Our Kids Aren’t Going Back to School: And We Couldn’t Be Happier

Happy Wednesday!

How is everyone on day 38 of the social distancing situation (in Florida, anyway)? Honestly speaking, I have to say I am impressed with my own handling of this situation. I thought for certain that by now I’d be a mess. I figured my patience would have exited the building weeks ago, I’d be overwhelmed and uptight, and my attitude would suck.

It doesn’t. I’m thriving. And, I think that it’s because our kids are thriving. All the things that I thought they’d miss aren’t having nearly the effect on them that I thought they’d have. We spend so much time running them from this activity to that activity to this practice from that practice to this and that and everything in between, and our kids haven’t asked once about their extracurricular activities or mentioned missing them; but, they have repeatedly said how much they love being home in the evenings and playing games, and having family dinners, and taking walks.

You know what else they comment about missing? Their friends. They miss their friends in class. They miss their teachers. They miss their grandparents. The twins miss giving their teacher a hug in the morning when they get to her class (she’s one of the loveliest people we’ve had the pleasure of meeting, so we get that). They all miss things like their art classes in school, and their media time, and their PE time. They miss connection. They don’t miss being busy. What a thing to process, right?

Governor DeSantis made the announcement Saturday afternoon that our schools would continue to remain closed the rest of the school year. What was initially a month-long closing turned into six weeks, and we were meant to go back at the beginning of May. Now we are out until August; and they will return to school going into seventh, fourth, and first grades. Some parents are really upset by this. I’ll be honest; there was a time when I would have been downright furious.

My husband and I both work from home – not because of COVID-19 but because I’ve worked for myself for 12 years and my husband has been working home for his company for almost four years now – and having the kids home on school breaks and summer is hard on our schedules. Mine a little less so since my schedule is my doing – not that I like it interrupted.

But, we’ve created a new schedule having them home, and we – sit down for this one – like it. The kids like it. We like it. We like having them home. They can be over-the-top and annoying at times – Monday was a rough day for us with the kids. But, I think they’ve been 95% pretty good about this (with the cute exception of the fact that Ava and Carter seem to butt heads more than ever right now). They’ve adapted well, and I’m glad they aren’t going back. Why? Well, for a few reasons.

The Transition Period

The worst thing about a schedule change is the transition period. When school was first closed, it wasn’t so bad because we were only a week away from spring break, and we were traveling the weekend it was announced, so we came home tired and exhausted and we had three little ones with birthdays. We welcomed the extra week. Then, it was spring break. That worked out for us, too. But, the week after was the first week of distance learning, and that’s a transition week. We had two free weeks and then we had to find a new schedule doing something we’ve never done before, and we all had to adapt. That was a stressful week. But, the following week was better. The third week was even better. Week four, which we are in now, is a seamless and organized machine.

The transition of going back to school at the beginning of May for all of three weeks would have been a mess, in my opinion. Transitioning back to a school schedule that involves a 6 am wakeup for our oldest, transitioning back to the classroom after more than six weeks away; I could see the mess from a mile away. Everyone would be tired and cranky, they’d have to learn to readjust – this wasn’t a week off for spring break, after all. They’d have to learn to readjust to a school schedule, and they’d all be cranky and tired for the week. For what? For three weeks? Then, we’d have to readjust to a new summer schedule? It’s a lot of change and adjustment in the span of two months, and kids – especially the Raiford kids – thrive on routine and structure. It’s too much to ask them to make so many confusing changes.

The Fear

Right now, our kids aren’t worried about the virus. Why should they be? They are safe at home with their mom and dad having fun. They are swimming every weekend, they are busy having fun, they are loving family walks and tending to their new little garden Craig helped them plant. They are having more takeout than ever from their favorite restaurants, they are getting so much time outside to play, and the weather is gorgeous. They have unlimited access to Amazon to order new games and toys and crafts, and they’ve been taking full advantage of that. They’re loving this, and they feel safe at home. But, imagine the fear of going back to school right now when part of the world is still shut down, and so many people have so many different opinions. Their friends would have things to say, they would be fearful, and it wouldn’t help. I’m glad they don’t have to face that fear and that they get to stay home with us and feel safe and comfortable.

