I’ve been getting a lot of calls lately from friends asking my opinion about what they should do with their children this fall. My perspective on the subject is unique.
As an ICU nurse practitioner, I deal with patients diagnosed with coronavirus every day. I have witnessed how COVID-19 can make a totally healthy person critically ill in the matter of hours. This is happening all over the country and all over the world. We are in the middle of a pandemic. In times like this, survival is key.
Survival for children and families is universal. We all want our basic needs met: food, water, shelter and safety. Unfortunately, not everyone has the privilege of these during this crisis.
For many children in this country, their needs are met by the school system. It provides children with free meals if eligible and a safe environment which they may not have at home. For parents, it is a source of childcare.
Without the usual system in this country, unfortunately many families and children will suffer. These families do not have the luxury to choose between in-person school or online learning. They cannot afford to stay home from work or hire a full-time nanny. They may not have a job or steady source of income. For families like this, there are no choices. There is only survival. I am deeply concerned about these families and cannot imagine the turmoil they face as the crisis continues.
On the other hand, I do not have any concerns about my children or the children of my friends who call me to work through their decision-making process. We are relatively privileged to have choices; many of us can afford to stay home, hire a nanny or put our children in private daycare. For our children, school isn’t a part of survival like it is for others.
When the schools shut down in March, I tried to get my kids to do their Zoom calls. But they didn’t like it. My shy 6-year-old daughter didn’t like that her teachers and friends could see her on camera. So then we tried to do Zoom without a camera, but it was still not successful. Her voice was a barely audible whisper when she was called on in class to say good morning.
Most of the time she was cranky because Zoom started before her usual kindergarten day. I couldn’t get her to do the homework despite a lot of threatening. She started telling me that she didn’t like reading or math, and I began to fear that distance learning was turning her off to learning in general. It took her almost four months to adjust to kindergarten when it started last September; transitioning to Zoom started feeling like that all over again.
As for my 3-year-old son, he was impossible to get to sit still for his nursery school Zoom meetings. He was not able to focus on the discussion or listen to his classmates the same way he could in a real class environment, and when he did join in, his naturally loud voice dominated the entire conversation with his own train of thought. Unfortunately, he seemed more of a disruption to the other students who were able to sit, listen and participate.
Logging out of distance learning
It was then that I started wondering if learning only for the sake of learning (virtual education) means much at all. I think the value of the traditional classroom experience encourages children to be innovative, creative, assertive, social, communicative and caring. But if this is not available, what is the value in Zoom?
With other things in the world to worry about, I stopped caring whether my kids “passed.” Passing school has nothing to do with survival.
Instead logging into Zoom, my kids slept in and were not rushed in the mornings. My daughter enjoyed doing art projects that she made for herself every day and working on perfecting her gymnastics routine. Her new site words included “Amazon” and “FedEx.” My son loved playing with his train set and dressing up in his super hero costumes. He has been improving his math skills through his consumption of M&Ms.
Together they jumped on the trampoline and tried out our new ropes course in our backyard. They learned to climb our tree and make picnics for lunch out front. We took family bike rides to the end of our street and played with pine cones. My kids didn’t have a schedule, and without the pressure of Zoom, they were happy.
This carefree life of ours lasted for about six weeks. Unfortunately, it was not sustainable with my work schedule as an ICU nurse practitioner. The kids would keep me up all day, and I wasn’t able to sleep to prepare for my night shifts.
So we put them in daycare for essential workers in April, and they have been there ever since. We are lucky that our kids could return to a normal school-like environment. There is no pressure to follow a curriculum. They love their teachers, new friends and activities. This has truly been a blessing for our family.
My view on the world has shifted a bit as maybe it should when we focus on survival. My advice to those who are anxious about making the right decision for school is this: do whatever you think is best for your family and be grateful you have the privilege of choice.
Ali Karpa is an acute care nurse practitioner who works night shifts in the ICU at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center. She is a wife and a mom to an 8-year-old chocolate lab and two human children, ages 3 and 6.