Well, how’s everyone adapting to virtual learning experiences?

As a Chehalis School District family, we opted to stay within our public school district for virtual learning until such time that in-person learning can safely happen. While our preschooler’s classes have been delayed indefinitely, our first-grader was issued a Chromebook to connect with his educator.

To get our Chromebook, we had to attend a scheduled, in-classroom conference. Arriving at the school on Tuesday, we waited in line — masks on and socially-distanced from other parents and students — to be temperature checked and escorted to our classroom.

Once in our classroom, seated away from two other parent-student pairs, we patiently waited and listened as we learned to navigate the learning environment and educational programming. Actually, I should say that I patiently listened — my eager first-grader could hardly keep his fingers off the mini-laptop keyboard buttons and touchscreen in his excitement to get his own “computer.”

Sitting in the conference, I worried about my first-grader’s ability to really learn and remember how to access his learning tools. I could hardly get him to sit still, let alone focus on what we were doing on-screen.

While the district did an excellent job of educating us — and getting us in and out — I left feeling a swell of anxiety in my chest. I’m a self-employed business owner. How was I going to navigate running a business from home while also making sure my child was able to successfully navigate this rainbow grid of app icons?

Sometimes, just working from home with kids is hard enough. Now, to find the mental space for this whole new routine? It felt like standing at the bottom of a mountain, looking up.

When the first day of school rolled around on Thursday, we were as ready as we could be. I have a kid who doesn’t do well sitting still in a chair — so we adapted. We had our Chromebook plugged into our living room TV (with an HDMI cord), so that both our preschooler and first-grader could sit and listen to the teacher over breakfast for the 8:30 a.m. morning video meeting check-in — and have the ability to move about the room while still seeing their “classroom” on the larger screen.

This ended up being a really great strategy. It allowed my first-grader to jump, spin, roll, and move around in all manner of ways while he had to wait as the teacher went through and asked each student for their response to a class question — all learning to use their mute and unmute functions for the first time — while keeping his busy fingers away from the keyboard and touchscreen.

After our 30-minute morning check-in, our first-grader was immediately sad that he didn’t get to talk to his new teacher more. But, we were able to sit down together and work through our first day of school list of activities: Learning to draw, color, and write on the touchscreen, how to take a photo of yourself, and submit work and responses to the teacher in various areas of the learning environment.

Upon finishing a pre-recorded storytime video, we responded to some questions and realized that we were mostly done with our Chromebook for the day — save for the end-of-day video meeting check-in.

When we tuned in for the 2 p.m. end-of-day check-in, I was surprised by how well my first-grader was learning to use his Chromebook. He was mostly able to navigate to the video meeting on his own. After everyone joined, the teacher asked about the day and they talked about the story the students had watched in the video earlier in the day.

I was impressed by the techniques the teachers used to allow the students to visually respond to her on-screen — touching their hand to their head, using numbers on fingers, and hand signals as positive or negative indicators — allowing the kids to engage as they continued conversation.

At the end of the video meeting, my first-grader was again sad about not getting to talk to his teacher more. He said he wanted to show her a picture. We were able to send a message to his teacher and get a quick one-on-one video meeting. Then, we scanned the picture and emailed it to his teacher.

It isn’t the same, but we are trying hard to find new ways to make connections while virtual learning in the meantime. After the first day, I feel less anxious — but I, like most everyone else, can’t wait to safely get back to real, non-virtual classroom time.

•••

Brittany Voie is a columnist for The Chronicle. She lives south of Chehalis with her husband and two young sons. She welcomes correspondence from the community at voiedevelopment@comcast.net.

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