By Guest Blogger Alyssa Tabacca, author of Driving the Big Van

With a household of 4 eLearners trying to Zoom while a chatty preschooler and a puppy are constantly being shushed and begging for attention, I’m sure eLearning looks a little different for our family. In some ways we are at an advantage. I am a former teacher and a stay at home mom. My kids normally like going to school. But there is nothing normal right now, and so there are some struggles here at our little satellite campus. My husband is a college football coach so the fall is traditionally a crazy time of year for our family. This year is no exception.

One thing has not changed during this new school year. My four year old, William, can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning. He is ready to break the silence that is bedtime. He wakes up with so much to share, so many questions to ask, so many sounds to make! 

On the first day of eLearning he woke up VERY upset because he realized he was out of underwear. I rotate daily between kids and adult laundry, so at most he was two days out from all his clothes being clean. I didn’t understand. I had just bought him a new 4-pack of undies. But I realized I hadn’t seen his older undies in the wash lately. When I asked what had happened to his dinosaur undies I was greeted by his thoroughly confident answer, “I threw them away! You got me new ones!” Four underpants. The boy thought he could live with just four pairs of underpants. This is not the stuff of normal classroom problems. 

After loading the middle school bus at 6:30 last year, the start time adjustment has been my FAVORITE part of the shift. We know that tweens are so busy growing that they need all the sleep. Instead I found us locked in a battle of being the age group most often kept at the ballfield or dance studio until 9 at night and then ripped from bed at 6 am. But this year…all the sleeping is possible!! (See! I told you there are positives!)

After spending so much time together, breakfast time can be a mix of sweet time together or wrath and impatience because someone is talking too loudly or eating wrong. I’d say it’s 50/50. And it only takes 1 of the 5 being in morning-dragon mode to turn the tides. Without doing the math, let’s just say many days we need an attitude reboot before the school day begins.

In order to adjust to live classes we had to shift from all sitting in the dining room to finding individual spaces. I made sure they had a box for their supplies that could be put away each afternoon, otherwise my house begins to feel like the Target Back to School section after the first day of 5/$1 notebook sales. (Did people go to Target for their supplies this year? The bullseye-covered boxes delivered to the front door just didn’t have the same “Back to School Shopping” feel.)

I really had high hopes of creating a device-free home-preschool-y feel for William this year. But then reality hit. When 4 kids are trying to login and navigate new platforms I am highly sought after for IT assistance. After one day of having to start and stop our hands-on activities, I was humbled. We downloaded ABC Mouse and tried to find peace with the fact that Will would get a little screen time until the kids got into their elearning groove. 

However, the discovery of Kinetic Sand lands itself in the positive column for not only entertaining William for an ENTIRE day of eLearning, but also captivating the older kids during every break and into the evening hours.

As the day moves along, especially as the kids have gotten the hang of eLearning, I am needed a little less. The only thing I get to hear is whatever they are singing to themselves as they work. (I do wonder if my kids sing when they are at school. How do the teachers survive all the sounds!?)

My biggest complaint about eLearning, aside from the lack of social connection for the kids, the hours of screen time, my lost time…I guess I have a list…but my BIGGEST complaint is the staggered schedules. I’m not sure why it was necessary to have each grade have a unique time pattern to their classes and breaks, but I do know that it is exponentially harder for the students “in class” to focus while other kids are eating an earlier lunch or playing with the dog. In our big family we don’t have separate bedrooms that I can banish the learners to; the kids are staggered throughout the house making it a minefield of Zoom videos to avoid. I’m sure there was a thought process behind the varied schedules, I’m sure it doesn’t affect all families the same way, but I’m also sure it’s the WORST!

One day we will go back to school. If we have learned nothing else from this, we have learned that kids need to chat with their friends, to run on the playground, to hold real books, to sing together, and to see their wonderful teachers. I hope we appreciate the bus drivers who take our kids safely to school, the administrators and staff who keep the school running smoothly, the teachers who have somehow managed to completely adapt and find ways to connect to their students across the airwaves, the importance of peers in our kids’ lives and of extra-curricular activities to ignite excitement for new ways of learning and connection. But most of all, I KNOW I will appreciate that small moment when the children board the bus, or walk through the doors into school and we finally get a quiet moment to ourselves.

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