Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been many articles written by adults about their personal experiences, and the experiences of their families. Educators have written about the toils and challenges of pandemic life from the perspective of teachers and school leaders. Parents have weighed in on the challenges of pulling triple duty as a parent, employee, and now homeschool teacher. And yet, there has been little documented about the experience of the child during these times. What are their worries and joys? What are they thinking about? What helpful advice might they have for their teachers? For their parents?
I recently got excited about the idea of contacting some of my former students and interviewing them about what it is like for them to be kids during pandemic times. The students, ranging from grades 2-8, were eager to be a part of the interview, and when the day came for us to meet on Zoom, they were so excited to see each other! Unfortunately, the school where they originally attended together was an economic casualty of the pandemic, so the few students who were still enrolled in the school at its closure were dispersing to new schools this fall. All at the time of the interview were learning from a distance, so the sight of the familiar faces of old friends proved to be a joyful experience for all involved. The little school they once attended together birthed a tight-knit community of children and families, and many of the families who moved on to other schools are still very close and connected to this day.
Some of the students were quieter and wanted to participate as listeners and observers, while others had many insightful thoughts to contribute. My time spent with them helped me get into the mind and the heart of the child’s experience in a way that I would never have been able to had I not gathered them together to ask questions about their experience as a child living life during COVID-19.
What do you miss most about your life before the pandemic?
Leyna: So, it’s probably not being with my friends, and I think most of the people who are raising their hands right now are probably going to say that. It’s just…harder.
Josh: I kind of miss my teachers, especially my band teacher because she was helping me at the start of the summer. And like Leyna said, all of my friends, going out to places, and hanging out.
Aster: Transitioning to a different school is really hard to do online. It’s hard to make new friends online when you don’t already know them.
Cara: This year I was supposed to go to Ireland, Italy, and Chicago, and it was disappointing that I didn’t. I also really miss jumping on trampolines at trampoline parks. I miss hanging out with other people.
Conor: Every Saturday we went to this place called Dave and Busters, but now I’m stuck at home. It’s pretty easy to be stuck at home because I have a pool in the backyard but even that can get boring after a while.
Have there been things you enjoyed that you didn’t expect?
Audrie: Staying at home and having lots of time to hang out with Kaylie and Harvey (the dogs).
Cara responds in the chat: I learned to be more organized!
Aster: Having more free time. I’ve had more free time to do stuff I wanted to do but never had time to do.
Halia: Enjoyed online school because I don’t have to interact with people really. I just have to talk in class instead of having to answer questions from kids when they come up to me in the hallway at school.
Phoenix: I liked being able to stay home and make my paintings.
Leyna: More time with my family when they aren’t working. We get to have game nights and sleep in.
Jaden: So, during quarantine, some of you know that I really wanted a pet lizard, and I think it was just because of quarantine that I got one, which was unexpected for me because my dad doesn’t really like…um…yep!
Me: Maybe parents are feeling more generous because you have to be in the house all of the time?
Conor: I have something to say about parents being more generous. That is definitely true but it is kind of a double-edged sword. I’ve definitely been eating more junk food during quarantine, and they have been very generous, but even sometimes that gets old.
What do you wish parents and teachers would know about your experience, what you are going through right now?
Halia: I would like some of my friends’ parents to know not to let them hang out with a whole bunch of friends, or have group sleepovers. Please don’t have your kids hang out with a bunch of different people. That’s how COVID spreads.
Conor: So, I think that there isn’t much in my life that they don’t understand. I hope they understand that online learning is kind of hard. And towards the end of the school year when I had a lot of work my parents weren’t able to help me as much because they have a lot of work too, so I hope they understand how hard school is. I agree with what Halia said. My next-door neighbors have parties that are so loud, going until 12 in the night, and that is 3 hours after I go to sleep.
Josh: Yes, our neighbors are having parties, people are having friends over, and it’s annoying because I think everyone would want their friends over…but they don’t exactly get that.
Is there anything that your teachers could do to improve your distance learning experience?
Cara: Not for me!
Jaden: I think that what would improve is to have the teacher check in once a week to help you with follow up work. And have regular meetings. Maybe even come over to the house if they could?
