We took three “First Day of Kindergarten” pictures this year. There was our son’s first day of virtual kindergarten – August 24. Then his first day of hybrid kindergarten – November 10. Two weeks after that, we went back to all-virtual school. We started round two of hybrid kindergarten again at the end of February. And then, finally, in April, we took our son’s “First Day of Full Day Kindergarten” pictures.
Almost eight months. Eight months of virtual kindergarten, or, as he called it, “computer school.” Eight months of me and the kid, his computer and his class. Eight months of picking up a weekly packet of worksheets at the school that I had yet to set foot inside of. Eight months of trying to adjust to changing schedules and starts and stops. Eight months of frustration and worry that I tried my best to keep from my kid.
It wasn’t all bad. At first, I put my skills as a former elementary school teacher to use, coming up with supplemental activities that paired with what our son’s kindergarten teacher was doing with the class. We stuck to a schedule, knowing that someday, hopefully, (we weren’t sure when) he would be in school for a full day and would need to get used to being in school for a longer time. We planned a few masked-up, playground playdates with a classmate that he’d gravitated toward from their very first online class: “I think when I get to go to real school, I want to be his friend.” When the weather got colder, they had a few FaceTime playdates where they would set up their tablets and build with LEGOs – separate, but together.
In November, the school district first attempted to go back face-to-face in a hybrid format, meaning that families who chose to send their kids to do school would either send them in person in the morning or afternoon, and then the time at home would be spent virtually in their specials lesson – art, music, STEM, PE. It was a start. Our son was most excited to ride on the school bus, but we also knew how excited he was to meet the friends that he’d only gotten to see on the computer.
It was like we were finally able to exhale, like we didn’t realize how stressed all of us were. With our son in school, even part time, we all seemed to relax. We were so happy to hear him chatter on about his school activities, the kids he met, the things they did… We were finally getting to see what “normal” might look like.
A holiday-induced increase in Covid cases changed that, though, and after Thanksgiving break, all the schools in our district that were teaching face-to-face returned to virtual instruction.
On school days throughout the winter, our son would get out of bed and complain that he hated “computer school.” He would ask the question that I didn’t have an answer for: “When will the virus go away?” He lost interest in the morning songs and routines that he had once (albeit without any rhythm whatsoever) danced along to. He doodled on his worksheets but still managed to follow along with the lessons, so I let him scribble away. He knows his numbers. He’s learning to read. Academically, he’s getting it. But me? I was just getting worried.
Would this lead to bigger struggles in the future? How long before he completely lost interest in virtual instruction? Would this turn him off from school altogether? When was the poor kid ever going to get to make friends?
In February, the schools once again made an attempt to return to the hybrid learning format they used in November and our son’s grumpy attitude towards school seemed to dissolve. He was excited about school again. He would get off the school bus and we would all have lunch together before getting him set up in front of his little laptop for his afternoon specials class. He didn’t seem to mind being in front of the computer so much for those classes – I’m guessing because he at least got to spend the morning at school with half of his classmates.
Things were definitely looking up. He would bounce out of bed in a good mood. Run to the bus stop even though we were never in any danger of missing it. Come home and answer our many questions about whether he had a good day and what he learned about.
And then in March, we finally got the news that students would have the opportunity to go to school full-time after Spring Break. (In our district, families had to choose either full-time in-person instruction or full-time virtual – no more part-time, hybrid learning.) Another milestone. Another first day of school.
It’s been a little over a month now and we are once again, very happily, settled into our new routine. It might not look the way we thought kindergarten would look, but he’s adapted. He gets his temperature checked before getting on the bus. He wears a mask all day. The kids’ desks are spread out. In the cafeteria, the kids have an assigned seat where they sit every day. He doesn’t seem to mind one bit. I think all that matters to him is that he’s actually gotten to spend time with his teachers and his classmates. He’s finally gotten to meet his specials teachers. He gets to be with other people besides just me and his dad.
When we arrived at the field for his first soccer practice of the spring, shortly after full-day school started, I was startled when a group of kids ran up to us, yelling his name, like he was a little mask-wearing kindergarten rock star. As he greeted them, I recognized some of their names from his days of “computer school.” But there were some names I hadn’t heard before. It turns out that he met one of the girls on the playground at recess, and that one of the boys rode the bus with him. They had complimented each other’s’ backpacks and started talking about Pokemon, and a friendship was born.
My husband and I watched the kids running up and down the field, chasing the ball and doing drills. For an hour, our son was completely oblivious to our presence. And I realized, that’s what I had been waiting for. Heck, that’s what I had been hoping for. For months, for a year, I had been so worried that virtual learning would turn off our kid’s interest in school. I was worried that he would cling to me, afraid to finally go to school for a full day. I was worried that after spending so much time at home, he would have trouble socializing and making friends.
But we did it. We survived virtual kindergarten. And in the meantime, he has grown into an extremely resilient little boy. In his short school career, he has learned to adjust and adapt to multiple schedule changes and different modes of learning. He has learned independence – navigating his way around the school building by himself. He’s learned manners – wishing the crossing guard a good morning on the way to the bus stop, telling the bus driver to have a good day. There’s no doubt that he’s learned his way around technology. He’s learning responsibility – packing his backpack, returning library books on time, practicing his sight words. He’s learned to make friends – not just in school, but on the bus, on the playground, and on the soccer field.
And to me, that’s the most important thing he could have learned in school this year.