Learning at Home: Parents adjust to new routine of kids taking classes in the living room

Elizabeth Holmes’ daughters, Amelia and Katy Ross, study at the dining room table at their home in Oakhurst.

By Clare S. Richie
and Collin Kelley

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the entire world is getting a crash course in homeschooling. While many parents choose to homeschool, it’s been a big wake up call for the thousands of Intowners who send their students to public and private school campuses every day.

The schools closed down early out of an abundance of caution, cancelled extracurricular activities, proms and graduations. While no decision has been made about the 2020-21 academic year, which begins in August for most, there is a possibility that homeschooling might be extended if the number of COVID-19 cases remains a concern.

We asked parents about how they and their kids are adjusting to the new normal of learning at home.

“I’ve told people who ask ‘how’s it going homeschooling’ that having older kids has been really nice because they are pretty self-sufficient,” said Tessa Pickren, who has a junior, freshman, and 6th grader at home

She said her older kids, who attend Grady High School, “know what they have to get done and have been pretty motivated.”

Her son, who attends Inman Middle School, usually gets his work done between 9 a.m. and noon. She’s heard from other parents that some teachers are giving more work than others. “Or maybe my son has the same amount and just gets it completed quickly.”

Pickren said the transition to homeschooling hasn’t been as hard, but said the challenge was keeping kids off their tech – phones, tablets, game consoles – all day. Still, she’s worried about other students who don’t have parents at home checking on them or the structure and resources available in the traditional classroom. “Those are the kids the pandemic is going to set back, and that’s sad to me.”

Renee Klein, mother to a freshman and sixth grader, said her family has “definitely gotten used to the routine of it all,” but learning the quirks of GoToMeeting and Zoom for online learning was definitely an adjustment.

“There’s not as much schoolwork as I would have thought,” Klein mused. “That’s probably a good thing, because the kids aren’t as stressed. And because everybody’s in it together, it is what it is. I’m not overthinking it. Are they learning enough? Will they be behind? We won’t know that. But they are definitely in the routine and getting to enjoy the fresh air. My sixth grader is on more of a schedule than my ninth grader, but I think that’s ok.”

Lauren Ellen –  who has three boys in first, third, and fifth grades  – said the first week of homeschooling was “really rough, to be completely honest.”

“It was hard and there were a lot of tears,” she said. “Having younger children, we don’t have a lot of technology in our house. Technology was the biggest adjustment for all of us –  everyone was on a device for the majority of the day.”

She said Atlanta Public Schools sent iPads home with all first and second graders, which was a big help, but her third and fifth graders were trying to share one computer and it just wasn’t working. “My husband actually went and bought a laptop halfway through day one. We are fortunate to have been in a position to be able to do this, because I know many families can’t.”

Now, more than a month in, Ellen said the kids have adjusted really well. “They start at 8:30 a.m. and end their school day around 1:30 or 2 p.m. The first week, they weren’t wrapping up until 4 in the afternoon and we were all stressed out. But we’ve gotten into a better groove now – we know the routine and the websites to go to. Everybody knows where their Google classroom is and they are not asking me questions about ‘where do I go, what am I supposed to do.’ They’ve gotten into a much better routine.”

Ellen she and her husband keep reminding themselves that homeschooling isn’t forever and work to “set the right tone for the day” for the family.

“I have literally walked out the door because I was so frustrated,” she said candidly. “But also, giving myself grace and giving them grace. I remind them: your teachers are learning, you’re learning, every kid in your class is learning. This is new for everybody, not just you, so don’t put pressure on yourself to feel like you’ve gotta get it right the first time. Because you’re probably not going to, and that’s ok. We’ll wake up tomorrow and give it another shot. I’ve learned that being humble and gracious will get me a lot further than trying to be in control.”

Another parent in the Grady cluster with a senior, freshman and fifth grader asked to remain anonymous, but said “everything is mostly going well,” although her senior had to deal with the most disappointments.

“He has been really, really sad,” the parent said about her son. “For the first few weeks, it was very hard, especially because we were taking it all very seriously and not leaving the house. Our son wanted to hang out with his friends before it was too late, but in my mind, it was already too late. They closed school for a reason.  All the cancellations – soccer, senior night, prom, graduation – it’s supposed to be one of the best times of their lives and they can’t participate. That’s been really difficult. He’s gotten better now, but I feel really bad for him. I remember my senior year and how much fun it was.”

Elizabeth Holmes, who has daughters in middle and high school at City Schools of Decatur, said the dining room table has become the new classroom at her home in the Oakhurst neighborhood.

“I’ve been trying to find the balance between helping them or just trusting them to handle their schoolwork,” Holmes said. “I’m mainly to go-between now of forwarding emails from teachers and following up if I’m alerted to a missed assignment.”

Holmes said the transition to homeschooling wasn’t as traumatic as she thought it would be, especially since she was working from home even before the pandemic. “The real navigation is when schoolwork is done for the day, and sometimes they’re done by 11 a.m. or noon. I’ve given up on managing their time on devices as long as their work is done, and I’ve been making sure we get outdoor time. Probably the biggest stressor we have now is how messy things get from when we’re all here all the time.”

Holmes said both of her kids enjoy getting a little extra sleep, but both were disappointed that there was no spring break. “Despite the anxiety and fear that we are all feeling, I’d say we’re pretty lucky over here.”

This story originally appeared in our special May online-only edition. Click the image to read the entire issue.
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