First Week Roundup

We survived our first week of distance learning! Now on to our second!

Our Bug is still alive and well. I’m still alive and well and (relatively) sane. Chico is alive and well and still has a job. The Bear is also alive and well, though I have to admit that I nearly forgot to go pick him up from preschool a couple of times. (Don’t judge me, I was in the middle of facilitating online learning for the Bug!)

Here Are a Few Thoughts:

It’s a lot of screen time.

The Bug logs on at 8:00 and has 30 minutes of synchronous morning meeting.

They all get a 15 minute break, and then they’re back on, doing different subjects and activities.

Their teacher gives them plenty of breaks in between activities, so they’re not sitting in front of the screen the whole time. But they’re connected on and off from 8am to 10:30, and then again from 11:30 until 1pm.

This second week, they’ll have to be on even longer. It may get more difficult to keep him interested and focused.

Our Bug has incredible focus.

The kiddo listens, pays attention, and participates. He also is very independent and can get the materials, folders and pages he needs (as long as he knows where they are).

This is a great relief to his parents, so that while we still have to be listening in with one ear, we can be working in the next room and only checking in when needed.

Facilitating is NOT the same as home schooling.

Several families I know have withdrawn their kindergarteners from the public schools to do home schooling instead.

I can totally understand this choice: this much screen time is NOT ideal, and for kids with less capacity for focus and paying attention, it is not sustainable.

Also, children with attention deficit problems or those who simply aren’t used to screens will not enjoy this format.

However, as long as our Bug is managing and we can help to keep him engaged, we’ll stick with it, for two reasons:

  1. His teacher is AMAZING. Have I sung her praises loudly enough? Because she’s awesome.
  2. The fact that someone else is preparing all the materials and I am simply facilitating is A HUGE HELP.

Though I am a teacher, I have only ever taught English to adults. That is NOT the same as teaching kindergarten.

I am no expert in developing age-appropriate content, and it is not what I enjoy or am good at.

I’m good at reading with our Bug, which has already proved helpful in those break times. But preparing or designing activities in math, motor skills, etc., is simply not my forte.

Despite being connected, it’s still a bit isolating.

While the teachers are doing a lot of presenting, and they make an effort to engage the kids, there is no interaction between the students.

Though the Bug can see his classmates, and he’s getting familiar with their faces, the children are not getting to know each other at all.

So Far, So Good

Hopefully this is temporary, but as long as it goes pretty much as well as the first week, we’ll be alright.

I know the novelty will wear off for the Bug and we may struggle to get him engaged, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For any other parents facilitating distance learning out there, we’re in this together! We’re doing great, and we will get past this.

Have a good second week!

Change of Plans

We’re on Day 3 of distance learning of kindergarten, and I have realized several things:

  1. Our son has incredible focus and does amazingly well participating in class over the computer.
  2. We are EXTREMELY LUCKY that this is the case, because man! This is not easy.
  3. Despite his patience and being engaged, an out-of-home distance learning program is NOT for us.

Now Don’t be Judging

Yes, we had originally planned to put the Bug into a distance learning program.

He and the Bear have actually been back at their preschool since July. We decided that after months of being at home, that they were simply too miserable.

They’ve been going half days, and it’s been like night and day. They are so happy, energized and glad to be surrounded by their peers.

Their groups have been small, and their teachers are all masked. We’ve been very happy with their school’s policies and its cleanliness.

Seeing how happy they were to be with peers, we thought it would be best to enrol the Bug in a distance learning program.

That way, while he was doing school online, at least he would be surrounded by peers and would be able to interact with other kids.

Turns out that’s not really how distance learning support programs work.

Why They’re a Life Saver

First off I should say that these distance learning programs offered by community centers, daycare centers, churches and sports centers are definitely a life saver for working parents.

We know many households of two working parents, and the expectations for distance learning, even for kindergarteners, are quite high.

For kids to be in a place where they are safe, taken care of, and monitors are helping them is very important.

However, we found some issues with the out-of-home distance learning program we tried.

Why It Wasn’t For Us

The Bug was to go to our local sports center, which is part of our homeowner’s association. He knows the place, though the people were new to him.

I had every confidence that the director and monitors would do their very best. Their normal job is to run after school programs, so while facilitating distance learning is new for them, they’re seasoned professionals when it comes to working with kids.

The main issue we encountered was one that I don’t know any distance learning program could solve.

There were eleven children of all elementary school ages in the program. Our Bug was one of only two kindergarteners. The other kindergartener is doing DL from a different school. So while their schedules were similar, they were not the same.

Each kid was plugged into their computer with headphones, joining into their DL classes. I think there were only two kids who were in the same DL class.

