May 12, 2020

Parents, Don’t Give Up: How to Survive Digital Learning in the Age of COVID-19.

Elephant’s Continually-updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon

Dear Parents,

Let’s be honest: digital learning sucks.

Three of my five kids are currently living through this nightmare of home schooling, and none of them are even teenagers. To those of you dealing with high schoolers right now, my condolences.

My three are all in elementary school and fortunately they actually enjoy learning. Or at least they did. I will be the first to admit that our home has become a house of daily screaming matches, tears, and gnashing of teeth, and I am certain I will be patching at least one hole in the wall before this is all over.

I have heard from countless friends and family expressing similar frustrations. Everything from day drinking to calling it quits and refusing to participate for the rest of the school year. And it’s hard to blame them. No one saw this coming; no one was prepared. Most of us still have our regular jobs to do. How should we be expected to become full-time educators on top of everything else we have to do?

And then there is the increase of responsibilities around the house, now that it’s full of li’l monsters who consume everything in sight and still expect three square meals a day, while leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. More dishes. More messes. More laundry. Even if some of us have been “freed” from our obligations at work, there is still the stress of lost income, potential long-term job loss, or heaven forbid you own a small business right now.

All this builds up to a breaking point. At my house, we seem to have those almost every day.

And let’s not forget our wonderful, woefully underappreciated, awe-inspiring teachers. You have never been given a better opportunity to ask for a raise. God bless your kind, sweet spirits. We have all been touched by your responses, your concerns and kindness. I cannot imagine the stress of navigating this unprecedented time—I think we all better appreciate your role in our kids’ lives.

And hey, aren’t those Zoom meetings a treat? Conducting a remote classroom has been challenging for sure, but it has also provided some new benefits that you didn’t have in the classroom. Never before have you been given a mute button, and you can’t tell me that hasn’t come in handy.

In your zeal to provide parents with every resource imaginable to guide us through this process, you have also developed a newfound passion for email. And again, we are grateful for the information, but I have to tell you that adding 30-plus emails a day to our inbox doesn’t improve matters. We have got to figure out a way to get those down into the single digits. Nevertheless, thank you personally from the bottom of my heart for the job that you were doing before and everything you are doing now to help our children. We all have a much greater appreciation for what you do. But I digress.

As my family has struggled through these past few weeks, I have taken some time to ponder and reflect on what we are doing wrong and why we are struggling and feeling frustrated. I came across a quote that I love and had forgotten about. I don’t remember the wording exactly, so I will paraphrase as best I can:

“Don’t you give up. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead. Some blessings come soon, some come late, some don’t come until heaven, but they will come. It will be alright. Trust in God and know it will be alright in the end.” ~ Dr. Jeffrey R. Holland

It started to dawn on me just how important this time is. Just how important this opportunity is. We are not just teaching our children math and science, we are teaching them how to overcome. How to take on a really hard challenge and master it—together. What an opportunity to show our kids that we are capable of doing hard things.

Is this digital learning easy? Certainly not. Does it have a unique set of challenges that we don’t always have the time or patience for? Most definitely. But, if we can find a way and if we can continue to plod ahead to the finish, see it through, what a lesson we will have taught our children.

Another quote that really made me think comes from a recent social media post:

“One of the best things a teacher ever did for me was say ‘I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll do some research.’ It modeled a more honest intellectual discourse. You don’t have to pretend like you know everything, and you don’t always need to have or share an immediate opinion.”

I must admit that, in the past, I have caught myself denigrating the system, the content, the core values being taught. But now I realize how wrong I was. What a great chance to learn for myself what is being taught. What a great opportunity to admit a weakness to my children. What a great time to let them know that they are important and we need their help. And not just with digital learning.

I am constantly amazed at what these kids are capable of. Helping out around the house. Doing “not chores” (although I firmly believe our kids should have daily “chores” and responsibilities to the family), but additional little things that help mom and dad get through the day. Taking the time to realize their actions and behaviors can have a positive impact on the sanity of the whole family—especially mom and dad.

This year, I have had the opportunity to learn new audio editing software from tutorials on YouTube, and I continue to fail my way through Adobe Suite. It’s been hard. Learning how to learn again took some time. Now I have the chance to learn with my kids. We will still struggle, but we will work through it together, doing the best we can every day and eventually, over time, the process will refine, the work will streamline, and the burden will ease.

