In the wake of a pandemic, what’s the best way to manage a household, professional work, and children’s learning? That is a question on many parents and caregivers’ minds, including those of Digital Promise team members.
To be clear, we at Digital Promise recognize the privilege we have in being able to work remotely—let alone being able to continue to work at all—for an employer that is particularly attuned to supporting parents. With this privilege, we understand our responsibility to offer research and resources to help families, schools, teachers, and students who are navigating a new reality of learning. Some of our team members with children ranging from infants to high schoolers provided their personal insights and missteps below because we are figuring this out along the way, like many of you, and hope others may find value in reading about our experiences.
Nick Schiner (Infant and Pre-K Parent): I think it is important to level set that, just because I am an educator, I don’t feel like I have all (or any!) of the answers. As a family, we are balancing working, learning, and playing, and still have not settled into what many would call a “routine.” We frequently move between exploring the backyard (my 3-year-old son has an affinity for counting HVAC units), building train tracks, watching movies, and playing educational games. It never feels like enough and I want other parents and educators to know that feeling is normal and means we’re doing the best we can!
Lydia Logan (Infant and Pre-K Parent): My son Lucas normally attends a Montessori school as a preschooler. He thrives on the Montessori method that involves a lot of student voice and choice in learning. When we found out we would be homeschooling for a time, I decided to set up a schedule that incorporated several elements of his classroom with a mix of on and offline activities. I then set up an ambitious schedule that I thought we would be able to keep up for him. I quickly realized that working full-time and having an active toddler in the house, as well as a 5-month-old baby, would require me to adjust my expectations. We are now picking themes of the day: a color, number, letter, shape, and animal that we can learn about each day through 1:1 discussion, apps, videos, outdoor observations, and books. Despite all of the daily chaos and what I was viewing as an epic fail of homeschooling, Lucas is definitely learning something. He asked me to cut his breakfast sandwich into quarters. When I cut it in half, he said, “No, Mommy, four pieces!” Applied math is happening in the Logan home.
Dan Foreman (Infant and Pre-K Parent): I live in Pittsburgh with my partner Molly and two sons, ages 3-and-a-half years and 7 months. We split the time between me working, her teaching virtual yoga lessons, and parenting. We try to give each other breaks from work and breaks from the kids. For my 3-and-a-half-year-old, I have been taking the time to go deep with whatever he is interested in. Currently, he is interested in space so we watched a few videos about the planets before drawing them, and I helped him to remember the names of them in a song. We then made planets out of clay. We even made up a planet of our own and described what it would be like and how far away it is. This led into him asking questions about plants, animals, geology, and geography. This led us to watch more videos about those subjects, taking a walk outside and looking at plants, animals, rocks, and hills. We collected rocks and leaves and are now going to try and identify them.
Kristen Franklin (Pre-K Parent): Our preschool class started a WhatsApp group, where parents have been sharing pictures and ideas on keeping our kids moving and engaged. While my husband’s work is on hiatus due to the pandemic, he’s leading a weekday storytime via Zoom for our preschool class. Since the start of our shelter in place, storytime has morphed into a time for all parents to share a story, lead a dance session, or most recently host a music class. There’s been an uptick in screen time, like a free trial on the Dr. Seuss app so my child can have books read to her when my husband and I both need to concentrate on more pressing issues. We’re leaning into lots of imaginary play, baking, building towers, and books. Grandparents will be reading books over video chat in the coming days.
Kelly Mills (Pre-K Parent): My daughter, Nora (2-and-a-half years old), has been locked up with me and her grandmother for some time now. We read LOTS of books, and lots of the same books. Fox in Socks, anyone?! Other than that, she’s been helping her grandmother around the house—cooking, laundry, and cleaning. We’ve tossed around the idea of some sort of quarantine potty training … we’ll see how that goes (or not).
