Parents across the county have been adjusting to new routines that involve e-learning, video conferences, working from home and the dreaded common core math. This abrupt change paired with the stress of sheltering in place, limited groceries, and of course the tragic daily updates surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have left us all feeling a little out of sorts. Some of us have been able to move our offices into our home and work remotely. Others have been displaced from their jobs and many have been deemed essential workers and are forced to risk their lives on a daily basis as they continue to provide important services to the public. Regardless of which circumstance we find ourselves in, one remains the same, we desperately want to protect and shelter our children. We want to provide them with love, support, safety, and in spite of this situation we’re in, we want to provide them with a fun, engaging, and exciting educational experience that will help prepare them for the next school year.
Hitting the Ground Running
Here in North Carolina, we watched the news and saw what was happening on the other side of the ocean, but for many, the realities of COVID-19 didn’t really hit home until it had reached the United States. Schools were closing and parents were preparing for two weeks at home, or what amounted to an extended Spring Break. From my perspective, many parents really had no idea what was in store. We just had to make it through the two weeks and then things would go back to normal. But about a week in, we started to realize that this might be more serious than we initially understood it to be. By now, most of us have developed a routine. We have learned how to login to a ZOOM call with our children’s teachers. We have learned how to use apps on our cell phones to scan documents. We have even learned how to count by tens… well, sort of. Parents throughout the county are online, sharing ideas for STEM projects, art projects and organization tips. We are adjusting, appreciating, and despite the many failures, we are getting back up and trying again and again with smiles on our faces.
Make it Work
In the beginning, e-learning was something that many teachers utilized primarily for homework assignments. Teaching without face-to-face engagement was something wholly different. They knew that their students were going to be at home for two weeks and many opted to give them learning materials that the students were already somewhat familiar with. But once it became clear that those two weeks were going to be extended, schools throughout the county began making adjustments as parents did as well.
In my home, we quickly learned that a space dedicated to learning was essential to our success. So, we carved out an area in my art studio and set up a small classroom, or as my children like to say, “office space.” One of my very generous friends and neighbors lent us two laptops for the kids to use and another dear friend donated a printer. As time went on, a schedule became increasingly important. We realized we needed to get up early (ish), to have dedicated break time and dedicated lunch time.
We also learned that we work best in the morning hours and tend to feel tired by the early afternoon. Most importantly, we learned that offering ourselves grace makes learning at home a LOT more fun.
Flexibility- It’s Important
We are now in our fourth week of e-learning and we are still finding our way, but things have certainly improved since day one. We wake up early, we make lists, we have dedicated times for breakfast, breaks, and lunch. We have learned that being outside and off of the screens is critical to our mental health and overall, well-being. We take liberties with our educational plan and work to incorporate our own hands-on, STEAM activities. Activities that our entire family can engage in. And of course, many of those activities include ART! Art is such a huge part of my life. Another huge part of my life in gardening. In fact, our family produces our own produce, eggs, and compost throughout the year. Once I realized how desperately my children needed to be outside, I started coming up with some STEAM activities for them to enjoy. For those of you who do not know, STEAM stands for Science Technology Engineering Art Mathematics. STEM or STEAM is a comprehensive learning model that integrates these concepts in hands-on, real life ways.
A Time for Innovation
To start, we created our own Scavenger Hunt right in our own yard. There are so many examples of backyard scavenger hunts online that your head will spin with ideas. I thought it was fun to just walk around with my iPhone and snap photos of things for my children to find. Almost like an I SPY game. On a warm day with dad, the kids were instructed to search our property for unused items that could be re-purposed into a garden planter. They found an old coffee table frame (minus the top), some scrap plywood, screws and leftover paint. This required critical thinking skills, collaboration and engineering concepts. In the end, not only was I proud, but so were they and so were their teachers! We made sure to document the project and share.
On another day we discussed things we could do to help our neighbors during this time. We knew we couldn’t go to their homes, but we could see them sitting on their porches. We looked around and found some used spray paint and some painters tape and realized that we could use these to create a sort of stained glass inspired mural on our front fence. The neighbors all smiled and waved and we could see the smiles spread across their faces when they began to realize what we were creating. My third grader was so eager to share this with his teachers and friends at school and we all walked away feeling joyful and blessed.
Today, we researched ways to keep the birds away from our strawberry plants. We found that if you paint rocks to look like strawberries, they can actually deter the birds. You see, when the birds try to peck at the rocks and realize how hard they are, they decide it isn’t worth the effort. So, the kids searched for rocks of a certain shape/size, painted them and placed them around our strawberry plants. We will watch to see if this has any impact and record our results. Another great STEAM project!
Be an Original, One Day at Time
As we continue to move forward, it is my greatest hope that parents and educators throughout our state will embrace their own creativity, show themselves tremendous grace, and constantly and intentionally seek out ways to make this the best experience possible for our kids. It definitely isn’t easy and for many of us, it doesn’t come naturally, but if we all work together and embrace what we can, children across Rowan County will come out of this braver, more compassionate, more resilient and definitely more creative!