Work and School from Home: School

The First Week
On Wednesday, March 11, Seattle Public Schools announced they were closing for at least two weeks starting the next day. I had half been expecting schools to close but I thought they would finish the week and then close. I think closing so quickly threw everyone off-guard.

Within about three hours we had an email from Calvin’s teacher. She said all kids were coming home with a packet of what they could work on and gave guidance on how long kids should work on each subject to mirror school time. Wednesday evening I moved the kitchen desk and computer down to the office where I was working and came up with a schedule for Calvin.
Mine and Calvin's desks
I decided it would probably work best if I tried to coordinate Calvin’s schedule with mine. My first attempt was pretty structured.

  • 9:00-10:00 – Math
  • 10:00-10:15 – Walk around the block
  • 10:15-11:15 – Reading
  • 11:15-12:45 – Lunch/Free Time
  • 12:45-1:15 – Longer Walk
  • 1:15-2:00 – Writing
  • 2:00-2:15 – Walk around the block
  • 2:15-3:00 – Science/Social Studies
  • 3:00-3:30 – Art/Music
  • 3:30-4:30 – Free Time
  • 4:30-5:00 – House hold cleanup time
  • 5:00-6:00 – Free Time

Julian’s daycare was still open but Jaeger and I talked and decided since everyone else was home, it probably made sense to keep Julian home also, starting Friday. We sent Julian to daycare on Thursday in order to get Calvin use to the new routine without Julian around.

Wednesday evening I talked to Calvin about the plan and requested to see his school packet. Calvin had no idea what I was talking about. I asked to see everything he brought home and did find several things for him to work on but no math. I emailed his teacher for clarification and she apologized for the confusion and said she and the other teachers had only an hour’s notice on Wednesday to prepare packets for the kids. However, Calvin could practice his math by going to an online site.

Thursday morning dawned and at 9:00 I dragged Calvin down to the office. He was visibly dismayed to discover this wasn’t just going to be time off from school. The first school day at home went ok. Calvin complained a lot about the all the walking but settled down with just a bit of grumbling. Though, he was ready to go back to regular school by the middle of the day.

One bright spot of Thursday was Creative Coding, Calvin’s in-person coding class. They managed one of the best pivots I’ve seen during this crisis. They saw the warning signs and came up with a contingency plan by March 4. Just hours after the school closures were announced, on March 11, they sent out an email saying that class was going to continue online and information on how that would work. On Thursday, they emailed out additional online classes students could sign up for. I immediately signed Calvin up for an additional class. I was tempted to sign up for more but decided 2 a week was probably enough. Plus, I didn’t want to hog all the spaces.

Work was a different story. I have a lot of experience working from home. After Calvin was born I spent 7 years working from home full-time. However, working from home in the middle of a burgeoning crisis, while also supervising a child’s school work, is not a normal work from home situation. It was probably one of my least productive working days. I spent the majority of the time waiting to see what our library was going to do while I contingency planned with other libraries on the best way to configure the integrated library system for a shut-down, or partially shut down, of the library. That evening, a notice was posted that, at end of day Friday, the library would be closing to the public till at least April 13.1.

Friday was hectic. Calvin was still resistant to the new school at home experience and I had a lot of systems work to shut down the library to the public. Jaeger and I did discover some bugs with all of us working from home. For example, I was relatively use to the experience of ignoring screaming around me to focus on work. Jaeger was not use to working with kids in the house and did not appreciate being given the opportunity to learn. After some consultation, I told the children that if they were going to be rambunctious during Calvin’s freetime, they had to stay on the first floor of the house. Overall, the school schedule still seemed to mostly work.

The Second Week
Things started unraveling the next Monday. Calvin moved from grudging acceptance to whining obstruction. I had several failures on Monday. First, I had decided to have Calvin work on art and music on alternate days. Monday was a music day. However, I was working so I couldn’t do any actual music instruction. I decided that I could give him a book about music and call it music appreciation. This didn’t work well. Second, he was suppose to do some sort of “social studies”. Again, my solution was to find a book roughly about the right subject. Third, Calvin truly hated how much I was dragging him out the house for boring walks.

Tuesday’s successes included:

  • Learning I could login to Schoology, the online software Calvin’s school uses, and view what his teacher posted to the class myself. This made it much, much easier to keep track of what Calvin was “suppose” to be working on.
  • Calvin video conferencing with his classmates. This seemed to help a bit with the social isolation. This involved learning real life skills such as keeping your mic on mute unless you were talking.
  • Art. Calvin’s clearly loved art and, after watching a video, drew a great sketch of a Mandalorian.

Tuesday’s problems included:

  • Math – The prior week Calvin had grumbled about doing math. Tuesday he was outright rebellious and spent the whole time allocated for it whining.
  • Exercise – The same thing happened with exercise. This concerned me as we didn’t have a lot of options for aerobic exercises in our house and I was worried that Calvin would become unhealthy.
  • Schedule – I learned that if I didn’t set an alarm for each “school period”, both Calvin and I would forget and he wouldn’t get through everything I had intended.
  • My Work – I was spending so much time trying to manage Calvin that I was having trouble concentrating on my paying job.

