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Remote School Reality: A Local Mom on What's Working and What's Not for Her Family

A Q&A with April Chan about her family's experience of online learning

Vicky McDonald
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Published on: October 08, 2020

The-authors-kids-doing-remote-learning
Photo:
The author's kids at their remote school learning space at home.

Over a month into this unlike-any-we've-experienced school year, we're checking in with some Puget Sound-area parents to see how they're managing school and life. 

First up is April Chan. April lives in Issaquah and has a 6-year-old daughter in first grade and a 9-year-old son in fourth grade. Both kids are learning online this fall as their district is doing all remote learning.

In this Q&A, we asked April about her kids' remote school set-up, their experience with online learning so far and how they are coping as a family. (Watch for additional installments in this occasional series.)

Describe your kids’ remote school set-up?

The district sent out its first meaningful communication about the school year the Friday before school started. We then had to scramble and put together the kids' whole remote learning set-up over a long holiday weekend.

We have an old Ikea dining room table that was intended for the dump but we’ve now repurposed it as a desk for both kids to sit across from each other. We placed the table in a seldom-used bedroom adjacent to their shared bedroom.

I set them up with designated pens, pencils, crayons, colored pencils and markers. They have drawers for glue and scissors, hooks for their headphones, charging stations attached to a new desk lamp and even their own black and blue garbage and recycling containers.

With their headphones on, they can now easily coexist and work in the room together.  We generally have no idea what is going on in class and rely pretty heavily on communications from the teachers to let us know if our kids aren’t keeping up.

 

Describe a typical school day for your family?

I rouse both kids at about 8:15 a.m. for breakfast and morning routines before settling them down to sign in at 9:15 a.m.

My fourth grader is pretty good about watching his time and making sure he’s on his live sessions. Now that we’re about a month in, it’s more about learning how to manage his off-session times to get his work done. If we’re not diligent he will get his hands on his video games before the day is through.

My first grader has taken to reciting “school poops, yes it poops, it poops worse than ever” (sung to the tune of ‘Blue Bells, Cockleshells’) as I have to wrangle her into her chair each morning. She needs constant reminders for when her next sessions start, and there are a lot. 

Their lunch hours are a bit skewed so I’ve mostly committed their schedules to memory in order to make sure they’ve eaten before they go back to class. A full day ends at 3:40 p.m. They are mentally spent by the end of the day. My son typically wants to race to the neighbor’s house to play on his trampoline, and unless he has assignments due, we allow it. My daughter is disappointed we haven’t been able to find a similar play opportunity for her, but she’s also much better at playing independently.

What are the main challenges with learning at home?

For the kids, it’s the lack of social interaction with their peers and the lack of opportunities to make new friends. My daughter, especially, exhibited near debilitating shyness through her preschool years and into the start of kindergarten. Her kindergarten teacher commented in early March how she had truly blossomed in her class, and it still hurts my heart to see how we’ve basically cut her off from being able to further develop that openness. 

My son this year entered into a STEM-focused program which, technically places him at a different school. In a normal year, if he had a question, he could walk up to the teacher’s desk and just ask. We tell him if he doesn’t understand something, he should email his teachers to not only ask them but to let them know their directions may not be clear for other students as well. 

Thankfully, all our teachers have been super supportive and gracious with us as we figure all this out. For us, his parents, it’s still the interruptions to our own schedules to help with everything from actual academic work, to tech support, to making lunch and everything in between.

What is the biggest surprise so far?

I think the greatest surprise is seeing the kids become independent learners and how willing they are to take on more responsibilities. They clearly have their limits and we’ve hit several walls this month, but they’ve accepted the new reality.

My daughter complains before each live session, but she enjoys most of the learning tools the teachers are using to help access where the kids are in reading and math. She still enjoys writing and drawing pictures, and if I’m not careful she will take all kinds of badly composed photos on her iPad to share with her teacher on SeeSaw.

My son is still struggling with the new workload he has in his STEM program, but so far he’s been up for the challenge. Recently, his teacher let him that he missed an assignment on a Friday. He then woke up early on Saturday to complete it. He’s never taken that initiative before.

What, if anything, keeps you sane and what do you do for self-care?

I recently splurged on a $10 drawing app for my iPad and it’s been a source of endless entertainment for me. I also still enjoy finding elaborate recipes online to make for my family. We’ve done the gardening and the sourdough bread. My husband has commented I’m cooking way more elaborately than he would at this time, but I find I enjoy it.

To counter the inevitable weight gain, however, the two of us bond by ditching the kids with grandma and doing an occasional hike or runs together on our neighborhood trails. That all sounds really healthy, but we also stay up way too late in bed after the kids are asleep watching our respective shows on our devices as a means to wind down.

How do you see your family functioning in January 2021?

I don’t know. We try to keep our toilet paper supply and our fridge stocked, and our emergency supplies up to date. Beyond that, I think if we think about the many ways next year could unfold, it would just create more anxiety. We are really trying to live things one day at a time for our own sanity.

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