When schools began to shut their doors due to the Coronavirus, most students were happy. School’s out! As lessons shifted to online platforms, the novelty of sharing homes and pets with their teachers (for those with internet and devices) has waned. Many children and parents are asking: Do we have to do this?
As the teachers quickly learned new technologies and adapted, screen time for students increased. Parents struggled to work from home, if lucky enough to still be employed, and became homeschool parents. Funny memes aside, some parents are obviously more successful than others; however, as the weeks drag on, we are left wondering:
- How much learning is happening?
- Should teachers even assign letter grades?
- How do we not let this create an even greater achievement gap?
- Should we stick to routines and schedules?
There’s a lot of anxiety and stress right now. Parents may be overwhelmed with financial and health concerns and forget to check in with their own children about how they are processing this strange Covid world we live in.
Teachers feel like they are failing. Students feel like they are failing. Parents feel like they are failing. Online school is like starting over. For teachers, it’s like their first year teaching all over again figuring out lesson planning and assessment yet with sporadic attendance by their students and no physical contact.
Carrie Clark, a teacher in Saint Paul, Minnesota explains what the daily life of remote learning is like for her and her students:
Distance learning report, 4/14. My advisees were down today. They got me down, too. They weren’t down in any offensive way, but in a real way. Some were just silent, mics muted even though I invited them to unmute. (This mute word gives me shivers.) Some talked through it: “Do we have to do distance learning? Can’t we just read a book for a couple of hours and then go outside?” “We are on our screens all day.” I feel it, too. I remember weeks ago, when we thought this might happen, right before our spring break. The kids were sort of giddy with hope, eyes full of something like promise. I wonder, why does it have to be this way? They have me thinking. I’m so grateful for their voices and the messages sent even by the muted ones.
A friend is doing a weekly poetry challenge at our school. This week’s challenge invited poems that add a single word to each line’s word count, or work backwards, or work forward and backwards with word counts. After my students got to me (the best part of teaching, if you ask me), I sat down and wrote my poem for this week’s challenge.
What Would Thoreau Say?
(after today’s advisory)
could be fun,
like a snow day,
but in spring, like freedom,
open fields of flowering
hours. Instead, screens
in private workspaces.
“I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself than this incessant business.” — Henry David Thoreau
For some teachers and students, it’s getting better. For some, it is not.
What do you do about the students who don’t show up? According to data from New York City, 23% of high school students didn’t show up for online school April 6-14. What do you do as a parent when your child needs a break? Wants to go outside? Or doesn’t invite you into their online school world?
Some parents, especially of young children, are asking, can I opt out of online schooling?
If you and your child are struggling with this new form of education, first contact the teacher. Ask for an alternative curriculum. Discuss the problems you are having. Chances are you are not alone. Speak to the administration.
Do you want to quit because you are frustrated? Could there be a solution?
Many parents fear if they do quit online school,
This may be the perfect time to try unschooling or maybe it’s the perfect opportunity to learn about perseverence.
Unschooling is a form of homeschool education where children direct their education. The Natural Child Project explains:
A large component of unschooling is grounded in doing real things, not because we hope they will be good for us, but because they are intrinsically fascinating. There is an energy that comes from this that you can’t buy with a curriculum. Children do real things all day long, and in a trusting and supportive home environment, “doing real things” invariably brings about healthy mental development and valuable knowledge. It is natural for children to read, write, play with numbers, learn about society, find out about the past, think, wonder and do all those things that society so unsuccessfully attempts to force upon them in the context of schooling.What is Unschooling?
