“What can I do?” my nine-year-old asked. It was 9 a.m. Monday morning, and Week Two of my family’s self-imposed exile to our cottage two hours north of Toronto. When we heard school would be closed for two extra weeks following March Break—a plan that now seems laughable, but at the time seemed perfectly reasonable—it made the most sense to escape to where we could easily maintain social distance, and keep our kids outside and entertained at the same time.
But now that March Break had come and gone, we were getting down to business. “It’s time for educational activities,” I responded, referring to the schedule we had made as a family the night before. “Look at the list and see what you want to do.” After carefully scanning the 15-plus options I had written down, he looked up at me. “I don’t want to do any of these,” he replied. And then: “When do I get screen time?”
I had once fantasized about homeschooling. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to tour the city’s landmarks and museums, taking in lessons on history, science and social studies along the way. Or maybe we could camp out at our cottage for a bit, getting in an hour of math or language lessons in the morning before we let nature be our educational guide for the rest of the day. And I’ll admit, more than once, when sneaking in a division lesson while dishing out a snack, that I thought I might actually be pretty good at it. I was pretty sure I could run a successful emergent curriculum, where we would float through our week, nipping at all they needed to know with a rhythm that ebbed and flowed with their energy and mood.
But here we are, in the midst of a global health crisis and I’m faced with the prospect of having my three kids at home with me…indefinitely? And frankly, I’m freaking out. Will they be giving us a manual? Because I am NOT prepared for this. I haven’t researched homeschooling philosophies, or set up workstations, or ordered materials. And while I’m grateful for all the free activities that are being offered up by museums, education companies and celebrities, I’m overwhelmed. Is this really what I’m supposed to do now? Wade through an endless stream of resources to find the ones that match up with my kids’ ages, interests and learning levels and hope they come out on the other side of this somewhat more educated than they were before?
While my eldest is in a private school that has launched into online learning, my boys, in public school in grades 2 and 3, are in limbo. Sure, I could take the advice of some people on social media, and just let them “be kids” during this time. Some say a pandemic is not the time to pull out worksheets or force fraction lessons down their throats. But, as a family, we need a plan, and we need one fast. Even if they don’t need formal lessons, they need some sort of structure, or their daily diet of Nintendo Switch is just going to get further and further out of control.
After our false start Monday morning, I gave up on my list of educational activities. I find my boys are more likely to be engaged in something if they’ve taken the initiative on their own, and they tend to come up with some pretty cool ideas when given some freedom. This week, they designed shields and swords then, after their dad helped cut them out of wood, sanded and painted them. They used recycling materials to build imaginative creatures and musical instruments. They’ve started writing stories and drawing the characters. And on a group video call with his cousins and grandparents, my seven-year-old taught everyone how to create an animation, a trick he picked up from watching Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems. His presentation was flawless.
At this point, I have no idea how their dad and I are supposed to keep up our full-time jobs, while simultaneously watching over and educating our kids at the same time. Currently, strategy is to create a perfectly planned out schedule the night before, that quickly gets hijacked by a surprise conference call, or a kid whose whole world has been turned upside down digging in their heels and refusing to cooperate. But of course, I know we’re not alone. None of us have lived through a pandemic before and I can honestly say I have no idea what the next few months will look like. But we’ll muddle through. What other choice do we have? If anything, my kids will have learned how to wash their hands.