Preparing for “Not Knowing” What School Will Look Like

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

Our most unusual school year ended on May 27th, after nearly 8 trying weeks of remote learning. The State of Illinois mandated that elementary school children were not to be graded on their work, so it was a bit of a free-for-all in our house. I made up a routine for a basic structure to the day, and then asked at the end of the day “did you get your work done?” as we tried to two adults working full-time, a 4th grader, a 2nd grader, and a toddler.

This laid-back approach to school was fine until my 4th grader’s teacher contacted me that he had not been turning in his math, with only about two weeks left in the year. In “Beforetimes” this was very unlike my son. The teacher called it a “hard lesson to learn,” expecting him to catch up in the remaining weeks of the school year.

My comment back to the teacher was that we are asking these kids to self-manage their work, skills that kids even much older have difficulty mastering. I then sent a (gentle) email to the principal, asking that we strike a balance in how much parents are expected to oversee work, especially if school looks differnt in the Fall.

The further we get into summer, the more I think that the school year will look very different in the Fall. We could have classes half the size of full capacity and maybe only going into the building two days per week. I hear murmurs of a Fall semester that ends by Thanksgiving, in anticipation of a second wave of coronavirus cases.

While I was content to sit back and write off the remainder of the school year for Spring 2020, I know that long-term something will need to change in our household. And I have to start looking at the mentality of “long-term”: that until a vaccine becomes widely available, school could continue to look different.

This summer, we have been without the normal full-day camp that my children normally attend. I usually send them to a Montessori school in the summer, where they have a combination of free choice time, learning activities, and outside play. My older son cried before the school year, upset that “summer isn’t going to be as fun this year.” And I told him that was likely true, but that we would do the best we could.

So I have stepped, to the best of my abilities. I created a Google Classroom for my kids. Every single day, I post set of Google Slides, tailored to each child, with some things to do:

  • Fill out a Google Form of how they slept, how many steps they got on their FitBits, and a reminder to brush teeth

The routine is going well with minimal interaction from the adults. But. There are days when I find out that not much got done. And at their age, it is hard to catch up.

At first I didn’t care much, since the summer work is just to keep them occupied during the day, but as we reach mid-summer and the increased likelihood that school will look different in the Fall, I am becoming more concerned. I feel like I need to gently guide them toward being responsible for completing their work, even when not directly supervised. And that will take more effort on my part to monitor them.

Last week, I introduced “If you haven’t checked everything off, then no afternoon screen time” — but didn’t enforce it, only opening the idea. This week, I am going to do a check-in around noon and look at the morning work and say “Ok — this didn’t get done, but you still have the afternoon to finish.” After, adding the next step of limits on afternoon screen time until the work is completed.

I am sure there will be push back, especially from the 8-year-old. I don’t like that he is being forced to learn this skill when he is so young. I don’t like juggling teaching this skill against working. At the same time, I have to look at this window of time in the remainder of summer as an opportunity to try and prepare for whatever Fall will throw at us. Better to work on that now than when their school work is dependent on it.

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