In my Q3 2020 update, I shared our decision to enroll our kids in remote learning this year. It was a difficult choice; in order to register for remote learning, we had to withdraw our kids from their home schools.
This means we face the very real risk that they won’t get back in next year. We love their schools, so this was an upsetting prospect. However, after much deliberation, we still decided to choose remote learning.
In this post, I’ll explain why we chose remote learning, how it’s going, and what the future holds for my kids’ educational options.
Before we get started
The decision to choose remote versus in-person learning brings up a mixed reactions and emotions. That’s why I’d like to start this post by acknowledging a few important points:
I in no way pass judgement on other parents for their schooling decisions. There’s no right or wrong—only what’s right for your family. We all have different needs, and the decisions we make are best for our individual families. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Acknowledging our privilege
I’m a full-time stay-at-home mom with time and resources to support my kids’ remote learning. I realize that not all families have the option to choose remote learning and that we’re very privileged to have the choice.
In addition, my kids aren’t little anymore—they’re 12 and 15, in Grades 7 and 10. They’re able to take on most of their school work independently. I don’t need to sit beside them, constantly keeping them on-task.
For these reasons, full-time remote learning works for our family. If I was a working parent or my kids were younger, this wouldn’t have been a workable option for us.
Not everyone can learn or teach remotely
I’d also like to acknowledge that teachers, staff, and many students have no choice but to be at school. (Members of my extended family are part of this group.) I feel for those who must go to school, even if they feel unsafe.
I’ll continue to write to my local governments to fight for improved safety protocols. Hopefully, it’ll result in better protections for those who must teach and learn in-person.
Part 1: How we discovered remote learning
When COVID hit, our kids got a taste of remote learning through their brick-and-mortar schools. Their teachers did an outstanding job of teaching them online (despite having little training and time to shift to remote teaching).
Our hope was for this form of teaching to continue. Unfortunately, our schools weren’t able to accommodate this so I decided to explore other options. This in turn led me to discover the many virtual schools in our province.
Virtual schools: a perfect combination
Until recently, I had no idea that virtual schools existed! They operate under the same standards and regulations as brick-and-mortar schools, but they’re fully virtual. I think they’re the perfect combination of homeschooling and traditional, in-person schooling!
After much research, I chose the two schools for my kids based on internet reviews, the curricula they offered, and in-depth conversations with school staff and teachers.
Both schools have been in operation for many years and are experienced in delivering high-quality remote learning. So far, my expectations have been far exceeded. We couldn’t be happier with our picks!
Part 2: Why we chose remote learning
Some of you may be wondering why we chose remote learning for our kids. For us, there were three main areas of consideration:
- COVID concerns
- Academic concerns
- Aspirational reasons
1. COVID concerns
Our decision to choose remote learning was initially made due to concerns about COVID-19. There were specific issues that were particularly worrisome at our schools:
- Our schools would not be requiring masks in-class. (We’ve been told that there isn’t a mask-wearing culture, which means kids who wear masks stick out.)
- Staff will not (or only minimally) attempt to physically-distance the kids.
- Class sizes are the same as they were pre-COVID: 30 students per class. In high school, each cohort will include up to 120 kids. That’s way too many for us.
- Kid 1’s high school can’t accommodate staggered start times.
- We’re heading into fall and winter. This will make it challenging to teach outdoors and/or keep windows open.
- Our schools are both very old. This means their ventilation systems are likely not as effective as we’d like them to be.
- I don’t trust my kids (or other kids) to remember to wash their hands, maintain physical distancing, or handle their masks safely.
- Our kids are genuinely concerned that they’ll catch the virus and/or bring it home to us. We don’t want them to have to worry about this every day.
- By keeping our kids home, we’re helping the greater school population and community. (This reduces the number of people at their schools and interacting in the community.)
2. Academic concerns
On top of the COVID concerns, we’re also worried that our kids’ academics could suffer:
- This year will challenge even the most skilled teachers. Effective in-person teaching will be tough to deliver, no matter how you cut it.
- Though the quarterly system is an innovative workaround for high school, it’s not ideal. It’s tough to cram that much learning into 10 weeks. I also worry about the learning loss from one grade to the next.
- When our schools inevitably need to shut down again, it’s very disruptive to teachers and students to have to suddenly switch to remote learning.
- If our kids become ill or need to isolate due to a possible exposure at school, it creates extra stress for them and their teachers to send work home.
- The intensity of focusing on only two classes in a short time could be very stressful. (This is especially true if our kids had two challenging classes at once.)
