What if this is a lost school year? (Without losing the learning)

Just about six months ago, I wrote about my parenting rules for letting go and getting through the coronavirus pandemic. What I didn’t know then was that so many months later, I’d still be thinking about getting through. This summer, it really hit me that almost everything I was thinking started with “what if.” 

  • What if my family gets sick? 
  • What if, because of my sensory issues, I can’t handle wearing a mask now that I’m out and interacting with people more? 
  • What if my sons, both of whom also have sensory issues, can’t tolerate wearing a mask? What if they can't manage social distancing at school and around other kids?
  • What if my younger son’s school chooses not to reopen in person? 

When the school’s plans for reopening were released, so were a torrent of new questions. My husband and I know that many of the in-person supports and services in our fifth grader’s don’t translate well to a virtual environment. And we noticed him losing the social skills and organizational skills we took for granted — things his IEP focuses on. 

Choosing the hybrid school option seemed like the right decision. But what if we were wrong?

Once school started, we realized our son was adjusting better than we had anticipated. Still, his remote learning days weren’t as robust as his in-person days. Instead of just being glad he was adjusting well, I started wondering if we should be supplementing the work he was getting from school. 

We didn’t join a pandemic learning pod, in no small part because we can’t afford to. But I started to worry that this would mean he’d fall behind his peers. And I worried that his entire day wasn’t filled with school.

Letting Go of “What If” to Focus on “What Is” 

Here’s the thing about “what ifs” — they’re circular. Mine were feeding on each other until I hit the one that really mattered:

What if we just look at this as a lost school year?

In some strange way, that was the question that quieted my brain enough to actually feel a little more in control. In letting go of “what if,” it made it easier to focus on “what is.” 

What is true is that this is a lost year for a lot of us. We’re losing things that matter to us, some in big, life-altering ways. And some in smaller, but still life-altering ways.

My quieter brain was able to remember that learning and schooling are different. Learning is about gaining new skills and knowledge. Schooling is about that, too. But it’s also about getting used to the “norms” of being in a school system. Schooling happens in schools. Learning doesn’t have to.

Learning Is Still Happening

What is happening this year is learning.

It’s happening as my son’s teacher prioritizes what skills are most important for all of her students to gain this year. She’s doing the best she can to teach two cohorts of students at the same time — one remote and one in-person — under circumstances no one has ever tackled before. 

What is happening is this, too: Thinking of this as a lost school year has opened up new ways for our family to connect. Instead of filling our son’s day with extra schooling, we’re filling it with extra learning. 

He now knows how to do his own laundry. He’s eagerly learning how to do small household repairs. He’s reading cookbooks, comparing recipes to the ingredients we have on hand, and making meal recommendations. He’s listening to me talk through schedules with my husband and learning how we prioritize tasks to manage time and get everything done. 

As a parent, my biggest concern is keeping my relationship with my son strong in order to help him with his own worries about this chaotic world we’re living in.

The last thing either of us needs are added and unnecessary stressors. So... what if we didn’t add them?

Read more about building skills and strengths at home during the pandemic.

About the author

About the author

Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.