- COVID-19 has caused schools to close around the world and learning for many has taken place online.
- Doctoral student Mari Altshuler spoke to children aged 5 to 8, from various schools in Chicago, about their school experiences during COVID-19.
- These conversations revealed some of the benefits and challenges of virtual learning from the perspective of children.
- One of the most important lessons from exercise is that every child needs different conditions to thrive.
On August 30, 2021, my child joined millions of children to walk through the doors of school as he started first grade.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, school buildings are almost universally open. Although many voices are expressing health and safety concerns, policy makers have decided that the best choice for the well-being of children is for them to be in school, in person, except in the most extreme cases. more extreme medical need.
How about we ask the kids? What would they say? News articles have cited teenagers reflecting on Zoom fatigue and loneliness, but far less has been reported on what our younger students think. The children have now experienced nearly a year and a half of schooling during a pandemic, giving them the opportunity to pause, reflect and learn from their experiences.
As a Ph.D. A student of learning sciences and researcher in mathematics education who believes that young children are insightful, reflective and brilliant, I embarked on a project to collect children’s stories about schooling during the pandemic.
Throughout 2020, I spoke to 30 children, ages 5-8, of all genders, races and ethnicities, enrolled in public and private, urban and suburban schools in the Chicago area, about their school experiences recent. Our conversations have focused on their math learning in particular, but the takeaways are much broader. The children’s stories of what they missed physically in school, and what they didn’t, painted a complex picture of joy and frustration, relief and stress.
In sharing some of these stories below, I have used pseudonyms to protect the children’s identities.
Slower access to help, but less pressure
Torrin, who loves Minecraft and Legos, was doing the second-grade virtual experience when I first spoke to him. He shared that he misses being in school because he can get help from his teacher right away.
“At home, you have to email the teacher and wait to see if she can help you,” he said. Several students expressed a similar desire to talk more easily with teachers.
Yet in some ways Torrin preferred to be home. He was more relaxed and less anxious about “bad grades”. He explained that while he still had to take stressful, timed tests, his iPad app was more forgiving than paper-based tests at school. If he didn’t finish in time, he could try again. At school, he had to turn in tests without a second chance.
Despite repeated research documenting the anxiety produced by timed tests, they remain common in elementary math classrooms. For Torrin, virtual learning has offered little respite.
Less rushed, but missing friends
Third-grade student Kira also said she felt more relaxed at home. While answering my questions, she showed me her personal diary, proudly noting that her spring entries were much longer than those at the start of the school year. At home, Kira felt less rushed, so she did better school work. Plus, she wasn’t worried about being noted for the wrong things.
“Now they won’t judge you on your handwriting,” she told me.
But, like many kids I spoke with, Kira missed her friends. “I like learning at school because my friends helped me with my work when I needed help.” The research supports Kira’s sentiment that collaboration with peers is important for learning.
Freedom of movement
Like other students, Suriyah, a first-grader, wanted physical freedom.
“I like it now, usually I can move around. But in class, we either stay in our places or go to certain places my teacher tells me to go,” she said.
At home, Suriyah usually did her homework at the kitchen table with her older sister. Sometimes, when she wanted a quieter space, she retreated to bed and leaned her iPad on the footboard.
Many children have also told me how much they love the fact that at home they can get up and move around. But others expressed the opposite – at school, their teachers set up their classrooms with flexible seating, which gave children a choice of how and where to sit, and They missed this freedom because at home they felt confined to one place in front of a computer. screen.
Young children vary in their desires, preferences and experiences. My first grader spent his kindergarten year almost entirely virtually. Sometimes he lamented having to log on to his class meetings, but other times he was eager to update his classmates on the story he was writing. He wished he could play with his peers on the playground, but was glad to have breaks between classes to relax and play at home.
When I asked young children about their experiences in school during this pandemic, they did not engage in fear campaigns about academic loss or focus on virtual pairing versus en person. They recognized that there are advantages and disadvantages to different learning contexts and structures.
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Whether learning in a classroom or in a kitchen, when I asked children to reflect on their schooling, they highlighted the importance of relationships, flexibility and freedom. They wanted the opportunity to interact with their peers and teachers, to learn in joyful and encouraging spaces, to be able to make mistakes and try again, and to be able to move. These are things that many researchers, educators, and families believe are essential for meaningful learning and development.
As children return to school this fall, I believe it’s an opportunity to learn from their nuanced understanding of what works and what doesn’t, and to recognize that different children need different conditions. different to thrive.