As fall of 2020 approached, 10-year-old Henry sat with his dad, Sean, on the front porch.
“I’m sure I want to do remote learning.”
Sean listened and, admittedly, he was thankful the decision came so easily for Henry. Ultimately, Sean empowered his son to consider for himself the way he would learn, letting him make the final call. And for Henry, this meant the opportunity to self-motivate each day, plan how he’d like his at-home learning space to look, and have a more flexible schedule.
For Sean, it did mean multiple adjustments to his work-at-home life. As an executive in public relations, where crisis management during an unprecedented time in history meant long hours and astute focus, he—like so many other dads in highly stressful jobs—first thought at-home learning wasn’t possible in his house. He imagined that parleying between Henry’s lessons and his work priorities would be impossible. But as the spring semester trudged on, he realized how having Henry at home with him was making them both profoundly more productive. And he also began to see clearly that Henry’s traditional school had troubling issues even before the pandemic.
Sean acknowledges that family dynamics and disparities could prohibit other moms and dads from working and schooling from home. But after he and Henry had the chance of a lifetime to learn and work together during the COVID-19 closures, Sean started to question things. Were traditional schools helping or actually hindering families in his community? Was his kid falling in love with learning in school? Was he getting a chance to pursue his passions? Henry was doing well, sure, but was he thriving? Or was there a better structure out there: one his family could build for themselves?
Traditional School for Henry Pre-COVID-19
Henry is a good student. He won the school spelling bee. He enjoys reading and is well liked by his peers. By the traditional measures of success, Henry was doing just fine in school. So why didn’t it feel right?
Sean wasn’t necessarily a big proponent of traditional school for his son, but he had respectfully followed along with the expectations. “Frankly, when you want the very best for your kid, you do what you are told to do they tell you to do.” But, when COVID-19 closed schools, Sean had a new chance to reexamine how traditional school worked and exactly why it might feel off. Sean juggled conference calls and facilitated Henry’s school work in March of 2020. He realized that all that juggling may have felt frustrating and time-consuming in the beginning, but it quickly birthed a wonderful new routine in the home. He and Henry were closer than ever, and were getting more work done than before.
Henry thrived being at home. He was able to move at his own pace and learn with the methods and tools that worked best for him. Best of all, he was able to channel his interests and pursue things that kept him feeling passionate about learning. He quickly began to appreciate where the extra effort he was putting toward school could lead by witnessing the payoff for his dad.
“My dad works really hard for the family. He takes care of us and it’s all because he also worked really hard in school.”
The typical misconception about remote learning or homeschool is that it’s socially isolating. And although Henry speaks fondly of the relationship he has with his dad, it is certainly not the relationship that is central to most of his teenage life. And Sean would have it no other way. Like most parents, Sean worried, “I’ve enjoyed my time with him, but I do want him to socialize and make and keep friends.” As the year progresses and, hopefully, COVID-19 cases begin to decline, Sean hopes to encourage Henry toward a variety of extra-curricular activities that he has already researched, and that would ignite Henry’s creativity and help him meet like-minded peers. In the meantime, Henry gets plenty of social interaction through virtual class check-ins, hanging out with neighborhood buddies, and a little bit of gaming.
First, Remote Learning … Then, Homeschool?
After getting a taste of what a typical learning day at home could look like while still participating in the traditional school’s curriculum, Sean noted, “Homeschool is definitely not off the table now. I feel like we’re starting to do some of that already and—if we had more choices or opportunities, or even interaction with a small group of peers—we’d probably have an ideal educational environment.”
Across the United States, parents are struggling to balance work, childcare, and structuring out a school day for their kids. This time is giving us all a chance to rethink what school looks like for our youngsters. Although Sean admits his situation may feel easier than most, his research into homeschooling and learning pods showed many diverse pathways he hadn’t thought were possible.
He advises others, “There isn’t one way to do school now. You have many choices and don’t have to go the prescribed way. Find a way to make it work for BOTH you and your kids.”