Coping with Virtual Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Kindergarten live instruction 2020

During school one day, my daughter raised her hand to share the story she wrote during her last big group virtual meeting. Other people went first while she waited for her turn. I was out of the room for a minute to pack the running stroller in the car. I came back into the room to a visibly scared and shy girl refusing to do anything. She didn't turn her video or audio on and slouched down on her seat. Her teacher kept asking her to unmute and had no idea what was going on because the camera was off too. Her teacher then asked her to speak and let her know what was going on and if she didn't want to read anything, she had to tell her. I was there so I turned the camera on for her and unmuted. Her teacher could see that she was trying to leave and I quietly told my daughter to just tell her teacher that she didn't want to read her story. After some nudging, she did just that and then I showed her teacher the accompanying drawing to her story. Then, it was another kid's turn. Ugh. Virtual learning stresses me right out.

We're living in a time like no other. In person schools have been closed since March of last school year here. The new school year started on time on September 1st but everything remained virtual. My son started a new school this year as a 6th Grader in middle school. My daughter started a new school this year as a Kindergartener in elementary school. What was supposed to be one of their most exciting grade school transitions turned out to be dull, uninspiring and a bit frustrating. It's been nearly two months of virtual learning and as coronavirus cases continue to increase in our area, there is simply no end in sight.

When the district decided in July to bring school back virtually for September, I didn't think it was possible for a Kindergartener to attend school virtually. Then the school had a drive through to pick up supplies and we received a laptop in our bag and things suddenly got real. My 5 year old went from playing with her vtech toy musical phone to using her very own real laptop overnight.

Office supply bin for Kindergarten

Small kids learn well through play and social interactions and they need to be around other kids to do that. They can't sit still and pay attention to a screen for very long so how on earth is virtual learning going to work?? Plus, a full time adult supervisor would need to be around. Fast forward almost two months and that's where we are still at. My 5 year old daughter is learning from the screen and I'm her full time education facilitator at home. When the pandemic is over, that's definitely going on my resume! Interestingly, virtual learning is working. It's still not desirable but thanks to her willingness to work hard and my ability to be on top of things and get things done well, she is constantly busy and learning a ton. Another key to our success is that we stay on routine with school hours, bed times, and meal times. Academically, she is striving but socially and emotionally, she is not. I wish she could be around the other kids and make new friends. They see each other during live instruction but the rules are strict and kids cannot speak to other kids. They even get in trouble for turning on their video camera when not asked to. Each session is only 15-20 minutes long and it's hard enough for the teacher to just get through a lesson.

With all things considered, my kids are actually doing extremely well in virtual learning. This is what allows me to sleep at night. My 6th Grader is on top of things and I hardly have to intervene or ask him about anything. I haven't really been keeping track of the things he is doing at school but I do know that he has never been late to his live instructions and everything has been handed in on time. I get weekly assignment reports every week for each of my kids so I know if an assignment is handed in late or not. Plus, his grades are good so far. I'm so thankful because I really need to devote my time to helping my daughter with remote Kindergarten.

I consider myself extremely fortunate in that I am well suited for this role in virtual learning. I am tech savvy, was already a full time mom at home and was already supplementing my kids education with extra academic and fun activities before the pandemic started. Supervising Kindergarten is consuming a lot of my time because my 5 year old is not very independent and even if I try to do something else next to her on my computer, I am constantly interrupted every 5 minutes with questions or comments. The activities assigned to her pretty much take me and her all day to complete. Sometimes it feels like a lot but I make sure she completes everything that is assigned because I want her to succeed.

The most stressful part about virtual learning is just keeping my 5 year old in a good mood and on task. She has gotten better now but in the beginning, she would leave the screen so many times or not sit correctly in her chair and would make inappropriate faces. It stressed me right out. Especially during assessment time. She had to sit through four separate assessments with her teachers and my heart raced each time. Caregivers are told not to interfere and help during assessments and I would just sit a few feet away and watch and listen in horror. She even fell off her chair at one point from moving so much. She kept clicking on the mouse and I noticed the teacher was asking her a question on her shared screen while my daughter was in a different window looking at the browser. Oh my gosh. I had to take her mouse away so she would stop clicking.

It's still hard now and not knowing what to expect from her mood swings every day puts me on constant edge. I have to admit, sometimes I am a little afraid of her. Lol. Not as afraid as my husband! But I understand how he feels because he has less control of her compared to me. The other day she was called upon during live instruction and she didn't want to turn her camera on and said she didn't want to. But I told her she has to since everyone has to. So again, I had to turn her camera on. I hate having to make her do stuff against her will. Then during some offline activity when she had to practice writing some of her letters, she didn't feel like it so she deliberately scribbled and did a bad job. This was work I had to photograph and submit to her teacher. And I'm not about to submit this work because that would just trigger an email or comment from her teacher to ask "how come?" So I got her to do it again and again until it was properly done. This is me playing tiger mom. I know this may give the misconception that she is an outstanding student all the time but I honestly don't think she would misbehave if she was at school. From what I hear at teacher conferences, my kids behave like little angels at school.

Do not disturb school hour - by 5yo

This is my new life. Our school schedule is from 9:20-3:50pm every week day, except Wednesday. During school, we have five 15-20 minute live sessions with the teacher. There is no live instruction on Wednesday but there are a lot of required activities for the kids to work on. On top of this, I also get my daughter out of the house to either walk with me in the neighborhood for 45 minutes or run with me on the trail. If it rains a lot, we just do one of the PE activities the school assigns inside the house. If we have extra time during the day, I get her to do activity books. We have plenty of them. I try my best to give her stuff to do offline because she has been getting a lot of screen time since school started. It's definitely a concern for me. We are pretty strict when it comes to screen time for our kids and now that it's mandatory for school, we feel like it's out of our control.

There has been some challenges for us but I know it is much worst for so many others. Yes, there are people who have lost their jobs and now have to help their kids with virtual learning and can no longer look for work. They cannot pay their bills or to make things worst their family have fallen victim to COVID-19. My family and I are fortunate in so many ways but we still have our own personal struggles. Struggles others do not know about. I have my personal struggles. Everything is relative and I have always felt a need to excel at everything I do. I don't feel good when things don't go right. It may not be a big deal to miss a live session at school but when it happens to me, it actually matters a lot. It would ruin my day if we could not join an active meeting. For the same reason it was devastating for me to get just a "B" in school. So for me, this pandemic and virtual school has brought upon a lot of anxiety. I'm not happy just being on survival mode. I need my kids to be excellent in school, well fed at home and for all of us to be active and healthy.

I'm dealing with my anxiety in the worst possible way through stress eating. I have sweets like ice cream, cake, cookies or chocolate every single day. All the holidays around this time of year, like Halloween, doesn't help either. I have also been snacking on a lot of potato chips and Cheetos. I do force myself to run 2-3 times a week out of guilt. And I try to get my kids out too since when I eat badly, they seem to as well. But I do still cook and bake a lot and we do eat a lot of healthy foods on top of the junk. So that's something, I guess. I'm allowing myself to eat this way because everyone else is too and this is only pandemic weight gain. The problem is the pandemic started 8 months ago and there is no end in sight. So there's no end to my bad diet. Some people resort to alcohol and drugs or even shopping therapy. For me, it's food. I know, I suck.

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