Back To School: 2020 Virtual Style

Monday was the first day back at school for the kids. Zoey started fourth grade, Eleanor third, and Alden entered kindergarten. When I say “back to” school, of course, I don’t mean that in a literal sense. They are still home with me all day, intermittently glued to screens as their teachers introduce themselves and try to educate twenty-five elementary children from across the digital void.

Here we have the kids on the first day of school, simultaneously leaving for and arriving at their new place of learning.

Due to all the swarms of people in Idaho insisting that COVID is “just a flu” or “fake news” and that wearing a mask is an infringement upon their God-given rights to be idiots, there has been a dramatic increase in the spread of coronavirus here for the past month or so. All those same people, of course, are now complaining about how are they supposed to teach their kids at home and work at the same time. Anyway, the point is, we are doing virtual school from home for the time being. The school district will reevaluate in a few weeks, but it’s really not looking hopeful for the kids getting back into their school building.

Zoey the fourth grader. I’ve been fortunate with how independently she has been able to handle this.

I’m actually really impressed with how well the at-home learning has been going so far. I was dreading it, I mean really dreading it. And that’s not to say it hasn’t been challenging. The first day, having all three kids online, streaming video and audio, at the same time, seemed to surpass the bandwidth capabilities of our household (that’s to say nothing of my own personal bandwidth). We had times when they couldn’t see anything but a logo where their teacher’s smiling face should be, times they got dumped out of the class meet, times it took so long for things to respond when you clicked on them that I thought I had reverted back to the dark ages of dial-up AOL internet access.

Eleanor the third grader and eight year old! Nothing like the first day of school falling on your birthday.

We prevailed, however, and the second day flowed much smoother. There were rocky moments, like the time Eleanor said she needed my help with her class. I went upstairs to help her, only to hear Dinah suddenly screaming in pain downstairs. I leapt up to run to her, whacking my foot incredibly hard on a piece of furniture on the way. Dinah had fallen and hit her ear on the corner of a table, and I had to hold an ice pack to her head and try to quiet her in my lap, straining to hear what Eleanor needed and what her teacher was saying over the sobs. There were also, of course, the times when someone needed my help at the exact minute that Dinah or Alden needed assistance with using the bathroom (this has happened quite a few times, actually). Mostly, it’s just exhausting. Every fifteen minutes I am bouncing between the three in-school kids, helping them log in, transition to a different view (grid view! spotlight! pin the teacher’s screen! show a presentation!), troubleshoot technical issues, sitting with Alden to help guide him through what he should be doing at any given moment. I am constantly setting alarms on my phone (I now have them preset with the kids’ names) so that I can remember who needs to log back in at what time. No one has lunch at the same time, of course, so that’s a rolling circus in and of itself.

Alden, King of Kindergarten and iPad user extraordinaire.

There are surprise benefits to this virtual learning platform, though. The biggest one, of course, being that we avoid coronavirus. I was surprised by how nice it is to be so involved in what my kids are learning at school, though. When I send them off to a school building, they come home and can’t really tell me anything specific about what they are learning at school. Unless they have a big project they need help with, we’re pretty much in the dark other than knowing the general topics are covered (reading, math, etc). Now I get to know – in depth – each of their assignments, when they are due, what specifically they are working on. It’s a new insight into their lives.

When learning at home, might as well embrace all the comforts of home!

The kids are also becoming proficient technology users. The kindergartners were all issued iPads (easier to navigate than a keyboard and mouse) and Alden is already a pro at it. Eleanor and Zoey are becoming very comfortable with the school-issued Chromebooks, and will know far more than me about Google slides and Jam boards by the end of the week. Not to mention their exposure to using a keyboard and mouse.

What I also love seeing is the way they get to take a break and truly relax between “classes.” The school has set it up so that the kids log on for in-person learning with the teacher about three times a day, for anywhere from thirty to ninety minutes. Those sessions are recorded, so anyone who has to miss it for any reason can access it later. As long as the student completes the online assignment for each day, they are marked as “present.” In between those log on sessions, the kids currently get break times. Later, they will have small group sessions for things like math and reading. Always, though, there will at least be short breaks in between. For the time being, they get to relax in the comfort of their own home, call friends to chat, snack or get in some physical activity. I have to say, it’s working out pretty nicely.

For her part, Dinah wanders around trying to get into mischief or get her siblings to play with her, while I try to distract her with quiet play options to keep her from interrupting their schooling. It’s a balancing act, and I find myself becoming a master juggler.

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