By: Stephanie Ryan
March 12, 2020, will be a date forever ingrained in my mind. Worry, angst, and panic were just a few of the many words to describe my feelings on that evening. My husband, as always, was there to provide a calm before this huge storm we had ahead of us. And while we have successfully “survived” this time in quarantine- it has definitely not been an easy time for any of us.
The unknown is always very scary for us as parents; however, it is worse when it is something directly affecting our own children. Living their normal daily lives as of March 11th when suddenly, everything was turned upside down in a matter of hours. Messages were sent out that school was closed Friday, soon after the buzz was that it was closed for a week, followed by another week and now it seems there’s no set return date. As the phone rang and messages poured in, I continuously thought, “How am I going to explain this to the kids”? A national pandemic?? I had to even look up what that meant! I did notice myself being a bit over- neurotic in the week or so prior. I explained that there was a bad virus going around, a conversation no different than any other time there’s a “bug” going around school – constantly reminding my oldest guy to wash hands before lunch, sending in a personal hand sanitizer in his lunch bag as a physical reminder – never thinking this virus would shut down schools, let alone our whole country and many parts of the world. He was aware of the “Corona” as he referred to it as. While the news blasted in our family room and the information became gloomier as the days passed, I soon realized it was time to turn it off and focus on my family.
As I sit here to write this blog post on my computer, in my dining room aka our “makeshift classroom” I watch out my front window and see so many people in my neighborhood that I’ve never seen before – walking dogs, riding bikes, jogging. It seems that many people have resorted back to the basics – something I really enjoy doing occasionally myself. What’s better than a day with no set plans, time to enjoy my family, no rushing around, and no daily expectations. I realize this is no easy task for children to grasp – let alone 5 of them in one house together for who knows how many days! I had to come to terms that I was ON, 24/7, and needed to come up with a plan FAST.
Being an early childhood teacher, I have had boxes of materials from my old classrooms filled with books, classroom décor, and more stored in my basement. Everything I would need to make my plan work. After I put the kids to bed on that Sunday night, I quickly pulled out a few items to transform our dining room to a one-room schoolhouse! I did all of this while reminding my husband how glad I was that I did not throw out the bins like he’s requested SEVERAL times over the years! I printed out some worksheets for each child, placed them in folders with their name on it, put up a rules chart, and even placed a whiteboard for daily messages on a chair. I set up 2 centers, one for quiet reading, and one for play-doh – these centers do change daily and I set up a teacher desk with my computer and a space for the “student” to sit next to me to do lessons one on one.
The kids woke up and couldn’t believe the transformation, they were thrilled and very excited to learn. Each weekday, just like the regular school day, they are required to get dressed, make bed, brush teeth, and make sure nothing is on the floor in their rooms. They then come down for breakfast. Each earns a star when this is all completed, and it shows they are “ready to learn”. They each earn stars during the day for good behavior and working hard, just like school. I take turns calling them over one by one to do a lesson while the others play at the centers. It’s been enjoyable for all of us. It keeps my mind very occupied, and having a routine keeps the kids going. Certainly, passes the time quickly! Having 19-month-old twins, I have to incorporate breaks to put them down for their 2 naps and we have lunch and free time as well. My oldest is part of our district-wide online learning platform which provides daily lessons as if he was in the classroom. This has been great to work with – the comfort of his regular curriculum programs provided virtually has helped make this a very easy transition for him.
While this all may sound seamless, trust me, it is not. I gave them some half days and even allowed for a day or two off from school, even called my own 3-day weekend! I had laundry and sheets to change! Mom still has to run the house and keep the usual duties going. The truth is… I’m struggling and they’re struggling. With not being able to spend time with my parents, their grandparents, especially my dad who recently came home from an almost 2-month hospital stay, the kids cannot understand why we just can’t spend time at their house and it’s killing me! FaceTime is a HUGE crutch during a time like this. Keeping busy during the day is a good distraction, I find myself the most overwhelmed when the house is quiet and the kids are in bed – I’ve had panic, anxiety, and have been an overall emotional mess. My husband, my biggest support system, assures me – as always- that things will be ok, we are one day closer to the end of this, he says….but the reality of this all is just so scary. The reality of this is also that we are all in this together. I’ve found my distractions and you too will work to find yours if you haven’t yet. We are living the unimaginable, the unthinkable, there’s no rules, there’s no guide. We need to gauge our children’s reactions to things and work with them. Coloring with them, reading with them, watching a movie together, or just being in the same room watching them play may be all the comforting they need. Every day is different than the day before and we just have to go with the flow.
I keep reminding myself that this is time we will never get to repeat – time we would be missing out on, had we’d been living our normal busy lives. It’s also been an exciting time to watch my children learn and grow academically right before my eyes, something I’d miss out on had they been in school with their teachers. While I’ve always dreamed of being the mom of 5 children, the thought of wanting to home school has never entered my mind and I give major kudos to those that do – you are amazing, this is hard work! I’m learning to embrace this uninterrupted time with my family and am making the best of things. Together we will get through this and we will come out stronger. Sending you all peace, love, health, and happiness in this time of need.