An already reluctant learner and COVID-19 distance learning
April 29, 2020 6:28 PM   Subscribe

So Taffeta Boy who was failing fourth grade at the beginning of the year managed to turn it around pretty well over the year and has recently been diagnosed with ADD. And then COVID-19 and distance learning hit. He is struggling (and so am I).

He has a Chromebook that was issued by the school at the beginning of the year and it is through this that he is given daily assignments from his teachers. At the beginning of the lockdown (March 16 here), the official guidance was we'll post some assignments, do a few modules in the online learning centers and you'll be good. This was manageable since I am also working 40 hours a week (with limited flexibility because I am a federal employee) and managing the teaching for the first grader.

After our governor officially closed schools completely for the rest of the year, the amount of work ratcheted up exponentially and Taffeta Boy has begun to shut down with each assignment. I reached out to his teachers and they confirmed, again, that all of this was optional but they still needed to monitor his progress. We hit on the compromise that he would do some modules and then we would supplement with tutoring with his old tutor because he needs one on one motivation/supervision to engage and finish which I can't provide and which he hates getting from me.

My question is can we just NOT? I mean, can we just drop out of the rat race, let him read, play, make engineering experiments with car ramps, and ride his bike in the mud or do I need to be pushing him to do more?

With his grades from the year (mostly As and Bs, with a C here and there), he will pass to fifth grade and I strongly doubt that they would consider making him repeat fourth grade. But, I just keep hearing all about brain drain and getting behind, and I don't want him to get the impression that schooling is optional.

He has never loved school - and certainly not the way I loved school. So, it has been a very hard sell getting him to do any work. Even tying privileges (iPad time, YouTube) to getting work done has been a battle. He will willingly forgo the privilege to avoid the work. Am I missing something?
posted by tafetta, darling! to Education (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hey! You sound like you are in the same place mentally that I am. I googled the homeschooling rules for my state and it’s surprisingly easy. Maybe your state is equally lax and you could “homeschool” for the rest of the year and then reenroll in the fall? In my state you start by sending a certified letter to the district informing them on your intent to homeschool. Then keep representative samples of work for up to 2 years. You also have to take one of the National tests but I think the kids have already done that this year. I haven’t pulled the trigger yet but strongly considering it. I would rather assign my child some books to read and projects to do than fight about the assignments from school. My child is in 5th grade and is a neurotypical straight A student. I think the online world just doesn’t work for some kids. And I think we have an element of depression at being separated from everyone and everything.
posted by MadMadam at 7:02 PM on April 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would absolutely just not.

I have 2 kids (8th grade and 11th grade) and really nothing in elementary school matters all that much. It's a freaking pandemic. We've never seen anything like it before in our lifetimes. It's not setting a precedent for anything if you just let him skate.

If you force him to do stuff he might learn long division or something. Maybe. But he will definitely learn that schooling is is stressful and tedious and fraught with conflict.

Also, kids mature a lot over 4th-6th grade. Even 6 months from now he's going to have a bunch of new skills. He's not going to fall behind.

There's a book called Smart But Scattered that was recommended to me by one of my kids' teachers in 4th or 5th grade. It provided a bunch of strategies for managing executive function issues. The main thing I learned is that things have to be broken down into way smaller steps than I was realizing. If I were you I'd just focus on establishing routines and not stress about completing a bunch of assignments.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:02 PM on April 29, 2020 [8 favorites]

I think the answer is yes.

However there might be a third choice.

You may have tried this already, but have you tried putting the question to him?

My kids have some similar traits. With my oldest, grade 9, I pretty much have told him he just has to muscle through and then I help with that. With my youngest, he does need some help in writing, but is strong in other areas. I told him I want him to learn certain things, and he came up with some ways to do that that are acceptable. For example, a set of grade 3 math projects (graphing, measuring, times tables) to do that are different like graphing YouTube video lengths. So yes, he watches YouTube videos to complete his own assignment. I check his work.

I would see if you can identify the grade 4 skills he needs to have by September, put them on a chart, and ask him to work with you on sorting out how he can learn them. The simplest way is to do X school assignments. Everything else is harder.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:03 PM on April 29, 2020 [7 favorites]

My question is can we just NOT? I mean, can we just drop out of the rat race, let him read, play, make engineering experiments with car ramps, and ride his bike in the mud or do I need to be pushing him to do more?

Consider that kids typically take a break from all academics every year all summer. The decrease in their academic ability during that time is as a consequence well-studied. It typically amounts to losing something like a month or two of "progress" academically over the summer. So if you give him an "extra summer" worth of time, there's no particular reason to expect him to get further behind than that. It's not like he's going to be a full grade behind when he comes back, for example.
posted by value of information at 7:04 PM on April 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Here's another perspective -- you will know better than me whether it sounds true.

