Naomi Buck is a freelance writer in Toronto
Euphoria hit our household a few weeks ago, when the Ontario government announced a two-week extension of March break. My sons, in Grades 4 and 6, had been pinning their hopes on a continuation of the teachers’ strike; two extra weeks was beyond their wildest imaginings.
The delight was short-lived. By the next morning, Granny – who we live with – was dusting off her French books and generating a list of useful chores to keep the boys busy.
Two weeks may just be the beginning. Developments in Europe and the most recent “indefinite” school closures in Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C.suggest that we are likely entering a very long school-less season.
In uncertain times, it’s good to have a plan. Ours has been to honour the spirit of the March break with a week of freedom (more precious by the day) before embarking on a more structured routine. For this, many of us will have to scrub the term “home schooling” of previous associations – with religious zealotry, self-sacrificing parents, maladapted children – and learn to accept, if not embrace, the concept.
It’s going to be interesting. Social media is already coursing with recommendations of online learning aids – BBC Radio, Khan Academy, Freckle to name a few – and many parents will, for the first time, be checking out the Ministry of Education’s curriculum online. Some teachers have sent home packages of work, and more may be on their way. These will provide a useful scaffolding: something to cling to as we tell each other and ourselves that we are moving forward, that things will eventually return to some kind of normal.
We can also reach for the unique opportunities that this situation presents: the bags of heritage flour waiting to be baked into bread; the francophile grandmother who can’t wait to parler some proper français with her underlings; the countless gardening experiments to be undertaken. My younger son ventured into my room the other day, carrying the sheet music of Bohemian Rhapsody and asked, “Mummy, can you teach me how to sing?” There has never been a better time.
But the richest vein for learning may prove to be the pandemic itself and its impact on our lives. It holds within it lessons for all of us, adults and children alike. For one thing, we in the middle class are reminded of how much we have. As the normal diversions have peeled away – no more rink, movie theatre, library, get-togethers with random friends – my kids are rediscovering their own possessions, from a garage full of cobwebbed tennis rackets and deflated balls, to books that got buried in the excess of Christmas.
We’re also learning to truly love our neighbours: a small coterie of families who, every now and again, venture out onto our very quiet street, little signs of life. The normally rambunctious games of street hockey have been reduced to a trio of kids taking slapshots on net, or tootling around on scooters, hollering the odd “two metre!” warning, or sitting on the curb, musing about what in the world is going on.
And that is an education unto itself. The map of the world takes on new relevance in the context of a pandemic. The term “exponential” stands explained. Suddenly our globalized world is full of borders and supply chain has real meaning. On Monday, my older son brought home a trophy in the form of a 236-millilitre bottle of hand sanitizer, scored at the local drug store for $19.99. Economics 101: the law of supply and demand.
As we try to make sense of ever-changing regulations, we need to understand jurisdiction: what level of government is in charge of what and why. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau emerges from self-isolation in his home to reassure the country that “We will get through this together,” we are receiving a lesson in leadership. And as we take every measure to keep the virus at bay – washing our hands obsessively, keeping our distance from others – we see the nurses and doctors who go face-to-face with it daily in a whole new light.
In fact, if there is one overarching lesson in all of this, it is our interdependency. Our reliance on science, medicine, a responsible media, political leadership – and on each other – is laid bare. There is no egotistical way to win this battle. That’s a very big lesson and if it carries over to our understanding of other challenges facing the planet, then we have truly learned something. Probably more valuable than the rest of the school year.
“I’m bored,” says my son every now and again, to which I can only say, in light of developments elsewhere, “Bored is good. Let’s enjoy boredom.” And learn to sing and bake and read and think and try to understand.