The Night We Knew Online Learning Would be Okay

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Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine tackling online learning with a first grader. When things started closing down due to COVID-19, I knew organization and routine would be key for our busy daughter. We filled our day with school, board games, art projects, dance parties, and exploring. 

At some point, I began to really like the idea of distance learning. While the world around us was unpredictable and a little scary, we spent our days reading, laughing, and learning new things together.

Of course we missed our family and friends. We missed going out to eat and visiting our favorite local attractions. But, we tried to focus on the things we could do. So…we went on “vacation” at home – complete with “welcome aboard” signs, an Alaskan Salmon dinner, and even an after dinner singing and dancing show. We made the most out of our pandemic time together even when the days felt slow and repetitive.

Summer seemed to fly by even faster than usual, for no real reason. Suddenly, it was time to make the return to learn school decision and decide what was best for our family. After a very detailed pro/con list, we decided our daughter would commit to the online learning option our public school was offering.

We all went through a range of emotions – relief, panic, nervousness, excitement. We tried to make the start to the school year as exciting and normal, complete with (online) back to school shopping, (online) school supply shopping, and a very unusual purchase of a desk and laptop.

As the day grew closer and the details were still few and far between, my planner self began to worry. Did we make the right choice? Will she learn anything this year? Will the kids get to laugh and be silly together? Will she make a new friend? How will this even work? Is there such a thing as a gap year for six year olds?!

Then, one glorious Thursday night, we met the teacher. Not in the normal sense of back-to-school night, of course, but via video chat – a method of contact we’d quickly become familiar with. Everyone dressed up and brushed their hair – we had even more anticipation than a usual meet the teacher night. The minute we logged in and saw the teacher’s smiling face, we knew everything would be okay.

Her energy and joy filled the “classroom” as the kids nervously said hello to her and to each other. In this unusual circumstance, everyone was the new kid – teacher and students alike. Nobody had ever been in this online school situation prior to that night. We listened to the teacher talk about her background in education, her passion for science, and plans to have small group opportunities for the kids to learn and interact during the days. And we knew, everything would be okay.

After the first day of online learning, we knew we made the right choice. Our daughter had more confidence and independence than we’d ever seen. She practiced setting timers so she had enough time to sign in to her class meetings. She learned how to navigate an online curriculum. She spent lunch time socializing on video chat. She replied to her teacher’s email. She was her usual happy and helpful self, and we were so relieved (and so, so grateful for the incredible teacher who brought that peace to our home).

Online learning certainly isn’t for everyone, but for our family, it was the best option this year. We know there will be hiccups along the way, but nothing lasts forever, and in the meantime, we’re going to enjoy the excitement and energy a first grader brings to the home classroom.

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