Kitchener-Waterloo

Learning from home for COVID-19: follow this Ontario family's 8-part education journey

Kitchener couple Carin Lowerison and Matt White are trying to support their three elementary-school age girls: Berkeley, Heidrun, and Clementine, as they learn from home during COVID-19.
Matt White and Carin Lowerison live in downtown Kitchener, Ont. with their three daughters: Berkeley, 11, Heidrun, 9 and Clementine, 5. In this eight-part series you can hear how they laugh their way through trying to teach three kids under 12 from home, while juggling parenting and work responsibilities. (Submitted by: Matt White)

Families all over Ontario are figuring out how to support their school-age kids as they learn from home during COVID-19.

For two weeks CBC Kitchener-Waterloo tagged along as Carin Lowerison and Matt White helped their three girls learn from home.

All three of their kids are in elementary school: Clementine, 5, is in senior kindergarden, Heidrun, 9, is in Grade 4 and their eldest, Berkeley is 11.

It all started just after Easter when their local public school board formalized home-based learning. That meant assignments from teachers, deadlines and daily feedback.

Day 2: Managing screentime when school goes online

One of the challenges of learning from home is the heavy reliance on devices: tablets and computers. Carin Lowerison says she's trying to take some of her girls' computer-based lessons offline, but it means being more hands-on. (Submitted by: Matt White)

As the girls' teachers continued to send daily assignments and even feedback, Carin and Matt discovered managing screen time is more difficult than expected.

All communication, assignments — even the family's decompression time together — involves time in front of a computer, tablet or TV. 

And taking classwork offline comes with a tradeoff: more hands-on work for the parents.

Day 3: Even parents who teach are finding school difficult

Carin Lowerison and Matt White are sharing their adventures of schooling their three girls, Heidrun, 9, Clementine, 5, and Berkeley, 12, from home during COVID-19. The two oldest are in French immersion, which can be tricky when only one parent can help with school work in that language. (Submitted by: Matt White)

As it happens, both Matt and Carin have a bit of experience teaching.

Carin is a yoga instructor and Matt teaches the odd course at the University of Waterloo. But teaching kids is something completely different, he says, as he struggles to digest some of the curriculum, and break it down in a way his young daughters can understand.

On top of that, their two oldest girls are in French immersion, but only one parent speaks French.

Day 4: Setting reasonable expectations

With the first week of more formalized at-home learning behind them, Matt White and Carin Lowerison have some ideas about where they went wrong, and where they can improve week two for their three daughters: Clementine, 5, Heidrun, 9, and Berkeley, 11 as they stay home from school due to COVID-19. (Submitted by: Carin Lowerison)

Like many parents, Matt and Carin are finding learning from home is harder than they expected.

The daily assignments from teachers are taking longer than anyone hoped; what was supposed to be a simple hour-long self-directed activity takes much longer. That's on top of the regular parenting, work, feeding everyone and keeping the house clean.

Here's the whole family's take on how week one went, and what a fresh start will look like for week two. 

Day 5: Overcoming conflict in close quarters

Carin Lowerison and Matt White are trying their best to help their three daughters - Berkeley, 11, Heidrun, 9, and Clementine, 5 - get through the rest of the school year, or physical distancing. Whichever comes first. (Submitted by: Matt White)

For week two of learning at home, Carin and Matt decided to try something a little different: get schoolwork done early and one at a time, so each one of their kids has time to concentrate on their studies solo.

It started out smoothly, but when they tried to encourage one of the girls to be more independent, it didn't go over well.

That got Matt and Carin thinking about overcoming conflict while cooped up in close quarters.

Day 6: When fresh air helps focus the mind

Though she's learning every day, 5-year-old Clementine's official assignments have fallen by the wayside as her parents focussed on their older girls' studies. Today Matt took her and her oldest sister Berkeley on a bird vs. squirrel count in their neighbourhood. (Submitted by: Matt White)

For the better part of the last week, the family's focus has largely been on Heidrun, 9, and Berkeley, 11, and their schoolwork; making sure they had time, space and energy to get the work done. 

The result, say Matt and Carin, was Clementine, 5, kind of got lost in the mix. So, on Day 6, the family got a little fresh air, and focused more on the little one's learning. 

Day 7: Working through stress and anxiety

Heidrun, 9, and Berkeley, 11, get some school work done at the dinner table while the family's 'ball of chaos' Clementine, 5, and her dad Matt ham it up in the kitchen. (Submitted by: Carin Lowerison )

Up until March Break, all three girls spent their days at Sheppard Public School, in downtown Kitchener, Ont.

Then the pandemic closed the schools and ever since, Berkeley, Heidrun and Clementine have been doing their lessons at the kitchen table, in the attic — wherever they can find a quiet place to study. 

But never far away is the reality that they can't see their friends and they can't really play outside like they used to. That creates stress and anxiety that kids are only somewhat equipped to deal with. 

Especially empathic ones, like Heidrun, who are prone to worry. 

Day 8: Endings and beginnings

Normally, Clementine, 5, Heidrun, 9, and Berkeley, 11, attend Sheppard Public School in downtown Kitchener but COVID-19 has them learning from home — possibly until the end of the school year. That means Berkeley, who graduates from Grade 6 this year, may not have a chance to say goodbye to her school and teachers before moving on next year. (Submitted by: Matt White)

Carin and Matt's eldest girl, Berkeley, 11, graduates elementary school this June — and was really looking forward to it. 

She had hoped to have a chance to say goodbye to her school, her teacher and her friends, before moving onto a bigger school where she'll only know some of the kids.

It's just one more thing she, and her family, are adjusting to as schools stay closed, but Carin and Matt say, it is getting easier and if they need to keep it up until the end of June, they'll make it work.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackie Sharkey

Associate Producer, CBC KW

Jackie Sharkey has worked all over the country with the CBC over the past decade, including Kelowna, Quebec City and Rankin Inlet, NU. She frequently reports on the arts and is particularly interested in stories where consumer and environmental issues intersect.

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