Distance learning helped me see my child’s struggles and what she needs to thrive

Like many parents, Essence and Marlin Thomas of Columbia, South Carolina, juggled full-time jobs and distance learning last spring. For them, the experience was a game-changer.

Both are essential workers. Essence is a facilities manager in an emergency room. Marlin is a supervisor at a local prison. During the shutdown, they worked together to figure out the best way to be there for their daughters, 6-year-old Makenzie and 2-year-old Morgan. 

At first, Makenzie had a hard time. She was overwhelmed by the work and, like many kids, missed her friends. She struggled with reading and writing. So it was a relief when summer rolled around to give Makenzie — and her parents — a break. But Essence and Marlin didn’t know what to do in the fall. 

In the end, they decided to homeschool Makenzie this year. It’s a different world from distance learning. And so far, it’s working out well. They’re even noticing big strides in Makenzie’s progress. 

Here, Essence Thomas tells her story to writer Tara Drinks.

Back in March, I thought to myself, “OK, we’ll be fine for a couple weeks.” But then those weeks quickly turned into months. And by the first week of April, I started seeing some changes in Makenzie. 

Makenzie has always been a very independent child. So, when she started sneaking into our room to sleep with us, I knew something was up. I’d ask her why she wasn’t sleeping in her own room, and she would tell me how lonely she was. 

It didn’t clicked for me right away what she was trying to tell me. But the more I watched her, the more I started to see that she was missing being in the classroom and with her friends. 

This was also when I first started to notice her struggles with reading and writing. Makenzie would start out reading from left to right, but once she got to the end of a line, she wouldn’t know where to pick back up. 

Between not being around other kids and having a hard time learning, Makenzie was starting to get overwhelmed. So, I called my director and requested to work from home for a while so that I could help her better adapt. 

We set up a new routine. Morgan’s daycare had room for Makenzie to go there three days a week. That was a huge relief for me as I juggled managing my staff from home. That same routine is working for us now with just one catch: We’re homeschooling. 

Makenzie has asthma and wearing a mask all day isn’t easy. Plus, with her being a working actress, we knew her absences would start to become a problem with the school. 

I started researching homeschool associations for us to join and I found one that I felt would work best for us. I joined a Facebook community of African American homeschooling parents. And I even found an instructor in Hong Kong so that Makenzie could keep learning Mandarin like she was back at her school. 

So far, things are going really well. Makenzie has learned all of her sight words for the year and it’s only October. We even started reading chapter books together. I’m happy her reading is improving, but I still want to have her evaluated. I want to make sure I’m giving her the instruction she needs to do her best. 

Keeping track of Makenzie’s progress has been a big adjustment for me. When I noticed Makenzie struggling with math last month, I started to adjust her lesson plans. That way we could spend more time improving her math skills. I like having the flexibility to do that so she doesn’t fall behind in her schoolwork.

If I can be honest, I think we really needed to make this change — both as a family and for Makenzie. This time has brought us all closer together and I feel like it’s been the best thing we’ve done for her.

Wondering how other families are juggling the quarantine? Visit our YouTube channel to check out more from our Quarantine Chronicles series.


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