The sun was setting and my daughters were out running about our campsite, chasing new-found friends through hay bales. My husband and I were talking to the other kids’ father, comparing our reasons for packing up our families and heading out on road trips.
“Well, I have to head in,” the other dad said. “The girls still have a few sections to finish in their schooling today.”
My husband and I exchanged looks. I couldn’t speak for him, but I certainly couldn’t remember the last time our first-grader did a formal school lesson. But in that moment, my gut told me that having the experience of making new friends from different backgrounds and playing on a farm was much more important for her than completing a math worksheet or phonics lesson.
When my family set out on an open-ended road trip around the country in September, we committed to homeschooling our first grader. I had plans to do some reading, writing and math every day — surely I could find half an hour for each, I reasoned. But as the trip progressed, I realized that in reality, even that little bit was difficult. Some days we did lots of school work, but I also realized that on the days when one or both of us was overtired or struggling, pushing academics wasn’t worth the fight.
Right now, millions of families around the country are grapplings with school as more and more districts are going remote. The pressure is getting to parents and kids. I’m a huge believer in the importance of school, but I’ve also recognized that this year just has to be different, for parents and kids alike. Here’s why I’m giving myself permission to take a lax approach to school this year.
Kids are Resilient
When you’re in the thick of it, it’s easy to forget that we’re talking about just one year — a tiny portion of a child’s life. Since education is a life-long pursuit, I can’t bring myself to believe that giving my child a pass on this school year will cause her irreparable harm.
Instead, I know that she’ll bounce back when she’s able to safely be in a classroom again. Sure, she might start second grade a bit behind, but honestly, most kids will be in a similar situation. Of course, kids with special needs or tumultuous home situations are in a vulnerable spot this year, but most kids will have the resiliency to recover academically from a year in limbo.
Our Relationship is Most Important
2020 is scary, even for adults. The most important thing I can do for my child this year is being there to meet her emotional needs. Unfortunately, when I become her teacher, it erodes our relationship — we bicker, argue and become frustrated with each other.
An educator that I interviewed this year had a good analogy: she told me that asking kids to school at home under the direction of their parents is equivalent to asking adults to maintain work-life balance when their boss moved into the living room. That sounds miserable, right?
That’s why we’re taking a step back. Rather than teaching my daughter in a formal way, I’m there for her as a parent, following her lead and teaching her when the opportunity arises.
There are Other Ways to Learn
On that note, this year has reminded me that there are many ways to learn — not just from a book or worksheet. That evening at the campground, my daughter was learning about relationships and farming. She was perfecting her climbing skills. On other days, she’s learned about natural cycles by exploring the forest or conducting experiments she thought of herself. While we might not be perfecting modern math, I have no doubt she’s learning important life skills.
This Year Just Isn’t Normal
Ultimately, what it comes down to, is that this year isn’t normal. Our kids are going to remember living through a historic pandemic no matter what. When my daughter thinks back on this time, I want her to remember adventures and quality time with family, not a crabby mom or fights about school. And if that means taking a step back from schooling for the year and playing catch-up in the future, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.
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