We’d Miss Them

Who are we?! In all seriousness, the person who will have the hardest time when they go back to school in August is myself. I like having them here. I like being able to leave my phone in the master bedroom and not look at it all day long if I don’t want to – I can’t do that when they’re at school because what if they call and something has happened? I like knowing that they are safe all day long and never worrying when I see the school’s name scroll across my screen. There are so many horrible things in the world that might happen, but our kids aren’t there, and I’m not worried anymore. I love having them home where I know they are safe. That’s everything to me. And, I can tell you that I’ll have anxiety and panic a bit when I no longer have them in my protective custody again.

We like distance learning. I’d even go out on a limb and tell you that homeschool wouldn’t be out of the question for us if the kids would be willing to do it. I think Ava would, and would excel at doing it. But, I know Addison, Charlotte, and Carter would never go for it being the social butterflies and school-lovers that they are. Ava, on the other hand, is me. She doesn’t care for people she doesn’t hand pick, and she only wants to socialize with those she loves and respects. She’d be a hermit if we let her – which is exactly how I am.

This Time is Really Nice

I know that this is not a nice time for so many people in the world right now, and my heart aches for those who aren’t able to work, who are ill, who have lost a loved one, who are struggling financially and who aren’t sure what tomorrow brings. My heart hurts. I don’t want to look past that or make it seem that I am ambivalent in any capacity. However, I am thoroughly enjoying this time. I love the slow days, the new schedule, the time that we are getting to spend with our kids. We are finally NOT busy, and we needed it. We needed more movie nights and more Friday night date nights in the to-go parking spots at our favorite restaurants versus Fridays spent packing to travel every single weekend for a month, stay home for a weekend, and repeat (But, OMG do I miss travel and the places and trips we are no longer taking because we just don’t know when we even can anymore). We needed more sleep until 8 am weekdays, more time to make creative pancakes, go for a run, and focus on school work for only a few hours versus all day. We needed less nights where we are out until 8 pm, tired, hungry, and cranky when we get home. We needed more time with people we love rather than people who drain us.

We needed more game nights. We needed more family dinners around the tables. One night a week wasn’t enough for that. We need to slow down, and we needed to continue this a little longer. The days are getting longer, the nights are still cool and beautiful, and we are finally living our best life free of all the things that stress us out and make us rigid and inflexible and tired. Our kids are doing so well, and so are we with having them home.

It’s simple. Simple, as it turns out, is quite nice. Don’t take that for granted. I hope you are all enjoying your time as much as we are. We’ve had five uninterrupted weeks with our kids, and we get another 16 weeks. That is, even if you’re struggling, a gift. Use it wisely.

Distance Learning Week One: Helping Four Kids Relearn Learning

Happy Friday, and happy end of the first week of distance learning.

For most of us, anyway. We just began distance learning in Florida this week. This week marked the end of the kids’ 3rd week out of school since the state cancelled schools. It also marks the week that President Trump announced that the 15-day flatten the curve plan needed to be extended through at least April 30. Schools for our kids were initially closed through the 15th, but they are not closed through May 1. Honestly, I’m working on the assumption that schools will soon be cancelled for the rest of the school year.

This is a crushing blow for our kids for many reasons. Our oldest, Addison, is in 6th grade. She’s a new middle school student, and she enjoys her schedule and her friends and her teachers. Our 3rd-grader, Ava, has been waiting since Kindergarten to have her 3rd grade teacher this year. Mrs. S, as we will call her here, is the same teacher Addison had in 3rd grade – and she remains Addison’s favorite teacher of all time (which is HUGE because her fourth and fifth grade teachers were pretty amazing!). Ava has been looking forward every single year of her life (her words) to have Mrs. S., and she is crushed that she’s no longer going back to her class.

