This is part of an ongoing series on the state of education during our current health crisis.
As a career educator and parent of a high-needs, non-verbal kid (as well as highly-independent, academically-inclined teen) here are some of my thoughts on distance learning.
In a word, you need to recalibrate. Distance learning feels “too easy” for some kids, and “too hard for others. Distance learning is NOT the first choice for most educators, but it is the safest choice during our current health crisis. Please remember – your kid is not “behind” anything. Instead, focus on how your kid can move ahead with things in the home environment – even if those are different than what you thought this school year would bring.
My teen was finished with his online school assignments quickly- but he was in dire need of other life skills. So we recalibrated the expectations for his day – balancing online school, gaming with his friends (he is, in the end, a teen boy), with areas of stretch growth.
We have embraced – and continue to embrace – this time at home to support that growth. Cooking dinner (he is becoming expert at my tortilla recipe), “boot camp” style workouts with his dad on their lunch breaks, and evening power walks to deliver extra garden produce to friends and neighbors. And an ongoing, growth-filled conversation about race and politics, economics and health policies in our country.
My non-verbal, severely autistic child took an enormous amount of monitoring to participate in synchronous online learning. So we cleared our calendars and committed to those sessions. But we also used ALL our online sessions – with school staff and private therapists – to work home-focused, life skills that made the REST of each day increasingly easier.
We all became more “fluent” in LAMP, the language of his iPad communication device. We progressed with using utensils – our forks and spoons and scissors that he will encounter again and again in his life. We increased vocabulary around choices and options and boundaries in our home, not random activity stations at school.
And in between, when my husband and I were running meetings, teaching classes, or recording videos, we got creative. His brother wrestled with him, my sister (his respite worker) tagged in, or we gave him a bath or turned on a lawn sprinkler to run through. Meeting his sensory needs is also part of how we learned to recalibrate for him.
In the end, seven hours in a classroom is not something he (or really any active kid!) needs to go back to, even after this health crisis subsides. And taken all together, we have found ourselves living with fewer meltdowns, less self-harm (he is a hand-biter), and better sleep and eating habits. And that has been worth all the challenges of managing distance learning.
And because I have spent much of the past two decades helping teens get into college, I have thoughts on that as well. Here too, it is important to recalibrate. This fall, I will be writing letters of recommendation for students who have worked essential jobs, cared for siblings, delivered groceries to their grandparents, and who joined unique online activities. In short, this may be the most diverse, interesting set of letters I will craft in my 20-plus years in the field. The time at home has made our teens less cookie-cutter and more able to share who they really are with admissions staff.
And the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021 are choosing gap years. This is a trend that I support – not all teens are ready to “go away” to college right away. Community college is a fantastic option, but so is a true gap year.
So in other words, by recalibrating our expectations for our youth, we might find more silver linings than we thought possible.
School Reopening: Society Needs to Face the Truth – guest post