None of us would have predicted in March 2020 that our children’s school situations would remain frustratingly amorphous a full year later. Perhaps that was for the best; if parents had known, we might have run screaming for the hills (with some of our children’s teachers right behind us).
This forced experiment in remote learning, “hybrid” learning, distanced in-person learning—and for a lot of families, all three of those formats—has been a Herculean undertaking for teachers, not to mention a pretty untenable state of affairs for parents. But there’s also been, for this parent, an unexpected benefit: gaining clarity about the ways my three children learn, what they’re being taught, and how they’re being taught, in ways I could never have understood until that learning was taking place in front of me.
I had anticipated that my child with attention difficulties would struggle mightily with learning on a laptop. But it turns out the removal of overheard hallway conversations and the kid across the aisle tapping his pencil has done wonders for that child’s ability to concentrate. My child who generally contributed to classroom discussions only when called upon became quite expressive in the chat box, and had their contributions recognized as a result. I couldn’t have predicted those ways in which my kids would thrive, or that their teachers would later explain to me how they differed from how my kids learned in person.
I’ve also learned that my teenagers are happier and can concentrate better when they get the proper amount of sleep. Their circadian rhythms were never a good match for a 7:10 a.m. school bus, and I hope once this is finally over, we can continue to take that into consideration for older kids. The falling away of sports and other extracurriculars was also enlightening: on a typical weekday evening before the pandemic, my kids would have gotten home as late as 6 p.m. to shower, wolf down some dinner, and begin several hours of homework. Over the last year, they’ve had time to linger with the family at the dinner table and talk about what the next day’s history test might cover—and that has led to some fascinating conversations.
The overdue cultural reckonings of the last few years mean my kids’ curricula differ greatly from the all-white-male authors of my own primary education. Getting a chance to discuss what my kids are reading and learning, because they actually have time to sit and talk, has given me renewed appreciation for the new things my children are learning, as well as the manner in which they are taught.
Other revelations have been trickier. I knew I had a reluctant reader in my house, but I didn’t understand that those difficulties had ramifications in classes besides English. They’re small struggles, but they’re there. My child’s teachers knew that already; once the work was happening while I was in the same space, I understood it too. For another one of my children, the almost-total reliance on screens for class time, reading time and submission of assignments was a strain, visually and otherwise. That child learns better with pen and paper and books they can hold in their hands. Seeing that in real time meant I could encourage that child to print assignments out, and do class reading in a separate location. We can put scaffolding in place to support our kids’ needs—but only once we see clearly that those needs exist.
I’m well aware how lucky I am during this pandemic to be parenting three kids able to handle sitting in front of screens for six hours without my having to sit there next to them. Our family’s path has been far easier than many others have had it. But the survival is the point, and all parents and children and teachers who have gotten this far deserve to pat ourselves on the back. While this very strange year was not a teaching and learning experiment most of us would have chosen, we have all lived it, and for the lessons it has taught me, I am grateful.
Amy Wilson is the co-host of What Fresh Hell: Laughing in the Face of Motherhood, a top ten Apple Podcasts parenting podcast with over three million downloads. To start listening, visit WhatFreshHellPodcast.com.
Join Amy Wilson and National PTA Notes from the Backpack podcast host, Helen Westmoreland, for an Instagram Live Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. EST!