From Mary Ellen Christy
(Editors note: Classic Chicago interviewed our Parenting Expert Mary Ellen Christy on how pandemic restrictions are affecting families. Christy, the founding head of St.Chrysostom’s Day School, has now started Christy Rozenberg Consultants with her partner Claudia Rozenberg. Christy Rozenberg Consultants is a concierge educational service whose goal is to help determine the best educational service for the child by working with the whole family unit. They support in everything from finding the right school placement to assistance in choosing the best therapeutic intervention for the child.)
CCM: Now that we are in the eighth month of coping with the COVID shutdown, how are parents feeling?
Christy: Parents are feeling pretty fatigued. Many feel that their children, if they are doing exclusively remote learning, are losing ground.
CCM: How has remote learning generally worked for students and their families?
Christy: It can be difficult for even very computer savvy parents. The computer applications that one does for work possibly don’t require the immediate attention that those for kids do. Often parents are on a Zoom call themselves when their child has a computer crisis. Especially if families have multiple children it is even more difficult to the parents. It requires master scheduling. It seems like it would be easy if the parents are working now from home. But often it is not. Basically children third grade and up can master what they need to do. Below that it requires quite a bit of assistance. When you have an extremely bright child, it becomes humiliating for the parent when the parent doesn’t really understand the technology. Additionally the way kids are learning now is often different. For example math concepts often do not follow the same procedural steps and therefore sometimes the parents get an incorrect answer.
CCM: What are some creative plans parents are developing?
Christy: Many parents are being very resourceful. Some have formed pods with two to four or five kids who are masked and following socially distance guidelines. They might hire a part-time teacher to work with the pod. One family we are working with has two girl cousins who are in the same class. Several days a week they do their lessons together. This allows the opportunity for some degree of social interaction. As early as August, the American Academy of Pediatrics made a definitive policy statement that being in school learning is essential for all children and that the dangers of COVID were minimal for Children under 10 and the detriment of not being in school greatly outweighed the risks. They have now been joined by the WHO and the Center for Disease Control in this opinion.
CCM: How are in-session schools faring?
Christy: Fairly well. The primary components are a well communicated policy and the parents living up to the honor code. In addition to adjusting down the size of the class, some schools have asked parents to sign a pledge that their children will only socialize within their homeroom class. This even extends to the playground, lunch, gym, etc. This causes some unhappiness for children who can’t be with all their friends but I have seen parents being pretty cooperative.
CCM: What can parents and families do to supplement the gap between in school and remote learning?
Christy: Try to supplement the curriculum even with the simplest kids of activities. Cooking experiences are great science at any age. For example, you might tell a first grader: “We are going to make a sandwich. What is the procedure? Bread. Would you get bread out? What else do we need? Even in this very elementary way they go through the process and can actually document what they have done and the results, much as you would in a simple science experiment. For reading, after you have worked on skills with an emerging reader you might for example ask them to read to a younger sibling, even a two-year-old. It makes them feel empowered: they can make a mistake and not feel bad about it.
There are lots of podcasts including Fun Facts in History for Kids. Families might listen to that in the evening and then after a discussion, make entries together in journal by putting the facts on a timeline. It doesn’t have to be purely academic but also a time for the family to engage in talking, storytelling and simply spending time together. Another fun activity is for families to write a story together. An older child or parent can be the scribe when one person being telling the story. After a few sentences, the next person adds the next few lines until the story is completed. Many people are also investing in firepits or outside heaters because they understand the importance and health benefits of getting fresh air and spending time outside.
CCM: We are hearing that during the pandemic parents and children are uniting on many more levels.
Christy: Carl Jung said: If you want to be a happy adult, continue to do as an adult some things you enjoyed doing as a child. A boy of 7 asked me if I would play with play dough with him. There are all sorts of new play dough kits. We used the dentist kit and made a set of teeth. We both skipped dessert. We were having so much fun! His mother brought me a piece of pie and said, “Thank you for spending so much time with Sean.” I replied, “I am having more fun than he is.”
