As the COVID-19 lockdowns continue, parents now must grapple with the uncertainty of what the school year will bring. Parents have already begun adapting to their own personal situations, and continue to try new methods to meet their children's needs. Every situation is unique, and parents must find a solution that works best for each child. A single parent with a full-time job will have far fewer options than a family with one or both parents available at home. Likewise, each child is unique, and the challenges facing first graders will be different than those facing high school seniors. Each individual child will also have to overcome her own learning challenges.
As you prepare for your child's upcoming school year, focus on the three primary services schools provide, and address them in order of importance. Schools provide daycare services, social interaction, and academic instruction for your children. Don't worry about any other factors, as those will necessarily fall by the wayside.
School's primary function is to be a place where children go while parents work. The primary challenge for parents planning a post-COVID-19 school year will be what to do with their children during the day. Homeschooling is not a realistic option for most parents, particularly for single parents who have to juggle a full-time job and parenting. Quitting work or reducing work hours will also not be a viable long-term solution. We stand at the edge of a long and painful economic precipice. As of July, the unemployment rate in the U.S. had improved to the still high 10.2%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. However, we do not see the real unemployment rate, as the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and other government subsidies hide the true figures. As of the end of June, the PPP supported 51.1 million jobs, or 84% of those employed by small businesses. While these funds have delayed the financial pain to those receiving the benefits, those who can't produce and create value become increasingly vulnerable when the funds dry up. Those who don't build financial resilience now will lack options, and will be most vulnerable. We have limited time to prepare for the coming financial crisis. If you can work now, you should.
Short of quitting work or moving to part-time, you still have options to increase the amount of time you spend at home. Many businesses have embraced teleworking as part of the "new normal". If your work has not made teleworking an option at least one day a week, you may need to ask "why not?" While some jobs require people to be present at the work location, most people can do some, if not all, of their work remotely.
In his book The 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss explained how people can greatly reduce their presence at work without reducing their productivity. In his chapter "Disappearing Act - How to Escape the Office", Ferriss laid out the steps on how to present to your boss your plan to increase productivity by working from home. Present your boss with a well-thought out proposal for a short trial period for working one or two days from home. Make sure you can demonstrate a substantial increase in your productivity. Once your boss is convinced of the benefits of you working remotely, you can push for increased or permanent distance working. Working at least one day a week from home will reduce your need for a caretaker for your children.
Beyond working remotely, you have many other options, depending on your individual circumstances. You could demonstrate to your employer that it is in their best interest to allow your children to go to work with you. Your children could work on their school assignments while you prove yourself as your company's most productive employee. Many churches, non-profit organizations, and community groups have set up daycare options to give working parents more options while schools remain closed. These organizations have space available to care for school-aged children much more safely and effectively than schools can. Check with your church or local group to see if this option is available. If not, show them how they could benefit by setting up daycare options.
Finally, you as a parent have the community of parents you can leverage to create "pods" for your children. Reach out to your friends and contacts, and work out a system with them to share child care duties. If each of you negotiates a day off of work, you can rotate child care duties among your group. By keeping your children together in these smaller "pods" you can ensure that they have adult supervision, while reducing their likelihood of exposure to COVID-19 or other dangers in school. Find your network of parents either through your personal friendships, through social media such as Facebook, or in your neighborhood through Nextdoor. As parents, you have already shown yourself resilient in raising your children. You will find the best childcare options for yourself and your children.
The second service schools provide is social interaction. Interacting with other children their own age is an important part of children's development. Schools provide children with the opportunity to play, interact, fight, get along, communicate, and bond with other children. COVID-19 restrictions so far have dealt an immeasurable blow to children's development. It will take years or decades before we may fully measure these effects. School closures and cancelations of group activities and sports will have a detrimental effect on children. While it is way too early for accurate figures, suicide will almost certainly take more school aged children's lives in 2020 than COVID-19. According to Robert Redfield, MD, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "There has been another cost that we’ve seen, particularly in high schools. We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We’re seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID." In 2017, the latest year for which statistics are available, 3,008 people in the U.S. between the ages of 10 and 19 died of suicide, according to Center for Disease Control (CDC) figures. That number will likely be much higher in 2020. As of mid August, 2020, the CDC reported a total of 138 COVID-19 deaths for people between 5 and 24 years of age. That figure will also change as the year progresses.