Josh: I’m going into 7th grade and my teacher said that is the hardest year for homework, and I’m thinking less homework would be good. Also, I think most of my teachers will be strict this year, and maybe they can ease up a bit, and kind of like, be calmer if people don’t turn stuff in. If they don’t have a teacher to help them when they need it, be flexible if it is a day or two late. I mean, I get all of my stuff in on time, but for other kids….
Halia: I definitely agree with Josh. Sometimes things randomly come up and sometimes there are technical difficulties. Some kids can’t even come to class because they don’t have a Chromebook.
Me: It must be tough for them to participate if they don’t have the materials they need.
Do you notice your parents or teachers being stressed and if so, what advice do you have for them?
Leyna: My mom has been stressed because she works in the ICU with the COVID patients, so that means longer shifts and that is harder for her. I don’t have any advice for her because she is doing everything she can to be calmer and everything.
Conor: Not my teacher but definitely my parents. I don’t have much advice for them because they have to do a lot of stuff during the quarantine. My mom has a lot of stuff going on at her work, and since we are home 24/7 my dad has to do a lot more stuff. My mom is already doing some stuff to not be stressed like sometimes she goes in the pool with us, but I suggest the same thing for my dad because it seems like maybe he can take a break from work and go in the pool or something. My teachers weren’t stressed…they were stressed with some people but not with me. I’m not in school yet (for the fall) but by the end of the year, they weren’t stressed.
Aster. My mom has been stressed a little bit, especially about my grandparents. My grandmother comes over but we social distance. My grandmother doesn’t see anybody. A few teachers were stressed because my school wasn’t very prepared in my opinion, and they didn’t know what they were doing for a while.
Me: I don’t think anyone was prepared for a pandemic so I guess we can kind of look at it from that perspective, but some people were able to pull it together faster than others.
Conor: My school wasn’t exactly prepared either, but my teachers did a really good job. It was more like the kids who didn’t. Most had phones but not Chromebooks. So their Zoom meetings on their phones broke up all the time. The class schedule was ramshackled and it fell apart 3 months through the quarantine. It was pretty crazy. Luckily my parents were pretty organized.
It was also pretty disorganized because people didn’t know when to contact teachers. They forgot to take the “idle” thing off of Microsoft Teams so no one knew when they were available, and no one really came to the teachers, A lot of people who weren’t me weren’t doing any homework outside of class. They would only show up to class with their microphone off and their camera off.
What kinds of things do you do to help yourself feel better when you are missing your friends?
Piper: I like to color, I play with my American Girl Doll and also with my legos.
Phoenix: I like to color.
Joshua: I didn’t have anything to escape to, but if I was bored, I asked my dad if I could clean our pool. I’ve been helping him out with that. That’s fun to me, doing all of the brushing, pouring in the chlorine, testing the water.
Me: Sometimes being productive helps us feel better when we are feeling down.
Leyna: I like to FaceTime my friends, ask how we are doing during quarantine, and talk about how much we miss each other.
Halia: Sometimes if I’m feeling upset, I will just draw it, or play with my squishy toys (that’s only if I’m really upset though).
Me: Does anyone pet their animals when they are upset? (Raise hand).
Cara: When I am sad, I mostly tell myself that it was unavoidable.
Audrie: I like to read, sometimes I go upstairs for fun and play on my recorder and practice. I like to lay down on the couch with my pups.
Raise your hand if you want to go back to school every day (7 raised their hands)
Raise your hand if you want to homeschool every day (one put hand up then down )
Raise your hand if you want a mixture of school and homeschool (3 raised their hands)
What would your mixture look like?
Aster: I’ve already done a mixture of home school and at school. I’d love to be there for 3 days and at home for 2 days. Home is a bit easier when you don’t have to get up at 6:30, and I don’t start as early when at home.
Halia: If I could have the option… some kids could go to school and for kids who wanted to stay home, they could do Zoom.
Me: I think that’s the wave of the future, Halia, that we will have options and choices because some people have found they love doing school at home.
Joshua: I know school is boring, but if you do it all online, it’s harder to make friends because if you just see people in class and you don’t see them outside of class unless you run into them. Go to school full time. For PE you will be more active. It’s easier for teachers to tell if you’ve turned in work. It’s more of a hassle for teachers if we do online learning, and it’s even more of a hassle for them if we do a combination, so I think just regular school is easier.
Leyna: I want to go back to school because I think it is easier for me personally. It is less inconvenient, you don’t have to go on Zoom to ask your teacher, and you could just go up to them in real life and ask “can you help me?” Online it is harder. But I would only want to go back to school if it is safe to go back to school, but if not, I would rather do it at home.
