On the afternoon of March 12, a small monthly meeting I was supposed to attend at my kids’ K-8 public charter school got canceled. Later that night we learned that an emergency board meeting had resulted in rescheduling our spring break for this week, and that further closure would be possible after that. By Friday evening, other local, regional, and out-of-state school closures had been announced, some lasting as long as six weeks or even indefinitely. Certainly near the top of surreal experiences over past week for parents has been the realization that our school-aged children will not be spending their days in the classroom this spring.
As news of school closures spread faster than…well, you know, another trend emerged in my social media feeds. It seemed that within minutes of learning school was canceled, parents everywhere grappled with the realization that they might be looking at an extended period of unplanned homeschooling (not to mention work-from-home and childcare challenges). A bewildered and resigned “I guess we’re homeschooling now?” became the prevailing attitude, revealing another layer in the profoundly strange unfolding of the week’s events.
And then, as is so often the case when presented with the unexpected and unavoidable, parents (moms especially, in my circles), jumped into action. A brightly-colored “Covid-19 Daily Schedule” graphic popped up in a group chat I’m in with other mothers of first graders at our school. Blog posts and resource roundups circulated on social media, offering the best remote learning resources and popular homeschooling websites. Our listener Facebook group sprang to life with equal parts comparison (“What’s it like where you are?”), commiseration (“HOW are we going to work from home when daycare is closed?”), and collaboration (“Let’s share ideas for keeping toddlers and preschoolers occupied!”). On every Internet corner in my world, moms appeared, after a very brief moment of shock, to be mobilizing to transform their homes into germ-free havens of enrichment and education.
My mind went there, too—and quickly. I fantasized about having a family-wide memorization project, with Shel Silverstein for the littlest and passages from Shakespeare for the middle schooler. (I might even brush up on a little Keats recitation myself, I thought.) I pawed manically through our bin of activity books, pleasantly surprised to discover a few academic ones among the sticker pads and how-to-draw books. I erased the weekly schedule from our kitchen whiteboard, all those canceled activities already seeming quaint and strange as I wiped the surface clean; in its place I started lists of chores for each kid, giving myself at least the weekend to come up with the daily rhythm that would guide our new reality.
So here we are, fellow moms: Accidental homeschoolers armed with Pinterest ideas and daily schedules, ready to keep our children’s minds active and their screen-time limited. We’ve bookmarked all the sites and printed all the checklists (unless we’re low on printer ink), and now begins the actual work of overseeing remote learning while parenting in a time of national stress.
Can I gently suggest that we not turn this new venture into a competitive sport?
All the crowd-sourcing we did last week served us well, as a parenting community. I loved seeing seasoned homeschooling moms say “You’ve got this!” to their less-experienced online friends. I loved all the resource-sharing and the offers for one mom’s teen to tutor another’s middle schooler in Spanish via FaceTime. And I genuinely do love many of the spaces that exist on social media for parents to connect and support one another.
But if birthday parties and gender reveals have taught us anything, it’s that online idea-sharing (and sharing in general) can take on a life of its own and mutate into something much less helpful when parents assume that the aspirational equals the actual, or that one mom’s curated public highlight reel represents her total parenting reality. It’s so easy for helpful sharing to morph into humble bragging, for insecure parents (and I would argue that every one of us feels insecure right now) to feel crappy because their insides don’t come close to someone else’s shinier outsides. It’s a slippery slope, and we just don’t need it right now.
So let’s consider doing homeschool differently. Let’s snap a photo of the kids baking cookies together, and another one of the throw pillow they ruined while we finished an email. Let’s share both pictures, with the honest admission that isolation offers both cozy forced connection and also kind of a lot of property damage. Let’s circulate those blog posts with helpful remote learning sites, but also readily admit to not having used a single one of them because we’ve been overwhelmed and under deadline. Let’s offer ideas when we have them to share, and in equal measure help normalize the collectively known wonder that is handing a preschooler an iPad for 30 minutes (or 90). And let’s make it very, very clear to one another that not a single one of us is nailing this (how could we be?), and that we spend large chunks of our days feeling worried, canceling plans, and feeling more like a frazzled substitute teacher than a cool homeschool mom.
Because this week, and next week, and for all the weeks to come, we’re all still learning.
Want a calm, reassuring take on homeschooling from two seasoned moms? Listen to this special bonus episode of The Mom Hour podcast.