My 5-year-old just recently went back to dance class.
It’s been more than two months since she’s been in the studio or at school for that matter, and she’s been struggling. A global pandemic is a hard concept to grasp for an adult, let alone a child, and I can tell the isolation is seeping into her behavior. Children are social creatures. Much of what they learn at this age is shaped by interpersonal communication. So when her dance studio provided a very detailed plan about reopening, my husband and I decided to let her return.
The dance studio seemed to have it all figured out. They had squares for each student to stand in. Children would practice only stationary movements. The barres were off-limits. No one would touch each other. Everyone would have their own water bottles. Parents had to stay outside of the building. Hand sanitizer was spritzed on the palms of each child entering and exiting. It was a very detailed plan.
What they didn’t plan for, however, was how quickly all of this could fall by the wayside.
The first thing my 5-year-old did when we got to the studio was run to her best friend. Both threw their tiny little arms around each other and hugged for what felt like an eternity. The entire interaction felt like it was in slow motion as my eyes widened with panic.
The other little girl’s mother looked at me and I looked at her, and we just sighed. You can’t prevent this. What are we supposed to do? Peel them apart? Tell them they can’t be excited to see each other after months apart? Scold them? We can try to reinforce hygiene and social distancing until we’re blue in the face, but these are complex conversations for young children. It’s near impossible to fully enforce.
So how will teachers and schools handle dozens of these little ones in the classroom come fall?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released its “considerations for schools” as districts grapple with how to handle the upcoming academic year. The guidelines have been abuzz in parenting circles as moms and dads across the world teeter back and forth with what to do.
Some of the “considerations” include modified classroom layouts: keeping desks apart when possible and facing the same direction. Limiting the use of shared items, such as “electronic devices, toys, books, and other games or learning aids.”
Playgrounds and cafeterias should be a thing of the past and virtual activities should take the place of field trips, performances, and assemblies.
Physical guides should be taped on the floors and signs should be displayed so children stay on one-way routes and six feet apart when in line.
It’s almost as if this was copied and pasted out of a sci-fi novel from the future when aliens take over the planet and treat humans like lab rats.
Parents’ heads are spinning, mine included.
Should we start homeschooling? Is virtual school a better option? What about those who need to return to work? How does that play out? And what about the little ones who need those social interactions to thrive and learn? Not everyone has a playgroup lined up. Don’t even get me started on how this will impact children of lower socioeconomic status because I could go on for days.
And someone, anyone, please explain how a teacher could possibly be expected to keep a classroom on task when children won’t be permitted time for recess on a playground? We know recess and free play matter. Parents would be screaming over this in ordinary circumstances.
But these aren’t ordinary circumstances. As the phrase “new normal” gets pounded into our psyches, our hands as parents feel tied. It seems almost as if we’re in a lose-lose situation.
We so desperately want to keep our children safe, but we also want to nurture their growth.
We don’t want them to fall behind. We want them to be educated. We want them to be healthy. Schools are facing hard decisions, and parents, well, we make the final call. It’s a huge burden to carry tacked on to the million or so other stressors we’re facing amid this pandemic.
And no one, I repeat, NO ONE is making this easy. Conflicting opinions abound. What we know about the novel coronavirus changes nearly every day and all of a sudden we’ve all become statisticians, calculating just how likely we are to contract the virus, spread the virus, or die from the virus. So many of us don’t know who or what to believe, and social media feels more like a battlefield that a fun place to reconnect with friends.
It’s overwhelming, and when you add on the weight of making decisions for another little human it feels like an anvil has dropped on our heads. But instead of this episode of Looney Tunes ending, we have to make a legitimate decision that could impact our child for years to come.
What do we do?
For now, my plan is to continue to watch happens as states reopen. These next few weeks feel critical as we wait to see what happens as people venture back out into their communities. Data lags, so it will take time. School registration is in July where I live, and I’ll likely register my little one for kindergarten. However, there’s still time to react, and there’s still time for things to change.
Let’s just hope that change happens in the right direction.
For now, I’m here to say this: Parents, you aren’t alone. This is heavy, but we’ll get through it. Children are resilient. But is there a clearcut answer? That’s, of course, like anything else these days—up for debate.
Previously published on Medium.com