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Balance? More Like Free Fall!

I got an email from my 9-year-old’s teacher that said, “Don’t worry if you’re behind on the assignment log, even if tasks are listed as overdue.  Please don’t pressure them into doing too much work.  Your child will graduate to 4th grade next year.”  I think this message was meant for us.  We’re 30 assignments behind on SeeSaw, three pages back in Khan Academy, and there are entire science units that have been completed between where we are on the task list and what was just posted today. 

I’d like to think I balance work and home time well, but with CoViD-19, it seems like everything is in free fall.  The kids are behind on assignments (and good for you if you’re lucky enough to have teachers that are keeping up!).  The good behavior the teachers commend your children on having at school is nowhere to be found.  The bickering and comparisons are endless when it’s hard to tell if the screen time is for school or for fun.  And the best way to motivate the boys to finish the schoolwork?  Minecraft.  On the screens.  Thank goodness they both work together in their virtual worlds.  Most of the time.

So two months in, how are we running school at home?  First of all, if I’m at work, the kids are at the YMCA emergency personnel camps.  We don’t make them do schoolwork at the Y, and if they don’t get any online work done, at least they’ve done some exercise and art projects.  And the boys have had more contact with other kids than most in this era of social distancing.  (This is why we’re 30 assignments behind!)

When I am home, we treat weekdays as having three components:  school programming, expected contributions, and free time.  We all put on regular clothes.  This way we can go outside quickly when pent-up energy demands it.  We start with the online assignments.  The 5-year-old has about an hour of pre-recorded videos from his teacher.  The 9-year-old has hundreds of activities to choose from.  “Just be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom,” I tell him every day…  I make sure they do this for an hour or two, and when the little one loses interest, we have some fruit and get back at it with assigned or free reading, art, or other non-screen brain work.  

Since my schedule in the ER is all over the place, I try to be flexible with them about choosing to do expected contributions (including chores, music practice, and being helpful) or free time.  But that Minecraft free time cannot be until the chores are done.  With the chores, my wife and I have started doing work alongside chores.  Basically, we have them do something similar to what we’re doing, no matter how grown up the task.  When I was excavating a trench for a rockery, they were digging holes in the yard.  It’s not ideal to have to replant pucks of sod, but it wasn’t dangerous, and wow! did they love it!  They’re finally learning how to cook, too!  And there’s only been one minor burn in 8 weeks!

Do I still lose my temper?  Yes!  Is a play-it-by-ear approach to finishing school and chore assignments for everyone?  No!  Kids still need a schedule.  For us that’s the first few hours of the day.  Whether that begins at 8AM or 2PM depends on which shift I’m working.

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