Virtual Learning has been an experience for all of us. It is not the school we signed up for and it is certainly not perfect. Our kids have had wonderful experiences with amazing educators who have gone out of their way to make the best of the situation. We have adjusted our norms and expectations to make our home the best possible learning environment for our five students. We have made mistakes, assumptions, and even some ridiculous rules. We have learned about each of our kids and how they like to learn, what they need to be successful, and how to deal with them when they are not doing it the way we think they should. I want to share our experiences of virtual learning with our five boys who represent:
I am writing this post, not because we have figured out the magic recipe to make it work perfectly, but because we have stumbled and sometimes those are the best learning experiences (and it always helps make us feel normal when we know other parents are going through the same things).
March: Our First Attempt
When school closed in March, my husband and I started creating a plan to manage our five boys, their schooling, their social emotional health, their physical health and our own jobs. We also had to manage the cancellation of baseball, soccer, and golf. And let’s not forget that we now had to manage all seven of us being home! All. The. Time. This was a huge adjustment for a family who is typically juggling two to three sporting or club events a night. Our family rarely shared a meal all together on a weekend because of everyone's schedule. Our home was more of a stopping place and now we were all home together.
We started organizing for virtual learning by creating baskets for each of the boys with school supplies, their materials, computers, and books. I created notebooks and journal topics. We rearranged the kitchen to serve as a work space. We hung a white board, we made colorful schedules and chore charts. We thought we were prepared. I felt like we made a great space where they would gather, work, learn, and maybe even do a craft or two. SIGH. Pinterest lied.
The first few days, things ran pretty smoothly. Kids got online, did their work. My husband and I got on our devices and attended meetings, and maintained the boys schedules. We took walks during lunch. I scoured Pinterest for fun, easy activities to do after school ended each day.
What we found was that the boys needed to move throughout the day. They needed to have more than one area of the house. They needed to be in a space that was not the center of the house. When the school year ended, we packed up the white boards, the containers, and the computers. And we got rid of the colorful schedule.
We took this time to relax. We spent lots of days at the pool. We camped in the backyard. We rode our bikes everyday and we did a lot outside. We took time to focus on each individual kid's interest. We did science experiments, painted, worked on sport skills, and played a lot of games together. We also encouraged everyone to read. One of the little boys wanted to read Harry Potter, but it was a little above his reading level. We got it on Audible and he started listening to it while he followed along in the book. When he finished each book, the family celebrated with a movie night.
Back to School
When summer was coming to an end and plans for the upcoming school year began, we made the decision to keep the boys home virtually. This was not an easy decision and it weighed heavy on us but we feel we made the best decision for our family. We discussed and weighed all the factors, the local cases, our families risk factors, and the plan for our local schools. We wanted to minimize our exposure, keep our kids transitions to a minimum and provide them with the best social experience we could under the circumstances.
We began to rethink how we would manage the fall and first few weeks of virtual learning. We started by asking the older boys what they needed for school. They said desks. I was waiting for some new innovative learning station or chair and they wanted desks. This was surprising to me. We offered keyboards, larger monitors, wireless mice, better lighting, flexible seating. They didn’t want any of it. They wanted desks, chairs, and their school issued Chromebook. For the most part, the big boys have done a good job with their school work and classes. We had a few rough patches with each of them. (More to come on gifted teenagers 🙃).
I figured I knew what the little boys needed, I was an elementary school teacher. So I painted and prepped a school room to look and feel like “school”. I found a low table, yoga ball chairs in various sizes, hung white boards, filled a shelf with pencils, markers, crayons and baskets for their books. I turned the closet into a “Book Nook”. I hung Christmas lights. I was sure this would be the place that everyone would want to learn. I talked with each of them about how they liked to learn and how that might vary for each subject.
When school started, no one used it. I was shocked and honestly, a little hurt. I thought it was the perfect space. I tried to force them to use it. I would even call and ask them where they were working. Each day when I got home, I would make them put their school supplies in the room. Kids were working in the living room, on the stairs, at the kitchen table and even in their beds. They were doing exactly what I had intended with the “school room”. They were using the space to create flexible learning spaces that worked for them. It was not how I learned in school or even how I arranged my classroom, but it was working.
We decided to let this go for a few days and then check back in with them. We have been in close contact with their teachers and have had positive reports. They were making gains and staying on task (for the most part). So, we let them keep being in charge of their learning spaces. I stopped fussing about the house and where school supplies landed. What mattered was that they were learning, they were happy, and they were healthy.
I have heard a lot of people saying that kids need to be back in school because they are falling behind. I am not going to debate this, but I would like to say that our little Harry Potter enthusiast has not been in a brick and mortar school since March. His reading ability has gone off the chart. On his last Scholastic Reading Inventory, he demonstrated a growth of 600 points since his last year's score. I understand that this is not the case for all kids (not even all the kids in our same house), but he has figured out a way to make it work and continue to make progress.
We have noticed that they have all become a lot closer. They were not just home doing virtual school, they were helping one another. Big boys helped the little guys with lunch or a difficult math problem. Little guys helped one another with chores.
They were also having a ton of fun. They liked having this time without parents-- They run in the house, wrestle and make memories that they will laugh about for years. And we love hearing about it, even though we have to act parental and tell them they need to be careful. We also have noticed that they don’t need to be entertained anymore. We used to plan weekend outings and events. The boys would ask “what are we doing this weekend? Can we go to jump park or the movies?” Now, they don’t ask. They make plans with one another to play a game, ride bikes, or have a movie marathon. I realize that some of this is because we are in a pandemic and we have not been going out but I also think that this is a product of being home and really getting to know one another.
Stay tuned for my next post. I will be diving into parenting two gifted teenagers. Each brings different qualities to the table and each has their own challenges.
Take care and stay safe.