3. Aspirational reasons
Our decision to keep our kids home wasn’t only made out of avoidance. In fact, it was also made for many positive, aspirational reasons:
- I’ve always wanted to homeschool my kids, but it was too daunting for me to even consider.
- Remote learning with an established online school is a perfect compromise. I’ll facilitate, but the school provides the curriculum, materials, structure, and teacher support.
- If we’re lucky enough to be able to travel again, my kids can continue their schooling, even on vacation.
- If my kids want to work ahead, they can to gain free time later. Conversely, if something comes up, they can skip a morning or a day and catch up later.
- My kids can work ahead and may even have time to take extra classes. This will help to lighten their course load next year.
- Despite my strong tendencies towards introversion, I’ve loved having my kids around. I look forward to having even more time with them this school year. (They’re growing up too fast.)
- M’s still working from home, and he also loves that he gets to see the boys throughout the day.
Part 3: The ugly side of remote learning
Things got off to a rocky start, so things were looking a little iffy in the beginning! Here’s what went wrong:
1. A late start
The influx of families wanting to learn online created registration delays at our schools. That meant Kid 1 started one week later than his friends in regular school and Kid 2 started two weeks late.
Our boys generally prefer to be on-track or slightly ahead of schedule. Getting a late start created some extra anxiety for them.
The kids and I panicked (and nearly threw in the towel) when we realized how much we had to do just to get started:
- Learn how to navigate the platforms for each school.
- Figure out how and when to contact the teachers. (Email? Direct message? Only during office hours?)
- Figure out how to break up an entire year of coursework into manageable chunks.
- Figure out if we were working at a good pace, falling behind, or getting ahead.
- Plan out what to work on and when. (Math on Mondays, English on Tuesdays, or a bit of everything every day?)
All the challenges took a toll on the kids, and they had some… moments. Below are actual words that came from the mouths of my kids (who are normally very resilient and optimistic):
- “I HATE this”!
- “I can’t even see my friends, what’s the point of this?”
- “This isn’t like school at all!!!”
- “This is more work than regular school.”
- “I have to do everything differently! It’s way too much.”
- “What are the chances that I’d catch COVID if I went back to school?”
4. Personality conflicts
I’ll openly admit that my personality does not lend itself well to being a teacher! I’m impatient, controlling, anxious, and a diehard perfectionist.
In short, I drive my kids and myself crazy when helping them with their homework! I think Kid 2 would say I’m not doing a great job! He thinks I’m too tough on him, and I think he’s kind of right.
I’ll continue to work on finding my inner zen and staying calm and kind while helping my kids. (Breathe, Chrissy, breathe!) So far, my kids and I haven’t strangled each other, so I think we’re probably going to be okay.
Part 4: The wonderful side of remote learning
Fortunately, we’re moving past the ugliness and starting to see more of the wonderful side of remote learning. Here’s what we’re loving so far:
1. The teachers
The boys’ teachers have been amazing. Whatever the struggle, they’ve helped us to turn things around. Thanks to their patient guidance, we’ve worked out a comfortable pace and settled in.
We appreciate that their teachers are very responsive and make it easy to schedule Zoom calls as needed. This has made it very easy to stay on top of my kids’ progress and step in if extra direction is needed.
2. The benefits (according to the boys)
I asked the boys what they enjoy most about remote learning. Here’s what they said:
- During regular school, they’d be out of the house for 7 hours, then have another 1–4 hours of homework every day. Now, their school day includes their homework and takes only 3–5 hours of their day.
- When their friends are just starting their homework after school, they’re just starting their free time.
- They can work ahead, then take a longer break later.
- They can control the pace: if they’re enjoying something or find it easy, they can work faster. If something’s challenging, they can go slower.
- There are fewer distractions and interruptions.
- They can work on a different subject to suit their energy or schedule.
- They enjoy and get a lot from the multimedia learning experience.
- No interruptions from annoying or disruptive classmates.
- No friend/classmate/playground drama to deal with.
- No rushing to get out the door every morning.
- They get to see Mika and play with her throughout the day.
- They get a hot, freshly-prepared breakfast and lunch every day.
- We get more family time together.
3. The benefits (for me)
Despite my struggles with being a kind and patient teacher, I’m loving remote learning. Here’s why:
- I’m getting more sleep. (During the regular school year, I had to get up by 6 and rush through my mornings. Now, I can get up at 7 and slowly get ready.)
