With COVID-19 still making physical proximity an exercise in risk analysis, the task of educating children has proven to be yet another 2020 event wreaking havoc on everyone involved.
Teachers, students, parents, and administrators are all getting schooled by the challenges of teaching children in a safe and effective manner.
Whether we wanted it or not, distance learning on computers at home has emerged as the top teaching method that we are all learning to hate.
With 3 kids in elementary school this year (plus a 3-year-old running around wondering what the heck is going on) we’ve got our hands full.
And while the shortcomings and frustrations of distance learning are obvious, dissected in detail online, and incredibly accurate, I’ve discovered there have been a few unexpected benefits to this crazy experiment as well.
Now that we’re over 3 weeks into our distance learning journey, rather than focus on all the broken, jacked-up, nonsensical aspects of the whole process (of which there are plenty), I thought I would take a moment to focus on a few of the bright spots that have emerged.
Now, before I start, I have to point out that one huge advantage our family has is that by working the past 15 years to reach financial independence and retiring at the age of 40 last year, my wife and I are both full-time stay at home parents now.
As I shared in my last subscribers-only email, I never knew that this is what I would be doing in retirement, but not knowing what the future holds is one of the biggest reasons we worked so hard to achieve financial independence.
As you work your way toward achieving your financial goals, always recognize that you are also working toward a future of flexibility that will benefit you in ways you probably never imagined.
A global pandemic, quarantines, wearing masks, and schooling my children at home weren’t on my early-retirement bingo card, but all of these things have been easier because of the sacrifices we made in the past.
With that out of the way, here are 5 great things we’ve discovered while doing distance learning with our kids.
1. Incredibly Flexible Schedules
Our initial idea of distance learning was that the kids would be glued to their seats on their computer for 7 hours a day with only breaks for lunch and maybe a recess time.
It turns out, their schedules are much more flexible than that.
There are lots of 10 and 15 minute breaks scheduled into their day, which in hindsight makes absolute sense. No elementary school kid is going to sit in a chair all day and enjoy life.
Instead, when the kids get breaks between classes, they can come downstairs and play, go outside and ride bikes, jump on the trampoline, start a game of Battleship, or any number of things that are simply impossible when they are physically at school.
For example, our son, who’s in 5th grade, will come bounding downstairs between classes to hang out on the couch with the family, join a game of UNO that’s happening, or to get a snack. Sometimes he’ll grab his art notebook and start drawing a dragon or a racecar with rockets and lasers.
Our kindergartener with loads of energy will come racing into the living room and jump on my back for a piggyback ride through the house.
And our 4th-grade daughter, will often go find the 3-year-old and spend a few moments playing whatever imagination game she’s cooked up.
(The 3-year-old has had the biggest adjustment because her 3 best friends were suddenly unavailable to play with her all day like they could during the summer. She’s often the first to tackle them as they emerge from their study spaces.)
Having the kids be able to take advantage of their breaks in the day in a wide variety of ways has been a huge bonus.
While their breaks don’t always sync up, we’ve discovered that all of them have an extended break around 9 am, so that’s when we open the garage, get out all the bikes and scooters and rollerblades and play outside for 30 minutes or so before each of them heads “back to school” at various times for their next class.
This flexibility in their schedules has been a wonderful and unexpected benefit of distance learning.
2. More Time with the Kids
I know, I know. More time with the kids might not sound like a huge benefit, but hear me out.
When we first have kids we often hear from others with older children that they grow up fast and how quickly the time slips by.
That doesn’t always feel like a true statement in the middle of a level 5 tantrum or during the 700th game of Candy Land, but I can still remember the day my son was born like it was yesterday, and now he’s a 10-year-old in the 5th grade!
The time truly does go by quickly regardless of our exasperation level in any current moment.
Now that doesn’t mean that I spend every waking moment catering to my kids’ every desire. That’s a surefire way to never want to spend time with them ever again.
But I do recognize that every moment I spend with each of them right now is a moment that never would have happened if they were at school. (Or if I was still working. 😲)
So when my son comes downstairs and asks to throw the football for 10 minutes before his next class, I enjoy the moment.
When I’m balled up on the floor with the little girls in a tickle fight or running like banshees through the kitchen chasing the “bad guys” I can enjoy those moments as precious gifts.