If it's the case that your son is "very, very bright" (which you wrote in your last question), it's probably not really true that he needs a full year of schooling to learn one grade worth of stuff -- he probably needs much less, and to the extent that he gets bad grades, it's because of all of the other issues in play, not the amount of stuff that he knows.

For example, very, very bright kids skip grades all the time, which from a "body of knowledge" perspective is sort of as if they took a whole year off of school without learning anything. Could you see your son skipping a grade successfully? If so, then it definitely isn't going to be a catastrophe for him to basically skip 1/6 of a grade (or however much time this spring adds up to.) If it's harmful, it's probably because of some emotional or disciplinary effect that you will have to be the judge of.
posted by value of information at 7:12 PM on April 29, 2020

Best answer: NOT. Except for essentially maths skills because that builds on top. Offer for him to do it on Khan maths or some other game like math app instead of worksheets.

Mine is floundering without the structure of class and peers, and I have told her teachers just no. She will finish work late this year using holidays to catch up.

School learning goals and structure is very different from our homeschool which is much more project and interest led. I felt awful for about two weeks then just started scaling back the work and a happy kid re-emerged.

I make her do reading times and Minecraft and other educational apps as well as “no screens go play, figure it out yourself” time where she usually cooks or makes things or does Creative play. Or lies on the sofa moaning how she’s so bored Why won’t I let her have YouTube etc etc which I ignore. Then she gets YouTube when I am Done With Her Nonsense, and as long as she’s had 3-4 hours engaged, fine.

Mine is pretty stressed about covid. She doesn’t want anyone to talk about it in front of her, so factor in that your kid may be worried on top of the usual struggles.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:20 PM on April 29, 2020 [7 favorites]

The assignments he doesn't want to do - what would he be learning from them? Do you get the sense that any of it is key stuff he's going to need to use next year, like new math concepts or new writing skills? I would definitely forget about doing any science or social studies assignments. Next year's science and social studies units aren't likely to require him to remember anything from this year. You said in your previous question that he reads well, so you probably don't need to worry about any reading-related assignments. If you're able to get an overview of the work for the rest of the year and see if there are key math or writing skills it would be useful for him to learn, you could try to make a deal that you'll let him drop everything else if he'll agree to work on those few key things. But there's probably nothing that's really that important for him to learn right now. Even if he goes back to school in the fall with some gaps in his learning, you know he's not going to be the only one. And even if you make him struggle through some assignments, there's no guarantee that he's going to get lasting value from them. He may forget most of it by fall anyway. And if everything is a big fight he may end up hating whatever the topic is even more than he otherwise would have. And fighting over schoolwork is a strain on your relationship with him. If I were you, I'd probably just let school be over for the year.
posted by Redstart at 8:15 PM on April 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

I sat in on a recent meeting of school teachers and administrators of a school in the Boston suburbs where they discussed the state of their distance learning.

Participation by students varies widely. I believe they said that for any given activity, they get 40% to 60% participation on average. They acknowledged that next year they will have to adjust the curriculum and prepare to manage uneven classrooms. There will need to be a lot of review of forgotten material, and a lot of coverage of material that was never learned at all by large numbers of kids.

In your shoes (and I am in your shoes, actually, except mine is in 3rd grade), I would focus on mental health, on social connections, and on basic skills. Learn and practice as much math, reading, and writing as they can, through whatever channel makes that most possible. Have complex conversations with them. Listen to and discuss podcasts. That will give them the grounding they need for their next grade.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:06 PM on April 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I mean, can we just drop out of the rat race, let him read, play, make engineering experiments with car ramps, and ride his bike in the mud or do I need to be pushing him to do more?

Oh god, he has ADHD and is bright. Let him be self-led right now. He will learn so much more than he would otherwise, and once given the option to be largely self-directed but gently guided by you, will likely soar ahead in ability. Seriously, speaking as a bright ADHD kid, summers were when I wrote books, read books well above grade level, stayed up too late reading the encyclopedia, and just generally felt myself full of learning. School was where I learned that being bored and unfulfilled is normal.

This is a trauma and crisis situation, but part of that trauma is that kids are being forced to do things that are developmentally inappropriate--staring at a screen in isolation all day is developmentally inappropriate. I wouldn't worry about teaching him that schooling is optional. Start with teaching him that learning is not optional by fostering natural curiosity and ADHD hyperfocus. There are things your child would love to be learning right now, I promise. Let him.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:43 PM on April 29, 2020 [20 favorites]

So, thing the first. At no time in human history have people tried to both hold down full-time jobs AND also homeschool their children the way it's happening right now. This is so beyond unprecedented the Onion is probably considering hanging up its hat because what even is this timeline.

