by Dan Wulff and Agnieszka Wolska
School is out and the kids are home. But it is not Christmas and it is not summer vacation. What kind of a time is this? Will it be a short break from our routines or will it be longer? Being “isolated together” feels very different to us. This change has come suddenly and unexpectedly and we are now reflecting on what it has been like for us over the past several weeks. This is probably not going to “return to normal” soon and we sense the need to be deliberate in our plans on how to go forward. There is no shortage of advice all over social media—sometimes it is too much.
Because this is happening during the school year, schools have responded by creating ways to virtually bring the classroom into the home (at least as much as is possible). Parents are encouraged to try to maintain the flow of learning that had been occurring in schools, but now it is in the home. This is difficult. The setting of the home is quite different than the setting of the school.
Families may not be able to provide computers or computer time for their children. Computer connectivity to schools and teachers may be problematic. The home setting may be noisy and distracting. Focusing attention to a computer screen may be a challenge. Parents need to organize schedules and logistics so that all the rest of the functions of home are met along with the school activities. The school may be organized to focus on education but the home has many more tasks, obligations, and agendas to manage simultaneously.
With the transfer of school-to-home, parents are also managing work-to-home projects (along with all the other issues relating to finances, health, extended family, and the uncertainty of the future). Parents may work together on all these adjustments, but in many cases, the bulk of the school-to-home changes for the children falls upon mothers. But with the layoffs associated with the pandemic, we are seeing more and more dads taking up the slack on the homefront.
We can benefit from the experiences that some parents have had with “home schooling” before this crisis moment. Their experience of home schooling is very different from what parents and children are facing in this pandemic-induced school-at-home period. In the words of a veteran home-schooling parent:
“This experience is not like home schooling at all – I am being told what the kids should and should not do, and I do not get a choice. I am basically an unpaid lunchroom supervisor who fills in for the teacher most of the day. It is not at all the dignified experience of teaching my children.”
Parents do the best they can under the circumstances but they are being asked to do something that is not easy, certainly with all the other “balls they are juggling.” Unfortunately, in their efforts to embrace the school’s suggestions, parents may get caught up in conflicts with their children over doing their school work.
Another recognition from this moment is that socializing with friends and with teachers is very important to the process of learning for our children. It is easy to consider school to be primarily the accumulation of knowledge and skill about a variety of subjects (e.g., math, science, language, etc.), but that view seriously underestimates the importance of the social relationships that are actively involved in all this “book learning.” School-to-home programs concentrate mostly on knowledge accrual of the individual learners, missing the richness of the social that derives from being with other students throughout the day.
This experience of doing school-at-home may lead some parents to disparage their abilities to teach their children. This may feel overwhelming with the subjects of advanced mathematics or science, but the academics children engage in at the elementary or even junior high level is usually very accessible to parents if they trust in their own capacity. Children’s ability to learn is immense! And parents are fully capable of enjoying learning with their kids even if it is not the government assigned curriculum.
We are also reminded that parents have always been teachers to their children as mentors, leaders, and guides. They teach all the lessons of living and that does not cease when the teaching stretches into academic subjects.
Parents and children may feel overwhelmed by the current school-to-home situation, but perhaps we could take heart in a statement recently made by the French Minister of Education: “If I can leave you one thing, it's this: In the end, our children's mental health will be more important than their academic skills. And what they felt during this time will remain with them long after the memory of what they've done in these four weeks has disappeared.”
Parents, keep showing your children the way forward. School is part of it, but you are showing them a lot about leadership in difficult and uncertain times. That may be the most significant piece of learning that they will remember when they think of this time many years from now, when they again face the unknown in their future lives.