After supper I called a meeting with Jaeger and Calvin to discuss the school problems and request suggestions. Both Jaeger and Calvin thought it was completely unreasonable to have math first thing in the morning at 9:00 AM. I also compromised on exercise and told Calvin he didn’t need to come on the short walks with me but I still wanted him to do the lunch walk.

The prior Thursday we had ordered Calvin a chromebook computer. This was because we discovered that my old all-in-one desktop, which was adequate for basic internet connectivity, did not work for video conferencing. We had an external camera for the all-in-one but there weren’t any Windows 10 drivers. We had managed the first coding class by having Calvin login to two sessions: one on the computer so the teacher could see his screen and the other on the ipad so Calvin could talk and the teacher could see his face. However, it wasn’t ideal. Jaeger did some rush researching and determined that a Chromebook would probably meet all our needs and wasn’t excessively expensive. The Chromebook arrived on Tuesday and Calvin was very excited to have his own laptop computer. Jaeger set the computer with Calvin’s Google Family Link account as well as giving me a parent login for it.

Wednesday we started the revised schedule. Reading now became the first subject of the day which seemed to agree with Calvin better. At Calvin’s 10AM video conference, we started running into the limitations of the Family Link setup. Calvin was trying to join his class via Zoom when we discovered that child accounts couldn’t install apps or extensions. Jaeger investigated and verified the problem. He suggested having Calvin use the guest account to get around the problem temporarily which did seem to work, though it wasn’t ideal.

The Third Week
By the third week we had settled into a schedule that was roughly working and allowed Calvin to get some education while I also managed to do productive paid work. I relented on requiring him to take walks with me which also seemed to help his mood. Instead, I suggested he do some basic weight exercises while he watch YouTube. Not ideal but at least it was some level of movement.

For reading time, Calvin started reading The Complete Worst-case Scenario Survival Handbook. I was amused when Calvin pointed out that it had a section on Flu Pandemic. With the exception of masks2, the advice was exactly what everyone was recommending for the COVID-19 situation. I find it particularly amusing to see such a relevant section since previously Calvin had been reading about how to escape an alien abduction.

Thursday was Calvin’s birthday. Not good timing for a birthday. I decided to take the day off work and not require Calvin to do any school work. Instead, I tried to make the day as decadent as possible. We started the day with Chocolate waffles, topped with Nutella, whipped cream, and strawberries. After breakfast, we started watching the original Star Wars trilogy and had pizza for lunch. I had forgotten Calvin had coding class, which he wanted to attend, so he took a break from Star Wars for that. We we had a supper of fruit salad and cake and ended the evening by finishing up the original Star Wars trilogy. While I’m sure it’s not the birthday Calvin would have preferred, he seemed reasonably content with it.

Calvin and Julian eating chocolate waffles.

While I had been wrestling with figuring out how to make school work for Calvin, our au pair had been trying to figure out how to keep Julian entertained. Initially, they had been going to the playground but Seattle had made playgrounds off-limits the prior weekend. I invited him on my walks, and he’d come occasionally, but that still left a lot of time when Jaeger, Calvin, and I were occupied. He did a couple of FaceTime chats with his cousin. Our au pair also ended up playing what looked like endless Catan Junior games with Julian. I inquired of a mom’s group what other games we might try and ordered Sleeping Queens as well as Ticket to Ride: First Journey.

The Fourth Week
The Seattle School District had been very leery of providing online education during the school closure due to equity issues. In practice, this seems to have meant that how much education support was happening was very dependent on the school/teacher. On March 23, The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) released revised guidelines saying that education had to continue during the closure. The Seattle School District came up with a plan that involved online education for those that were able and paper packets and TV lectures for those that were not. Calvin was quite miffed to discover that learning up to this point had been somewhat optional.

From our perspective, the school district’s change of plans didn’t really affect Calvin’s classes. His teacher was already doing roughly what they were recommending so she just made a few tweaks. The one big difference I noticed is that with so many users Schoology was much slower and was obviously having capacity issues. I tried having Calvin listen to a couple of the district recorded sessions. The teachers obviously were trying very hard, and I thought the production quality was pretty decent. However, Calvin didn’t find it engaging at all so I eventually gave up.

For some of the school subjects, such as reading time, I required Calvin to spend the entire time doing the assigned task. However, for other school work that had more finite assignments, I let him do other things until it was time for the next school subject. Calvin spent most of this extra time, and much of his middle-of-the-day freetime, playing games on the Scratch website that other users had coded.

We continued to try to figure out how to make the Google Family Link do what we needed. One of the biggest problem was that regular YouTube was blocked and only YouTube Kids3 was available. This works fine for some things, such as the YouTube art videos his teacher was linking to. However, it worked less well for many other YouTube videos she suggested he watch. Our best work around was either to have him watch them on the iPad min, or to log out of his account and login to the Chromebook guest account.