The issue is, that even though the monitors and facilitators have the kids’ schedules, within the class periods on their schedule, the teachers have the kids take short breaks.

Especially for kindergarten kids, they’re only doing face-to-face blocks of about 15-20 minutes. Then they get a 15 or 20 minute break before coming back. But if the kids are on their headphones, how are the monitors to know it’s break time? How are they to know what instructions the teachers have given the kids?

Our Bug is a smart cookie, but he couldn’t always remember exactly what his teacher said about what he had to do next.

The result was that he ended up spending most of the day sitting in front of his screen with his headphones on. When he did have an official break in his schedule, he looked around to find that he was the only kid on break right then.

So essentially, while surrounded by other people and kids, he was still alone. It was very isolating for him.

(I should note that had we decided to keep him there, he would have been just fine. But my gut told me that he wouldn’t thrive.)

And So We’re Home

I’m set up in the next room, writing or studying, and I have one ear trained on what’s going on in the Bug’s class.

Whenever it’s break time, he knows how to turn off his camera and either plays happily in his room, or comes to find me and we have a break together.

Because I’ve heard his teacher’s instructions, I know when to get him settled and ready to start class again.

It’s going to be hard. I’m going to feel like I can’t get anything done, and there will be ups and downs.

We may also have to find another outlet for him to interact with other kids. Perhaps soccer, tennis, or something like that.

For now, though, we’ll take one day at a time.

As For the Other One…

The Bear is still going to preschool every week day. He’s completely mad for his teacher and doesn’t want to leave school when I go pick him up.

As I said, we’re taking one day at a time, and if for any reason we don’t feel comfortable, we’ll keep both boys at home and somehow make it work.

For all those who are at home with their kids and are juggling work, my hat is off to you. You are superheroes. Remember:

This, too, shall pass.

Won’t it?

Anyone’s Guess

What. A. Mess.

Here in the States, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is pressuring schools to fully reopen for classes this fall.

All the while limiting federal funding to schools, causing states and counties to have to make budget cuts to already woefully underfunded schools.

Like I said, it’s a mess.

Offering Options

Our local school board has offered two options for the fall semester this year:

  1. 100% distance learning, using online platforms and video call-ins.
  2. Hybrid model, where children go to school two days a week and do distance learning for the other three.

Parents are required to choose one option by next week. The choice is binding for the fall semester, and once made it cannot be changed.

Making A Choice…

We talked about it, considered the options, read and listened to information from health officials and from the school board.

We also thought about what is best for our rising kindergartener, what he needs in a learning environment.

We logged onto the parent portal and made our selection. No going back now.

…And Sticking To It

And then the doubt set in.

I made the mistake of logging onto social media to see what others had chosen.

Many people have remained quiet, but many are extremely vocal about their choice. And those most vocal had chosen the other option.

Immediately, I started to question my decision. Did I have all the facts? Did we really make the best choice for our child? Or did we choose the most convenient option for ourselves?

The more I cogitated, the more anxious I became. I worked myself up into nearly a frenzy when I remembered that once made, the selection cannot be changed.

My Calming Force

I melted into tears, I was convinced we had made the wrong choice!

And then I spoke to my husband.

Have I mentioned on this blog how wonderful the man is? [Quick pat on the back to myself for choosing a great husband.]

He quietly listened to my fears. His calming presence and soothing “Mmhmms” and “Uh-huhs” calmed me down. He then, very wisely, reminded me of a key fact:

Nobody has the right answer.

This is a scary situation. The schools are doing their best to keep children and staff members safe. Parents want to make the best decision for their families.

And while the CDC and state health departments can offer guidance, they do not have all the answers.

No one does.

So, my Chico lovingly told me, there is no wrong choice. There are two right choices, and we must pick the one we feel is best for our family.

And those people, he said, who are so forceful and seemingly confident about their choice on social media are simply trying to convince themselves that they have made the right decision.

But of course they have. Because it is the right decision for their family. And we have made the right decision for ours.

It’s Done, Anyway

I felt better immediately.

But even if I hadn’t, there’s not a whole lot I could do about it. Our choice is made, and though I have doubts and insecurities, deep down I feel that it is the right decision for our family.

We’ll see where it goes, what happens in the fall. What is clear is that if this pandemic takes off again, no one will have any choice at all: the schools will shut down.

In the meantime, we’re wearing masks, washing our hands and choosing to trust our own judgment. A judgment based on the information that is available to us.

A Special Word to School Staff

Stay safe, everyone. Especially school staff.

We love you and value you.

And I will make this promise: I promise to vote whenever possible for the candidate whose platform highlights school funding, so that all schools have the ability to keep their staff and students safe in this pandemic.