So please, don’t give up.
Don’t surrender to the moment.
Walk away when you need to.
Give yourself a break.
Give yourself credit.

You are making progress every day, and you have a unique set of skills and talents that make you the best possible teacher for your kids right now. Trust in yourself and trust in your kids. They will always remember this time in their lives. How they remember it is wholly in your control. Make memories that will serve them well in the future. Remember, they are watching, listening, soaking in not just what we say and do, but the manner and attitude in which we do it.

On that note, here are some things we have implemented in our home (or at least tried to) in an effort to bring peace and harmony while still maintaining some level of productivity and accomplishment. Hopefully you will find some of them helpful as well.

Make a schedule: Create routine, for them and you. This is the best way to avoid fights over electronics, and play versus school time. It is a great chance to establish morning and evening routines and helps put everyone’s minds at ease.

This is the perfect time to let your kids determine their own schedule. If they create it, with your guidance, then they have no argument not to follow it. We are creatures of habit and so are they. The schedule gives them a sense of normalcy and security, and also provides some semblance of order and discipline without creating hostility. And ultimately, it will allow more freedom in your schedule as they adapt and adjust. Be sure to allot time for all things, including the things they enjoy.

Practice morning yoga or meditation: I know this one may seem a little silly. Many of us have tried unsuccessfully to adopt this routine in our own lives. I have personally found a lot of benefit in morning meditation, but was still extremely skeptical that my hyperactive li’l maniacs would sit still long enough to even pay attention.

But wow! Much to my surprise, this technique has made a big difference. When we start the morning off with a short kids’ meditation video on YouTube, it sets a completely different tone for the day. Breakfast is more relaxed, and the inevitable daily stress is much slower to build up. And at the end of the day, it is a great way for me to unwind as well.

Give them responsibility: Our kids are capable of much more than we typically give them credit for. And believe it or not, they want to help. Giving them responsibilities, like preparing lunch or helping a sibling with their work or activity, are all great ways to not just get them out of your hair for a few minutes, but provide them with a strong sense of belonging and responsibility to the family.

Give them projects: These can be as simple as a puzzle or drawing activity, or can get as complicated as an obstacle course or science experiment. We have made pillow forts, simple machines, and funny videos. And if Amazon is as frequent a visitor to your house as they are to mine, you have enough cardboard boxes to build a small city, doll house, or fort.

Give them down time: Give them electronic time. Easy, right? Not so fast. You must be diligent and intentional by using some of this time as a reward that can be earned. But there should also be time that is given or assumed. Tracking and monitoring is the key. And unless they are burning down the house, don’t eliminate all electronics as punishment—especially now when things are stressful. But limiting the time and access is critical, so add it to their schedule.

I do recommend removing all electronics an hour before bed and an hour after they wake up. That goes for us too. Since bingeing hard on social media, I am now implementing these practices myself. I have enjoyed a recent challenge to see how long I can go without looking at my phone each morning. Ryan Holiday has some great advice on the subject as well, but bottom line, practice what you preach with this one.

Give them patience and praise: Now more than ever, they need to understand that you understand and feel the same frustrations and aggravations as they do. Use the struggles of digital learning to unite you. Let them know that their hard work is noticed and will pay off. Empathy can help unite the front.

Keep failing: Be okay with not getting it right. If the digital learning is not going as expected, at least show your kids and their teachers that you are making an effort. It has been my experience that when people see someone else struggling, the natural reaction is to want to help.

Fail together: Start ugly. Keep Trying. Don’t give up!

Figure it out: Celebrate their successes and help them work through each defeat. Doing it together as a team may even create a tighter bond with them that may have been missing while we were so caught up in our normal routines. Now is the chance to establish a new routine, a new normal. A new relationship with your child. As long as you don’t give up, they will always remember this example of their parents, which will hopefully stay with them for life.

Finally, make no mistake, almost none of this will work—especially at first. Most everything I have suggested and tried to implement ended in utter failure in my own home, but the one or two habits, tricks, and techniques that have managed to stick have made each day a little better and each digital learning experience a little less painful.

You have the tools. You have the talent and capability. You have a lifetime of experience that makes you the best possible teacher for your child. You can do it, and when you do, your kids will too. Hang in there—you got this!



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