Adjusting your expectations may be the key to survival. If it’s possible to survive this at all.
Week One of Zoom kindergarten nearly broke me. On Friday, I took the first nap of my adult life. I’ve napped before due to illness, but never just from overwhelming mental exhaustion. Distance learning or home school are our only options in Los Angeles, as schools remain closed indefinitely. Even private ones. We chose distance learning because I’m passionate about public education and want my son to remain in the system. I want to help the system succeed. The question is, can it? Can we sustain school by Zoom for an entire semester and possibly beyond?
Nothing can prepare you for the mental and physical exhaustion of remote learning with a kindergartener. If anything, it’s like having a newborn. I have no idea what day it is, when I last showered, or how I’m supposed to do this long term. I have no answers for you as to how we’re going to survive, let alone thrive, but I’m here to share the things I wish I had known before we started the school year.
Expect distance learning to be like homeschooling.
Zoom is not Sesame Street. Don’t expect to set your kid in front of the screen and walk away. You will need to be next to them, or at the very least nearby, for the duration of class. Like it or not, you’re the co-teacher now. Which brings me to my next point:
Expect to be on Zoom.
Get dressed. You’re going to be popping on screen frequently during the first few days. I’ve seen every parent in our class in pajamas, and many of them fresh out of the shower with wet hair.
Whatever camera ready means to you, be ready.
Expect to have technical difficulties.
On our first day of school, Zoom crashed worldwide, and our first eight days were plagued by technical difficulties. Half of us were stuck in waiting room purgatory while the other half was cut off every time we transitioned into breakout rooms. We routinely lost 20 minutes at the beginning of each class to problems like these.
If two children are sitting next to each other on two different computers, terrible feedback will blast through the speaker of everyone’s computers. The only way to solve this issue is to put the kids in different rooms (with mom or dad running back and forth,) put both kids in headphones (but now mom and dad can’t hear what’s happening in class), or put both kids on one computer.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, it’s a wonderful lesson for your littles on how to deal with frustration and show patience and grace to those around them.
Expect very little learning to take place the first week.
Week one is about parents and teachers navigating technology glitches. It’s about teaching students how to use Zoom, teaching them to mute and unmute themselves (because while teachers can mute the group, Zoom doesn’t allow them to unmute individuals). When your child raises his hand, he must be able to unmute himself when the teacher calls on him. Kindergartners are capable of learning the platform, but it takes time.
During the first few days, it may feel like Zoom school is nothing but the teacher showing videos and reading books to the class, but hang in there. But by day five, we hit our stride. Our class was navigating small group breakout rooms, pairing physical activity with lessons about compound words, discussing how many “vertices” each geometric shape has, and describing the shapes to one another using their “attributes.”
Be patient. The first days of Zoom are about learning how to use Zoom.
Expect to get absolutely none of your own work done during school hours.
I did not work or exercise at all the first week. I did not put on makeup, shower, or change clothes for several days. I ate and drank and cried all of my feelings. It was not my plan, but working from home during school hours turns out to be impossible, according to every parent I’ve talked to who has tried it. Some parents have managed to work in the evenings, but no one I know has accomplished anything other than tears during class time. If I had the first week of school to do over again, I would plan to work out, get dressed, and shower before Zoom starts. For me, if it doesn’t happen before school, it doesn’t happen. If you work from home, be prepared for late night work sessions until you settle into your new school year.
Expect to follow the teacher’s classroom rules.
School may be happening inside your home, but that doesn’t mean your house rules apply. Zoom classrooms must be treated like real classrooms for this system of learning to be successful. Your kid wouldn’t be allowed to eat a bowl of oatmeal at his desk during class, so don’t expect him to be allowed to eat breakfast during Zoom, either. Participation in distance learning requires participation in the teacher’s classroom rules. If your attitude is “my house, my rules” during Zoom, distance learning is not for you.
Expect your child to slide out of his chair. And completely melt down.
This doesn’t mean your child hates Zoom. I spent many, many days volunteering in Levon’s class last year and I can assure you that all children slide out of their chairs and suffer meltdowns CONSTANTLY. If I had a nickel for every time I said,
Please sit up.
We need to sit up and listen to the story.
We need to sit down in our chairs.
It’s not time to sit on the floor, we’re sitting in our chairs now.
We can’t lay down right now. We need to sit up.
I know you’re tired, but we need to sit up.
All. Day. Long.
Every. Single. Kid.
Your kid isn’t sliding out of his chair because he hates Zoom school. Your kid is sliding out of his chair because he’s five, and being five is hard, and being in school is hard. The first three weeks of school is a huge adjustment for every kid, every year. But we parents don’t usually have a front row seat to witness the drama.
Give them time to adjust. Give yourself time, too.
Expect some parents (possibly you) to completely melt down too.
Several parents pulled out of our distance learning class within the first few days. Some due to screen time concerns, others due to scheduling conflicts, and a handful who simply felt that learning over zoom was not in the best interest of their child. The fact that every parent in the country is dealing with this education crisis doesn’t make any of it easier to bear.
Show each other compassion. Understand that teachers and administrators are doing their best, even if their best is completely failing you right now. Resist the urge to express your frustration with the system during your child’s Zoom class. Hijacking Zoom to complain to the teacher in front of the student is entirely inappropriate. Don’t do anything on Zoom that you wouldn’t do while standing in front of your child’s class.
Expect this to be harder on you than it is on your kid.
Your kid will adapt faster than you will. We all now recognize how hard teachers work, so we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re exhausted after doing their job (and then doing our own). I am not a teacher, yet in this upside down world, I am his teacher.
And he is mine. During your first week, when you feel yourself about to crack, just look at the sweet faces of the babes on Zoom, waiting patiently as their parents fall apart over tech glitches. They follow our lead. We should follow theirs.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of "Raise Magazine," stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to "Raise," she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.