To School or Not to School? That is the Question

I recently posted about my medical opinion on kids and wearing masks in school.  I discussed their purpose and how they prevent the spread of infection.  However, many parents, and even school districts, wonder if we are rushing into things too soon.  Some areas of the country are seeing a steady rate of SARS-CoV-2 cases, while others are seeing a dramatic rise.  Many parents are wrestling with the choice of in-person schooling, at home school via eLearning through their school district, or going straight to a homeschooling program.  The biggest question from most parents has been, “What is the RIGHT choice?”

That honestly is not a question I can answer for every parent out there.  A recent Facebook Live video by pediatrician and parenting coach Dr Seidel approached this topic in a very straightforward way.  She states that any choice you make as a parent is the right choice.  That is because it is the choice YOU decided to make for your child as the parent. Whatever comes after that is subject to the situation.  However, your fear of the choice is what makes you worried about it being wrong.  If you let go of that fear then it no longer feels like the wrong choice.  My favorite quote during the 6-minute talk is simply “not to marinade in the fear.”  We do that a lot as parents, don’t we?  We spend too much time worrying about the decision we made involving our kids than we do enjoying the results of that decision. Dr Krupa Playforth, another blogging pediatrician, had a recent blog article on her thoughts on school openings and the recent AAP recommendations.

So, What Are Your Options?

Some parents have multiple choices laid out by their school districts.  Others are still waiting to hear the plan.  There will most likely be some mix of in-person schooling and eLearning.  This allows for kids who are forced to self-quarantine due to infection or contact with an infected individual to continue their current curriculum.  Some parents may want eLearning for the first quarter or semester to see how things go with infection rates.  Others may want it for the entire school year regardless of the situation.  I feel that in today’s current situation the parent should have the right to make that decision.  However, this decision should not be made lightly.

The choice between in-person schooling and eLearning greatly affects personnel planning by the schools.   I am sure there are teachers who are either high risk or may have a close family member who is high risk and would prefer to teach via eLearning.  This would allow the school options on who focuses on in-school teaching and who solely focus on eLearning.  You can even have teachers in rotation to do both if the numbers are needed.  However, the schools HAVE to know how many students will be present for in-person teaching in advance to allow for appropriate cleaning and distancing logistics to protect everyone in attendance.  As a parent it would not work to say one week you want to do eLearning at home, but then the next week you want to send your kid three days of the week due to a work conflict.  Schools will need to implement set dates throughout the academic year for parents to decide if their child will continue to stay at home for eLearning or register to do in-school education for the next quarter or semester. 

What Is Your Role as a Parent with eLearning, or Homeschooling for That Matter?

I was not trained in education, so the thought of being able to get my older son through 2nd grade without completely ruining something terrifies me.  I know, I know – I quoted “don’t marinade in fear” earlier.  I have been a teaching assistant and lab assistant in chemistry courses in college and have taught many medical students and residents.  Yet, something tells me teaching an entire class of elementary school students is way beyond my expertise.  As parents, what can we do at home to help give our children the best experience of both education and social interaction?  The following are my set of guidelines to remember when teaching from home. 

If you are doing eLearning you must STICK TO THE SCRIPT.  That means don’t let your child slack off from the work expected to be done.  They wouldn’t be allowed to do this in school, so don’t let them do it out of school.  If an assignment is due by a certain time, make sure it gets done in time for the teacher to evaluate it.  As a physician who completely avoids trying to do any charting at night, I am sure many teachers out there don’t want to be grading your child’s math quiz at 10 o’clock at night because they submitted it at 9:45 PM.  I have talked with many parents this summer who allowed their children to merely scrape by on doing work at home. Don’t let this happen this Fall. If you are doing other homeschool plans outside of the school district, this most likely doesn’t apply to you.  

Keep to a ROUTINE!  If eLearning is a viable option, you should be presented with that week’s work assignments in advance (hopefully no later than Sunday evening) in order to plan for the week.  Keep a routine of when your child does class work, attends scheduled online lessons or lectures, eats lunch, gets physical activity, or has a chance to socialize.  Try drawing up a schedule and have it posted wherever your student will do most of their learning.  This can help them stay organized and learn to take responsibility for their own education. 

