Distance Learning vs. The Wolfe

(ding! ding! ding!)

I decided when we went into quarantine that I was going to be a superstar homeschool teacher.  Wolfe had been on a high note when school was stopped, and let me tell you, he had worked for it, his teachers had worked for it.  By hell or high water I wasn’t going to let him regress.  I went through his entire IEP, I made a schedule, I created a token board, a more time visual, and an “I need a break” visual.  Having used visuals, a token economy, and behavior shaping techniques daily in my professional life, I told myself, this is going to be a walk in the park.  3 days into lockdown I had created a classroom in the corner of our dining room with a complete circle time set up, desk, chalk board, the works. I set our alarm for early the next day, this wasn’t going to be some regress-fest vacation.  The first few days my kid was LOVING it, we sang songs we both knew from our schools which he thought was awesome, we were having fun.  He even went so far as to ask to do homeschool on the weekends. What?! He started referring to me as “Teacher Mommy” which was funny and endearing.  He started bringing his favorite stuffed animals to circle time and was having them participate, and was literally taking turns with them answering questions.  Obviously this wasn’t ideal social skill building, but it was better than nothing, and cute to boot. I thought to myself, this is GREAT. Behavior challenges, what behavior challenges? He caught on immediately to using his visuals, which were really helping him regulate some of his small frustrations during pencil and paper work.  I was proud of my student son’s dedication, but sooner than later Teacher Mommy was going to start seeing some of the struggles he was having in school come into play.  

  When the newness wore off, and it occurred to him that expectations were being placed on him to do things that were not fun for him anymore, I was having to highly reinforce him to even get him to the carpet (aka a blanket on the floor) to start our day.  So, we incorporated more play and less work into our days. Like the rest of us, his whole world had changed in a matter of moments, he was missing his teacher and classmates, he deserved some time to adjust, and to mourn the loss of so many things in his life he was accustomed to having and now didn’t.  A month after school was closed his school started pushing in services via zoom, and assigning a ton of pencil and paper work.  Every week he was having 2 meetings with his gen ed class, 2 meetings with his speech therapist, a meeting with his resource teacher, and a meeting with his behavior specialist. I was also doing 5 video meetings a week with my students and staffmates.  It was A LOT for him, which was A LOT for me. I was very thankful for everyone’s efforts to keep him on track, so I really wanted every meeting to be wonderful.  

  Oh Zoom, zoom, zoom.  I am generally a pretty relaxed person, but let me tell you, those meetings gave me so much anxiety.  It was anyone’s guess if Wolfe was going to be engaged or not. Would he hide under the table? Would he make loud fart sounds and yell “Chomps! You ate it!” to his teachers? Would he intentionally knock something over and then make a huge drama about it?  Would he laugh the whole time? Would he stare out the window and talk about space, the trees, anything unrelated to the lesson? Would he be aggressive toward me, pinching me, etc.? He never is intentionally aggressive toward me, so those moments hurt my heart, even though I knew it was escape/attention seeking behavior. It was an attention seeking wonderland for my son, and he was determined to run the show.  I used every paraeducator trick in my book, and I have a lot of tricks, and . . . . yeah, I met my little mini me match.  I don’t want to suggest that he did not learn, or that he did not benefit from these sessions, because even amidst the chaos he was actually retaining information with that little brilliant mind of his. Somehow.  

  An interesting thing I noticed right away is that almost every session he had with his resource teacher he did very well.  He was engaged, he sat in his seat, participated in all the work, etc.  I think partly it was because his resource teacher was excellent at establishing a strong rapport with him, but also it was because she was teaching him NEW things.  During Wolfe’s first parent teacher conference at the beginning of the school year his teacher told Wolfe’s dad and I that he was the highest academically in her class.  We always knew he was intelligent, but to hear this was a pleasant surprise.  She also had noted that Wolfe had met all the requirements to advance to the next grade already beside just a couple of areas, in which he was close to meeting as well.  So the new and more advanced work, he was into it.  I do believe that many of his behavior problems in school were intensified by his boredom.  Early on there was some talk about moving him up a grade, but we quickly acknowledged this would very likely put the nail in the coffin to any success socially for him. Wolfe is smart, but in many ways he is very immature, and making the gap of social maturity even greater wouldn’t be good. There is no opportunity to work on his social skills with him in a natural way during quarantine. We just have to cross our fingers and hope when he returns to school he hasn’t regressed to a level which is torturous for him.

  In the beginning of quarantine I felt like the days dragged on, but before I knew it, it was the end of May and the school year was over. We had a small graduation for him at our house with my mom (who lives with us).  His teacher sent us his diploma, and we gave him a few gifts and ate pizza.  And that was that.  I wanted to yell from mountain tops “HE DID IT!!!!!”, maybe drop a few F bombs, cry a little…… He did it.  Thank you universe, thank you, we made it.  Graduating from TK for some parents may not seem like an especially important milestone, but for us, it was huge, and we were over the moon proud of this kid.

Now half the summer is gone and we are left with the decision of how next year will go for the little Wolfe in the age of COVID-19.  We are still considering the few options we have, none of which are ideal.  We have a bit more time until we have to submit our request to the school.  For now, we are going to enjoy the down time, play in the sun all day, sleep in, and just be us without a lot of pressure.  I accept the fact that Wolfe has surely regressed in some ways, and I can not imagine even a typical child returning to school unscathed.  I can not imagine an adult who hasn’t been affected either. The pandemic has rocked us all. We will adjust and move on like the often disruptive force of nature that we are. As we always have, we will make life work, in positivity, in light, and in love. Pandemic Shmamdemic. The pandemic has nothing on the Wolfe.  

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