The school year ended five weeks ago, and in a way, it was a relief. Managing remote learning for a 4th grader and a 2nd grader, while working full-time and a toddler in the house, was stressful, to put it mildly. Part of the stress came from knowing that I could not replace the teachers, even a little bit. I mostly left my kids to their own devices and had to trust that they would do what was assigned (and then cried when emails came home from teachers that work was missing).
It was an unsustainable tug of war. I had never signed up to be a "homeschool teacher" and struggled with guilt over not doing more and frustration over what I was being asked to do. I somewhat threw my hands up in the air and said "It's only 8 weeks of their lives — there won't be long-term damage."
Illinois entered Phase 3 shortly after the end of the school year, which allowed for a bit more reopening, including the camp where the kids normally go in the summer. However, Ger and I agreed that we were not comfortable sending them to camp. We wanted to see what the virus would do over the course of the next several weeks. I enrolled them in camp, but had the option to mark that we would not attend until Phase 4, which would be a minimum of four weeks later.
And so, "Camp at Home" began. In some ways, it was harder than the school year. Every day, I created a Google Slide, specific to each kid, and posted it in a Google Classroom I created. Every day I had to copy over the content into a new slide and change the information. It became a daily cycle of "give them something to keep them occupied."
At the beginning of July, Illinois entered Phase 4. I was frankly shocked. I had fully expected that the trends of new virus cases would not continue to go down and we would be stuck in Phase 3 at least until August. Yet here it was, and we could send our kids to camp if we chose.
I contacted the camp and found that they would be following the Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines for schools. The camp is a Montessori school, so in a way, it would be a prelude to what the academic year will be like, on a much smaller scale. The camp likely only has about 50 elementary school-aged children in the summer. Masks would be required. Temperature checks on the way in, and no parents allowed in the building. Frequent hand-washing, and keeping the kids isolated from each other in small groups. Sharing of supplies kept to a minimum, and packed lunches would need to contain all plates, utensils and napkins needed - nothing would be provided.
Ger and I have said from the beginning that we would like to be on the "other side." With estimates that nearly half of the U.S. population might have been infected by the time a vaccine becomes available, we would like to be in the 50% that doesn't get it. Meaning that we have been diligent in our practices of staying home, wearing masks when we have to leave the house, social distancing, hand washing and cleaning.
At the same time, I have read increasing reports of concerns over the well-being of children. It isn't just the education, but the socio-emotional aspect as well. When the school year ended, somehow I thought that maybe they would return in the Fall. That feeling quickly evaporated and with Illinois guidelines around entering Phase 5 (that a vaccine is available), Phase 4 will be "life as we know it" for a long time. Probably a year or more, if I had to guess.
We all have to make decisions about our level of comfort. What are we willing to do? What are we not willing to do? Being home for over 15 weeks has taken a toll on my kids, and at times has been alarming.
I considered the guidance from health experts and educators. We decided that sending the kids to camp, under the requirements of Phase 4, would be "low risk." It wouldn't be "no risk" - no risk would be keeping them home altogether - but compared to other activities, it was a risk that we were willing to take. We would take every additional precaution in our home. I had my kids practice wearing their masks for longer stretches at home. And without yet knowing what the public schools will do, it would be practice for what the classrooms could look like in a few weeks.
Today will be the first day. I won't be there to watch and make sure their masks don't get pushed down below their chins. They are excited to go, but that joy may turn to fear or anxiety when they get into the classroom. We will have to maintain our diligence on "re-entering the house" when they get home in our efforts to keep the virus at bay.
Yet, I am starting today feeling as comfortable as I can be with the decision to send them. We have made dramatic shifts in our routine, repeatedly, over the past few months and this will be one more. On top of everything, I hope they have fun. Being stuck at home has been so hard and they have done so with minimal complaint. I hope that they have a day where they can laugh with Mr. Adam and the other kids and embrace being outside of our home for a few hours a day.