Stay ACTIVE!  One of the many things we have seen this last year is the large increase in childhood obesity due to inactivity from missing school or after school activities.  Yes, it does happen within a matter of months. Your child may be missing out on competitive sports, recess, physical education class, or other activities that would normally result in them moving their body.  Simply doing one hour a day like we normally recommend is not enough to mimic the normal activity they get in school AND at home.  Sitting in a chair and staring at a tablet or computer screen can increase the risk for muscle tightness and put your child in danger for symptoms like back pain, neck pain, or headaches.  

Eat HEALTHY! Snacking can become a huge hurdle when sitting at home all day. Have set times of the day where eating is allowed – lunch time and maybe an afternoon snack. If your child was in school they would not have the option to snack all the time. Keep it the same way at home. Are they thirsty? Only allow them to drink water. Most schools I know of don’t contain a soda drinking fountain.

Stay CREATIVE!  It is easy to focus on subjects like English, Reading, and Math as these tend to be core subjects taught in school.  However, this does not always allow your child to push their creative boundaries.  Hopefully your school’s eLearning classes will include things like music, art, and other subjects.  You may be responsible for purchasing the materials to do this at home.  Don’t skip out on these subjects or minimize their importance to your child.  Creativity is a huge part to helping a child’s brain develop to its full potential.  

Stay SOCIAL!  It is hard to be social from home on a computer.  The school will most likely allow time for kids to communicate via video chat to “feel” like they are involved in the virtual classroom.  Yet, computer screens don’t replace real world interaction.  Find other families who also choose to do eLearning.  Consider them your COVID buddy families. Make sure they are sticking to the same social distancing and preventative measures.  If everyone is healthy and has had no contacts with other people who are sick, feel free to get together to play outside.  Remember to still wear face masks if planning to be in close contact with one another.  On that topic, make sure to practice mask wearing at home. If your child is not used to it being on their face, they won’t want to wear one if they end up going back to school part way through the year.

Beware of SCREEN TIME!  I feel like I can’t express this enough.  The amount of time spent watching videos, movies, and video games has gone up dramatically since SARS-CoV-2 interrupted education.  I have had many parents in the office admit that their kids do much more of this now than they did before the month of March.  I understand that parents need to work.  I also understand that many of us did not sign up to be educators.  However, this routine of frequent screen time is going to be very difficult to break once school starts up again this Fall.  Allow your child to explore their environment without electronic stimulation.  Read a book.  Invent your own movie or story – there are fun ways to learn about creating a story board, building background sets, and acting out scenes all without a camera or computer. Whatever it may be, try to find ways to keep entertained without batteries being required.

Check in on your child’s MENTAL WELL BEING!  Older kids may be more difficult to monitor compared to younger ones.  Sure, they get their work done and attend virtual classes, but they may stick to themselves more often and prevent you from seeing how they are truly feeling.  We have seen a bump in adolescent anxiety and depression these last few months, and fears about illness, death, social isolation, lack of purpose, etc, are huge culprits.  Consider including mindfulness activities into your child’s routines like meditation or yoga.  Heck, you may even want to do this with them.  Allow your child to speak freely to you without judgement.  You could even include a weekly or monthly “State of the Household” address, allowing everyone to talk about how they think things are going.  If you practice this on a frequent basis it will be easier for everyone to open up about how they are feeling in the current situation.  

No decision you make involving our child is easy.  Remember – once you make the decision don’t look back with regrets.  Move forward and make adjustments as needed.  If you do choose to have your child stay home and do eLearning, know that this should be treated just like school would be in-person.  You cannot simply leave your child to their own devices with getting work done and attending live class videos.  You are volunteering to take on the role as teacher, lunch room staff, principal, guidance counselor, school counselor, etc.  

How do you feel about schools opening this fall?  Have you been given options on how your child’s education will be carried out?  Leave a comment below and let me know!

Imperfect Dad, MD

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