Before we get into today’s piece, let’s get a few things clear from the top:
- My wife and I have five… yes, one, two, three, four, five… kids at home with us right now. They range from 9 to 17, but frankly that doesn’t matter*. There are five of them. Our lives weren’t set up for them being here all the time. (*After further review, it does matter. I was just sharing with a friend about the joys of being past diaper days. So yeah, I may have a slight advantage here with my older kids. Still, my professional skills are aligned with teaching college students. This is not that.)
- I’m starting this draft at 1:15pm Weds afternoon on my lunch break from my 9–5 (which now consists of Zoom meetings and emails from my sofa). My kids would / should be in someone’s classroom right now, not in the process of eating up all of my food.
- I’m writing this entry to think out loud about what I’m going to do with this new reality. I honestly don’t think my kids, nor many (maybe most) other kids nationwide, will be slamming lockers or making chalkdust smoke screens with two heavily used erasers until August or September when they start the new school year.
- I have a PhD in education. I co-founded an educational nonprofit and have taught undergraduate and graduate courses on education for years. You would think I have all of the answers.
- I have none of the answers. I do have some thoughts though. And some bigger questions that may help us change everything and produce more wins for more kids and communities in the longer run.
So now, let’s get into it.
First, for all of us parents at home now trying to craft some sort of educational experiences for our “students” (formerly known as our children), we are not homeschooling. How do I know? Because our kids were in school a couple of weeks ago. Home-schooled kids were already at home a couple of weeks ago. They have a path forward from here. We don’t.
That said, what we are doing is schooling while at home. What “schooling” could mean is a mixed bag. It might be checking in with your child to make sure they are doing whatever their teachers have posted on Google Classroom. It may be sitting down at the kitchen table with a printed packet from your district. Could be putting a “Go to Khanacademy.org” post-it note on your kid’s Switch. Or blowing dust off of chapter books. Or pulling out educational toys and crafts projects that the grandparents gave the kids three or four Christmases ago.
You could have also tossed in the towel (or never picked up the towel in the first place) and said to hell with it.
“Look, kid, welcome to the real world. Tighten up your resume. Yep, coloring in the lines is definitely a skill you can list.”
Or what better time than now to maximize the value of Disney+? (Or for those on a budget, the extended PBS Kids programming? Thanks PBS!)
The thing about this mess is that it’s all so overwhelming. Not only do we not know what’s happening in the world tomorrow, we also have no idea where to begin with doing school at home. Last week my Facebook feed was filled with virtual museum tours, daily homeschool schedules, a link to 250 Ivy League classes anyone can take online, free academic journal and book downloads, virtual K-12 lectures and meet ups, and calls to action to finally learn guitar. When? How? With what energy?
There’s also a larger equity conversation that must be had. Some kids don’t have the digital tools (device and/or service) to hop on a class Google Hangout. Some parents are still working at work and need the eldest kids to hold down the fort, or are entrusting younger kids — whose grandmom or older neighbor can no longer watch them out of health concerns — to play a season of NBA2K every day and not get into any trouble. Unsupervised online activity can be a bigger threat than not turning in a Google Classroom assignment on time.
None of this is easy. Here are some working thoughts to move us somewhere:
- Let your leaders lead. If you have kids who are on point with what they have going on, don’t try to put them on the schedule you downloaded from Pinterest. They got it already. Check in with them, show love, help when asked, and get them to share what they are learning and doing with you.
- Set fluid structure for the kids who need motivation. Consider the Pinterest schedule as a working template, not a must-do. Think in terms of what should be done in the week, and give your kids the flexibility to work it out, with periodic check-ins. If they get up at 8, cool. If they want to get up at 10 the next day, also cool. If they have an online session or something they need to do, make sure they are on schedule to get it done. But don’t worry about filling their day with structured things back to back. If you have the ability to keep their screen time managed, do that (and remind them about safety and smart choices online). Keep in mind, with all of this, they are experiencing a certain kind of trauma from being away from the regularity of friends and favorite teachers just as we are adjusting to all of the shifts and unknowns.
- Do not attempt to recreate school. I’m going to put a pin in the larger themes of this one, because it’s a lengthier conversation for a future entry. I do want you to consider if school’s always been the best fit for your child, and whether you’ve ever taken the time to really explore that idea. We’ll be back…
- Keep it simple. My oldest son and I spent an hour today talking about — you’ll never guess — COVID-19. We compared it to past epidemics / pandemics. We talked about the links to politics and the economy. We discussed the math and science behind a pandemic, in terms of spreading, testing, tracking, and creating and distributing vaccines. We talked about the limited access to clean water for far too many humans, thus their inability to do the all-important thing that seems so simple to us — washing hands. We hit science, math, economics, civics, sociology, world history, U.S. history, and literature (via some vocab) in our talk, and both of us left with things to look up so we can circle back. This was school today. Baking cookies is learning. Planning a quarantine food budget is learning. Having kids compute their NBA2K averages is learning. Inviting them to join you in your morning workout is learning. The possibilities are already in front of you so don’t look too hard.
- Do something together. Maybe it’s a book you all are reading and discussing, or an ongoing art project, or looking at things online together, but make some time to connect with your kids each week. In all of this chaos, maybe the biggest lessons will be the ones you discover about them.
To close, I must shout out the many educators and parents and educator / parents who make up my village. In particular I want to thank Aja from Kindred the Family Soul (who you need to follow on IG if you like good music!) for posting the hip hop inspired vocab list she and her 10-year-old worked out. It definitely informed this piece and took me back to this web project I stumbled across a few years ago. I had wanted to use the site as a bridge between old school and new school hip hop for my kids, but never got around to it. We’ve got some time now. Looking forward to that school day next week.
Dr. Brian Peterson’s post was originally published on Medium.