I dislike the term “unschooling”, as it implies something has to be undone. It’s isn’t “not” schooling, but shifting to a different curriculum perhaps more suitable for remote learning. Some teacher are shifting their online classes to these “real things”. Carrie Clark shares,
Today was a bit of a breakthrough: online teaching has to be different from side-by-side, in-class teaching. We thought our routines and rituals would serve us well in distance learning, but I’m starting to see their limits. Right now, the most important thing is authenticity, and the routines can get in the way of that when we’re not together. So, the breakthrough: thanks to the brilliant Neil Bray, whose idea it was, I met my advisees in our kitchens. We cooked and ate together. Most had their mics on, and kitchens are NOISY. We were on the grid view so we could see each other like Brady Bunch. DK bopped a red balloon around his kitchen. PP found a yellow one and started bopping hers around. Shade was thrown when AZ and DH both made ramen and had to debate the best way: I agree with AZ that a beaten egg and chopped green onions make it legit, but I also agree with DH that sometimes you’re just too hungry. There were pancakes, an omelet and freshly-squeezed OJ, my chocolate chip cookies, a grilled-cheese sandwich with popcorn, and a ton of banter. For the first time, it felt like we were there.
And then I made Otis dress up with me for “blue and gold day.” He was thrilled.
Our principal told us we’d feel like brand new teachers during this adjustment, and she is right. The last two days have been the first ones where I’ve thought, “Maybe I don’t completely suck at this.” And yet, I know that it can all fall to pieces again on any given day. But it will be okay.
What “real things” are you doing while under shelter-in-place orders that could be part of your child’s education? Cooking leads naturally to lessons on fractions. Home projects are great natural lessons, as well. This is a prime opportunity to teach life skills, like laundry and mowing the lawn. Gardening and botany offer wonderful opportunities for science.
Defending the Early Years offers the following questions to consider about online education:
Is remote schooling causing additional stress on your child and your family?
Is your child expected to be on a computer for two or more hours a day?
Are you unable to stay on top of your work from home responsibilities and facilitate remote schooling?
Does remote schooling bring your child and your family joy?
If remote schooling is working for you and your child, then, by all means, keep going. But if you find the expectation to facilitate schooling at home with your child problematic, you have the right to opt-out and opt-in to something better. You can use this time to allow your child to engage in the most cost-effective, self-directed, authentic form of learning there is…PLAY! Children do not just learn through play; play is learning!
COVID-19 has interrupted schooling, but education does not require a school building and should not be limited to an academic curriculum. Children should seize this opportunity to engage in activities that bring them joy and foster deep engagement. Parents can take the time to find out what their child is interested in and support them in pursuing that interest in a variety of ways. Together children and parents can document the learning that happens through play and share that with the teacher or administrator who thinks there is only one way to learn. And play is not just limited to younger children. Inquiry-based projects that are appropriate for older children can be another type of play.Opting-Out of Remote Schooling and Opting-In to Play is an Option All Parents Can Choose
Remember that teachers are doing their best and want to work with parents and children to support the best use of this quarantine time. They understand how life has changed for your child and the disappointment they may experience as end of year field trips, prom, and graduation are canceled.
Anxiety naturally runs high in the teen years from hormonal changes. Add a global pandemic and social restrictions, at a time when they would rather be with friends than family, we must remember online academics may just be too much some days. The future is uncertain.
From kindergarten to high school, teachers are checking in on the social and emotional well-being of their students while trying to deliver some curriculum. This is a huge job to do remotely, especially when some kids remain muted or don’t log in to class meetings at all.
Not all kids are alike. For those that disliked school, this is a welcome break. For those that thrived, they feel like they are missing out on important milestones.
Instead of quitting, would it be better to look for alternatives or learn to perservere? Balancing it all means we are doing the best we
This is a prime opportunity to become more involved in your child’s education…To decide how much is enough, what opportunity for enrichment is naturally arising at home, and how to support both your child and their teachers.
One silver lining is children themselves are noticing the effects of too much screen time. If they need to opt out of remote education to give their brains a break from devices, shouldn’t this be honored?
What about children with disabilities? What about children without access to a computer or internet? How do we make sure these children are not being left behind?
Some children and teachers are thriving under the challenge of remote learning. They miss their friends, colleagues, and students. Not every child or teacher lives in a safe, positive, supportive, home environment. We must be gentle with ourselves on these uncharted waters.
At this point, there are more questions than answers.