I left. Messy spaces stress me out!)
And so far, after the first three days, things seem to be going well. For school. It’s really the “at home” part of this all that is a bigger struggle than I would’ve guessed. My sweet 4 year old is an EXTROvert. He literally has spent days sitting outside on our front yard swing and talking to anyone walking by our house. (They usually just ignore him or politely wave, and he just jabbers on about his dog or the flowers or his swing.) We have been abundantly cautious with the virus, especially because as a college football coach, Nick is responsible for the health of his players and the last thing we want to do is bring germs into their bubble. That has meant, for us, no stores and no restaurants. Since March. William LOVES Target. The Starbucks sells chocolate milk, and he gets to wander the aisles talking to people and looking right at his mama from the cart. (I just realized that he’s probably going to be way too tall to sit in the cart whenever we are able to return to stores.) A few weeks ago William had had enough. He looked at me hopefully and said, “Mom, I bet there aren’t many people there…maybe we could just take a quick trip to Target to get a chocolate milk?’ He was not thrilled with my caution. In the same way he is not thrilled with this model of brother and sisters being home but unavailable all morning. Or with his mom constantly being called from room to room to serve as tech support. Or with being shushed whenever he’s talking loudly and there is a struggling Zoom-er. He is not thrilled. Our usual walks through the neighborhood that we sprinkle throughout the day are not happening because I can’t leave the “school” unattended. We don’t even have any fun errands to run together. He literally volunteers to go sit in the van with me while we pick up our To Go groceries.
Yesterday William and I took to the street to do a little scooter riding. The real feel at the time was 100°. We were sweating like crazy. And William looked at me and said “Remember when it was just me and you? I miss that time! It’s been so long!” He’s not wrong. Just like I feel as though I got some bonus time with my middle schoolers during this pandemic, I feel like I’ve been robbed a bit of my last year with my youngest guy at home. We are moving towards his preschool opening part time at the end of September. He will be so joyous to leave the house! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to it, too. I am. I am looking forward to seeing the sparkle from this kid as he tells me about what he did at school. I am looking forward to seeing him filled up with friendship and interaction. I am looking forward to fewer rage-y moments declaring “THERE IS NOTHING TO DO!” Maybe that time away will give us better time when we are together.
I started off the first day of eLearning determined to keep William occupied without devices. I was armed with laminated activities and sensory boxes and lots of books. But I will be honest, he cannot do all those things silently by himself. That is not a realistic expectation. Instead we have adapted by subscribing to ABCMouse to allow him something to do while I’m getting everyone started and then shifting back and forth to activities with mom or with siblings on a break. It’s not perfect, but it gives us a better start to the morning. I’m not sure what the outcome of all of this will be, but I do know one thing, we are going to keep trying!