Conor: I think a mixture is good because I really like online, but it’s harder to make friends. When you’re online you can’t go and ask them for their contact information right away. I already have a decent amount of friends so I’m not worried about making friends. It’s easier to get help from teachers in a real class, but it’s impossible to get distracted or slowed down in your work ethic in an online class. I get so much stuff done in 3 hours. Since I get so much homework I need lots of time to study, so I think a mixture is good. I think about half and half, or 2/3 online and 1/3 real life.
How can we make online school be more social?
Joshua: Maybe if they have us come into school for an hour, and do breakout rooms, and the teacher isn’t in there the whole time, and then you can communicate with each person.
What have been your biggest worries during the Pandemic?
Jaden: My worry was that I wasn’t going to get some of my research done because I was busy doing so many other things.
Halia: I’m worried about people dying, and people I care about dying, and people dying in general. I’m worried about animals being turned into the shelter, the forest fires that are going on. Even though we are in Idaho we can still smell the smoke.
Leyna: I agree with Aster because I am going to a new school next year and I’m worried about not knowing what classes I’m going to be in. We’ve gotten instructions but it’s just not the same. Also, I worry about COVID getting worse when we go to school, kids not wearing masks, and stuff like that.
If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice at the beginning of the pandemic, what would you tell yourself?
Aster: Remembering that this is new for everyone and that you shouldn’t expect anything specific. Everyone has never been through something like this. If you have, you would be over 100 years old, or not from the United States.
Joshua: Let myself know that I’ll be spending a lot more time with my family and that it is going to sometimes be hard, and you will have to tough through it.
Leyna: I would probably tell myself that you’re going to have lows and it will be hard sometimes but it’s going to be alright because you will get through it. You will freak out sometimes but everything is going to be okay and everything is going to work out.
Cara: I would tell myself to be more organized or it would come back to haunt me and scan my work before the beginning of summer, or I will be working all month just to scan all my stuff to send into my teacher. It was a whole month of stressing, scanning, and trying to organize everything.
Conor: It was so crazy when the school first switched from regular to online. At first, I was really psyched, but then I realized that talking to my friends online kind of sucked. Online, they have other friends to talk to, too, so I’m talking to a bunch of my friends, but as soon as they go offline we can’t continue to talk, and sometimes we can only be online for so long because then we have to do something else, whereas when we are in real life we can talk a little longer.
I was caught up with my teachers but when we were online, they had to schedule meetings all the time, and the teachers had to track down people who deserted the meetings. One student said his camera didn’t work whenever the teacher asked him to share an assignment. Before teachers put protections for kids to not mute to the teacher or kick them out of the meeting, some people were doing that. One person muted the teacher, and he spoke 10 minutes while being muted.
Me: Do you think it was in response to students feeling stressed and disconnected at home and not wanting to be on Zoom?
Conor: No, it was just the people who usually did that kind of stuff. Also, people would talk all at once and it was hard to hear. The school situation will hopefully be more organized this year.
It was such a delight to watch these young people so quickly fall into a comfortable familiarity and openness with myself and with each other. The Montessori approach is known for integrating social and emotional learning into the curriculum, and it makes me wonder if children who have been immersed in this educational approach tend to develop more strongly rooted, long-lasting connections as a result of all of the role-playing, conflict resolution, and grace and courtesy that we infuse into their everyday classroom experience? It’s hard to know for sure without concrete data, but the way in which they spoke with each other as if they had just seen each other yesterday (when some of them hadn’t seen each other in at least 2 years!) with such comfort and ease, is not common.
During my time with them I was reminded that children are resilient, and adaptable, and that, using the Human Tendencies, they will discover some solid strategies to meet their needs while navigating COVID times. I also have full confidence that they will come through to the other side with newfound wisdom and insight that will prepare them for adulthood in a world that might look very different than we ever imagined.
Letty Rising is coauthor of the Montessori Parent Coronavirus Survival Guide. She is an international Montessori consultant. She holds an AMI elementary diploma for ages 6-12 and an M.Ed from Loyola University in Maryland. She has held positions as Montessori Elementary Teacher, Education Coordinator, and Head of School with several different Montessori communities over the years, including the LePort Montessori Schools. See More