As a parent caught in the swirl, I feel like I have an angel on one shoulder, urging me to force my children to practice Khan Academy math, and a devil on the other, telling me to simply take them for a walk in the sunshine. “But please,” the devil begs, “make it a walk with no curriculum-mandated agenda to research and then sketch the Monarch butterflies!” Or is it the reverse? Is the carefree walk in the sun the appeal from my better, wiser nature? Everything is topsy-turvy: Two months ago, I would have been horrified at the thought of parking my five-year-old in front of a computer for five hours a day, every day. Now I feel guilty if I don’t.
When my kindergartener told me last week, “If you make me stare at a screen for one more minute, I’m going to get addicted and go blind!” I didn’t know whether to cheer or bribe her to sit back down in front of my laptop. “It’s the dirty secret of parenting right now. Everyone’s pretending their kids are successfully doing Zoom calls, but that’s not what I’m seeing with my clients,” Los Angeles parenting coach Joshua Castillo told the New York Times. “Particularly for young children, it is understandable—and in some ways encouraging—that they don’t like learning through video meetings,” says Dr. Elanna Yalow, an early childhood education expert and the Chief Academic Officer of KinderCare Learning Centers. She suggests reaching out to your child’s teacher to try to “better understand what they expect the children to be learning and if they have any suggestions for another way to accomplish that outcome. The goal is to find another means to help your child explore the content that is being covered.”
There’s no question our teachers are there for us. If only they could be here with us, too. “It goes without saying that most schools and teachers have done an incredible job putting together remote learning,” says Aliza Pressman, Ph.D., Co-Founder of the Mount Sinai Parenting Center in New York. “The problem is that a lot of what it requires isn’t really developmentally appropriate for the eight and under crowd, whose attention spans are still weak. In many ways, learning in those early years of school really is social. The back-and-forth interaction kids get from being able to ask their teacher a question or play a math game with a classmate makes it easier to stay on task and to soak in the new information. Even then though, we’re not talking about doing this for big chunks of time.” On average, she says, three to four year-olds are only able to focus on a task for five to ten minutes. For five to six year-olds, it’s 15 minutes. And seven to eight year-olds typically max out after 30 minutes of intense concentration. “So you probably want to lower your expectations if online meetings are longer than that.”