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Column: Learning some ingenuity and understanding during this pandemic
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

Instead of sitting in a classroom going over sight words or letters, my kids on a recent spring day had thrown a rope over the railing of our deck. 

One kid was on the ground below, holding the rope. The smaller kid was on the deck, standing on top of a row of bricks he had placed on his end of the rope to weigh it down.

Would it hold the kid on the other end? They were going to find out.

It’s the kind of hands-on learning I think any good educator would applaud. They were testing a theory. It was all self-led. It was mostly safe. I did step in to tell them not to drop bricks over the railing.

All that is not to say they don’t need to learn their letters and sight words, but for us, this school from home environment has allowed their natural curiosity to flourish. They’re taking initiative and learning some ingenuity.

Will they be behind in their academics when school goes back in session? That’s possible. Will they be better able to problem solve on their own? That’s also possible.

At some point in the past couple of decades, society moved to a very structured day for kids. It’s not just school days geared to get students mastering certain concepts at certain times but also long days at day care and evenings spent in organized athletics. Escaping those structures has been nearly impossible. There are no kids roaming the streets on their bicycles looking for a pickup game of basketball. And not many feel they can afford a single-income household, allowing kids more free time at home.

Now, here we all are, forced into this massive societal change.

My kids aren’t hanging out with the neighborhood kids over here, but we are climbing trees and learning to ride a bike with no training wheels and building forts out of blankets. Some of that was going to happen anyway, but where the pandemic has dampened our ability to learn structured activities, it’s heightened our ability to learn the joy of unstructured play.

Slowing down for these kinds of experiences is something many parents have shared, sparking memes about whether we want to return to what was “normal” before COVID-19. I can’t say I’ve slowed down along with everyone else, but my family’s day-to-day life has changed drastically.

The loss of some routine and interaction with others has also been a struggle, but it’s overall been something I hope we look back on with fondness.

However, our experience isn’t everyone’s experience.

While my kids are learning in new ways, other kids are living in neglect. Without the structure of school, the eyes of teachers, counselors and other school staff, there are kids who will not only be behind academically, but will be behind socially and developmentally.

Having fostered 11 kids doesn’t exactly make me an expert on that, but I have witnessed how neglect has stunted verbal development. How it’s taught behaviors that don’t work in normal situations.

A toddler left alone in a crib without devoted caregivers nearby doesn’t have the chance for structured or unstructured learning. A kid left to find his own dinner and place to sleep that night may have difficulty trusting adults and authority.

What’s good for one family, isn’t for another. And our local school system leaders are likely all too familiar with that as they’ve worked to meet the needs of kids in vastly different situations.

As the school year comes to a close, we lose a bit of routine and interaction with the world outside our home. Schools will still be reaching out to some families as they work to feed those who depend on school meals. 

By August, we may be back in classrooms. Or we may be reacting to a second wave.

Whatever the case may be, our experiences of this pandemic aren’t all the same. 

And the solutions aren’t one-size-fits-all. While many jump to one extreme or the other on the debates about how to move forward, I’d prefer to hear some more perspectives and find some common ground.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. 

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