We all knew this school year was going to look different. We had imagined a scenario where school started online -more or less like the Continuous Learning approach we had last Spring- then we were going to move to a hybrid model and later in the year, we were going to come back to the on-site experience, modeled and adapted to fit COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Let’s just say that what we had in mind was different from reality. In our School District, families were given just two options: brick and mortar school – with precautions and restrictions- or virtual school -with a whole year commitment. After two weeks filled with worries, concerns, talks, and discussions, we decided we were going to enroll our kids in the virtual school. It wasn’t an easy decision to make and still when the five of us felt sad because we love our neighborhood school, we realized we needed to prepare for our new normal and start infusing it with optimism and joy.
I figure that this particular year is going to look pretty similar to ours for many families in the area, and maybe beyond that. I believe that a positive mind and heart can make life go smoother and that being prepared -but with an open mind to be flexible and change plans if needed- make things easier and more enjoyable for everyone. What I’m sharing with you here is our step-by-step experience as newbies trying to do our best in order to be able to enjoy this 2020-2021 school year.
Get Familiar and Informed
The first thing I did was checking out the Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling in Wichita. As we had already enrolled the kids at eCademy, what I explore the most were the articles related to co-ops and student groups, sports teams and P.E. classes, art and music programs, ideas for free field trips and activities, and of course, support groups for parents. At least for me, counting on others on the same path is priceless. I joined a couple of FB groups and connected with other moms in the same or similar situation: we have already planned a couple of safe field trips with a reduced number of kids!
Organize a Dedicated Space at Home
For us, our school space is going to be part of the family room, in the basement. Last Spring we used the same space for Continuous Learning, but as it was going to be temporary, we just improvised. This time, we committed for a whole year, so we want to be as comfortable as we can. We moved some furniture around to have a bigger table, we fixed a whiteboard in the wall, created a cozy reading space, and added some shelves. We are not finished with the project and the kids love to suggest ideas, propose new distributions, and look for new additions to our new school habitat: they think we absolutely need a bean bag chair!
Create a Schedule that Fits Your Family Needs
You know what is best for your family as well as your circumstances: you know who is going to be able to act as the learning coach or if it’s going to be a shared task, how much time do you have available for school, and when you do have it. I have a part-time job from home and a certain degree of flexibility in arranging my working hours, our triplets are starting 5th grade and we are expecting 4 hours of schoolwork during weekdays: I will be the one coaching the kids during the mornings when they are more focused and have a better mood for learning. Fridays will be our wild card because we also need to plan for flexibility.
Make Space for Learning Cool Things
We are going to follow the public school curricula, no doubts about that. But as we love Waldorf’s pedagogy, we are going to add a Waldorf morning routine including movement to start the day, artistic activities, the season’s table, specific age readings, some knitting (yes, even for the boys, they love it!) and crafts with natural elements. We are also planning to add contents that are of special interest for my kids: fossils and rocks hunting and researching, some gardening, nature exploration, a wide variety of “experiments”, and a touch of astronomy. Not the full thing about any of that, just as little or as much as their interest drive it!
Improve Your Supply List
This year the supply list for the virtual school begins with “suggested” so we are going to take our chance of freedom to make it more fun and interesting for the kids. Our children love school supplies, so we still are going to get new stuff for them according to the official list but we are also adding a few things. We are going to look for little buckets, sieves, brushes, and magnifying glasses that are going to help in our excursions for fossils and rocks. New gardening gloves and a couple of gardening books, hardcover small notebooks for nature journals. We were lucky enough to find a very good deal for a second-hand and fully functional telescope that fits perfectly with their interest in astronomy.
Plan for Fun and Adventures
My kids are going to miss seeing their friends, teachers, and other people they interact with on a daily basis at school. And after being at home since March, they are also going to miss being out of the house. We can’t do a lot about it but we can acknowledge it, and try to compensate with options that can still be exciting for them. With my job, I don’t have all the time in the world for field trips, but we can organize our school hours to make fit one weekly excursion. There are so many good options here in Wichita that makes this part easier: from outdoor adventures to museums and galleries, dozens of possible destinies to choose from. As I could be a little too organized, I created a file listing all our places of interest with days and hours of operation, ticket prices for kids and adults, when and during which period there are free or discounted days, phones or emails in case you need to pre-register for a visit, and family memberships information.
New things – and even new ways of doing the same things – require time and patience, and starts are not always easy. I know we will need to adjust many of the things we have planned, and that there are going to be days when nothing will go as expected. In those days, just smile and remind yourself -and your kids- that life is an adventure and you can’t predict outcomes of adventures! Go for a walk or do something that everyone enjoys, and start again tomorrow with optimism. If we keep in mind that we are in this together and that each one is doing their best, I have no doubt that this school year is going to be an incredible experience!