Photo: Courtesy of Monica Belyea
We hadn’t made it fifteen minutes into my son’s daily “home-school time” before we were, once again, both utterly defeated. Picture eight-year-old Ben slumped on the couch as far as he could be without actually lying down, moaning and sighing and fidgeting with his mechanical pencil. Picture me gritting my teeth and trying to stay calm but completely exasperated that I hadn’t been able to get him to focus long enough to answer even one math question. Not one.
This scene came after two frustrating weeks of trying our very best to adapt to learning at home—and failing.
The first week was largely spent solving tech problems—struggling to find his login details for Google Classroom, learning to navigate Google Classroom, figuring out why Google Classroom was so glitchy. (Notice a theme?) But even with the tech sorted out, every single day was a battle that we both quickly came to dread.
Although I happen to be a teacher, I teach yoga to adults, so my experience has not given me the skills to help a frustrated eight year old understand how the multiplication tables work—especially in his own home, surrounded by toys and screens and the lure of his bicycle waiting for him in the driveway. I felt like I was mostly feeding him the answers after he gave no indication that he was willing or able to figure them out himself. I could see that he wasn’t retaining knowledge from the work one day to the next. It was honestly a waste of both of our time and energy.
Our issues with learning at home didn’t come as a complete surprise. Ben, who’s in grade 3, has focus issues and gets distracted as often as a dog in a park full of squirrels. Throughout the year, his teacher has been wonderful in helping him as best she can in a class of 30 students. We’ve had many chats in person and over the phone about how to best help him learn. And now that I see how challenging it is to teach my kid, I’m more grateful for her than ever.
So even as my grade 5 daughter sailed through the school work assigned by her teacher with minimal help from me, I felt more and more each day that this just wasn’t going to work for Ben. I decided something had to give. It was either my sanity, his ability to see me as a loving parent, or e-learning. E-learning had to go.
I called Ben’s dad, with whom I share custody of the kids, and let him know I just couldn’t keep it up. He couldn’t offer to take over because he’s an essential worker and works full-time Monday to Friday. So he agreed that if I thought it wasn’t doing any good, we should opt out.
I emailed Ben’s teacher and explained it all to her. I didn’t want her to think that she wasn’t doing a good job. I feel deep empathy for the teachers who have had to figure out how to teach the curriculum online with basically zero time to prepare. She was very understanding and even offered to design a lesson plan more tailored to Ben's strengths and abilities. I thanked her for this, but said that for now I’d like to try things a bit differently and see how it goes. She gave me her support and said that she was there for help or to talk any time.
I wasn’t sure if friends and other family members would be on board with my decision. I ended up sharing an article on Facebook (called something like ‘Distance Learning Isn’t Working’) and telling a brief version of my own struggles and announcing that we were going to opt out. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised to receive many comments from other parents who were also having a hard time and wondering if opting out might be a realistic possibility. I think we all share a feeling of guilt that somehow we’re just not trying hard enough, and that we should be able to make it work even as we try to add homeschooling onto a to-do list that may already include a job and the extra work that comes from having kids home all day, every day. I figured that maybe by sharing my experience I might be able to help other parents feel like it’s not just them.
Since pulling Ben from school, I’ve been having him play online math games through Math Playground (which offers a one-month free trial, but I’ll pay the monthly fee if it keeps working well). I also let him look up weird (and usually messy) science experiments to do in the kitchen, which he loves. I plan to incorporate baking and some other life skills into his learning time. He’s expressed interest in learning how to use the washer and dryer, for example, so who am I to deny teaching the kid some laundry skills? He takes the initiative to read on his own before bed and has become pen pals with one of his classmates. They take turns delivering hand-written letters to each other’s homes, which is pretty adorable. But the very best part? Neither of us wakes up each morning dreading that tedious hour of, let’s face it, a way of learning that isn’t cut out for every kid.