The advice can only take you so far. Here’s how I found what works for my family.
As a full-time remote-working mom of two, I was desperate for some advice on how to handle school at home this year when the district announced we would be all remote. With a kindergartener as well as his busy two-year-old brother at home, I was in uncharted territory, clueless to what school even looked like for a five-year-old.
I made QuaranteacherTara’s blog my map and compass from the start. As the school year kicked off, I followed every post and went to great lengths to take any bit of advice to heart. We prepared the learning environment (click here for more info), we made our charter (click here for more info), we made our checklists (here), and established our morning routines (and here).
Four weeks into the school year I felt like I had nothing to show for it except for a nice desk, some well-organized supplies, and on some days, two clothed children. There was no groove struck, no buy-in… nada.
Sure, we had a couple of okay days here and there, but most were either filled with stressful coercing or downright debilitating meltdowns. My busy work days made it a thousand times worse.
So what do you do when you’ve tried all the things and distance learning still isn’t working?
This was my reality two weeks ago. I had come to the end of my rope. I decided that I had given it my all but there were too many bad days and not enough good ones for this to be a sustainable model.
I was so frustrated that I considered calling the school and demanding that they reopen, but I have enough appreciation for the school workers, teachers, and, yes, administrators to understand that their backs are up against the wall too. So instead of leaning into the hope of remote learning ending, I began retracing our steps to figure out where things went wrong.
Per the advice of our son’s teacher, we had been keeping a journal of his days to see if we could identify where things start to go off the rails, kind of like a scientific experiment. For us this was clearly the start of the school day and returning to work after breaks.
I had been weighing the pros and cons of using rewards to help manage some of the behaviors we were noticing. I didn’t want to get into a loop where my kindergartener was only working to receive an incentive, however, our system was not working and something had to shift.
Around this time, my son had received a new gift - a new set of golf clubs and wiffle golf balls that could keep him entertained in the yard for hours. Too entertained it seemed. My gut told me these were the source of our latest issues.
With a heavy heart, the golf clubs that were not even a week old were taken away for a full nine days. We promised that if he had a better week, we would let him play with the golf clubs on weekends only. With very good behavior, we would even take him to the driving range for the first time.
It was like we had turned on a light switch. We had just turned a distraction into the best incentive.
After we removed this obstacle a few other things also became clear. We realized we had also gotten relaxed about a few rules such as no video games outside of certain days and no television until after 4pm. We quickly nipped those in the bud as well so there was no mistake that we meant business.
In retrospect, I can see that our son was looking to fill his time before and between classes but needed more direction from us on what to fill it with. To reuse a quote QuaranteacherTara has shared before, “Kids want and NEED boundaries,” and this does not just mean the hours leading up to and during class. It is the breaks, the after school rewards, and everything in between.
We are now six weeks into remote learning and I feel like the tides have turned. The past two weeks we have finally seen more good days than bad. I can honestly say it feels like we are starting to find our groove.
I am of the belief that any major life change takes six weeks to adjust to, so on that timeframe we are right on track. And while we would be lost and adrift at this point without people like my son’s teacher and QuaranteacherTara helping guide us along the way, sometimes parents have the best instincts, so keep checking in with your parental gut. Because at the end of the day, you know your child best.
Even when you do everything right, it can still go wrong. Don’t throw in the towel yet.
Study and take notes on your kid’s behaviors to find patterns of what works and where things start to go off the rails.
Kids want, and need, boundaries.
You know your child best. Trust your parental gut.
Guest writer Betsy Maher is the Director of Volunteer Services at Lincoln Park Zoo, and lives in North Chicago with her two sons and husband.