How does school work when school is closed? Can kids still learn when they stay home and so does their teacher? That’s what my family is learning this week with school shut down to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
I’m a producer for “Insight with John Ferrugia” on Rocky Mountain PBS. Our TV show is essentially on hold right now, since we can’t safely shoot interviews to get our next program done, and our bosses have ordered all non-essential RMPBS employees to work remotely.
My son is in kindergarten in a Jeffco school. Jeffco is one of the earliest districts in the state to have enacted remote learning. So with all of that said, here’s how our remote learning week has gone so far!
There was no “school” on Monday as teachers prepared for remote learning. My son’s teacher sent us an email telling us to pick up a packet of materials for the week ahead.
Inside the packet are worksheets, a writing journal, a blank booklet, a workbook, and instructions for setting up a Google profile for our child. The teacher also gave us login information for various learning websites the kids use at school.
I followed the instructions and set up my son’s profile, which gave us access to his teacher’s virtual classroom via Google Classroom. It seems obvious that all of this requires extra work for the teachers and I thank them for it!
On Tuesday morning at 8:30 am we logged in and answered a question in order for the teacher to take attendance.
The question, “What’s your favorite thing to wear and why?” became the writing prompt for the day. Every day my son has to write a sentence in his writing journal and draw a picture to go along with it. Today his sentence said, “My favorite thing to wear is a T-rex because they are loud.” (Try not to think about that too hard.)
I learned from my son that these daily drawings need to meet a number of requirements. They should have a main character, five other details, and include five different colors. It’s good that he told me all of these requirements, because I would have signed off on anything that looked vaguely like a dinosaur since I don’t know how to teach kindergarten.
Once the day’s writing journal entry was done, we downloaded the teacher’s daily lesson plan from her virtual classroom. This bullet list of activities was a little daunting.
It took us two hours to get through the five reading and writing tasks. Frequent snack breaks became necessary to preserve the sanity of everyone involved. We also took breaks with GoNoodle, online videos that get kids jumping and moving to wear out the energy they usually use on the playground.
At the two-hour point I needed to do a Zoom check-in with some of my team at work. So, it was time for my son to take a break and go walk the dog with Dad.
While they were gone I made lunch. At one point, while I was processing the news that school will be closed for a long time, I had visions of trying to recreate the cafeteria lunches my son actually really loves. I imagined I’d wear a cute apron while making a terrific sloppy joe and prepping the next lesson. But today, reality hit hard -- I made plain ham sandwiches instead. I didn't even bother to peel the banana I plopped on the plate.
When the crew arrived home, I learned three things:
1. My son fell in the mud while wearing new pants and new shoes.
2. The dog ran away and my son hurt his hand while apprehending her.
3. He spotted a dead raccoon on the walk. This raccoon carcass had been partially eaten by another animal but its sharp teeth were still very visible.
I heard all of the graphic details of this poor animal’s demise over lunch.
As this story dragged on and on it became clear we were not going to get through the whole list of items on the lesson plan. We had to prioritize. The science section of the plan said to read a nonfiction book about an animal the student wants to study and then complete a “tree map” about that animal.
Since the dead raccoon experience clearly made an impression, we downloaded a raccoon book and started reading.
Then he filled out the tree map, confirming he learned that raccoons have “claws, teeth and rabies.” The biggest learning opportunity of the day came not from a workbook but from a walk around the lake during a study break.
We finished the school day by checking one item off the math curriculum list by practicing math lessons on the website ABCYa.
He particularly enjoyed this dice game, which allowed him to practice addition while competing against a robot named Snake Eyes.
Whew, what a day! As soon as we wrapped up at 2:30 PM I
poured myself a tall beer continued working remotely at an efficient pace.
After wrapping up the first day, I looked ahead at the next day’s lesson plan. It includes just as much work as the first day plus assignments from art class, music class, and P.E. I started feeling that we will need to get a lot more done than we had on the first day and plot a more structured day going forward.
At bedtime my son started talking about all of his friends at school. He told me each friend’s favorite work bench activity, and each friend’s favorite thing to do on the playground, the lunches his friends like and don’t like.
It hit me how sad he must be to be at home, without his friends, without his teacher. He is brand new at being a student and he has loved it so far. The sadness he’s feeling will probably only get worse as time goes on.
I say all of this to encourage myself and other parents to grant ourselves (and our kids) some slack moving forward. We’re all doing unfamiliar things while feeling fear and uncertainty of what’s ahead, and sadness for our normal lives that seem so far away right now. We have to be okay with not accomplishing everything on our lists every time.
One more thing about feeling sad: author Mo Willems (of Pigeon and Elephant and Piggie fame) is posting daily doodling videos and I watched my kid's mood elevate significantly as he learned to draw the pigeon with Mo.
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