TORONTO — As children in elementary schools prepare for online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers and parents say it’ll be an imperfect process as they figure out how to work with each family’s needs.
Elementary-age children, parents say, need more time and supervision than high school students, who are often able to manage online assignments independently.
Erin D’Intino, who has a five-year-old daughter in kindergarten, said it took planning with her husband to make sure their daughter maintains some sort of routine.
“They need to get up in the morning, have their breakfast, brush their teeth and get dressed, because that’s what we do and that sets the tone,” said D’Intino, who also has a three-year-old. “My kids now know what to expect every morning, so it’s not quite as chaotic as it was in the first week.”
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D’Intino, of St. Catharines, Ont., said it’s been a process juggling e-learning and her own full-time job as a teacher, as well as her husband’s job at a distillery in Ontario’s Niagara Region during the pandemic.
“There are sometimes where I need (my daughter) to let me finish work, like if I have a conference call,” D’Intino said. “It’s not perfect by any means… it’s key for parents to know it’s not going to be pretty some days.”
Still, she said she considers herself lucky because her five-year-old enjoys school and happily sits at a desk next to her while they both work in the day.
In a letter to parents, the union representing Ontario’s elementary school teachers said online learning won’t fully replace in-class learning. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said it was committed to helping students at home.
“Keep in mind that we are learning about how to do this right along with you,” the union’s letter read. “We know that parents and caregivers are stressed and doing their best.”
The Ministry of Education has recommended that elementary students only spend five to 10 hours on e-learning depending on which grade they’re in.
Zakia Hamdani, a learning support teacher at the District School Board of Niagara, said school boards were prescribing less work so parents wouldn’t be overwhelmed. She said teachers like herself were also trying to settle into a work routine.
“We came from a work-to-rule situation to a global pandemic,” said Hamdani in reference to recent labour unrest. “Nobody’s expecting perfection.”
Hamdani has three children of her own in elementary school — twin boys in Grade 7 and a daughter in Grade 2.
The first week of online learning has mostly consisted of teachers connecting with parents and children to make sure they had internet access and devices, she said.
Elementary teachers will now give students assignments to complete on e-learning websites like D2L, which was already used in some classrooms pre-pandemic.
“For equal access, there is no specific time that they have to be on,” Hamdani said. Due dates will also be more elastic than normal.
Hamdani said her Grade 7 sons are mostly able to work on their own, but she still has to supervise her daughter because it’s easy to get distracted online.
“What’s going to stop them from opening up another tab,” Hamdani points out. “It’s a challenge, I find myself busier now than I was when I worked full time, just because you have the kids at home all day.”
In St. Catharines, D’Intino said organizing her children’s school life has been hard but the restrictions of the pandemic have been tougher on them.
“The hardest thing right now is trying to help my kids be a little bit flexible in when they get to see their friends again,” she said. “The unknown is the biggest thing, trying to break down for kids that everyone is trying to do the best they can, and maybe they won’t go back to school this year.”