The Fifth Week
One of the advantages of both Washington and California having school at home is that suddenly many Google parents were testing out Family Link. Monday morning Jaeger let me know that we should now be able to install the official Zoom extension in Calvin’s profile.

My original schedule had evolved over time and by week five looked something like this:

  • 9:00 – Reading
  • 10:00 – Class Video Conference
  • 11:00 – Respond to class chat question
  • 11:15 – Freetime
  • 12:00 – Exercise (weights or step)
  • 12:30 – Freetime
  • 1:00 – Writing
  • 1:30 – Science
  • 2:30 – Math
  • 3:00 – Art
  • 3:30 – Freetime

While Calvin and I had settled into a reasonable daily schedule, Julian started getting more clingy. It finally occurred to me that, while our au pair was doing a fantastic job, Julian felt left out because everyone else in the family was “working”. After a disastrous Tuesday, where Julian spent the last hour of my working day sitting on my lap, I decided I needed another plan. I told Julian anytime he wanted to be in the office he’d have to do “school work”. Previously, I had loaded up a whole bunch of audiobooks and preschool apps on our old iPad and I removed the less educational and more game-like apps. So, when Julian visited us I’d either have him do something on the iPad, or draw a picture. That approach seemed to work ok.

I had initially tried the district’s recorded resources and decided they didn’t work for Calvin. However, his teacher assigned the Ecosystems video and worksheets so I had Calvin try them. Neither he nor I could muster much enthusiasm for them so I had him watch Netflix’s Our Planet instead. It wasn’t teaching exactly the same lesson but it did cover how everything is interrelated which I felt was roughly the Ecosystems module’s message.

The Sixth Week
Calvin had spring break from April 13-17 which was a little weird. I wanted to keep Calvin occupied so I came up with an idea to have a “books to movie” week. The idea being that he’d read the book and then we’d watch the movie. That didn’t quite work out. I also decided to only work half days that week so I could spend more times with the kids, particularly Julian. That didn’t really work out either. I was hoping to convince Julian to go down to the Gas Works Park parking lot and practice riding his peddle bike but I never was able to convince him. So, it wasn’t a terrible week but wasn’t a particularly great week either.

The Seventh Week
I was relieved when spring break ended and Calvin went “back” to school. I had been a bit nervous about whether or not Calvin would be resistant to doing school work again but he didn’t spend too much time grumbling. I think he enjoyed being able to videoconference with his class again. His teacher changed the schedule so Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays were all-class video conferences. However, Tuesdays and Thursdays she would break the class into smaller groups. During one of the small video conferences they talked about a new assignment where they were suppose to write a “Farewall Letter to Jamestown”. It sounds like they were suppose to emulate older speech patterns and I heard Calvin say “Huzzah!” a fair amount.

Julian’s preschool decided it would start doing some Zoom conferences and they sent a schedule out which worked out to about 1/2 hour of video conference a day. As this was the first week there were some bumps. I’m not sure how much education Julian got out of the experience but it did break up his day a bit and I believe he enjoyed having a video conference just like everyone else in the family.

My main focus during this time has been to try to keep Calvin on track with reading, math, and exercise. I view reading and math as fundamental to the rest of education and exercise as fundamental to a healthy life. I felt ok about Calvin’s math and reading but still wasn’t particularly comfortable with the amount of exercise Calvin was getting. He was doing some but I didn’t feel like it was enough. However, this week we finally had an exercise breakthrough. I can’t remember whether Calvin or I suggested it. However, he started walking on the treadmill while watching YouTube. Thus entertained, he averaged at least an hour of walking a day which made me feel better about his activity level.

Calvin has been enjoying the art assignments every day and continues to put his own unique spin on them. For example, Calvin’s teacher suggested his class draw a glass of lemonade. Calvin drew the glass and then expanded it to show a zombie holding the glass.
Zombie holding a lemonade glass.

In Conclusion
On April 6, The Seattle Public Schools announced students would continue to learn from home for the rest of the school year. As a result, we have quite a few weeks left in this new weird school at home experience. It’s certainly not my first choice of schooling for Calvin but it’s the only option we have at the moment. All in all, we have our ups and downs but so far seem to be surviving.

  1. This resulted in many desperate people flocking to the library on Friday. It even got national coverage with U.S. News reporting that we had 8 times our normal Friday checkouts (https://www.usnews.com/news/cities/articles/2020-03-17/coronavirus-closes-libraries-in-seattle-around-the-nation).
  2. The book recommended wearing masks. However, as of March 25 public health officials were still discouraging healthy people from wearing masks in order to save them for sick people and healthcare workers.
  3. Among other reasons, Calvin doesn’t like YouTube Kids because shortcuts don’t work the way they do with regular YouTube, including the very standard spacebar key to pause and restart videos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *