What a year! Anika was among those children who began their first year of school following the first wave of COVID-19. I would have never imagined that Anika’s entry into kindergarten would be in the midst of a global pandemic, but here is what I know to be true as we got through it ...
1) What our kids lost in curriculum or academia, they made up for in life skills
Like most all parents, I fretted over what she would not get to experience and what would be compromised in the way of curriculum in an otherwise normal classroom setting. But what I found, and what many parents learned to accept and find comfort in, is that all of our kids are in the same boat, they will all progress in due time having had endured the same backdrop of unpredictability. When we look back we will know that the most important thing was that we helped our young children navigate the uncertainty in the healthiest, safest and most positive way possible. What's more, I quickly saw that Anika, and all her classmates, were challenged every single day to be adaptable, independent, flexible, resilient, creative, and to problem solve in ways they wouldn't have otherwise been asked to do (and in ways that I certainly never had to do as a 5-year-old)! So what they lost out on in academia, they certainly made up for in social and other skills that will take them far in life. They learned the skill of creating human bonds at a distance, and when they returned to a hybrid model of part-time in-class learning, it was OK (more so than I expected) and they were grateful.
2) Building bonds breaks barriers
Almost three quarters into the school year, and not having had the experience of meeting or interacting with other parents (or even teachers) the way we normally would have, I went out on a limb to connect with some of the parents of the children Anika was mentioning she was befriending in class. Like one parent had similarly done for me, I sent Anika to school with a couple cards tucked in her lunch pouch (the only thing the kids were allowed to take to school with them) requesting an outdoor playdate, if they felt comfortable. The parents expressed how appreciative and happy they were that I reached out to them. It was a turning point for Anika and me, as she got to interact with her school friends in a the closest thing to being a normal way (with all safety precautions in place), and I had the opportunity to talk candidly with other parents, which helped to allay my concerns. Parents, teachers, and the community, have had to come together in ways we never had to before--we had to build greater trust between us to get through!
3) Learn from your child
"I can do it mom!" Anika would say when she would do her online homework or sign into ZOOM. She was so much more adept at just figuring it out than I gave her credit for. She learned the rules of interaction in an online class room, what buttons to click, how to access her learning apps, how to raise her virtual hand and she enjoyed being a part of it. She faced the situation with curiosity, which helped build her confidence. Sure, she needed guidance and help, but she took each day as it came, adapted, and then adapted again. The first day of in-person learning, she got out of the car, grabbed her mask and lunch, and then, guided by school staff, strode off in the direction of her classroom. She didn't look back at me for permission, or confirmation, or out of any sort of fear. The biggest thing I learned from her was her willingness, acceptance and patience with the situation (and Anika is normally anything but patient!) -- it was reflective of the path of least resistance. And when I started to let go, it was so much easier for her (and me) to learn, wade in, and accept this current scenario. We know in our hearts, "this to shall pass." Allowing ourselves to get through it with some level of faith and trust, can be the best thing we can do for ourselves and our kids!
We're going on a bear hunt, we're gonna catch a big one, what a beautiful day, we're not scared... we can't go over it, we can't go under it, we'll have to go through it!
This phrase from the book, "We're going on a bear hunt," by Michael Rosen rang in the back of my mind now and again this past year. Anika was gifted this book by wonderful neighbor as a birthday present when she turned one. It is a fun book with a such an important metaphor about the choices we make together about life's biggest and scariest challenges. We can get through it!