The new school year is inching ever so close to many us, but for many parents, the question still remains- should I let my kids go back to school, and honestly? Will that even be an option?
For many schools across the nation, school will look nothing like it did before COVID-19. Some schools are conducting half-day classes with only half their class sizes at a time. Other schools are on rotating days. Some schools have continued distance learning. But even if school was going back to normal, would I want to send my kids back?
The problem with how many school districts are planning to start the school year is that it isn’t school like they know. They won’t be able to play with friends at the playground. They can’t even sit next to each other at lunch. There is no more “fun” in school, and with elementary school-aged children, fun is one of the reasons they go! One of the biggest reasons I send my children to a traditional school is for the social interaction aspect of it, but if the school takes away all of those interactions then it’s not really school. It’s just a place they go to do work, and they will have plenty of time for that in their adult life.
I never thought I’d be a homeschooling mom. I’m sure there are many parents who thought the same before the pandemic started. Although I have my Master’s in Elementary Education, teaching your own children is a different beast (this is also something many teachers could probably tell you!). But as I started “homeschooling” or rather, crisis schooling, my children from home I found that there were amazing benefits to them being taught at home.
Not only did my children thrive in their education (my preschooler and kindergartener went from struggling with letter recognition to now reading simple sight words and blends) while my second grader flew through her math concepts and is now working on third-grade level math. And expanded on art, history, science, and social studies in ways they never were able to do before in school. We enjoyed learning and it only took a fraction of the day every day, with the rest of the day open for different activities, expanded learning, or just playtime.
But in addition to their educational leaps, I also found that my children were less stressed. I no longer fight with my second grader to get out of bed in the morning. My kindergartner doesn’t fit me on putting on “real shoes” and “real clothes” because now she can spend her day barefoot and in pajamas. My preschooler misses school the most, which makes sense because her day was mostly spent playing, but her behavior has improved markedly since I am no longer making her wake up before she’s ready in order to get her sisters to school on time.
And early research on the effects of crisis schooling and distance learning on kids and their mental health agrees. Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor in the Department of Psychology at Boston College, calls the effect of schooling on kids in the United States a “course correction” for our education system. He states that before the pandemic “We have created a really abnormal world for our children. As a society, we have gone berserk and lost our way. We’ve taken away play and creative activities and piled on homework, tests, and scheduled activities” with studies showing high levels anxiety, depression, and suicide in the past few decades. But now there are “reports of children being happier and less stressed now, [and] with all that pressure taken away, [it] doesn’t surprise me at all,” Gray says.
So even if school was to look the same, I’m not sure I would send my children back. Sure, there have been days where we have struggled with the motivation to get our schooling done. I have struggled to create lesson plans that I think follow along with guidelines and standards at their grade level. Distance learning was incredibly hard for my kids and I don’t want to put them through that if I don’t have to. And if school is just a place to go to get some work done and they are losing out on the social aspects of school, then what is the point?
Another thing to consider is if a second wave hits and schools are closed again. Many children will have a difficult time with the roller-coaster effects of schools reopening and closing again, creating an unstable environment and possibly effecting their mental and emotional health.
Our family still hasn’t made a full decision on whether or not we will continue with traditional school or venture off into homeschooling. Our family is lucky enough to have the option of homeschooling while still being financially comfortable whereas many families do not. But no matter what happens, we continue to hope that the few months of quarantine and the lesson learned about the effects of traditional school on our children’s mental and emotional health will play a role in reforming education for our nation.