My thoughts on distance learning precisely.
About two weeks into our public school’s new distance learning program – approximately on the date when the above photo was taken – I lost it.
My daughter, who’s in a learning pod with a classmate and bounces between our house and theirs, seems to sort of enjoy distance learning, or at least tolerate it. Not that she’s actually *learning* much – holy god, the muting and un-muting and kids with their microphones turned up to 10,000% and tl;dr teachers are superheroes and I don’t know how any of them are holding onto even a tiny shred of patience or sanity – but she’s basically fine. (Not that distance learning is in any way, shape or form fine for me, or for any working parent – just saying, she seems fine.)
My son, though? Was. Not. Having it.
The thing is, he loves loves loves learning, but simply could not manage to engage with a computer screen – it made him incredibly anxious, which added “the management of overwhelming and constant emotion” to our daily schedule. And trust, I get this. I had a PTA meeting over Zoom the other day, and do you know what I did? I turned off my video, put myself on mute, and FELL ASLEEP. Like, for the entire thing. (I’m not proud of this, although I do think it’s quite funny.) I’m just saying: Some brains cannot Zoom, and ours are apparently among them. Ultimately, I just couldn’t bear to watch him sitting there every day, silent and miserable, waiting for the moment when he could turn off the Zoom and…do what?
What is it that he wants to do, you ask?
Read a book. My child wants to read. All the time. Except for when wants to go off and write his own books.
So finally, I figured: Let the kid read, you know? Let him write.
A Note About Privilege, Before We Continue.
I started out the school year saying I can’t homeschool my children.
Except I can.
I can make less money, and still pay my rent, because I have savings. I can cut my expenses, because I was probably spending too much on dumb things already (and still am, but MUCH less than in pre-COVID times). I can chill out on writing for Ramshackle Glam, and redirect the shreds of time I still have towards the work that pulls in more income these days (books and real estate marketing).
I can shift my priorities.
So I did.
But it does not escape me that there are, oh god, so many children struggling with distance learning, and that most of them do not have parents who can just *choose* to homeschool. This makes me furious at our government. I cannot believe that we are in this situation.
But here we are.
Wait, I’m sorry. Let me put that more concisely: Fuck the Trump administration, and also the decades of governmental institutions that have put working parents, and especially working mothers, in a position where they have to choose between making a living (healthcare! food! shelter!) and caring for their children. Vote.
OK, moving on.
The Program We Chose
I wish I could say I was one of those parents who did a deep-dive into various homeschooling programs before selecting just the right one for my child, but…nope. I hadn’t been planning to do this, so by the time I realized that I wanted to it felt like an emergency, kinda. What essentially happened was that I complained about all this to Olivia, and she said, “Oh, my son is also a huge reader and we’re doing a homeschooling program called Torchlight. I think you guys would love it.”
–> Torchlight it is.
The primary benefit of the program, IMO, is that it’s really pretty flexible, and I’ve been able to mix and match different aspects of it to suit our needs and my son’s particular interests (the deep dive into the map of the Byzantine Empire was not happening because Mommy does not know what that is. Boom: extra independent reading time!). We chose Level 2, which is for 7-9 year olds and focuses on medieval times, legends, and storytelling (so cool!).
Another excellent thing about Torchlight is that it’s respectably affordable, provided you utilize your local library. A breakdown of the costs:
- $40 for the printable download
- About $100 to have the downloads printed and bound by FedEx (I suppose you can do this yourself, but it’s a lot of paper and ink.)
- About $100 for books I couldn’t find at our library (Kindle editions are way cheaper, so we went for those whenever possible).
The caveat: Since Torchlight is very literature-based, it doesn’t include any math, so you have to find a way to work that in on your own. But since we’re still technically enrolled at our public school so as not to pull funding (he attends 30 minutes of “morning meeting” every day and does homework assigned by the school so his teacher knows how to grade him), we’re able to utilize our school’s online math program. Torchlight also isn’t necessarily across-the-board fascinating: Some of the books were kinda dry or boring, so we ended up just swapping in books he preferred.
Aaaaand…? How’s it going?!
The difference, my friends, is NIGHT AND DAY. I’ve definitely relaxed over the past few weeks, and basically feel like, you know, if he’s reading or writing books, we are A-OK (provided we get in a little math, of course), so I’m not holding us hard-and-fast to the program – but it’s still nice to have it to give shape to the days. The pace of our days is slower; the tears are fewer. There are few screams of “GET ON YOUR ZOOM YOU’RE LAAATE!”
Today, we’re making a time capsule. Yesterday, we took a break to go out to lunch, where we talked about the difference between a Margherita pizza and a margarita (true story). We even nap sometimes.
It’s not all sugarbeams and rainbows, of course: I’m still trying to maintain a semblance of a career, and would really like the schools to open back up yesterday, please and thank you. I am exhausted in my bones; I am sad; I am terrified of the future. But in these times we hold onto the good bits wherever we can still find them, and so I have to say: It feels good to have taken charge of a small piece of this ridiculous year when it feels like virtually nothing is within our control. To say “this does not work for us,” and to do something different.
Want to hear the craziest part? (Sssh, don’t tell.)
…There are some parts of all this that I may even miss when they’re gone.