I am not an expert in education policy, nor am I an expert in epidemiology. I’m an expert in one very narrow field of study: my kids.
Even though I have a college degree, I decided to stay home after my son was born. No matter what my training was, I could not bring myself to leave him. So, for almost ten years, I was a stay-at-home mom who took her job very seriously.
To make sure my son was always developing his language skills, I filled our house with books. Every single day we read together. Our lives became the stuff of many adventures, from hiking, trips to the park, visits to the zoo, and even just playing around in the back yard. Together, my son and I learned through, doing, playing, reading, and seeing the world.
I raised my kids with care, and I made a conscious decision to be there for every single milestone: the first step, the first word, potty training, and even their first day of school. Because I was there for the phase where kids learn the most — those important years between zero and three — and have spent so much time observing and talking to my kids, I know immediately when something is wrong.
Once both of my kids started public elementary school, I knew it was time for me to get back to work. For the past two years, I have worked remotely from home. To be sure, in many ways we are lucky. My job was uniquely suited to continue in March when the coronavirus lockdowns began. While my two kids transitioned to remote learning, however, I had to try to keep doing my job. As a result, this became an extremely stressful process for all of us.
Truth be told, until the public schools went to remote in the spring I never seriously considered homeschooling. It didn’t take long for me to realize that remote learning was not going to work for my family. The plan seemed to change every week or two. We had trouble finding and completing assignments, trouble attending Zoom meetings, and every time my daughter logged on to the computer to work ended with both of us in tears and me losing an entire day. What I experienced with remote education was essentially a complete loss for my kids.
Out of sheer frustration, I applied to create a homeschool in the first week of April. At that time, however, the school district would not allow me to withdraw my children. The prospect of returning to exclusively remote education was unacceptable, so I took matters into my own hands and began supplementing the education of my kids at home.
We read classical novels to discuss. We kept working on math with grade-leveled workbooks purchased on Amazon. I even identified areas where my daughter, who was an A student, was struggling and needed a lot of extra help. I added “Little History of the World” by E.H. Gombrich to my nightly read-aloud list before bedtime. I bought state capital flashcards, and we talked about the states over dinner, oftentimes pulling out a map or a globe. I continued to facilitate Zoom meetings, so my kids could meet with their teachers, and half-heartedly encouraged them to continue with their “school work.”
Amidst all of this, I vowed that we would not be held hostage by the school in a remote setting again. When we started our summer break, I was relieved. By then, we had worked our way into a good routine where my kids were both learning and entertained. Best of all, I was able to work a few hours each day.
So, when our school district made the call to start the school year remotely, I made it my mission to withdraw them for the 2020-2021 school year.
We began our new school year on August 3, 2020, with a full curriculum. We started a few weeks early to create a buffer in case there was a bumpy road ahead.
As I’m working with a fourth and fifth-grader, things aren’t as simple as they used to be. This year, along with Math and English Language Arts, we will be studying biology and American history. I intentionally chose subjects where I have a strong knowledge base and, because we are a family of book worms, picked a curriculum that focuses on literature.
Thus far, things are going surprisingly well. I have made a few adjustments to our schedule, trying to build in some flexibility while realizing I don’t need to try to reproduce the classroom. As it turns out, we accomplish more every day in less time than when my kids went to public school. Who knew?
Once I removed the remote middle man, things at home school became much easier. I am not trapped by someone else’s schedules or worried about someone else’s rules. More importantly, my kids are no longer suffering from the anxiety online education caused them. Even though my kids were great students, they weren’t enjoying their public school experience all that much to begin with. At home, we can focus on our weak areas without fear of embarrassment. And, at home, there are no bullies.
Parents are essential for the healthy growth and development of every child. Although certainly not perfect, because we have a strong nuclear family, I can lean on my husband to continue working full time, so I can focus more energy on ensuring my kids continue to learn. At the end of the day, and at the inevitable end of this pandemic, it’s parents who will ensure that their kids continue to learn and develop; it’s parents who’ll be ultimately responsible for their success or failure.
Of course, not every parent is capable of staying at home with his or her kids. Some children will be forced to learn remotely from a daycare center without a licensed teacher to help them (although I cannot fathom why daycare is safe but school is not). The school board and teachers union, however, have decided that school is not so essential. I wonder how many families will be willing to wait until teachers are ready to return to work?
In the meantime, for those who have the ability, I encourage parents who find themselves feeling like me to cut ties with the institutions who have done nothing but cause chaos for parents for the past six months. It may not be ideal, but I guarantee it will be better than the alternative.