Learning is Social (Even during social isolation!)

I ended the week feeling pretty capable. I felt like maybe I could be a full-time employee working from home while creating learning opportunities for my son at the same time.  I did some good work for the Institute for Learning Innovation. I made homemade banana walnut muffins, I taught my 9-year-old son about several American states using Pizza Geography, we practiced math by throwing darts and we worked on vocabulary and spelling while playing board games. (See the previous blog for details)

I just might be good at this stuff.

My husband and I managed to piece together a great little study area for our great little guy in our basement. We had hoped that giving him his own area would make him feel special since he too would now have his own “office.” Frankly, I was hoping to have a little breathing room.

Maybe I actually had this worked out! Maybe I really could do this.

Or not…

When Monday rolled around, I opened my laptop ready to plan the week ahead.  I rifled through my inbox, perplexed by the many messages I had received from businesses reminding me they are “still there for me during the Coronavirus pandemic” he came upstairs for snacks; he came up laughing and asking why grocery was not spelled “G-r-o-s-s-ery.” He came up wanting to show me the “cool new way” he learned to draw “realistic eyes.”

I was already feeling frazzled by the time I had my first call of the week, a pre-scheduled Zoom video call with my Deputy Director (the very understanding) Judy Koke.

No sooner did we connect when in slid my favorite 3rd grader, wearing a Spiderman mask.

“Cats must love gravity because Domo keeps kicking pencils off my desk!”

Me: “Judddddyyyyy! Whyyyyyyy? I made him his own area! He said he loved it. I thought it would help- I’m sorry.” I hissed through clenched teeth.

Judy: “Don’t be sorry! It’s because he’s a kid! And because learning is ——-

Spiderman: “MOM? MOOOOM? MOOOOOMMMMM!  Are you on a call? I’m starving for muffins!”

Me: “Sorry Judy, he’s looking for his third breakfast, what were you saying?”

“Learning is Social.”

“We all construct new knowledge by finding ways to connect new ideas to what we already know. Often, we do this by talking with others and studying their reactions. We look for affirmation or skepticism, for interest or even dismissal. We share and discuss; we collectively noodle through things. This is how we humans learn,” she said. “What he’s is doing is perfectly normal! It helps him to improve his communication skills and build shared knowledge!” It’s all part of how learning happens! she said.

Another “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment.

The previous one came the night before when my friend Terri told me she has her son watch TV with the volume down and captions on to practice reading while she is on video calls with her team. (Seriously, Terri, you ARE a genius!)

In search of inspiration, I flipped through a book my Executive Director, Dr. John Falk had sent me in the mail this week to try and support my efforts. “Bubble Monster and other science fun.” He co-authored it with Robert L. Pruitt II, Kristi S. Rosenberg, and Tali A. Katz. It’s filled with fun science-based learning activities. As I tried to read through the table of contents looking for a suitable activity I was once again interrupted by my little sidekick, grabbing the book from my hand he smiled and asked “What’s a bubble monster? Can you make me one??”

“No, but we can make one together if you’d like? AFTER you do 20 minutes of Math on your math app?”

We followed the easy recipe provided and mixed our own batch of bubbles which led to a pretty great conversation about fractions as I had him measure and pour and for the first time, he actually understood the concept. His classroom teacher, my husband and I had all been struggling for weeks to help him make sense of them using worksheets and apps and it finally came together for him.

 I didn’t see that coming!

He asked what water was made of. We talked about molecules and evaporation until he started cranking out bubbles and laughing hysterically as they popped all over me, the cat and EVERYTHING else around the kitchen.

I normally wouldn’t stop to have a bubble war in the middle of the workday.

I felt a guilty feeling wash over me as it has so many times in the past week as I felt I was somehow cheating either my organization or my son by prioritizing one over the other in alternate moments.

Suddenly it hit me as I looked down at the wet soapy floor – the irony in that not only had I created social space for my son to accidentally learn fractions, but I learned something here too.

I learned that there is nothing normal about COVID-19 life.

I learned that I can’t do it all, certainly not all at once. Not while I am crafting learning experiences and holding down the 9-5 career responsibilities- and that’s ok.

It’s my first pandemic and it’s yours too. There’s no formal training for this, no best practices. We’re ALL winging it here folks!

I learned that I’m going to keep struggling, and I can’t control that but I can change the pressure I have been putting on myself and I’ve learned that playing with bubbles is a great way to meet the needs of a child at home while washing your floor at the same time.

This is an unusual time. It may call for some juggling – and balls WILL be dropped. Lots of them. And often.

And that’s okay because it’s not forever, it’s just for now.

Stacey Sheehan, Communications Manager/MOM


Posted Mar 31, 2020