Some Truths about Online Schooling

School from home: it's what we do. When we pulled Kiddo out of school in third grade, my goal was to homeschool for a while. I loved the curriculum planning, the freedom to study what we wanted, to live our days without a strict schedule. I loved learning alongside Kiddo as I crafted our day's activities and lessons. That said, running the show by myself took a lot of planning.  The responsibility of creating not only an education, but a home, organizing meals AND 'momming', as I jokingly call the myriad tasks of parental love and care-- it was a lot. So when his current online school came into being a couple years ago, we were pretty happy with our arrangement...but I was also tired.

 It didn't hurt that this new online school had exactly the philosophy I used at home, inquiry-based,project-based education; I was ready to step back and let a teacher lead. Surely this would be less work for me, right?

One would hope, but it wasn't so. Being a learning coach for our son required a lot from me in a different way. Reentering more formalized education meant keeping up with the teacher's pace, which was certainly more rigorous than the gentle 'bite-sized pieces' style of learning we'd previously been doing. The first year found me sitting next to him through most of his classes and spending hours helping him with his assignments. The idea of having some free time dried up pretty quickly; 'free time' usually meant time for a nap, my brain exhausted from having to figure out how to help our son adapt to the new expectations.

A word about being a learning coach for a student with learning disabilities: sometimes, there's a lot of just throwing stuff out there to see what sticks, what works. The 'tried and true' hints and ideas one might find online worked for someone's student, for sure, and there's also no accounting for the variables of both neurodiversity and where that student's little brain is in its development. I won't lie-- fifth grade was wonderfully engaging and it was also hard, for both of us. Kiddo was fortunate enough to have a teacher who was excited about teaching and planning her own curriculum, which I  deeply appreciated. She also really pushed her students to dig into the work by making it relevant and fun-- this sort of learning was right up my alley and I still miss her dearly. What a talented teacher!

Now Kiddo is well into seventh grade and a lot has changed. He often whips through assignments on his own, with confidence and a good foundation that has only strengthened over the past few years. Off he disappears to his room in the morning, sometimes having his day's work done before his first class even begins. Sometimes he brings his computer out to me with a question or request for help. This year, my own focus has been on helping him to ask the teachers for more information or assistance instead of being the 'go to' support person. This is to help him prepare for his future educational experiences, for too soon, his learning will eclipse what I remember about algebra or cellular structure. 

While I technically have more free time, the fact is, I don't always use it well. Often, the demands of the house and parenting means that I am tired and less able to work constructively. I've had days when a singularity of mind pushes me to achieve greatness clean out the garage. Online school requires me to be the PE teacher, so we are regularly taking long walks to get groceries or explore the neighborhood's fall color, which is about what my beat-up ankles and feet can handle. We are still tethered to a schedule not of our own making, so there isn't that feeling of absolute freedom one might expect; with the exception of Fridays, each day Kiddo has to be on his laptop at certain times for classes. While he's old enough for me to leave home alone for chunks of time-- and responsible enough to actually do his work instead of sneaking onto Minecraft-- there is still a structure of the day that I feel responsible to ensure. Along with the walks, we are also reading aloud every couple days or so. Right now, it's the Story Bible by Pearl S Buck. (Hey, even if we don't participate in the religion, it's important that he knows what much of our culture and some of our political belief systems are based on, not to mention the endless references to Biblical persons and events in other literature.) Reading aloud gives us space for questions and deeper conversations about the Bible and those ancient times. Online school leaves time for instruction in the things I believe Kiddo would do well to know that aren't listed in the Common Core standards. Plus, there is the time spent to ensure that our relationship isn't centered entirely around learning. Kiddo's new amusement is a Reddit page "r/crappydesign", and frankly, I'm glad he wants to share his computer life with me to some degree. Besides, I've gotten a bit burned out on funny cat memes, thanks. 

This morning has been a good example of this stage in our life: we had a leisurely breakfast, then took a long walk to grab groceries and talk about so many things. Once home, Kiddo made a phone call to the local Toyota dealership to check on prices for an alternator cost and replacement-- this is for a math assignment, where he has to figure out how many extra hours he would have to work as a prospective Uber driver whose car had to be repaired. He bounded in just now, singing "I am so smart. S-M-R-T!" which is a family joke stolen from the Simpsons (yes, Homer is the one who sings it). He is orating proudly, rather magnificently, about how quickly he's gotten his school work done for the day, and his math class hasn't even started yet. 

As for me, I'm tired again. My feet get sore regularly, and the three mile walk was tolerable but took a bit out of me. My brain is tired from thinking up answers to questions like "What two creatures would you put together?" "If you could be part human and part animal, what animal would it be?" "If you could make anything, what would it be?" That one was easy-- shoes which massaged your feet as you walked. I'm going upstairs in a minute. I have my own reading assignment, "Prairie Fires" by Caroline Frazer, a book about the real life of Laura Ingalls Wilder which a friend suggested. It's a good history lesson about the Dakota Territory land rush, the Indian Wars during the 1860s, and the hard life of work and poverty that Wilder experienced but spared from her young readers. So, I'm going to lie down, rest a bit with my feet on a heating pad before our 1 o'clock lunch. The dishes will have to wait. Online school is work for both of us, but it is good work, and that's what matters.


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