I want to say this upfront because there is a lot of fear mongering going on suggesting that poor kids, Black and Brown kids, kids living without the Internet and everyone who isn’t going to school face-to-face are going to be left behind academically due to Covid-19. Well, let me tell you a little secret: poor kids, Black and Brown kids, and kids living without Internet access have been left behind in the education system for decades…this is nothing new. Covid-19 and virtual education has only exacerbated an already challenging problem. Our children can still thrive. The 2020-2021 school year is going to be one for the books, and our children can still have a great learning experience. Ignore anyone who tells you differently.
However, there is something that you can’t ignore: education is going through major changes and you do not need to be passive while these changes take place. You need to be patient, confident, and determined because you can do this and you and your family can win in spite of the changes. Life is about adjustments. As a parent, we inherently know this. In fact, another word for parenting is adjusting. Our job is to make the adjustments and grow and blossom in spite of the adjustments. When Sarah was born in January, I had mapped out what I considered to be a perfect plan to maintain my PhD studies, manage the boy’s daycare and schooling, and utilize a personal babysitter for Sarah. When everything began shutting down in March, my plan also disintegrated. Jimmy came home from daycare. My babysitters left for their homes due to the campus being shut down. RK’s afterschool abruptly stopped and the new classroom experience was Google. I was postpartum, sleep deprived, exhausted, and overwhelmed by all the news-feeds discussing a pandemic that no one really understood. I realized I had to figure it out. Below are some of the ways I figured it out. I want to share them with you to make sure your family is prepared for school year 2020-2021:
- Do not feel bad about what works best for you. I love social media, and I also hate that it creates a world of “look what I have…and look what you don’t have.” Try not to get in the comparison game online. So, you may not be able to afford a private teacher and send your child to a neighborhood pod. You may not be able to enroll your child into a private academy or select-charter school. It doesn’t mean that you cannot offer your child a great opportunity to learn. Be proud of the space that you call home and make it work for you. My family has relied primarily on the dining room area to create a learning space and the boys have flourished using the dining table as their work area. Don’t waste any energy worrying about what you don’t have. You are enough.
- Do not be afraid to negotiate your child’s school schedule with school and work personnel. If you are working during the day, negotiate with your child’s teacher and school officials. Let them know your circumstances upfront. Talk with your supervisor and see if you can negotiate work hours. I have heard of parents working from 5am-8am and taking a break to work with their kids until 12pm and then returning to work afterwards. I have also spoken with parents who have had to opt out of a day-schedule with their kids and work with their kids in the evenings. Take some time to think about a reasonable schedule that works best for you and your family. Remember, it only has to work for you and your family.
- Do not be afraid to seek out help. Almost everyone with children is experiencing various levels of challenges regarding the virtual school-home-school experience. Reach out and ask for help. Check your friend circle and find out different ways to engage and try new things. If you are feeling overwhelmed, pick up the phone or log in the computer and connect with people who love and care about you. Everyone is figuring things out as they go. Relax, you’ve got this!
- Do the main things when all else fails. When school let out in March, I had a 3-month old and a 4 & 5-year old at home. I was still expected to log-in virtually every day between the hours of 9am-1pm for classwork with my oldest son, R.K. who was in kindergarten at the time. Since my husband was considered an essential worker, he continued working his daily schedule. I was averaging about 2.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep and I realized that I could not maintain the curriculum they were asking me to do. I decided to focus on the basics: reading, writing, and math. Although, RK enjoyed all of his classes, the additional classes of music, art, p.e., and guidance would have to take the sideline. I was struggling to manage my home, the kids and virtual school so I made the decision to devote 2 hours/day to the basics. I chose 2 hours because this was Sarah’s average nap-time. That way, I could give the boys my undivided attention. I made sure we tackled his sight-words, writing exercises and math assignments daily. I felt like I could make up the arts on our own time and that is exactly what we did. GoNoodle became one of our favorite places to visit. We really love how they mix learning with music. Also, Art for Kids Hub has my boys hooked. They have really learned to draw fairly well for their ages. There are so many resources out there. Take advantage of them.
- Dare to be different. You know your children better than anybody. Educators like everyone else are doing the best they can. We are all figuring it out as we go. Dare to think outside the box. If your work week and obligations are too full, consider carving out time on Saturdays and Sundays to devote to your children’s learning. If you have an hour, make the hour count. Remember, in a normal classroom setting a teacher is dividing her time between roughly 20-25 students. An intentional hour or even 30 minutes with your child is way more time than they are getting with their teacher in a school setting. My kids are very young, so bedtime has become another learning time for us. R.K., my oldest, gets to read us a book before he goes to bed. If you have older kids, consider making dinner time interactive. Have the kids give a 5-minute report on something that they are learning virtually. Tough times demand creativity. You have it in you to create opportunities for learning at home. Just maximize what you can do and do not worry about what you can’t do.
- Dig into the supplements. The kids who really excel in school usually aren’t excelling solely because of what they do inside the school. They are excelling because of what they do outside of the school. You have probably had the opportunity to spend an incredible amount of time with your family-an amount of time that comes with new challenges but also some amazing opportunities. You have the chance to really help your child blossom and tap into their natural gifts and talent. Supplement the lost time in school with things your child is actually interested in. Both of our boys love to tinker and put things together. We have introduced them to the world of engineering using Kiwi Crates. Each month we receive an age-specific box for the boys so they can build, paint, explore, and create. We also want them to become avid readers so we make sure we surround them with books. Because we want them to see themselves reflected in the books they read, I have subscribed to a site called “Brown Like Me.” The site’s creator is a mother of five and she provides reviews of the books and shares from her book collection. We also try to surround the boys with art supplies, musical instruments and athletic equipment. Although our kids are young, when we recognize something they like, we try to nurture their interest the best way we can. Sometimes, the best way is actually making a purchase. Many times it is by finding a video on YouTube or a television show and watching it together and discussing it afterwards. Whatever you can do to help your child’s dreams come to pass will always be worth the sacrifice and time.
- Do Your Best and relax. I promise you. Schools will eventually reopen. Extracurricular activities will resume. Permission slips will be sent home. Proms and homecoming dances will be on full display. We are not the first generation to experience a disruption of normalcy, and we won’t be the last. Your job is to do the best you can with what you’ve been given. You’ve got this. Take it one day at a time and rest knowing that you did your best.
I’d love to know things you are implementing. Please feel free to share your thoughts below!