COVID Kids: A Missal from the Frontlines
We’re in limbo. And no, I don’t mean the party activity (though there is zero judgment if you ARE practicing that limbo, too).
According to Merriam-Webster’s, limbo is:
a: a place or state of restraint or confinement
b: a place or state of neglect or oblivion
c: an intermediate or transitional place or state
d: a state of uncertainty
This is quite literally where I am right now (especially ‘b’!).
My teenage son just sat down and scanned the above definitions, and helpfully supplied “I don’t feel like I’m in limbo. I feel like I still know the time.”
I sent him away because I was sorely tempted to remind him he doesn’t even remember what he had for lunch.
It’s that kind of nugget that consumes much of my days.
I run two companies - one that specializes in teaching young people (ages 4 - Uni) how to become purposeful, passionate, and highly skilled speakers and presenters, the other as a Professional Coach, working with high performance/high potential women, helping them figure out who they are and who they want to be, and then helping them find and develop the voice and presence that supports that vision.
I basically talk to people and teach people to talk, all day long. I was able to easily transition my face-to-face youth clients into Zoom (with a little tech training for their parents), and my coaching clients are worldwide, and already digitally-based. Check, and check. The coaching I do online (I was Zooming before it was cool), and the speech training easily pivoted to that platform as well.
I also homeschool my two sons - as I like to say, they’ve “never darkened the threshold of a school”. Trust me, the schools should be grateful (I was hell-on-wheels as a student myself).
I’m a pantry packrat from the way back, a survivalist (though not hardcore), and have been fascinated by infectious diseases and pandemics for thirty years (I have whole shelves dedicated to reading about the subject).
So, yes, when coronavirus hit, I was uniquely positioned to ride the storm out.
I assure you I have never taken a moment’s pleasure in this knowledge - watching the world of those you love melt in front of your eyes, able to do nothing to stop it or even slow it, is a terrible feeling.
As the days went on (I haven’t stepped outside since March 12th - it’s much easier for me not to tempt myself that way), and that “limbo feeling” took over, I even found it harder and harder to motivate myself - and I began this race waaaaayyyy ahead of the starter pistol. What must it be like for others?
My first inclination was to reach out to those around me, offering any assistance (and humor) I could. It made a little impact, but not much. Others are blogging about that, running Facebook Lives, holding online classes and meetups, etc. That wasn’t the best way for me to be useful, either.
Then it occurred to me: I have always started my sessions with youth, asking about how the day has gone, school, etc. This helps me to connect with the young people I teach, and as a result, we’ve established deep, meaningful, and long-lasting relationships. However, as the COVID crisis took over, and schools shut down, as ‘school at home’ programs and expectations rolled out, the tenor of our conversations changed rapidly. No longer am I hearing about the politics of Grade 6, or the injustices of the hockey tournament, or plans for graduation, or even debate updates.
I find I’m listening to stories of sadness, confusion, and frustration often told through tears. I’m getting a front-line experience with how different schools, grades, and systems are handling this moment in time. My students come from the public, private, Catholic, and charter systems. They range in gender, age, ethnicity, and orientation. They span athletes to artists, politicians to scientists. Roughly 85% of my students are in the gifted and talented category, but I also teach children with twice-exceptionalities, such as ADHD, Asperger’s, processing speed challenges, and reading challenges. And I’ve been talking to them all, one-on-one, touching base every two weeks.
It has taken me days to articulate what I’m seeing, hearing and feeling, and here’s what kids want you to know:
Staring at a screen all day sucks
Hours-in-a-classroom are NOT the same as hours-in-a-digital classroom (in other words, screen learning feels waaaayyyyyy longer)
More homework does NOT mean more and/or better learning.
Teenagers are incredibly grateful that they don’t have to be up at 5 am just to get to school for extracurricular “opportunities” before an 8 am (or whatever) start
Kids are enjoying the chance to choose when they do the work - if they are given the work to do, with an end-of-week deadline, they are in charge - and it makes them feel empowered
They miss the social interaction - even the introverts and the kids who like being alone (like me)
They DON’T miss the bullies - they’re rebuilding their self-esteem right now
They wish other kids’ parents would clue into the fact that those kids are on their phones, computers games and iPads WHILE IN CLASS. Everyone knows.
They wish grown-ups would figure out how to use technology-for-learning more effectively
They wish grown-ups were more interesting to watch and/or listen to while teaching in a digital environment
They wish their families would be quieter, and that their siblings wouldn’t crawl (literally) across the room while they’re in class
Their butts hurt
They are having headaches and eye fatigue unlike anything they’ve previously experienced
They wish they had a Calgary Public Library card (did you know that you can get them online now?), so that they can download and read free books (instead of trying to find ‘free’ pdfs online or re-reading their 17 books for the 35th time in 6 weeks)
They want their parents to acknowledge how hard all of this is
They want free time, but they want something to do in that free time - and they’re running out of good ideas
They’re baffled by the fact they’ve been told their whole lives that technology and screen time is “bad” (or at least too much of it is), yet now they’re being told it’s good - which is it?
They are sick of looking at their own faces in the screen
They need desperately for grown-ups to be grown-ups, and talk straight to them - they kinda know the world’s turned into a bit of a crap sandwich - and they need to know that we’re looking out for them
With all of the memes and rhetoric and blogs and webinars - and and and - that are flying through digital space right now, one thing I am not seeing is the acknowledgment and validation that kids need to hear. Luckily I work in an area where I could pivot easily to an online platform, and luckily I practice a discipline whose entire modus operandi is developing authentic and practical communication skills. I have the privilege of hearing these kids’ thoughts and feelings right now - but they don’t have many other avenues of being heard outside that.
So as you move forward through your days - whether you’re a parent practicing education-at-home, or a person who doesn’t have kids, or a person whose children are grown, or any other variation out there (and there are many), remember: our experience with COVID-19 is a season in all our lives - a season of limbo - and it won’t be forever (granted, it feels like it). Whenever and wherever you can listen to real young people talking about real life in limbo, do it.
Donna has been a Spoken Arts (Life & Communication) Coach for 27 years. She is a veteran homeschooling mom of 2 boys who remind her every day that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Donna is up to her eyeballs in digital course development, coaching, teaching, learning, decluttering and laughing.
Donna Holstine Vander Valk Ph.D. MEd BA FTCLp LTCL ATCL ARCT CPC ELI-MP
Raconteur Spoken Art Studio and
The Eloquence Equation™
donna@TheEloquenceEquation.com (website delayed - designer has COVID-19)