Saturday, 11 April 2020

What I learned during Homeschooling

Okay, the first thing. When we started Shelter in Place in the Bay Area, I thought I was going to have time to blog. Almost four weeks later, I’m finally typing. Okay… so how is everyone doing? Firstly, I have to acknowledge my privilege that I can reflect (read: complain) about this experience while many are facing a different reality and have much deeper reflections and genuine complaints. Yes, I’m still working as I’m technically considered an essential worker, but I’m a minimally essential -essential worker. Our office is only having us see pregnant patients and those with urgent issues. I made the decision to keep a patient on my schedule as she had twice been treated over the phone for a possible yeast infection in the past two months. Her exam confirmed my suspicion: herpes. That’s the extent of my heroism during this pandemic -I diagnosed a case of herpes. With a reduced patient load, I’ve been working half days. Since my swim meet was cancelled and we’re obviously not going to South Carolina for spring break, I’ve used the PTO that I was planning to take during this time. As Husband primarily works from home, he’s work hasn’t been impacted, except he is doing more conference calls as he isn’t traveling. When Kate’s school closed, we made the arrangement that he would move his morning calls as much as he could and I would come home in the afternoon, so we could split the homeschooling duties.

When Shelter in Place was first announced, I think many parents saw this Covid-19 Daily Schedule on social media outlets and like me thought.. okay that seems feasible… Only to realize that it was completely unrealistic. Husband’s colleague noted that there was no ‘Mom work time’ listed on the schedule, which doesn’t account that many of us are still needing to work while homeschooling, which really makes it hard to keep to a consistent schedule. It also hasn’t helped that we’ve had usually cold and very rainy weather, so opportunities to get outside have been limited. Sometimes Husband and Kate have to go out when the can. Emails from Kate’s school keep encouraging us to keep kids on a consistent schedule. It reminds me of the horrible book someone gave me when Kate was a newborn that suggested a strict regimen. Wake 7 AM. Eat toast and tea. Let baby kick on mat while you express 2 oz of milk. Yes, she was that precise. I threw the book in our garbage as it induced so much unnecessary anxiety.

I think the hardest thing about homeschooling is that you’re not separating home and school. Husband finds that to be the case about working from home. I’ve tried using our living room, which is a room we don’t often use to introduce a neutral space and one designated for school, but it isn’t really helping. One of my biggest challenges, it that we generally don’t interrupt Kate when she’s playing by herself. I refer this to her being in the ‘zone’ as often she’s engaging her imitation and sometimes doing something creative. I came home from work one day and tried to engage her in our lessons, but she was in the middle of creating a treasure hunt. She hid objects in her room and my room and then drew a map to find those objects. Can’t that be considered learning?

I started out with a rough schedule trying to accommodate some core learning concepts. 20 minutes of math, writing a letter to a friend each day and as a reward, we’d so some fun science experiments. It may have worked for a day or two. She really started resisting wanting to write, which killed me as it was only a few weeks ago she came up with the idea on her own to write a letter to Eliza Hamilton (which we did and sent to the Schuyler family estate and they wrote us back!). I decided to back off as I didn’t want to kill her interest in writing and she is still engaging in writing on her own. (Although not as much as I would like).

I hit Michels the weekend before the anticipated SIP order and picked up a few new crafts and projects, but I was careful not to go overboard, as I wanted to use the existing resources we already had at home. (We also went through two items that were meant to be birthday gifts for parties that were cancelled) I found some books about science projects or crafts to do with kids, which probably would have continued to gather dust on my shelf if not called upon during this pandemic. One book was more basic, but I noticed the ‘experiments’ were less about learning and more an opportunity to make a mess. The other book introduced more scientific principles, and not surprising she had less interest in those projects. One project involved making a hovercraft with a balloon, CD and a pop top water bottle lid. She didn’t give a shit about the hovercraft and instead she wanted to blow up the balloons to host a party for her Vamperina doll. She taped the balloons around the kitchen (In ROY G BIV order), set up a table and served a bowl of Pirate Booty. I had to start asking myself, was I doing these experiments for her or for myself? Thus, my first and most import lesson learned from homeschooling: lower your expectations. The next day, she left our project in progress set up for an outdoor picnic as we had a brief break from the rain. Zero fucks were given. Actually, I think she’s training to be the next Martha Stewart. Perhaps Freud could interpret it an expression of her frustration with the isolation and her desire to gather with her friends again -but she’s been hosting parties and events long before SIP.

I decided that I had to move forward with the notion that as long as she was engaging in some type of creative play that was not involving any screen time, I needed to be happy with that. Yet, it really worries me about how it will affect her readiness for Kindergarten. I’m not so much worried about the academic aspects as she is ahead of expectation in terms of being able to write her letters and she can do basic addition and subtraction without any problems. We’ve even introduced multiplication and division and fractions. I’m concerned about her attentions span, her ability to focus on her assigned task and her ability to follow directions. I keep trying to remind myself that it will be different when she is in a class with other kids and a teacher who is not me, but it is one of the many ways I tell myself this will all be okay.

