When it was announced that K-12 schools in her hometown would remain closed the rest of the 2019-2020 academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Leslie Tanner was devastated.
Leslie, a 6th-grade language arts teacher, feels closing the schools was the right call. But that didn’t make the decision less painful for this dedicated educator.
“While this was certainly the right call for everyone and something I think the educational world could see coming, I believe that was the moment that reality set in for me,” Leslie says. “That finally brought me to tears.”
Leslie mourns the classroom interactions and end-of-the-year activities she won’t get to share with her students as her school shifts to online learning. But she is making the most of this time with her husband, Matt, and her three children – 8-year-old Aiden, 6-year-old Norah, and 2-year-old Cailey.
“The greatest advantage of being at home has been spending time with the kids,” Leslie says. “We have loved getting to do things with the kids we normally do not have time to do.”
They’ve been riding bikes, cooking as a family, have game nights, and going for walks.
With schools and daycares closing, Leslie has had to not only teach her students but help instruct her children, too.
“It has also allowed me to get more involved in the kids’ schoolwork and see their abilities myself, rather than through a report sent home,” Leslie says. “I have been able to sit beside them while they work through their school programs and apps to really assess their needs to pick up where their amazing teachers left off.”
School’s Out, But Learning Continues
But that doesn’t mean that working from home while everyone is at home isn’t a challenge.
“Our greatest challenge is still finding a way to balance two parents working full-time from home with two kids in school full-time and a toddler,” Leslie says. “Our kids have made a few surprise appearances during my husband’s video meetings with his co-workers.”
Leslie’s husband Matt works as a graphic designer for a local church.
Meanwhile, Leslie has to balance teaching her students virtually while also making sure her children are learning every day, too.
Her plan is to help Aiden and Norah with their studies while Cailey naps. She’ll prepare lessons for her students after her she puts her kids to bed. Also, the Tanners are making learning a family affair.
“We have told our oldest two they will be the new teacher for our toddler,” Leslie says.
And they’re excited to help their baby sister review her letters, shapes, numbers, colors, and more.
“We sat down together and started to make ‘lesson plans’ for her and brainstorm activities,” Leslie says. “Hopefully as they play class with our toddler, it will allow me to be available to my 6th-grade students for questions and help.”
The New Normal
The Tanners used Spring Break to enjoy time outside and to start adjusting to a new normal.
“Spring Break is just as important for teachers as it is for kids,” Leslie says. “It is a time to reflect and recharge and energize for the remainder of the year. I made certain to preserve this time as well as time to adjust to the changes taking place in our community and country and just to be a family.”
The Tanners spent the break playing games and doing outdoor activities. “Knowing we could be at the house quite a bit, we took some time to really clean out the house, too,” Leslies says.
In spite of the chaos in the world, the Tanners are working to keep a sense of order at home. “We have been firm in sticking to the house rules,” Leslie says. The kids still have chores. And they’re only allowed to watch TV or use their devices after lunch.
Leslie and her husband also keep their kids active by going outside for everyone’s favorite subject — P.E. And on Wednesdays and Sundays they watch church services online.
The Tanners have also been using a number of online resources to help create a new schedule for their children.
“The kids enjoy Lunch Doodles with author/illustrator Mo Williems through the Kennedy Center’s website to learn to draw his well-known characters while I get lunch ready,” Leslie says. “Every day we watch the Cincinnati Zoo’s Home Safari at 2 pm through Facebook Live, where they spotlight a different animal each day and even answer questions from kids through the comments.”
A Reason to Celebrate
Leslie’s oldest daughter, Norah, recently had a birthday. Because Norah’s birthday usually falls during Spring Break, she’s used to delaying celebrations of her special day. But this year she’ll have to wait even longer for a big party.
“It is difficult for her to understand the severity of the situation since the kids have not been out of our house to witness the changes that have taken place and we do not turn on the news while kids are awake,” Leslie says.
But the Tanners didn’t let the day go by without fanfare.
“To celebrate her birthday, we decorated the house a bit with some of the decorations from her birthday party last year,” Leslie says. “The kids made a huge fort in our den the day before, so we let them sleep in it on the floor on her birthday eve.”
Norah got to choose the menu for the day, too. She wanted a sprinkle donut for breakfast. For lunch, she asked for raspberries and Ashley Mac’s pasta salad (Leslie has the recipe Ashley McMakin uses at the restaurant). And they had macaroni and cheese for dinner.
“Our family gave her a bike for her birthday. We put it together and went outside for a while to help her learn how to ride it,” Leslie says. “We decorated the driveway with sidewalk chalk for her birthday.” Some family members came by, too.
“We brought her birthday cake outside to driveway while the family stood out in the street and we all sang happy birthday,” Leslie said.
To top off the night, one of the Tanners’ neighbors, set up a projector and hosted an outdoor movie night featuring Frozen 2.
“We sat in chairs — six feet apart, of course — with three other neighbors and watched the movie while the kids ate macaroni and cheese and the girls sang with the songs,” Leslie recalls.
“I am trying to find the joy in this unusual, unprecedented time,” Leslie says. “While I am devastated at the expense – the people sick, the lives lost, the workers at risk – we are taking time to focus on what this is giving our family. This time at home has allowed our family to grow closer.”
Leslie says she’s sad her son will miss baseball season. He looks forward to it all year. Her daughter will miss the dance recital she’s spent months preparing for.
But she says, “I am thankful for the days at home that bring new adventures and laughs in this snapshot of their childhood.”
What are you doing to create a new normal for your family?