- Without all the random school days off (professional development days, early dismissals, late starts) our daily routine is way more routine.
- The routine is really, really good for me (and the boys).
- Without a demanding school schedule to manage, I’m able to get more done around the house.
- I have waaay less time stress due to having no school volunteering, meetings or events. (But I do miss the volunteering and events.)
- We can plan for and take random days off with the kids.
- I’m able to get more involved with their learning and quickly step in to assist when needed.
- I’m more aware of what they’re learning and the incredible amount of content they cover in one year.
- I can see the potential of remote learning in my kids’ lives. They could go so far with this style of learning.
4. New skills
Remote learning has helped my kids learn important life skills earlier than expected. To be successful this year, they’ve had to take a crash course in time and project management.
Here are some of the notable skills they’re well on their way to mastering this year:
- How to break up a big project, such as an entire school year’s worth of work, into smaller, manageable chunks.
- How to pace themselves so as not to burn out or fall behind.
- How to manage their own time and schedule.
- How to communicate effectively and independently with their teachers.
- How to stay motivated and on-task, even if a teacher (or mom) isn’t watching.
- How to ask the right questions to get the help they need.
- How to move past overwhelm, get organized, and keep moving forward.
- How to be mindful of and manage stress.
- How to post appropriate messages in online class discussions.
- How to plan ahead for days off, holidays, and vacations.
Part 5: Could remote learning become permanent for us?
As mentioned, I’ve always wanted to homeschool my kids. This remote learning experience has finally helped me scratch that itch… and now I’m dreaming of more!
It’s got me seriously considering making remote learning a permanent thing. As we try to make this decision, we’ve been weighing the following pros and cons:
1. The ability to slow travel
M and I would love to slow travel and stay somewhere long-term (once it’s safe to do so). Remote working and learning frees us to do that anytime—even during the school year.
2. Optimal learning environment
Remote learning has provided an optimal learning environment for my kids. Without all the distractions and interruptions of a normal school day, they can cover the same amount of learning in less time.
They also have an incredible amount of flexibility and autonomy in their learning. This allows them to work more efficiently and with greater energy and motivation.
3. Expedited learning
Seeing how much faster our kids get through their work with remote learning, my mind naturally jumps to them graduating from high school ahead of schedule.
They could then get a headstart on their post-secondary education. This would then lead to an earlier start on their eventual careers. (Kid 1 even imagines himself reaching FI at a young age!)
4. Quality of life
Without the go-go-go of the regular school schedule, life has been quite serene at our house. Stress levels are way down, and all of us have been calmer, happier and kinder to each other.
Being free from the daily grind of school events, schedules, deadlines, decisions and social interactions has alleviated so much of the pressure and stress in our lives. It’s been quite blissful!
1. Loss of unique learning experiences
Regular school provides many unique learning experiences. Some of these are difficult or impossible to provide at home:
- Science labs using special equipment and materials.
- Group games and team sports in gym class.
- Learning to use specialized equipment in shop classes.
- Trying out unique materials in art class.
- School trips (Japan, Italy, Tall Ships).
- Student council.
2. Loss of unique social experiences
Regular school also provides unique and valuable social experiences. These are some of the meaningful experiences that we don’t want our kids to miss out on:
- A regular high school experience (with all the fun, drama, and growing that comes with it).
- Hanging out with friends in the hallways and after school.
- Making connections with amazing teachers who inspire, guide, and motivate them.
- Graduation, and all the memorable events that lead up to it.
- Meeting new people and (possibly) dating.
What will we decide?
This won’t be an easy choice! There are very important considerations on both sides, so this isn’t a decision we’ll be making lightly.
However, if pushed to make a decision now, we’d likely opt to send the kids back to school next year. We feel the loss of the unique social experiences could be a huge source of regret for us and our kids.
Even so, it’s very hard for me to let go of the ideal learning conditions and relaxed pace we have with remote learning. That’s why, for now, our minds are definitely not made up.
We’re going to treat this year like a big, fun experiment and will revisit our decision often. Stay tuned for more!
Part 6: Remote learning FAQs
To finish off this post, I thought I’d create a list of FAQs. (Just in case anyone was concerned for the welfare of my kids or just curious about remote learning!)
Q1. Aren’t you worried about their social lives and social skills?
This is most parents’ biggest concern when considering full-time, at-home learning. It’s a valid concern and one that we share. However, in our situation, I’m not overly worried. Here’s why:
- M and I are home and chat with our kids all day long.
