Friday, December 4, 2020

Parenting in the Pandemic: Episode 2, "The Doom of Zoom"

 If any of you have had the pleasure of meeting my eight-year-old, Elliot, you know that he is a very active boy. My dad likes to compare him to a 1950's boy. If he's not on his bike, he's got his bow and arrow trying to shoot turkeys from our deck. And yes, one time he thought perhaps he could chase away a bear with his bow and arrow. I reminded Braveheart that his dull-tipped arrows probably would just make the bear mad! And give his mother a heart attack!

This same little boy who loves the outdoors, finding mischief and experimenting also doesn't do so great with screens. I've read plenty of examples of how screens affect kids' brains (adults, too by the way), but with older brother, Ethan, I never saw dramatic changes in behavior. Elliot is a different story. The word screen zombie is a real word in our house that we try to avoid. Screen time for Elliot is short and a sweet treat.

So, you can imagine when schooling went remote what that was like for Elliot! Welcome to the doom of Zoom. 

Now, before I go any further with this blog, I want to make something very clear. Teachers, ALL teachers right now and seven months ago, well and forever actually, are amazing. I can not even fathom trying to teach a classroom of second graders. Remotely! Are you kidding me? Yet, that's exactly what our teachers were called to do. Not because they got some pay raise or bonus. I'm pretty sure teachers don't get those, yet they have been asked to accomplish the impossible. And now, those same teachers who rallied in the spring are teaching in-person, risking their lives for our children. They are teaching blended classrooms and remote classrooms. Many of them simultaneously. Have you ever been asked to go ahead and do three jobs AT THE SAME TIME? For the same pay? They are true heroes.

Back to Zoom. We knew pretty quickly that Zoom wasn't going to work for Elliot. We watched as the active boy turned morose, couldn't focus, was having toddler-like meltdowns. This, happening while both my husband and I are remoting into our jobs. A meltdown in the middle of a virtual court hearing is not a good idea!

Once upon a time in 2000, I had gone to college to earn a BA in English Education. No, not early childhood education. But I wasn't a complete dummy on the subject. We made a super hard decision. One that we are not alone in making as thousands of other families across the globe were in our exact situation. We unenrolled Elliot from public school. I jumped on and reviewed the State Standards for second grade and third grade, bought curriculum books and created a schedule. 

I would like to report that it was all sunshine and rainbows. I was the perfect teacher, Elliot the perfect student. But that would be a laughing lie. It was hard. Real hard. I'm still remoting into work, remember? So, trying to keep an eight-year-old on task while Zooming in to my own meetings was sometimes a nightmare. I hate to admit I think I had some of those toddler tantrums myself. And on more than one evening I was ready to quit my job.

But I didn't and something amazing started to happen. I realized that although I operate under a strict schedule, Elliot does not. I created a sticker chart with each subject he needed to complete. We tabbed the pages he needed to do, reviewed those pages together and I let him go. The rule? By the end of the day, all stickers on the chart equals that blessed thirty minutes of screen time. And it's not perfect. We both have good and bad days. He gets stuck, we work through it. But it's amazing how motivated he became to figure out his schoolwork when it was no longer my schedule, but his. I saw him taking ownership of his learning.

As May came to an end, we decided to just keep going with it. It would give him a head start, occupy his summer days and keep him from harassing too many of the wild turkeys. 

And for Ethan? He remoted in to Google Classrooms as an eighth grader. Being the techie kid that he is, he excelled in it. And thank goodness for that! He absolutely rocked it. 

As we rolled into summer, we had some hard decisions, based on the ever-changing facts of COVID. To remote or not to remote, that became the question.

Some hands-on science

Ethan completing a science experiment for school

The favorite class of the day: reading time on the hammock


  1. I have been extremely grateful throughout this pandemic that my kids are done with school. You have described the difficulties of this situation so well. There is no one solution that will work for all kids, and it is probably more common than not to have different learning styles within one family. That is the case with my family as well. Great to read how you were able to find a system that works for Elliot and yourselves - most of the time! Parenting is such a tough job, and one we may often feel under-qualified for. Thanks for sharing your success story. A workable routine is huge success these days.

  2. Thank you! Every day is another adventure, that's for sure!

  3. As the frontline teaching Grandma, I am a miserable failure at virtual school. I just really WANT it to be like it was 'when I was in school!' I have found that constantly repeating that to the kids does not have the desired effect. But I am hoping and praying that somehow, some day, they will all catch up. Thanks for posting this. It is interesting to see how others are dealing with this.

    1. I know you are a wonderful frontline grandma teacher! There is some comfort knowing that we aren't in this alone. But still there are those days!