Carter and Charlotte are in kindergarten, and they have the most spectacular teacher imaginable. Mrs. B. is phenomenal, and we adore her. I cannot convey how highly we think of her, especially watching her work with the twins and their class via Zoom this week. She has the most confident, most powerful, yet sweetest voice when she teaches. She’s engaging and kind, and you cannot miss her love when she speaks to these kids. She’s using morning Zoom meetings each day to conduct her morning meetings, sight words, calendars, and so much more – and she’s killing it. The twins look forward to her ‘class’ every single morning. The fact that they don’t get to go back to her class is very difficult for them, and my heart hurts.

On that note, we are done with our first week of distance learning. I’m not a homeschool teacher. I’m not homeschooling. I’m moderating their distance learning – alongside my husband. Their teachers are doing the work – and they are doing a fabulous job of it. So far, it’s going really well. We’ve had our hiccups, but I thought I’d share how it’s going for us, what’s working, what’s not working, and how we’ve adjusted our schedules so that it works for our family in the hopes that our situation might help someone else.

1

Four Kids Learning at Home is a Lot

I’ll start out by saying that the most challenging aspect of distance learning is simply doing it with four kids. It’s a lot. They all have somewhere to ‘be’ on their iPads, all at different times, and all on their own schedule. Factor in my schedule and my husband’s, and we are a little frantic a few times a day.

3

Middle School Distance Learning – 6th grade

I’ll also point out that we are exceptionally thrilled our oldest, Addison, is so self-sufficient and good at what she does. She has an agenda she’s using to track her meetings, her due dates, work to be done, etc. She’s using her desk in her bedroom upstairs to do all of her work, and we honestly have no idea what’s up with her every day. She’s a straight A student, a self-starter, and she’s highly motivated. We don’t micromanage her. She tells us about her day over dinner, and she outlines her day at breakfast. She’s so organized and efficient – she is my child.

Addison’s schedule is time-consuming and difficult. She has six classes, and she zoom meets in each one almost every day. Some of them require a once a week zoom, some a daily zoom. Her 7th grade advanced math class meets daily on Zoom for an hour and 10 minutes (which, by the way, is longer than her actual math class when she’s at school) for a full lesson. She’s spending the bulk of her day at ‘school’ upstairs, and she’s handling it like a pro.

2

Third Grade Distance Learning

Ava is able to do things on her own, which is great. She needs us for things on occasion when her iPad mutes or does something that she cannot figure out during a meeting, but she’s good otherwise. She’s not yet started the full distance learning curriculum. That’s next week. She’ll have daily assignments to turn into her teacher, and they have a morning Zoom meeting to connect with one another. This week, she’s only required to do iReady for 90 minutes each day. Forty-five minutes for reading and the other 45 is math. She’s doing an awesome job!

10

Kindergarten Distance Learning

The twins’ schedule is similar to Ava’s. They have a morning zoom meeting every day that lasts approximately 45 minutes to an hour, and they love it. Their teacher is so, so good. They read sight words like they do in class, they talk about their day, they do so many things. Otherwise, their expectations this week are 90 minutes per day on iReady. Just like Ava, they’re doing 45 reading and 45 math each day. Their teacher is working on lessons that she can teach beginning soon, as well as additional work for them to complete soon. She’s also reading and posting stories for the kids.

***fun fact: Our elementary school’s SRO is doing fun videos on Facebook teaching them fun things like how to make and fly paper airplanes, and his wife -who teaches at a different elementary school – is reading stories on a daily basis on Facebook for the kids to listen to. It’s amazing.

Making it Work

To make this work in our household, we ended up buying the three little ones their own iPads. Addison has her own already, and they use their tablets for Zoom, but iReady does not support their Kindle Fire tablets. So, they each got a new iPad Pro (IMPORTANT: They got these iPads because iReady does not support the iPad minis because it only supports screens that are at least 9.7-inches diagonal, and the iPad 10.2 wasn’t available when we ordered, though it will work if you can find one that’s available soon enough).

