Working at the Kitchen Table

My son is being asked to learn in an entirely new way.

watercolor illustration of a kitchen table
Image created via Midjourney

I got an email from one of my 8-year-old's teachers, wanting a phone conference. He hasn't been turning in work and the work he has turned in is sub-par.

Is this school year over yet? Nope, it is only the end of second quarter.

The entire school year I have struggled with not being able to provide much support for my kids in their remote learning. They would join their Zooms and I had to trust that the work was getting done unless I heard otherwise.

I had to put a Consequence Chart in place for both kids. If I heard about missing work, loss of screen time. If I heard about cameras being off in class, or missed classes... etc. etc. etc. I also set up a marble jar system where I would award marbles for good behavior, like participation or compliments from teachers. Said marbles could be traded in for rewards.

I have already talked to my 8-year-old's teacher once this year. He wasn't answering questions correctly on some basic grammar concepts - things she thought he should know. We talked through it and I worked to encourage my son more.

But the last few weeks have been immediately hectic. I've had a lot going on with my career. Our school district opened up hybrid learning. And while my kids are still 100% remote, the schedule changed to accommodate those who chose hybrid.

Unfortunately for my kids, this means they are completely on their own in the morning, and on Zooms for most of the afternoon. Before, it was Zoom-break-Zoom-break over the course of the day. I was immediately concerned about how my kids would handle being left to their own devices. LITERALLY with their devices - Chromebooks - and also needing to self-manage their mornings.

Turns out, that has not been going so well for my 8-year-old. And as I peer into his bright eyes and hair that hasn't been cut in months, I have to remind myself: he's 8. He's being asked to learn in an entirely new way, and he's being asked to manage his time in a way that many adults can't.

I asked him if he was rushing through work so that he could get to doing what he loves (listening to audiobooks). As soon as he is done, he always rushes to his room to listen. He admitted that this was the case.

In a classroom, he wouldn't have a choice. He would need to stay until the end of the day, and would likely fill his entire work time with work. He never had a problem with classroom participation or work in Beforetimes. But at home, with the lure of more fun things, he does the bare minimum. Barely.

And so I'm preparing for a phone conference with his teacher. I've run out of ideas. I've tried consequences for missing work and he doesn't seem to care. I've offered rewards and that doesn't seem to motivate him either.

The only thing left to try is to sit with him while he works — and give him no option to leave.

I can't do this during the school day because I have to work. But I have this window of time in the afternoon. I wake up the 3-year-old from her nap at 3:00 pm (or rather, let her come out of her room - she barely naps). Screen time starts at 4:00 pm. From 3:00 to 4:00 I usually sit at the kitchen table with the 3-year-old. She either colors or works on an educational app.

I informed the 8-year-old that he will be joining me at the kitchen table every day. Whether he has work or not. I told him that he can't leave, because if he were in a classroom he would not be able to leave. He can spend more time focusing on the quality of his work and if he has finished every single thing to the best of his ability then he can do extra math or reading practice.

At 3:06, my 8-year-old called out "MOMMY WHERE ARE YOU?" He was ready at the kitchen table. But the 3-year-old was being stubborn and refused to come out of her room. I finally threw up my hands and abandoned the effort to coax her out, and sat down at the kitchen table.

I had my Surface. The 8-year-old had his Chromebook. He worked on re-doing some of his work that was not up to snuff. I worked on replying to emails. The 3-year-old worked on torturing the cat by chasing her around the house.

So we'll continue along the "doing the best we can" mentality and try to survive the remaining half of the school year.

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