I can also tell them that daddy needs a break and to go play on their own when I’ve had enough gifts for the day because I know part of my job as a parent is helping them regulate the amount of “gifts” they expect and need from me as well. 😉
Learning to enjoy and balance these special moments has been a wonderful addition to our distance learning adventure.
3. More Awareness of What They’re Doing
Probably one of the coolest things for me has been the ability to actually sit in class with my kids and watch what they’re doing and how they are learning.
This is most pronounced with our precocious kindergartener.
She’s in the dual-language program at school learning Spanish. We knew this was going to be a challenge for her because the teacher speaks entirely in Spanish, and our daughter understands none of it.
While sitting in front of an iPad is not the most ideal learning structure for a 5-year-old, it has allowed me to sit alongside her and watch her interact with the lessons, songs, and games her teacher is sharing.
Being her first year of school, she doesn’t fully realize how messed up this learning method is, so it has been refreshing to see her eagerness to engage no matter how goofy or crazy it all looks to me.
I’ve also been able to sit in the older kids’ classes and actually see and hear what they’ve been learning.
Back in the BC (before-COVID) when our kids went to school, we were mostly dependent on them communicating back to us what they did each day and what they learned.
They weren’t always the most forthcoming with those details.
But now it’s like I’m sitting in class right next to them…because I’m sitting in class right next to them…and I can see and hear everything that is going on in their class.
Having that kind of immediate insight into their education has been incredibly beneficial and quite fun.
4. Having a More Active Role in Their Learning
We know that education is important for our kids, and most of us as parents outsource this task to professional educators by sending our kids to school.
That’s not a bad thing. Afterall, teaching is a profession, a gifting, and a calling that not all parents have or necessarily want.
But it’s also true that we will always know our own kids better than a teacher ever can, and distance learning has allowed us to take a more active role in their learning, and that’s a good thing.
Portions of their school day are scheduled for independent learning in various subjects such as reading, math, music, or art, but we have chosen to have them do what we believe is most beneficial for them individually during that time instead.
Our son excels at math, so some days we might have him read a book or draw a picture during his scheduled math time.
Our 4th grader excels at reading, so we might have her do some math or social studies assignments during her reading time.
Or we might decide that they’ve been sitting in front of a computer long enough for one day and just send them outside to play instead.
As parents, we have a lot more control over their schedule and activities than we ever did when they were going to school, and that flexibility has allowed us to help them grow in areas they might otherwise neglect on their own.
More bonus points for distance learning.
5. Stronger Connections with Teachers
While none of us have said it out loud to each other, there is a strong awareness among both the teachers and the parents that this whole distance learning thing sucks!
With this common enemy foisted upon all of us against our will, there has been much more authentic communication, and more gracious communication, with our kids’ teachers.
On the first day of school when the entire district learning portal crashed (Of course it did!), we had 3 teachers emailing us and telling us what was happening and what to do.
As parents, we knew the learning portal crashing wasn’t the teacher’s fault, and yet here they were on the front lines having to communicate and manage the expectations of all the parents of their 20+ students.
Our response to our kids’ teachers?
“No worries. Not a big deal. We’ll all get through this. You’re doing an amazing job!”
No need to give them grief. It’s not the teacher’s fault 2020 has been a flaming basket of poo.
Likewise, when we get a text from a teacher asking if our daughter is having trouble connecting to her Zoom call, we get to quickly respond, “Nope. She was just playing games in another tab. Whoopsie!”
Simply put, on the front lines of our kids’ education, grace is being handed out with much more regularity than in years past, and that has truly been a delight.
Always a Silver Lining
Make no mistake, distance learning is not an ideal solution to anything, but there have been some silver linings to this otherwise bitter and frustrating cloud.
If I choose to focus on the good things, then the days aren’t as bleak, the hiccups aren’t as devastating.
We will get through this, and it’s quite possible that when I look back on this chaotic moment in time with many years of healthy distance between us, I may remember it a bit more fondly than I do right at this moment.
But I’m selfish and don’t want to wait that long. 😉
How has your schooling journey been going with your kids? Has there been anything about distance learning that has surprised you…in a good way? Let me know in the comments.