Carly Chillmon (Pre-K and Elementary School Parent): My kids are active, very active. Learning needs to be flexible and allow for silliness and a hint of whimsy. GoNoodle, a website offering movement and mindfulness videos, keeps my kids laughing and moving. Also, having my kids play with cushions, pillows, and blankets to create forts, trains, magic dragons, and yet-to-be-known creations is much-needed fun. It also forces me to take a break from my work and reminds me to breathe. Yes, I need reminders to breathe and I make plenty of mistakes. But, keeping space for silliness is letting my kids and myself have room to cope and grow.
DeLisha Sylvester (Pre-K and Elementary School Parent): I am the mother of two children who are six and a half years apart. Keeping my son entertained as he attaches himself to my hip every other second, homeschooling my 8-year-old, and working 40 hours a week has been trying. Luckily, I was homeschooled so I find time within my day to make sure that I sit with my daughter and listen to her read, or do silly dancing with my son. I do this because it matters to me to keep their lives normal. I realize my daughter is not only missing classmates and teachers, but she is also missing her grandparents and the outside world she knows and loves. She has been able to adapt with Zoom calls with classmates, online homework (IXL.com), and a packet of work her school sent home. It doesn’t always go as planned, but we are working together to make it the best experience.
Medha Tare (Kindergarten Parent): Working while parenting and schooling is tough, even with as many resources as we have. So far, we have used a combination of videos posted by my daughter’s teachers, workbooks, family walks, and PBS Kids shows that are educational. She has also FaceTimed with grandparents, who can read her stories and talk with her while she plays so she is maintaining personal connections. My work on the Learner Variability Project has also helped me think of strategies for how I and other parents can support their children’s learning at home through play and creativity (e.g., Lego play to inspire fiction writing; word walls with Post-Its).
Vic Vuchic (Elementary and Middle School Parent): My son is in third grade and my daughter is in sixth grade. Balancing work and learning right now makes me feel like a clown; I’m juggling a lot. Everyone is set up with devices to make sure we can all move forward. My daughter is independent and has Zoom meetings from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. that go through her curriculum. My son is younger so that is more challenging. His school district is using the Altitude Learning platform. He has assignments to complete, but it’s hard with consistency. He still needs more support and he has lots of questions. Breaks are important for everyone and you need to be adaptive. It’s okay to let some things slide. You can make that push for learning, but you need to be flexible and meet kids where they are at and make sure they have time for friends as well.
Jeff Wayman (Middle and High School Parent): We’re focusing on intrinsic learning. Isolation is hard for teenagers, and even though we encourage them to FaceTime with their friends, boredom is a real thing. On the bright side, this boredom has driven them toward self-directed learning opportunities and we are fortunate to be able to support those. For instance, our daughter is teaching herself basic psychology and our son wrote a film study of Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl LIV. Yeah, it’s not formal learning, but it’s important—I mean, when’s the last time they had control over their learning, maybe preschool?
Judi Fusco (High School Parent): I’m working to help my kids have a little bit of normal in their lives. Before COVID-19, they had great activities they loved doing, and enjoyed school. Now, they can’t go to school and can’t see their friends (in person). It happened abruptly. I let them cry and cried along with them as they mourned. My senior in high school is especially sad because of the lost celebrations, other rites of passage, and chances to say goodbye to high school. Their school is working with them remotely, and it’s not too intense, but that’s good. It’s a good distraction. I’m trying to give them space to go outside when they need it, and to be on FaceTime or Instagram, or whatever they need to make this bearable.
Tabatha Mason (High School Parent): My teenagers are very independent and don’t require much help with actual school work; however, they have never been in a world with less structure. To accommodate every student, there are limits to the requirements their teachers can place on them—which means online learning can happen at any time. That kind of flexibility requires an amount of self-regulation for which they have never been prepared. I have found that maintaining things like start and stop times, meals, daily exercise, and reasonable sleep are essential to the mental and physical health required to deal with school, in addition to the loss of social connection, normal routine, and collective anxiety of ongoing COVID-19 happenings.
As we are all learning how to navigate home-based learning, consider sharing your story and be part of a new Digital Promise blog series on the powerful learning that’s happening across the country. If you’re an educator or parent/caregiver adapting to school closures, we want to hear about your experiences.