Distance Learning Has Actually Helped My Daughter Thrive

Distance Learning Has Actually Helped My Daughter Thrive

I remember my now 8-year-old daughter at 2, unable to jump off a rope swing onto a mat during drop-in gymnastics. She just couldn’t figure it out. So she climbed down and tried it again and again. It took 12 tries, but she finally hit the landing, her father and I shocked, watching our first-born’s resolve on display. It’s a trait I’ve seen frequently during this year of remote learning.

My child is, somehow, thriving online. At home, she can work without school distractions, take brain breaks when needed, and work independently on assignments. She sees her second-grade assignments on Seesaw and wants to get them done; she likes a personal checklist that needs to be checked. She enjoys figuring things out on her own — like technology, which allows her to submit her assignments creatively. These tools have given her confidence to complete her work in a remote environment.

Even from a young age, she’s always been most competitive with herself, finding ways to better her performance. On walks, she’ll have me stop and time her laps around the high school track. Taking a deep breath, she bursts into running; after, she crowds in close to my phone, panting, to see if the numbers are lower. They usually are. She likes metrics to track success and demands proof that she’s improved.

This time has empowered my daughter to see what she’s capable of when she’s not around her peers. With space, her strengths have been magnified so that she can see them, too. We can all see her growth.

With remote learning, we’ve seen our social but shy daughter more willing to work with her peers. As a volunteer in her Kindergarten class, I watched her quietly say “pass” each time she was called on in her class of 25. Now, she’s asking questions in her online setting, engaging with classmates in small breakout groups during reading and sharing more about her home-life and loves (stuffies) on the class-wide blog. We even watched her facilitate her own Zoom birthday party. A combination of asynchronous, synchronous, and live learning at home has made her feel comfortable, putting a spotlight on my daughter’s learning preference. Like her passion for art, rock-climbing, mountain-biking and LEGO-building, I can see how her individual preferences might translate into a more non-traditional, independent learning style.

Our district is in a phased return. In my daughter’s class, over half the class chose to return to in-person. Ever the nervous mom, I didn’t want her to miss out on social time with friends, or fall behind her classmates in academics. We asked multiple times (nine to be exact) whether she wanted to return to school, and her answer was a firm “no.” When asked what she likes most about online learning, she told me “that I can leave my bed and go to school,” and “my teacher,” who has supported her online, making connections with conferences, videos and personal messages. We’ll continue to supplement school social connections with outside playdates with a small circle of buddies.

Of course, she has two benefits at home: She’s independent, and she has parents who are available, finding moments throughout their day to help and support her learning. We are (usually) able to swoop in if needed. As parents, we’re learning, as we go, how to best support our daughter’s academic needs, which will be helpful in the future. For now, it’s been great to see her discover who she is as a learner and how to advocate for herself.

I know many students struggled with online learning. Is it ideal? No. Equitable? Hardly. It’s far from perfect. And each day is different. Some days are harder to motivate than others, particularly without a walk to the bus, or a school drop-off pep talk. She’s had days where she just wants to cuddle with the dog, stare out the window, or play Minecraft, and she could use someone (read: not her parents) to help her refocus. But we’ve adjusted. A friend of ours even pointed out, “Your daughter seems to be doing really well.” At home, she has learned how to self-direct, make mistakes, and ask for help in a way that wasn’t happening for her at school.

The pandemic learning environment has been an interesting educational experience for all of us. While the fall is not yet decided in our district, I’m hopeful for multiple learning options for a wide variety of learners in the future. Whatever comes next, my daughter will carry some of her distance learning successes with her to school next September.

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