There are also Charade games for kids that are lots of fun. IF you have old home movies from parents or grandparents, High schoolers can be asked to digitize family photos and videos, then the whole family can share them. We actually did this and found wonderful things like my cousin David wearing his Christmas Cowboy costume complete with 10 Gallon hat and holstered 6 shooter pictured with my sister and myself.
Digitized Home Movies Older Children can then View on YouTube
Since everyone is home together, this can also be an opportunity to teach your children a lot of important self-help skills. A couple of years ago, I heard a psychologist tell about how beyond the age of 7, each of her 3 sons was responsible for doing laundry. Not just their laundry, but the laundry of everyone in the family.
CCM: How can the lack of social interaction with peers and the opportunity for extracurricular sports activities somehow be implemented?
Christy: There are still some things you can do. A gymnastics class in a social distance area can work. Fencing, above age of 7, wonderful. You are wearing masks anyway. With the weather still nice, there are many outdoor soccer opportunities with scrimmages within small teams. And tennis, of course. Piano lessons adapt very well to Zoom. It’s all about being a little creative.
Picture illustrating a virtual Dance recital
Girl Playing Team Sports
CCM: What are other activities you would suggest?
Christy: As Halloween approaches there are so many opportunities. Let your child decorate your windows with tempera paint. Collect autumn leaves and press them between two sheets of wax paper, color and iron. These can become like stained glass windows to decorate the child’s room.
In an Apple Orchard
You can order different types of kits that are sent directly to your home. For example, “Little Explorers” kits allow children to follow steps and record the procedure and results of an experiment. Most of our museums are now open by appointment. Imagine having the Field Museum almost to yourselves. Anyone with a 4 year old who loves dinosaurs will be in heaven. But then who doesn’t love dinosaurs.
But many things are just open for people with resources. I worry so much about what is happening to children whose parents lack the time or the resources to provide all of this extra stimulation. Many of them have to make the choice between going to work and potentially leaving a child in a semi unattended situation. Not all jobs are transferable to working from home. Many private and parochial schools are open on a partial or full time schedule defined largely on the age of the children. Most urban public school have remained closed. This is the very population which is most in need of the help and support of schools. Among those student populations, there are so many talented children for whom a pathway to a higher standard of living is education. But all children, regardless of zip code or socioeconomic status need to be in school because that is where children learn to relate to one another, learn to self-organize, are mentored by caring adults and in many cases receive adequate nutrition. Regardless of where they live, for some children, school is the only safe place in their life. Reporting of child abuse has dropped 200% in the past 8 months. I don’t think anyone believes that is because it is not occurring. It is just that there is no watchful adult to report it.
CCM: What long-term effects is this experience going to have on education for teachers, students, and parents?
Christy: Parents will be more focused and acquire more of a consumer’s approach because they are now seeing what goes on in the classroom. Ultimately, the spotlight will be on the disparities in education and there will be more opportunities for parents to make choices for their children. It is terrible to see kids stopped because of administrative issues. It’s not that kids can’t learn, those in administration have to come up with a better way of approaching it.
CCM: Are there any signs of a silver lining to this experience?
Christy: I think people are beginning to realize that you can’t have it all. Those who have been able to have supplementary people in their children’s lives such as nannies because both parents have to be out the door at the crack of dawn and also travel for business. During the pandemic, families have been forced to stay together. Parents can get the kids ready for school and out the door or ready for their virtual assignments.
Kids are also seeing how parents work. I recently saw a little boy pick up a toy and put it to his ear and say: “I am on a work call”. Parents are starting to do more board games with their kids. People are gathering at a social distance to watch a family movie in someone’s back yard. You two can do this. For $150 buy a blow-up movie screen or just put up a sheet over the garage door. Bring out your lawn chairs and appropriate snack for the family. Parents are taking walks after dinner and often bike the 606 with another family. Once it gets dark very early and cold, we will have to develop other options but parents can be intentional. And all can practice gratitude, happiness and satisfaction no matter what the weather. Because as my grandmother use to say, “This too shall pass”.
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