Tina Noren, Ventura, CA
What was your greatest struggle when it came to distance learning?
When we first learned that school was closing for what we thought was just a few weeks (back in March), I didn’t panic. We took a relaxed approach and didn’t draw up any schedules for how to keep our kids engaged throughout the day. Those first few weeks we sheltered-in-place went smoothly. We brought out puzzles, made play dough, started some art projects, and my oldest daughter started baking. The kids spent a lot of time playing outside. My younger daughter would stay in her roller skates for hours. We took a lot of neighborhood walks. I started saving any free resources that I found, like Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems (one of my son’s favorite authors).
It felt like things would be ok.
And then on April 1st, it was announced that the remainder of the school year would be done online and the kids would not return to school. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed and nauseous when I heard that news. My brain knew that that was the best / most safe decision, but my body was rejecting this new information.
My greatest struggle with distance learning was trying to help my 5th grader with fractions! I’m kidding, kind of. That was a struggle, but my greatest challenge was finding a rhythm that worked for all of us. It was hard to figure out how to share my attention between three children who were in 5th grade, 4th grade and kindergarten. Eventually, the older two were able to work independently for the most part. With my kindergartener, I needed to be involved with his online learning time every step of the way.
What resources did you utilize to help you on your unexpected homeschool journey?
The online platform that our children used was Canvas. At one point, their school district started to add extra resources for families. For example, links to virtual field trips through The Nature Conservancy. I relied mostly on those resources, as well as whatever information parents shared on social media. I started a folder on my browser for all the sites because at one point, it felt like there were so many. Getting organized helped me feel like I could manage the new school routine. I started to use a digital calendar again, to keep track of the Zoom and GoogleMeet calls that my kids would have with their teachers. I bought a white board in hopes that we would come up with a routine or checklist, but we didn’t manage to do that. Maybe next time around!
Were you working from home while you were homeschooling your kids? What challenges did this entail?
I am a (mostly) mixed media artist working on establishing an art business. While my children were in school, I used some of that time for my creative practice. Now, I try to carve out time whenever I can. Sometimes that means that I have to ignore household chores (and sometimes the rest of the family), put on headphones, and set a timer for 30 minutes to create something. This helps me reset and, I think, makes me a more pleasant person to be around.
I also have a part-time job at the Santa Paula Art Museum. I’d only been working there for a little over a month before the pandemic hit. Initially, I hadn’t been able to do much work from home because my focus was on helping my kids navigate online learning and all of the other things involved with being a family of five.
These days, I’ve managed to fit in some time working from home and going back to work while the Museum was open. Since we have a small staff, we’re able to be safe and socially distanced if we are at work. My employer was and continues to be supportive during this time, understanding that my schedule is fluid right now.
My husband has been working from home since mid-March. While I have flexibility to leave the house and go to work, sometimes that makes it difficult for him to get work done. We’ve all had to adjust to this situation and continue to learn what works and doesn’t work for our family.
How did you find balance and time for self-care in the midst of daily life as an unexpected homeschooling parent?
Balance is elusive. I’m still working on unlearning that word, especially when it comes to describing parenting and life. Understanding that no one can do it all and that no one does it all, is something I keep reminding myself. There’s always a trade-off when it comes to where we choose to spend our time. For example, I stay up way too late and sacrifice sleep because I want to enjoy a completely quiet house. The trade-off is that I’ll be a bit slow and grumpy the next morning. I struggle with giving up that quiet / uninterrupted time to myself. We love our people and we also need to take healthy breaks from one another!
Self-care looks like me prioritizing my art practice. At least 30 minutes of me doing something creative and I’ll feel a positive difference in my spirit. If I get more time than that, it’s even better!
I know that physical activity is an area that will also help me and I’m working on building that habit. I’m an inconsistent runner. (I went for a run/walk three times last week and then zero times this week.) I know science tells me that getting enough sleep is a good thing, but I have yet to keep that habit.
I recently discovered the Waking Up app after a friend’s recommendation. I’d like to eventually maintain a daily meditation practice. (Prior to this, I’ve practiced meditation sporadically.) Practicing mindfulness is something that can benefit not only during distance-learning-time, but also every day living-in-a-pandemic time.
In a perfect world, what would your ideal homeschool day look like?
