We learned about a month ago that Ohio schools would not reopen for face-to-face learning for the rest of the academic year.
As soon as the news was announced, our teenagers and their friends began sharing text messages of joy. In an act of sibling solidarity, the older kids told the little ones, and the four Earnheardt children celebrated their good fortune as if they were Cleveland Browns fans finally winning a Superbowl. I swear they nearly blew the roof off the house.
“It’s summer vacation,” Oscar said. “A whole month early.”
I wish I could say Adam and I felt as happy about the news, but we did not. The next month would be anything but a vacation for us. By the time the governor made the announcement, the novelty of helping our kids with lessons had worn off and, we were in the weeds. We had been desperately hoping that the schools would re-open and we’d get a break.
After the initial disappointment, Adam and I came up with a plan. The older kids were easy.
From the start, the teenagers were much more engaged with their learning. Ella and Kate used the school-provided Chromebooks to access their classrooms and teachers. Ella is naturally responsible and had been writing all of her assignments on her own personal wipe board since before school closed. Every night at dinner, she gave detailed descriptions of the work she’d completed, reports on outstanding assignments and a timeline for ongoing projects.
Ella will be an excellent CEO someday.
Our middle daughter Kate didn’t appear to be doing any work at all. She spent a lot of time in her room, lying on her bed, looking at memes. In a brilliant move of delegation, we assigned her to Ella for tending, and Ella added information about Kate’s progress to the daily reports.
According to Ella, Kate was doing work and passing all her classes. Ella said, “I procrastinate. Kate does not.” I guess we’ll find out when the final grades are posted next week. If either of them end up in summer school, we’ll know we dropped the ball, but we feel pretty confident they are doing great.
The truth is, our teenagers have always been motivated to work on their assignments. They figured out early that the quicker their work was done, the sooner they’d be back to watching YouTube and texting friends.
Oscar was our real challenge. He was hard to manage, but at least his workload was relatively easy. We made a schedule for him and, with constant supervision, he completed a few pages of his packet each day. Once we found out how to motivate him, our supervisory duties were less arduous. The trick was reminding him that the less he screwed around, the more time he’d have for his true passion — playing Minecraft.
We set Sadie up in a similar way. She had designated learning times and we made sure one of us was available for questions and moral support. The first few days went so well, we figured she knew what she was doing and let her to it. Turns out, this was a mistake.
On the Friday before the first set of packets were due, Adam searched the house looking for Sadie’s “learning nests.” He pulled papers from behind the sofa, beside the computer, on the dining room mantel, and various spots in her bedroom.
Once they were assembled, Adam discovered the truth. Most of Sadie’s work was not done. Despite our early, good intentions, we had gotten distracted with our full-time jobs, and left a fourth-grader with encouraging words and not much else. We hoped for the best but got burned by this strategy when we saw page after page of blank worksheets. Turns out she hadn’t been doing much for at least 3 weeks, which was confusing because it looked like she was working every day.
As a result of her daydreaming, she spent an entire weekend catching up on four packets. Adam monitored her progress. It took about eight hours and was grueling work. He got to witness first-hand just how easy it was for his youngest daughter to zone out and he needed to administer constant reminders to keep her on task. I’m happy to report that Sadie’s most recent set of packets were all done on time and turned in without incident. Although, this has more to do with her teachers holding daily Zoom meetings than Adam and I monitoring her progress.
In addition to our lack of engagement, we also found that the weather interfered with homeschool plans. Much of April and May was unseasonably warm and sunny. Aside from a day or two of snow in May (welcome to northeast Ohio), the nice days and sunshine coupled with the lack of “real school” messed with our children’s heads, tripping an internal switch that signaled summer vacation.
This set off a change in attitude and appearance. The children have stopped wearing proper clothing. In related news, I have completed all the laundry in the house for the first time since 2005, which is possible if the children wear the same pajamas for three days straight. We have to remind them to shower, and we don’t have a lot of credibility on the subject since our social isolation hygiene isn’t as good as it should be.
We’ve been reading online that it can be good to try to stick to your normal routine as a way to create structure for the day. We tried this for a few weeks, but it’s just not us. We’re not the type of family that’s going to wake up, shower, and get dressed just to sit at home.
When we’re home, we like to be comfortable. I mean, why sit at the dining room table during normal school hours, if you can lay in your bed and text your friends? Even Adam and I are taking Zoom meetings from the comfort of our bedroom.
Now that we’re nearing the end of the school year, we’ve established some loose routines that fit us as a family, and I hope we can keep it up during real summer vacation. At least once a week, Adam, the kids and I watch some of Gov. Mike DeWine’s press conference. I like the idea of having my family gathered around the television with a bunch of other Ohioans and acknowledging that we’re #InThisTogetherOhio.
The kids have been interested because they have another connection to the press conferences. Ohio Department of Health Director, Dr. Amy Acton is a graduate of Liberty High School and because this is their school, my kids think she is very cool.
The information Dr. Acton shares in the press conferences is helpful and she makes us all feel a little bit better. Plus, she’s the one who signed the order that got the kids out of school and that’s the kind of power move they respect.
In pre-pandemic days, we’d be going to picnics and signing field trip permission slips. Instead, we’re building dams in the creek and eating breakfast for dinner several nights a week. We’ve learned that we’re an informal kind of family, but that our informality doesn’t get in the way of learning and being productive. We’re learning how to step up and be responsible for ourselves.
Instead of fitting in, being at home for work and play has shown us how we naturally like to exist.
I don’t know what a pandemic summer vacation will look like. But it’s likely to be lazier than past years. We’re probably going to figure out how to have fun without going anywhere. We may finally get around to cleaning out some rooms and donating items we’ve outgrown.
And, someday, we’ll get word that the schools are reopened. When that day comes, we’ll have to adjust again, or maybe, everyone else will agree to just wear their pajamas all day, too.
— Mary Beth Earnheardt is director of the Anderson Program in Journalism at Youngstown State University. You can follow her on Twitter at @mbexoxo.