A busy day

When the schools closed down last year in response to the pandemic, our grandchildren began a structured program of home education. The school in the small town where they lived at the time was slow to offer online learning and when it did offer a few zoom sessions, they fell far short of a complete educational plan for the children. Their parents did some quick research and came up with a program of home schooling. Although the arrangement is temporary, it has worked for the family. When we moved to the area, we became regular volunteers in the homeschool just as we would have become volunteers in the public school had things been working normally. We enjoy learning with our grandchildren and watching them grow.

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There are some disadvantages to the program, however. One disadvantage if you are the ten-year-old brother of two sisters is that you spend all of your time with those two siblings. You miss things you used to do with your friends and others your age - scouts, sports, and just hanging out with others your age. And even though you love your family and you are glad to have sisters, there is part of helping them with their schooling that is, frankly, boring. Sometimes you wish there was someplace you could go without those two little girls.

Our grandson wanted some time away from his sisters enough to work really hard cramming a week’s worth of school into four days last week. That included taking his spelling test on Thursday instead of Friday, doubling up with his math assignments, doing extra reading and extra typing practice, and quite a bit more. Yesterday was his bonus day and he got up early to get dropped off at our house on his father’s way to work.

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We decided to see how much adventure we could cram into one day. It started with a five-mile bike ride. Actually grandpa had planned a two-mile bike ride, but we finished so quickly that we added another three miles and were back at the house by mid-morning. There was time for three games of Uno. The ten-year-old won two of them. There was time to get out a collection of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons and read curled up in an easy chair. There was time to play catch with grandma in the back yard while grandpa cooked burgers on the grill. And that was just the morning.

The afternoon included a short paddle in the canoe. A bigger paddle had been planned but a windy day brought some waves to the lake and prudence dictated a shorter paddle along the protected shoreline. Then it was back to the house, where grandma had been saving a commercial STEM crate project obtained at a discounted price as a sample. This project was the making of a spin art machine, complete with a small circuit board and switch and a couple of resistors in the circuit. Then there was time to try out the device and make some cards.

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Another 5-mile bike ride, this one planned for the stamina of the boy and including a couple of fun hills that were climbed and repeated for the extra fun of going fast, rounded out the afternoon. Along the way there were several snacks. A growing ten-year-old who is very active needs fuel for the journey. More time playing catch and reading a few more cartoons and before we were ready his father was there to pick him up.

It was a really fun day and grandpa didn’t have any trouble falling to sleep in the evening. It broke up the routine of spending all day every day with his sisters for the grandson.

We are deeply grateful for the gift of time we have with our grandchildren. We are aware that it is a privilege born of our ability to retire - a gift of the congregations we served who invested in our pension and the blessings of good health. We know that there are lots of loving grandparents who don’t have the opportunity to live close to their grandchildren, a luxury of the timing of the ages of our grandchildren and the circumstances of our life. Yesterday was one more gift in a lifetime of good fortune and blessing.

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Children around the world have missed out on experiences and learning during the pandemic. Although some are now able to return to regular school, the disruption in their education has made a big impact on their lives. Next fall, when schools spool up for a complete return, it will not be going back to school as usual. The wide variety of experiences and the discrepancies in educational experiences mean that students will return with very different learning needs. Classes divided by age will have even wider ranges of learning needs than before. In a real sense it will not be “going back to school,” but rather re-inventing the process of schooling.

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As has been the case in the past, we know we can count on the creativity and dedication of faithful teachers in our public schools and know that we can trust them to give a high measure of devotion to our children. But we also know that they are facing enormous challenges as they return. Teachers who are back in the classroom are finding that not all of their students are present. New practices and procedures aimed at limiting the spread of disease demand time and energy and interrupt the process of teaching and learning. In the fall when more students return, things will have to be very different from the way they were before the pandemic.

Even as we enjoy the blessings of extra time with our grandchildren, we know that we need to be learning about opportunities to support our teachers and schools as they face the huge challenges of a new season of learning.

Yesterday we had the luxury of two adults and one ten year old. It is hard to imagine the energy required of a teacher who has to face a classroom of ten year olds all by herself or himself. Those teachers deserve all the support we can give.