Beyond the real threat of suicide and overdoses, children need social contact to develop emotional health. As parents, you cannot also be your child's best friend. While schools remain partially or completely closed, finding ways to for children to interact with other children will be critical. Creating "pods" for children will not only relieve some of the childcare burden on parents, it will give children friends to play and interact with. As parents will have closer control over these pods, they will better protect their children from harmful exposure they could face in a school setting. Make a point of including friends in you children's activities. With a little creativity, you can find countless ways kids can interact and play safely. Organize group hikes, sports, or other outdoor activities. Outdoor games provide a healthy way for children to interact, while allowing for safe distancing. Take advantage of the outdoors as much as possible during warm weather, as this will become much more difficult during winter months.
When kids can't interact in person with their friends, they can still maintain virtual contact through social media, or video conferencing such as Zoom, Skype, or Facetime.
Try playing board games via video call. Find a project children can work together on with their friends online. Keeping social networks strong will help kids stay emotionally strong and connected.
The third service schools provide is academic instruction. Of the three, this is by far the least important of schools' functions. No, that is not to say that learning is not important, it is essential. Schools just have not been great in this area previously, and of the three school services mentioned, loss of academic instruction due to COIVD-19 will have the least impact on your child's development.
Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader is "The hit game show where adults have to answer grade-school level questions to win big" on Nickelodeon. In this show, a contestant answers a series of questions taken from elementary school textbooks to determine if they are, or are not, smarter than a fifth grader. The humor of the show comes from showcasing highly educated and successful contestants who often struggle to answer simple grade school questions. Viewers get the guilty pleasure of laughing at the contestant's ignorance while taking comfort that they are not the ones on stage.
The real lesson from this show should not be the ignorance of successful adults, but how much time we waste teaching grade-schoolers lessons that are useless to successful adults. All humor aside, we are surrounded by adults who hold jobs, vote, pay their bills, and think that the moon is a planet. We waste years in a classroom, while ignoring lessons that could help us succeed as adults. Education should provide you skills to succeed, not count how many years you spent in a classroom.
For some families, homeschooling is a great option. It gives parents the opportunity to teach their own children at a pace and style best suited for the individual child. Home-schooled children can learn faster than students in a centralized education system, as the lessons are more efficiently tailored to their needs. For most families, however, homeschooling is not a realistic option. Most parents simply do not have the experience and skills to be teachers. If they did, they would be teachers. Expecting farmers, truck drivers, architects, or accountants to also be proficient teachers is not realistic, even if they had the time.
The Internet provides parents with a wide range of resources, making the prospect of homeschooling much more realistic. Online schools such as Izzit, Khan Academy, and for Virginia residents, the Virginia Virtual Academy provide high quality, free, online teaching. With the resources available online today, there is no reason why high-quality education should not be practically free (in the true sense of the word). These are only a few options. Expect many more online schools to emerge over the course of the next year, providing ever-increasing options tailored to each student's needs.
While the prospects of this school year may seem daunting, COVID-19 may turn out to be the best thing to happen to our school system. Our centralized schools system is woefully obsolete. Students do not learn the skills necessary to succeed in the modern world. The school system is too rigid, and extremely vulnerable, as COVID-19 has exposed. This may be the ideal time for parents to reset the status quo on education, and find solutions that best meet the individual needs of their own children. We can't know for sure what the ideal solution for the future off schooling will be, but this year will provide parents with the opportunity to try out new solutions for their children. Some solutions will fail, some will succeed, but the overall result could be the emergence of a more resilient education tailored to each family's and each child's needs. Let's not waste this opportunity to build something better.