Before the pandemic, the first day of school traditionally went something like this. Make the kids pose for a picture, help the youngers feel less anxious, then drop them off child at school with a backpack, a prayer, a wave and “Have a good day!” (and tears if your child was entering kindergarten.) The familiar sounds of kids chatting on their way into school, parents’ goodbyes, greetings of teachers, and the 5 minute bell to get to class hung in the air as the kids went their way, parents theirs, and their days unfolded independently.
But not this year. Not in this environment where a nasty virus dictates work from home (for those who can) and remote school even for elementary age children. Now it’s all about technology. Device on. Headphones in. Log in. Join the Zoom meeting. Thankfully distance learning comes with structure and a plan after a summer of preparation, and Lord willing it won’t be much longer until all children can return to school in person. But for now parents and grandparents facilitate learning at home. They must be knowledgeable about Zoom, ISD portals, and a variety of applications plus the functions of the device in use. And on call for tech support. This year I was the one with anxiety about the first day of school.
The start of day sounds are unfamiliar too. What I hear this first day of school is: “Click the button at the bottom left of your screen.” “I don’t see it.” “Ok, try the icon on the upper right.” “I see it now.” “Now go to the class homepage, scroll down and …” Welcome to the belated first day of 2nd grade in local public school.
On social media a friend recently posted a snapshot of elementary age grands seated around a dining table in various postures in front of various screens. It was a familiar sight for me. In the middle of last semester when covid caused crisis-schooling at home I volunteered my dining room for 3 grands. It worked ok, each child in front of a laptop or tablet, each with a set of headphones, each in a different grade with a different curriculum, each doing their best to adapt and learn.
As ‘Rona dragged on, continuing to wreak havoc on lives, businesses and what’s left of normal and making most of us crazy and mask weary, I had to prepare a temporary classroom for one. I pulled out the child size blue table given to me when my children were little and still used when grands come to visit. At the moment the little blue table with matching chair sits in a guest room. But instead of a station for Walter’s Lego creations or hosting one of Laura’s famous tea parties (with Bear seated next to her in a high chair, Clifford to her left, Snoopy on her right) on its surface sits a laptop, mouse and pair of headphones flanked by two spirals and sharpened pencils.
Amazingly, technology worked and the first day of school went smoothly. At age 7 Liam is already adept at managing multiple open applications while engaging with teacher and classmates online. I hear kids interacting with the teacher about a story or questions about instructions for doing math frames. These kids are ready for school, and if online is all they have for now they will rise to the challenge. My anxiousness about Liam’s first day was for naught.
The Bible tells us not to worry – what better days we could experience if only we followed its advice! Viruses come and go, technology ebbs and flows, but some things don’t change. Kids still need social and educational connection. They still need a classroom setting. Clifford and Snoopy (after countless washings, down stairs tossings, stuffed animal trains, sliding down railings, and a bazillion bedtime stories) still have their places in the grandkids room. And little blue tables still serve little children, ready for schoolwork or a snack or a tea party.