You don't need to impose the same kind of structured activity school does - one, because it's impossible, two, it's not fair to either you or the poor kid and will drive you both bananas, and three, see above re: crisis situation.

In addition, our current schooling system was built for NT people who would then go on to work in factories. I'm not entirely convinced we should be sticking with it even outside the current situation.

As a super bright kid with ADD, I did SO MUCH learning outside of school, it's not funny, and this was before we had many of the resources we do now. Kiddo will be FINE if you go 'nopefish' and let him learn on his own.

National Geographic has a series of amazing fact books for kids that you can get second-hand online for not too much money. The kid can learn about all kinds of awesome things, and he doesn't need to be stuck in front of a screen. I LOVED those books when I was his age.

A little more advanced, but still awesome, are Why in The World and The Origin Of Everyday Things from Reader's Digest (I know, I know.) They are two of the three books I replaced when my library was destroyed by silverfish. I just flipped through them and they're surprisingly not dated.

For practical science, look at this series of experiment books for kids - it would definitely teach kiddo more than a normal science class would, and in a more interesting way. If you're not up for experiments, Beakman's World (available on Netflix!), Bill Nye, or even Mythbusters, will do nicely.

More than anything, though, I encourage you to look at this time as a gift for your son, to show him that learning is not just in school - it's a lifelong process, and can be fun and wonderful and work with his brain rather than against it. Let him follow his interests, learn about what he wants to, and play as much as he likes. He doesn't have all that long to just be a kid, let him enjoy it.
posted by Tamanna at 4:07 AM on April 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Our school district was very slow in getting their remote learning in place so we had 5 weeks after school was closed with nothing coming from them. We still did "school" with our kid because me and my husband both are working full time from home and the kid needs to be occupied, but we had the luxury of picking topics and assignments that interested him and it's actually gone pretty well. Not perfect. There's usually at least one daily tantrum. But most of the time it's been working. Our kid actually had an ADHD evaluation appointment cancelled due to the pandemic, but he's got all the traits.

The district just started with their stuff last week and it's just thrown a huge wrench into everything because the work they are giving is like pure, distilled Shit My Kid Hates And Is Bad At. I'm doling it out to him myself so I can control how much he's being asked to do and sometimes I just straight up rewrite the questions (they are clearly being copy pasted from a teachers manual written for teachers, so the language often isn't really appropriate for second graders). And I'm fully ignoring several subjects. Because yes, the district has decided that even PE teachers need to send work. So, that's a no on the 37(!) page PE worksheet packet. And art. My kid is extremely non artsy to the point that he gets hostile, and that's not a hill I care to die on. I've boiled it down to trying to do a little of the reading, math and maybe the stuff his gifted program sent over (omggggg why the insistence that art projects are the way to go here?!). But just for like a half hour of his "school day" per day and the rest of the time he's going to keep working on the Khan Academy math he picked himself to work through, reading the books he picks for himself, the coding in Minecraft he's super into, and the science projects my husband does with him on his lunch hours (no art required!). He's honestly getting more individualized attention and differentiation right now than he ever did when he was at school and given that that's the one silver lining here, I'm not giving that up. I know the district has been given stupid benchmarks by the state department of education and I'll do my part to make sure the district didn't get defunded or some shit (mostly Black urban district in a state full of racists) but that's all I'm doing. Bare minimum.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:31 AM on April 30, 2020 [7 favorites]

I don't have advice, but would like to share something.

My oldest daughter will be a college senior next fall, studying elementary education. She heard today they her student teaching was shifted from fall semester to spring semester.

At first I was worried about her having to help all these kids come back to a baseline and start learning again -- but now I am heartened to hear about so many families that are trying so hard to keep their kids' brains engaged and going.

There will probably be a bunch of students & classrooms & schools that don't meet all their benchmarks next year, but there will also be a lot of kids who saw their parents working really damn hard to support them, and who also will have done good stuff in this Lost Year.

Bless you all, you're so awesome.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:37 PM on April 30, 2020

I was diagnosed with ADHD in 4th grade. I sucked at traditional class work and got distracted, then distracted everyone around me. Luckily, I had a great teacher who gave me extra projects on random topics and let me go at them. So, I would totally ditch the modules, come up with a few long-term projects that involve all types of learning and go with those.
posted by dripdripdrop at 8:32 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

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