Week One: We're Still Alive
My blog the next few weeks may feel more like the end of Doogie Howser episode than my typical posts. Like Doogie, I want to remember what this time was like and I want to learn something from it.
I typically schedule my blog topics a month out so I’m not left scrambling for something to write each week. This new normal of never leaving home has obviously made all my planned topics seem weird, even trite. For instance, I hoped to write about basketball this week. I assumed I’d see something inspiring during the tournament to highlight. But…things change. Things we assume to be a constant like March Madness have been canceled. Things we expect to do aren't there. It’s been an adjustment.
The first night we were urged to stay home in Ohio was the evening of Friday the 13th. How fitting. I picked my daughter up from school around 5:30 p.m. because she and the rest of the sixth grade had a field trip. The pick-up line was pretty typical. Parents chatting with their pre-teens about their day at outdoor education. The students were in good spirits, laughing and hugging each other as their parents pulled up.
We talked about the fact that everything for the weekend was canceled and schools were to be on “an extended spring break” for three weeks. We were in shock and knew things were about to get weird, but at the moment, things were normal. In a matter of just a few hours, everything changed. We decided to take a drive to our favorite park to exercise our puppy. On the way home, the streets were deserted. And not just backstreets. We drove for minutes on the main drag in town before passing another car. It was eerie.
I spent the weekend getting things ready to homeschool. I set up places for each kid to keep their books and assignments. I cleaned the basement so we could physically travel somewhere else to “go to school”. We started on Monday and honestly, things went well. The kids were excited and they made it a really fun day.
And then via social media, all of us novice home school parents were inundated with ideas and suggestions. Things we could stream or use or subscribe to for free. It was exciting to see all these companies working hard to make things easier for us, but it was also a little overwhelming. I wanted to try everything. People on Facebook had so many suggestions. So many schedules. So many tips.
“Let’s put shamrocks in the window so we can hunt for them on our walks.”
“Don’t forget to draw with Mo Willems over lunch.”
“You should tune into the Cincinnati Zoo lifestream at 3:00.”
“You can do a virtual tour of museums.”
And, and, and…
By Tuesday, technically day one of actual homeschooling, I lost it. I was trying to airplay the zoo live-stream, but it wasn’t working. I freaked out and started yelling. My kids, who are already unsettled by all this, looked terrified.
That’s when it hit me. This is a marathon not a sprint. The kids have so many activities they want to do, but we keep stressing that we have plenty of time to do it all. I wasn’t taking my own advice. I was trying to do it all at once too. I’m going to mention a few things that are working for us, but if they feel like tips and you’re not interested in tips, please skip to the end. I totally understand.
Separate workspaces (no matter how small) seem to help. Originally I had the older two at one table and the littles at another. This led to a lot of unnecessary conflict. Once I separated them, they were able to work a lot longer without being a distraction to the others.
For my preschooler: I found that I was trying to do too much academically. On the fourth day of school, he woke up and said, “Do we have school today?” I was like, “Of course. We have school everyday.” As it was coming out of my mouth, I remembered that he actually doesn’t have school every day. This has been an almost daily question for him all year. And three days a week the answer is yes. So, why in only a few days did I forget that? He was tired. He isn’t used to going to school every day and he never has school in the afternoon. I backed off and he’s been much happier ever since. He’s watching more TV than usual because I do need to help the others with schoolwork, but I’ve also found fun things to fill his time like puzzles, LEGOS, and make-believe.
For my kindergartner: It’s all about routine. The older two kids have been great about participating in a sort of “calendar time” first thing because that’s the way the younger two start the school day.
Nora said, “We always write what we had for breakfast.” (I didn’t know that.)
I asked her, “Even that day when I let you eat a cookie for breakfast?”
She said, “I wrote it and Mrs. D. asked me if you knew that’s what I ate.”
Awesome. Anyway, my point is routine is important for little ones and it makes this “school at home” thing feel like school at school.
For my 3rd grader: I found something he’s excited about doing. He’s pretty much game for anything and he loves to learn, but one thing he really liked was getting on a website called Kids A-Z. Like other learning apps, they’re doing a free period to help parents. They have a virtual library of books similar to the baggy books kids read each week in our district. I was able to find a great selection of short nonfiction books on his reading level. He loves nonfiction, but they aren’t the books we have at home, so he was pretty excited. He read books about the Titanic, storms, and color-blindness. It’s a little thing, but sometimes the little things make these situations more fun.
For my 6th grader: I needed to remember to make time for her to be social. On Friday morning, I heard her in the other room laughing with a friend on FaceTime and she looked happier than I'd seen her all week. Socializing is currency for middle schoolers. She needs to FaceTime and text her friends. She needs to laugh and talk about silly things and just feel like life is normal. She’s been a champ about getting work done and helping me with the other kids, but in order to keep her smiling, I need to make sure she is socializing. Loneliness compounds itself and can turn into worse emotions really quickly.
If I’m honest, time with my family and no commitments is something I’ve pined for in busy times. It doesn’t take long to see what’s important when everything ceases and it’s just you and your family. When this is all over, I’ll miss this time we got to share. I’ll miss game nights and movie afternoons. I’ll miss taking a long time to make a big dinner and daily walks. I’ll miss the slowness. So, while I have it. I plan to enjoy as much as I can. I hope you can too.