- They still interact with friends, teachers, and classmates through various communication channels: video calls, voice calls, messaging, emails, and (very occasional) distanced, in-person meetups.
- They play Minecraft and chat over Zoom with their cousins nearly every day.
- Kid 1 meets with his library’s teen advisory groups over Zoom twice a month.
- We see M’s parents for physically-distanced walks every week.
- We see other members of our large extended family whenever possible (always from a distance and outdoors).
- The boys and I often bump into and chat with neighbours, friends, and friendly strangers on our walks.
- I’ve joined local home learning Facebook groups to connect with other families. When it’s safe to do so, I’ll consider meetups and field trips.
If we continue with remote learning beyond this school year, we’ll look into ways to give our kids more in-person socialization opportunities. It will never be the same as regular school, but maybe that’s okay too?
Q2. Isn’t that a lot of time on screens?
My kids spend 4–5 hours per day on their computers doing schoolwork. In the afternoon, they get 2 hours to play videogames with friends and cousins. Yes, this is a lot of screen time—far more than I’d normally give them.
I don’t love this aspect of remote learning. But there’s no way around it when nearly all the course materials are online. However, we’ve done a few things to mitigate the risks to their wellbeing:
- Ergonomic equipment and workspace arrangements.
- Reminding them to maintain good posture when working.
- Using paper-based worksheets and assignments when possible.
- Only allowing printed books (no e-books) for their pleasure reading.
- Taking breaks throughout the day to stretch their bodies and rest their eyes.
- Getting outside in nature for a long walk every day.
- Strict time limits on non-learning screen time.
Q3. What’s the difference between homeschooling and remote learning?
Remote learning is a form of home-based learning, but it’s not the same as homeschooling. I’m not an expert on the topic, but I’ll share the main differences I’ve found:
|Learning materials||Parent-selected and designed (often based on each child’s interests and needs)||Teacher-selected and designed (typically with very little customization per student)|
|Learning requirements||Parent-determined (though many choose to follow government mandates)||Government-mandated|
|Scheduling||Parent and student-determined||Teacher-determined, parent and student-facilitated|
|School year start/end dates||Parent and student-determined||School-determined|
As you can see, homeschooling is far more customized to the family. That’s because parents can control and are responsible for everything. Homeschooling offers a lot of freedom, but that also presents challenges.
I’m neither skilled nor patient enough to design a curriculum for each of my kids, select and purchase the learning materials, and then still have the time and energy to teach them myself!
I admire homeschoolers and think they do amazing things with their kids. But remote learning is, for me, the better option. It’s the perfect hybrid of homeschooling and regular, in-person school.
For more on homeschooling, listen to my Explore FI Canada podcast episode: Homeschooling During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Q4. How does testing work with remote learning?
At this point, Kid 1 has taken three tests online and Kid 2 has taken one. Here’s how it worked for each kid:
Kid 1 (Grade 10)
- He selects a timeslot for his test through an online calendar.
- He receives a link for a Zoom meeting.
- At the time of the test, he signs into the meeting with an invigilator (someone who supervises students’ test-taking).
- He shows the invigilator his photo ID.
- He and the invigilator keep their cameras and mics on throughout the test. (Kid 1’s screen is also shared.)
- At the end of the test, he submits his test online. If there are paper-based portions of the test, he immediately scans and uploads these sheets.
- His teacher marks the test.
- if he’s not happy with his mark, he’s allowed one redo.
Kid 2 (Grade 7)
- I print out his test for him.
- I supervise him as he takes the test.
- I scan and upload the completed test.
- His teacher marks the test.
It’s all very different and kind of weird to me! But it works, and the kids have been doing well so far. Kid 1 also likes the redo option, even though he hasn’t had to use it yet. (Test redos aren’t normally an option in regular school.)
Summing it up
Remote learning has been a fun adventure so far. We got off to a bumpy start, but now it’s smooth sailing and we’re appreciating the many benefits. (Notably: optimal learning conditions and improved quality of life.)
However, we worry about our kids missing out. Regular school provides many unique learning and social experiences that can’t be replicated at home. That’s why for now, we remain torn between the pros and cons of remote learning.
We’ll use this year to really experience remote learning. Hopefully, we’ll have more clarity on the decision as we continue on this journey.
Share your thoughts!
I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts on this, especially if you were a home learner or you’re teaching/taught your kids from home. Are our considerations reasonable, or are we overthinking things? Feel free to also ask me questions if you have any!
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