***also important to note: If you do order an iPad pro, it must be the 11-inch. My 12.9-inch iPad Pro is not the brand-new model. It’s the one before this new 12.9 inch, and iReady works on it. However, iReady does NOT support the brand-new iPad Pro 12.9-inch. Be sure to order the 11-inch!

While we waited on new iPads to arrive, I had to adjust my schedule accordingly to let the kids use my iPad and my laptop – both items I need to work myself. I’ve worked from home for 12 years for myself, and I have a killer schedule, but giving up my electronics makes it impossible – especially when it’s for a total of 4.5 hours a day. That was a struggle, but we are much happier now!

3

Our New Schedule

I’ll preface this by saying that I work for myself, so I have a much more flexible schedule than my husband. He works for a company that requires him to work 8-5 each day. He’s been working from home for four years, but he’s not always available during the day when and if we need his help.

So, our new schedule had to be made to easily accommodate both of our schedules, four kids, and the desire to keep evenings free so we can have family time. Walks, dinner, movie night, card games, etc. Here’s how we are doing things.

  • Craig and I set our alarm for 6 am (this is actually sleeping in for us, so it’s nice) and get up. He makes coffee and brings me my laptop in bed so I can work until 7. I move to the lanai at 7 so that I can sit out and watch the sunset while I work until 7:30 when I go for a run.
  • 7:00 is breakfast for the kids
  • 7:30 I run and my husband sets up the first round of iReady for the three little ones. They do 30 minutes at this time
  • 8:00 free time for the kids, shower for me, work for Craig
  • 8:30 – second half hour of iReady for the little kids while I blow dry my hair and get ready
  • 9:30 – 10:15/10:30 – Kindergarten zoom meeting
  • 10-10:30ish – 3rd grade zoom meeting

I set up the twins in the main living area of the house so they both have a quiet place to do their meetings without their iPads conflicting with one another on the same meeting, but also so I can keep an eye/ear on them from my office. One is in the dining room, one is in the kitchen at the bar. Ava works on her meetings in her bedroom across the house.

  • 10:30 – snack and free time
  • 11 – 3rd and final half hour of iReady for the little ones (this one is the last 15 minutes of their math and the last 15 of their reading combined)
  • 11:30 – recess outside (this is a requirement because I like them to get fresh air and sunshine)
  • 12 – lunch
  • 12:30 play time/art time (we usually set up a folding table and tablecloths on the lanai and let them paint canvases or whatever they want to do, or they can play outside)
  • 1:30 – 3:00 – quiet time. We don’t care what they do, but they have to do it in their own rooms. They can read, play on their tablets, play with one another in whomever’s bedroom they want as long as the pocket door that separates the 3 little ones’ bedrooms downstairs from the main area of the house is closed and stays closed.
  • 3 pm – snack and play time
  • 5 pm – we shut down our office, make dinner, go for a walk, whatever
  • 7 pm – bath and bedtime

4

Little Helpful Things

Now that we are back in school, even if it is virtually, everyone has to get up and get dressed and ready for school in our house. It helps ALL of us to get up and get dressed and ready for the day. We had two weeks of sleeping late and wearing pajamas all day, but it was time to brush our hair and wear real clothes and makeup before noon (for me, anyway).

Craig works until 5 and helps when he can. He makes the kids breakfast every morning – they like his chocolate chip pancakes – and he also makes their lunch most days. Occasionally, he might be in the middle of a conference call and I do it, but he does it most days.

While the kids are doing their iReady and their conference calls, I make myself available to them, but I sit and work. I also work anytime I can during their play time, and their quiet time is my chance to finish things up so we can get a few things done around the house and spend the evenings together.

I’ve also made checklists. Each of the little kids has a folder with their daily schedule on it. They check off completed items as they go. It helps them see where they are and what they are doing, and it helps them feel more accomplished.

So far, so good. The kids’ teachers are making this as easy on us as possible. Attempting to accommodate a classroom filled with kids who have parents who have different careers and schedules is no easy task, but they are making it work. Now that we are all becoming  more familiar with zoom and everyone has their own new iPad, things are getting a bit easier around here. It’s been good.

How has distance learning been going for you?