The kids would get themselves dressed for the day, eat breakfast, brush their teeth and be ready to learn by 9:00 AM without any prompting or sibling fighting. I would start with the youngest one, helping him with his online learning while the older two start their learning independently. After finishing up with my youngest, I would check in on the older two and offer help if needed. No one would interrupt anyone else’s learning time. After an hour of school work, everyone would take a break and go outside or have a healthy snack.
The older two would complete any work they had, while the youngest one has independent time. We’d have lunch around 12:30 PM and everyone would participate in making some part of their lunch. They’d all be grateful for the food that we have and not complain. After lunch, everyone would clear their dishes and go about their days. Maybe they’d continue on an art project, read, or play outside.
But in reality, what did your typical day look like?
The kids were mostly good about changing out of their pajamas after breakfast. This was one area where my husband and I agreed that we would all still get dressed for the day, even if we weren’t really going anywhere. We felt like it helped to set the tone or establish some kind of normalcy during this time. Sometimes, the kids would still be eating breakfast at 10:00 AM. Meal times were being pushed out and blurred to the point that we jokingly referred to them as first meal, second meal, third meal, etc. There were days that I found myself saying “Brush your teeth before lunch time!”
If a child was in the middle of drawing, playing quietly, or reading, I didn’t want to interrupt them to get on the computer to do their schoolwork. Yet, I also didn’t want to be interrupted later (whenever they were ready) to help with school work. Since we didn’t establish a schedule at the start of the lockdown, I didn’t know how to get into a rhythm without it feeling a little bit forced. I had to let go of the idea that there was an ideal schedule.
I went from being stressed out that all the kids did their schoolwork during the allotted time to surrendering to the fact that we will do the best we can, each day.
I continued to work with my kindergartener to complete his work. We would stop any time I sensed his frustration or lack of focus.
The older two were responsible for their work. I was in touch with their teachers if they had any issues. We had to readjust the workload for my 4th grader because she was spending way too much time on some of the assignments. My 5th grader was comfortable reaching out directly to her teacher when she had questions. My attempts to help her with any type of math work usually ended up with both of us upset and frustrated.
I shifted the priority to their well-being over the academics, repeatedly saying things like “do the best you can”.
What were your best homeschooling memories?
I don’t know what I’d consider best homeschooling memories. It was interesting to get a better sense of what each of my children were learning. In regards to best shelter-in-place memories, seeing my kids enjoy activities they didn’t have time to do during a typical school week was fun. My oldest daughter took up baking. My younger daughter improved her roller skating skills. My son would draw for hours.
In early April, the kids noticed caterpillars going into their chrysalis stage in our backyard. Since we were home, we’d check on them often and got to see the monarch form in the chrysalis and even watch a few of them emerge from their chrysalis! It was a special moment, up until the kids started fighting about who would stand closest to watch this magical transformation.
What are your plans for next school year? Will your children continue with distance learning or will they return to school? How will this affect you and your family?
At one point, my oldest kids wanted to do the hybrid model, a mix of in-person and distance learning. They wanted to be back in school with their friends and understood that they would have to wear masks all day and stay socially distanced. They seemed to have an understanding that school would not be what it was before the pandemic. My youngest one expressed interest in being homeschooled, but I don’t think he had a clear understanding of what that meant. I’m pretty sure he just liked the idea of staying home.
After all of our family discussions about school, the district announced that they are starting all students with 100% distance learning until who knows when. We discussed the idea of doing Homestead, a homeschooling program within our district, and all agreed that it wasn’t the best fit for our family.
Our plan is that we will need to be flexible. We want to see how it goes with distance learning at our current schools and re-evaluate if / when necessary. We’ll have a 6th grader, 5th grader and 1st grader for the 2020-2021 school year. As cliche as this sounds, we’re trying to take things one day at a time.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that I did not cover?
This is an unprecedented time. We’ve experienced a range of emotions and will continue to as we figure out how to move through the world, especially when it feels like the world has turned upside down. It feels hard to deal with the uncertainty, but I remind myself that it will not be like this forever.
I’m aware of the privilege we have. My husband gets to work from home and has job security, for now. I have flexibility with my part-time job. We have enough resources and support. We are all healthy. We’ve made a lot of great memories as a family during this pandemic. And I don’t think I’ll completely process all of this, until viewing it from hindsight.
I’d love to get to know you!
Are you a homeschooling parent interested in being interviewed?