One Year of Virtual Learning

Back when my oldest son was starting kindergarten, I’m pretty sure I said at LEAST once, “I literally cannot imagine any scenario in which I would choose to homeschool.”

Then COVID-19 came into the world like a caffeinated nuclear freight train. March 13, 2020 was the last day my son set foot in his elementary school for a “normal” school day.

And suddenly…we were doing school at home. Not homeschooling, as I know homeschool advocates will pipe up saying “this isn’t homeschooling!” but virtual learning through our school district.

Man plans, God laughs, right?

One week of virtual learning turned into two, then a month, and then they called it for the rest of the year. In the fall, we were given the option to go back full-time in person or do full-time virtual. We opted, kicking and screaming and pouting, for virtual learning. While it wasn’t what we particularly wanted to do, we can do so with relative ease and wanted to reduce the classroom load on in-person classes.

Never did I think this would go on for a whole year, but here we are.

If I could go back in time and tell March 12, 2020 me a few things about virtual learning, here’s what I would say.

Lower your standards.

Like, immediately. I largely gave up on “specials” after about a week and figured that my son listening to mom and dad’s music choices constantly while home was enough. I bought a desk; it is largely a receptacle for old papers at this point as my son’s preferred Zoom position is flailing around on the couch with a cat nearby. This is not the year to worry about qualifying for the gifted program or winning awards. I eventually decided that as long as my son wasn’t LOSING ground, academic maintenance in a pandemic would be just fine.

It’s OK to admit you hate it.

Not just to yourself, but to your child. The other day, I reminded my son he needed to hop on a “special” Zoom call and he burst into frustrated yelling: “I hate Zoom calls and virtual school and I don’t want to do this.” Instead of faking a happy attitude, I just said, “Yep. Me too.”  The feelings passed after a few minutes, but pretending that this is ideal serves nobody.

Be flexible.

Sure, some kids enjoy schedules. The one saving grace of this year has been that my son gets to decide when he does things, as long as they get done. (Note: his teachers have a schedule; we tried, we largely ignore it.) In a pandemic where a kid has very little control over anything, let them control this. It’s OK. I promise.

Have boundaries.

For example, one of my boundaries is “I am not going to do an egg drop challenge in my house and add to the mess and chaos that is already present.” When that was assigned, we found a plastic Easter egg and did our best. If anyone had for one second challenged my dedication as a parent, I would have ripped them a new one. Sanity is important.

Take a step back.

I will not say that this has been a great experience, but it hasn’t been quite as terrible as I expected. My kid has learned to self-motivate, set priorities, and get things done so he can spend the afternoon doing what he wants. We have explored some cool things we wouldn’t have had time to otherwise. My kids do have a stronger relationship and know how to deal with each other’s quirks better.

So, one year in, and I think I can confidently say that we did a pretty mediocre job of virtual learning…but hopefully the end is near. And maybe, when my second grader is in college, he’ll read about the 2020 pandemic in a history textbook and finally understand why we did what we did, for him and our community.

Brie Hilton lives in the Northland is a stay-at-home mom with multiple side hustles in the Northland. Her oldest son, Charlie, is 7 and has his own pet-sitting business and outsmarts his parents at least three times a week. Her youngest, Patrick, is 5 and has cerebral palsy and autism, so she considers herself an expert on navigating the special needs life on way too little sleep. In her spare time (ha), Brie teaches group fitness classes, has a boutique in her basement, naps too much, and actively ignores the piles of laundry on the floor.