During the second week of SIP, Kate’s school announced that they were going to start 30 minute classes via Zoom. Initially I thought this was a great idea as it would return a bit or “normalcy” to our hodgepodge routine. Not to mention, I was looking forward to having a bit of a break, especially in the early weeks when I was also dealing with an onslaught of work related emails. I was observing that not only did Kate struggle to pay attention to a task, but she absolutely lost her shit if I diverted my attention away from her. It was to the point that she would even act out or feign some emergency just so that I would put down my phone. I had to make a rule with myself to only look at my phone for work purposes when I overheard Kate playing with her dolls and she told them “I have to look at my phone to learn about the coronavirus” Anyway, getting back to Zoom. It was a total fail. Kate had no interest in the classes. It was a battle each day to get her to sit and participate. I reached out on and was relieved when other parents reported a similar struggle. It was also interesting to hear parents with older kids who thought that Kate’s age group was a little young for the Zoom classes.

Then her school announced that they were adding a second class and I lost it. For the first time, I was close to tears. I emailed her teacher asking for help trying to get Kate to engage in this classes. Her response; “Maybe Kate is not interested in online learning at this time. Perhaps she could do some coloring or look at books” I thought that was sort of a cop out. I am much more sympathetic than Husband for understanding why were are paying tuition for this month (we want teachers to get paid and the school to remain open) but I do like to feel that I am getting something for the money we are paying. Plus, I didn’t like setting a prescient that she can just skip out of something school related if she just doesn’t feel like it. Yet, I was dreading a second daily battle to force her to sit in front of my iPad.

When Husband went in to pay our April tuition, he actually received some helpful insight from the school’s Secretary. She reported that some other parents admitted to her that their kids were struggling and she commented that Montessori kids are used to hands-on learning, so the concept of video classes is very foreign to them. I could also appreciate that there is limited appeal in seeing all your classmates on a Brady Bunch screen set when you can’t actually talk with them as you’re all on mute. The receptionist even revealed that the decision to use online tools was controversial among Montessori teachers as Montessori methods are low tech. It also gave me the idea to set up our home to be more like her school. I started putting new pieces of “work” on our coffee table each night. It worked initially, she started selecting work without being prompted. Then she moved all the items so she could set up a “tea party” on the coffee table and she had a total meltdown when she found that I moved her tea party to replace it with new work.

Alas, I started to be less structured and tried incorporating regular tasks into learning experiences. One SIP project was to re-organize our utility closet. Kate helped me sort out batteries. We discussed the different types and sizes and introduced positive and negative charges. That totally counts as a science lesson. I also crushed all of our La Croix cans since we can’t take them to recycling, which was an opportunity to discuss volume and density. Some days are better than others. There are times when she really resists doing anything that involves learning and she just wants to play. Thus, I’m finding one of the hardest challenges is where is the fine line between being sympathetic to behavior changes due to the disruption in her normal routine, the fear about the situation (we’ve been honest about the seriousness of the virus and she knows that it “dies” people and many people have died -including one of my former colleagues) and when she is being a fucking little shit? Of course, an additional variable is that we’ve completely phased out naps. On the weekends, we would sometimes let her watch a show during what would be her nap time, just to give her some quiet resting time, but I’m really loathe to give her any more screen time during the day. I just try to remember that some of her bratty behaviors could be due to tiredness.

The best part of the day is when I have my gym classes. Our Cross Fit box has been doing classes via Zoom and it’s really helped me offset some of the “Quarantine Fifteen” (My eating is another issue). Although I work out regularly, I’ve found I need a consistent time otherwise I just procrastinate. (Interestingly Kate loves waving to my coaches while I’m working out). I’ve been parking the cars on our driveway to give her more space in the garage. One day she wanted to play soccer where she was diving on the ground to do dramatic goalie stops. I started to cringe as I was watching her get her clothes dirty (hey props to her for actually wearing her school clothes) but decided to let it go. Then I realized that by the time all this blows over, she’ll have outgrown the clothes anyway.

That’s what I feel is the hardest aspect about this situation. We don’t have a definite end date. My Cross Fit coach recently commented that it’s like we’re in a 5 RFT (Rounds for Time) WOD. Everyone is really pumped and energetic in the first two rounds. We had lots of ideas of what we would do, projects we would accomplish, but now after a few weeks we’re draining and just waiting for it to be over. I replied that it’s more of an AMRAP (As Many Rounds as Possible) for an unknown and undetermined amount of time, which makes it hard to pace yourself. I often feel as if I’m in a Groundhog Day loop. Work for five half days, go to Safeway on Saturday morning (early bird gets the TP) and Farmer’s Market on Sunday then wash, rinse, repeat. I approach my work routine by counting down to my next day off. Events that I had been anticipating, my swim meet, visiting my parents -cancelled. Are we going to have Memorial Day off and whee… it’s a solo picnic in our backyard… Trying to find a decent tree branch to do pull ups to keep the Murph tradition going... I sound like I’m venturing into complaining so I’m going to stop. Yet the uncertainty of everything is still a challenge. We were slated to go to Hawaii in August, I’m extremely doubtful that’s going to happen, are they going to be able to accommodate everyone in our timeshare at a later date? What to do about Kate’s summer school. Is she going to be able to start Kindergarten at the end of August? That’s only four months away. Don’t get me started about the uncertainty surrounding the election.

To all my friends out there in Blog World and Facebook Land, I still consider you dear friends and hope you are well during this scary situation. I’ve enjoyed reading all your suggestions for activities, expressions of frustrations and ability to laugh when we all need it. Just like we did with infertility, we’ll get through this together -the original social distancers