5 Positive Takeaways from the Disastrous Year of Covid School Closures
Some aspects of our children's lives were actually better during pandemic school
The last 18 months of pandemic schooling felt like a fever dream. School in your living room? Your kindergartener learning to read with 25 little faces, Brady Bunch–style, on a computer screen? Did you actually take that high-stakes work call while tossing popsicles to your kids like a zookeeper flinging fish to seals, hoping that it would keep them quiet long enough for your spouse to finish Zooming with their board in the other room?
Yes. You did. It happened. And it happened to families all over the world, including mine.
In my house, after those first few days of disbelief and desperation passed, we discovered that there were parts of our lives — and our kids’ lives — that were better during pandemic schooling.
My husband and I mourn what COVID has taken from our kids, but we made a choice not to fight the fights that we didn’t stand a chance of winning — school closures, living rooms turned classrooms, adding “Zoom in a room” and “pod” to our lexicon — because we would only make ourselves and our children crazy in the process. Instead, we looked for the opportunities.
Everywhere you turn, you’re hearing messaging that the past school-year-and-a-half has been a dumpster fire. Our children are behind! Everyone is suffering! Everything everywhere is ruined! Even the title of this article tells you that the school year was “disastrous.”
Only, what if it hasn’t been? Here are five aspects of our children’s lives that were actually better during pandemic school:
- Strong home-school connection. Kids thrive when they have a strong home-school connection. They feel secure when parents and teachers are in frequent, clear communication and parents know what goes on in school. When school went remote and we could hear what took place in class, families everywhere were liberated from the “What did you do in school today?” “Nothing” routine. When an idea in class made our son light up, we were able to help him explore that topic more deeply. When a class discussion didn’t align with our family’s values, we were there to discuss it with our kids. When it comes to challenging topics, I want to establish a foundation with my kids that they can take out into the world to help them assess and respond to what they hear from others. When I could hear what was said in class, I was in an even stronger position to do that.
- Self-directed learning. Kids learn best when they’re having fun. Pandemic schooling meant less time in school and fewer hours spent on homework, which presented an amazing opportunity for kids to explore their own interests! That’s self-direction — guiding our own exploration and learning. During the pandemic, our son discovered model rocketry. With hours to explore, he began to learn chemistry, physics, meteorology, and math in pursuit of his new interest…and he connected with new friends he would never have met otherwise. Not only did he learn more in multiple subjects than he would have in a typical first grade school year, it was relevant to something he cared about, and it was fun, which means that he remembers it better and knows how to apply it in the real world, not just in calculations on a worksheet.
- Empowerment. Information empowers us to advocate for change. You can’t fix a problem you don’t know is there. With kids at home and school piped into our living rooms, we had a lot more information about our children’s educational experiences. Parents could see when one teacher’s approach was more effective than another’s, and we could use that insight to advocate for our children. More importantly, closures and remote instruction pulled back the curtain on the severe inequities in our educational system. Who does it serve to hide those inequities back behind closed school doors as quickly as possible? We need to deeply consider the narrative that BIPOC children and poor children are suffering and inadequately educated at home, that only the school system can keep them safe and learning, and that we urgently need to get them back inside school buildings because the system knows what’s best for them. It is paternalistic, and in some cases white saviorism, and it implies that our school systems are meeting the needs of all learners equally. They aren’t. Let’s not assume that everyone wants to get “back to normal,” because that assumes that “normal” was good for all families. Let’s take what we learned and use it to advocate for our own children and for all children.
- Independence. Attempting to hold down our jobs while also pandemic schooling pushed parents’ boundaries to give our kids more freedom. We had no choice. Kids learned to make their own lunches, use a calendar, play independently, and more. Although there were growing pains, it was great for our kids, and it was good for parents, too. In many ways, kids today are actually safer than we were a generation ago. Yet we are so inundated with scare-media telling us that danger lurks around every corner that we forget that independence is necessary for growth and development. The more independence we give our children — the more we convey to them that they are capable and we trust them, the more they have the opportunity to try, fail, try again, and then succeed — the healthier they (and we) will be.
- Expanded Community. What if your seven-year-old is fascinated by particle physics? What if your child struggles with social anxiety and finds it easier to make friends from home? What if your child aspires to something not readily available in your school or local community? Although the pandemic kept us home, it also provided us with unprecedented opportunities to expand our kids’ communities. That seven-year-old future particle physicist could Skype a scientist from across the globe thanks to skypeascientist.com. Your budding zoologist could Zoom with Fiona and her keepers through cameo.com. Kids afraid of socializing in person could join remote social-skills groups. Kids on the autism spectrum or with sensory processing challenges found that neurotypical folks had a lot more empathy than they used to; thanks to the pandemic, we all wanted six feet of space and cringed if someone unfamiliar touched our bodies. And as educators adapted programming for Zoom, we could reach kids all over the world who could never access our services before.
Now that schools have reopened full-time and in-person, we find ourselves wondering: Do we want to give up everything that we’re being asked to leave behind? In our family, the answer is a resounding no. Our new challenge is preserving what was better about the last 18 months, so that we’re not simply swept up in a tide of other people’s urgency to return to the before-times.
I recommend sharing these ideas with your kids. Find out what aspects of pandemic schooling were actually better for them. Explore ways to preserve it.