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What It's Been Like to Send Sloan to Kindergarten Virtually

Zooming into a new school year.
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In August, Sloan started kindergarten remotely. Watching her try to connect with a new group of classmates through a screen has been heartbreaking and frustrating, for our entire family, but, like so many families, we're trying our best to navigate and manage this new normal. Because G has taken on the enormous role of managing Sloan's remote learning, I asked him to write a piece with some of his tips and observations since I've always believed that the more we can share as parents, the better off we all are. xE

When we went into lockdown in March, Sloan was completing her final months of preschool. Though the opportunity to spend more time with her and manage some of her lessons was exciting, there wasn’t a lot of structure provided by the school early on so I started researching different apps and services to help build and expand on what I thought were the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic. 

Seeing the initial progress she made was like reliving some of her early developmental milestones; she was reading books, doing simple math problems, and learning a little bit of physical science. We also did a lot of free play and arts + crafts, which aren’t my strength, but I soon realized this time was ideal for unwinding and letting Sloan pursue her own interests, whether it was collecting plants outside, creating ant traps, or making traffic signs for her doorway. While she was nervous to start kindergarten, the lack of social interaction over the past months was even less desirable for her, so we started to get hopeful that over summer months, we’d collectively work together to reduce the spread and schools would be open this fall. We know how that went...

Before I share what our initial experience has been like, I would be remiss not to acknowledge how incredibly fortunate we are that we have the opportunity to work from home, have Sloan attend school remotely, and not worry about many of the hardships some families are struggling with during the pandemic. The school closures have a far-reaching ripple effect that includes food insecurity, increased likelihood of dropout rates, and decreased earning potential for future workers. The closures significantly impact lower income families more than anyone and the longer the pandemic persists the larger these issues become.

Needless to say, it’s not an ideal situation for anyone; the LAUSD teachers and administrators are exhibiting Herculean efforts to engage, educate, and manage their classes without much of a personal connection with the children. Parents are balancing multiple roles, while trying to create a semblance of normalcy, and kids are missing out on a crucial component of social development. Despite these challenges, our public school and kindergarten teacher has provided an amazing framework for Sloan’s classes and we’re cautiously optimistic there will be an opportunity to provide some in-person lessons in the coming months.

I know some families have transitioned to a full-time homeschool program, some are embracing unschooling, while others are opting to wait a year for their child to start kindergarten. Every family has to make the best choice for their child and family and while we’ve elected the traditional route, it hasn’t been a traditional start. Here’s how we’ve approached the first few weeks, and some early observations on what's worked best for us:

Having a schedule is essential. Many kids thrive with a consistent routine and Sloan is no different, as we learned early on. We began scheduling out the days in April, creating a framework that allocated time for work, play, and downtime. It allowed us to run our business, reduce the need to micromanage Sloan’s time, and mirrored a lot of the structure she’d experience in school. Ours looks something like:

6:00 am -7:30 am: Wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, play music
7:30 am - 9:00 am: Move our bodies, do something outside, free play
9:00 am - 9:45 am: School work
9:45 am -11:00 am: Free play (no screens or devices)
11:00 am - 11:45 am: School work
11:45 am- 12:00 pm: Free play (this is when I usually start some of my work)
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 pm - 1:30 pm: Quiet time (No screens or devices)
1:30 pm - 4:00 pm: Free play, dance class/kid yoga/something physical
4:00 pm - 4:30 pm: Wind down, shower/bath
4:30 pm - 5:00 pm: Sloan’s dinner
5:00 pm - 6:00 pm: Sloan’s TV time
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm: Family wind down time with card games, or similar
7:00 pm - 7:30 pm: Sloan goes to bed

Create a pod (if possible). This is a detail we’ve recently implemented with family friends who go to the same school, and we’ve seen immediate benefits to Sloan’s disposition and overall energy. Every Thursday, Sloan and a few trusted friends join for an afternoon outdoor lesson taught by a tutor. For as much as we've enjoyed spending time with her, it's clear how much she gets from spending time with children her own age (rather than locked up with her 30- and 40-something parents as her sole playmates...). It’s amazing to see any stress or frustration melt away after spending even an hour with a peer. LAUSD recently announced limited in-person lessons for special needs students, so I’m hopeful we’ll have the opportunity for more outdoor/in-person lessons in the coming months.

Be patient with the remote process. During the first week of school, I would linger within earshot of the Zoom classes, helping to clarify some of the teacher’s instructions, or explain the lesson. However, Sloan slowly began to focus on me, asking me what to do rather than focusing on the teacher and the class. This is a tough one to solve, because most of the kids forget to turn off their microphones and talk while the teacher is trying to explain the lesson, so Sloan would get frustrated and complain she couldn’t understand what was going on. I can’t replace what her teacher does, but in the short-term I’m serving as a pseudo-aide, trying to give her the freedom to learn independently, while helping to clarify details. I have faith that the kids will grow accustomed to the virtual learning, requiring less input from me.

Educators are not paid enough. Until you’ve witnessed a kindergarten teacher manage 15 to 20 five-year-olds on a Zoom call, you have no idea how patient a human can be. I’ve written a few emails to our teacher, praising the effort she’s doing, because the level of work and dedication she (and our school) is managing to put out is incredible, despite the massive disruption of distance learning. They are amazing and once this pandemic has passed, there should be a fundamental shift in education reform and compensation, because I consider them to be frontline heroes. 

I'd love to hear from any other parents—what has your experience been like? Share in the comments below so we can keep the conversation going. xE

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