No one can fully predict the long-term effects of our children missing out on in-person instruction. As I write this, Los Angeles students are halfway through the current school year. And don’t forget, they finished up the last few months of the last school year from home.
That’s a whole lot of missed school experiences. And I’m not even talking about the big ones like school-wide celebrations of Halloween, wearing the birthday crown and having your classmates sing to you, exchanging Valentine cards with your classmates. There are thousands of smaller, yet just as significant, moments our kids missed while our schools are closed.
I’m looking at all this from two perspectives. I’m the mom of a seventh-grade boy. But I’m also a former elementary school teacher with twelve years’ experience (I taught kindergarten, fourth, and fifth grades).
My most important job as a mom is the same as my most important job when I was a teacher – to keep “my kids” (my son now, my students then) healthy and safe.
For now, that means distance-learning. But oh, how my heart breaks for our kids.
Distance Learning is Not Ideal for Anyone
And let’s be clear, it’s not our teachers’ fault. I don’t envy them in the least. Not one of these teachers chose to teach through a screen. They are working at an extreme disadvantage while many of them are also trying to make sure their own kids are learning from home as well.
So it’s not a great situation all the way around. But it is necessary. For now.
Most of us would agree that our kids need the social and emotional learning that goes hand-in-hand with attending school in person. (Not to mention the academic learning just isn’t the same when it’s conveyed through a screen.)
But no matter how I try to look at it through a glass-is-half-full perspective, I can’t deny that while our kids are distance-learning, they are missing out on all sorts of opportunities.
All the Missed Opportunities
Opportunities for affection. Nothing quite compares to a teacher’s physical encouragement and affirmation. A high-five. A fist-bump. A pat on the back. A shoulder squeeze. A hug.
Opportunities for discomfort. That sounds odd, but what I mean is that our kids need to learn how to handle being away from home and feeling awkward and/or uncomfortable. You know what I mean – the feeling of frustration when you’re required to sit next to your least favorite classmate.
Being assigned a seat in the back of the classroom, because the teacher sits students alphabetically, and you’re really more of a front-of-the-classroom type of student. These less-than-ideal circumstances, may sound somewhat trivial, but to a young child, they are challenges to one’s effort and focus that must be overcome.
Opportunities for cooperative learning and hands-on learning opportunities. Opportunities to learn from a classmate – how to solve a math word problem, how to graph the equation.
Sometimes a child needs to hear a different explanation, see a different way of doing something besides the teacher’s. Students just can’t create and produce in small groups when they’re distanced. And our kids are not being exposed to more kinesthetic, hands-on learning when they’re at home. They’re not conducting science experiments, seeing first-hand what items magnets stick to, for example.
Opportunities for social interactions. I know for my son, distance learning is lonely. Our kids are missing out on all the socialization, the playtime, the snippets of conversation that happen when lining up for the day, during recess and lunch, on those buddy-walks to the restroom.
And, our kids aren’t having to navigate the tricky issue of peer pressure when they’re home. At different ages, obviously, peer pressure means different things. For our younger kids, it can be as simple as trying to decide to follow the rule and not run on the yard as opposed to doing what your best friend is doing and run to the play area, because the supervision aide isn’t looking.
Opportunities for movement. Our kids’ bodies are not meant to be sitting in front of a screen for hours each day. We struggle/argue/negotiate about screen time, and now we demand/cajole/expect our kids to sit in front of the screen, to participate, and to have a good attitude while doing it. At school, our kids are always moving. They line up multiple times throughout the day. They walk to the computer lab, they stand for the flag salute, they run laps during P.E.
Opportunities to further develop their independence. A school is a child’s space, his/her domain. A chance for a child to break away from the family dynamic and familial roles. I was always surprised, for example, when a parent would tell me their child doesn’t hang up a jacket at home, and didn’t realize the child used a hangar to hang a jacket in our classroom closet.
Finding the Hope
It’s so easy to look at everything this pandemic has taken from us, from our kids. And there’s no denying that. But I’m hoping in time we, and our kids, will see this pandemic has given them skills and growth opportunities we never could have imagined.
I’m hoping that when faced with challenges and obstacles in the future, our kids won’t be daunted. They’ll look back at this pandemic and realize if they can make it through this, they can make it through anything.
Let’s be honest. When LAUSD closed schools in March 2020, for what was supposed to be two weeks, if we had been told then that schools would actually be closed for a year, we would have all been up in arms. We would have been screaming and crying, certain there was no way we could do it. No way our kids could do it.
But we are doing it. Our kids are doing it. Our kids are gaining valuable life skills – perseverance, adaptability, creativity, and resilience. This may not have been the way we would have liked our kids to learn these skills, but nevertheless, that’s the situation. We need to look at all this not just from what we’ve lost, but what we’ve gained. The lessons, the perspectives, the gratitude that will help guide us all as we slowly start to return to a new version of “normal.”
Wendy Kennar is a mother, writer, and former teacher who has lived her entire life in the same Los Angeles zip code. You can read more from Wendy at her website WendyKennar.com where she writes about books, boys, and bodies (living with an invisible disability).