Parents and kids need connection and caring not the stress of virtual learning

Doing school is important, but longterm, not creating more stress is a bigger win right now than any worksheet, any Zoom class, or any distance discussion.

I recently saw a headline go across my feed how the current distance schooling that parents of public schooled children are doing is not homeschooling, it’s crisis schooling. I didn’t have time to read it, because I’m actively schooling four children of my own, but I think that parents who are on the edge of a total breakdown trying to manage their own stress, work, and now the workload imposed on them from their children’s schools, can relate to that concept.

There is a viral Twitter thread by Sarah Parcak, the founding director of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, about why and how she emailed her 1st grader’s teacher to end their involvement in the virtual classroom and this year’s school experience. Shortly after this thread, Parcak was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship to write a book on “Surviving Collapse: The Global History of Human Resilience.”

Parcak isn’t alone in finding these virtual classrooms and distance ed programs overwhelming, even for highly involved and very well educated parents. My husband and I are both college-educated, highly tech-savvy people. We’ve actually homeschooled our children traditionally, as well, with our eldest only starting in-person public school this year in 10th grade for the first time. I’m home full time with them, working from home, able to track their evolving schedules and needs. I’m even a millennial and a digital nomad.

Despite all of this, this experience has been one of incredible frustration. It’s not the fault of the teachers, who I do believe are trying their very best to play a fast game of catchup in a situation that no one planned. But the system before us is unwieldy and hard for us to quickly scan and see what work is incomplete. There are intermittent technical issues, causing a smooth flow of work to abruptly end.

The children are not immune to the stress of our current situation. How could they be? Their routines and lives are on hold just as much as those of adults. Unable to see friends face-to-face, missing their activities, catching pieces of news that the adults in the home are talking about—they know that something big is happening, but they’re utterly powerless to have any control over any of this. Each of my children are fundamentally different people.

It’s irrational to try to recreate a school environment at home, during a total disruption to life as we all know it. Nothing is the same right now. Nothing feels the same. We don’t know when this will end. We can’t tell our children, “Just three more weeks…” because we can’t honestly promise that. With every part of our children’s worlds utterly different, we need to have grace and patience with them.

My focus right now isn’t on rushing through giant lists of provided school work. Honestly, in the long run, I don’t believe that is what matters most in this. Rather, I think our family background of homeschooling and knowing that this actually isn’t regular homeschooling with field trips, support groups, the ability to meet people in person for play dates, or just the ability to go to parks and decompress, frees us and shifts our focus. And I want to pass this along.

Doing school is important and worthwhile, but longterm, not creating more stress and angst and emotional problems for your children and in the family dynamic is a bigger win right now than any worksheet, any Zoom class, any distance discussion.

If you or your child is stressed by the uncertainty of the world, or it’s just altogether too much to manage, step back. This isn’t the make or break of your child’s educational future.

We can all get through this. And if some of the assigned work doesn’t get done, but instead your child reads a lot of books, or draws a lot of pictures, or creates some really cool memories of playing games with you instead? That’s more than fine. Tune in and do the things that bring your family benefit right now, and let go of the things that create strife. Your family is surviving a pandemic. This is a historic occasion and it’s absolutely acceptable if that alters how you approach things.