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Mario’s COVID-19 Diary: Hunting monsters & speaking French: Home-school challenges begin

Like parents across B.C., Tri-City News journalist Mario Bartel and his wife are navigating working from home while figuring out how to maintain their seven-year-old’s education
Oscar Bartel
A crown for time-travelling birthdays into the future, one of the products of Monday's "creative time."

Tri-Cities News journalist Mario Bartel and his family have just finished 14 days of self-isolation. Now, while both he and his wife are both working from home, they’re faced with the realities of coping with all the challenges of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monday, I hunted monsters in our neighbourhood using a plastic coat hanger as my crossbow.

Whenever someone walked by, I had to stand still with the coat hanger perched atop my head. To ease any discomfort in those passers-by, I told them we were just “hanging out.”

That was our designated “creative time” activity as my family embarked on its very first adventure into home-schooling our seven-year-old son as my wife and I still did our work.

It wasn’t easy.

Sunday, my wife and I sat down to put together a bit of a loose schedule that would put some structure into the day and give our son specific goals and tasks to complete.

As the teachers still haven’t sent along any sort of detailed plan, we improvised with blocks for general activities like reading, creative and quiet times, along with breaks for lunch, snacks and a bath. Oh, wait a minute, I don’t think they have bath time at school…

Our home-schooling is also complicated by our son’s enrolment in early French immersion, so he has to be able to practise en français as well.

Fortunately, I’ve retained enough of my high school and first-year university French that we’re able to conduct simple conversations, which is exactly what we spontaneously did as we hunted those monsters outside. It’s fun, and reassuring, that some of that knowledge is still with me.

Other challenges loom on the horizon, as they likely will for other families.

We have two computers in our household, plus one ancient and slow iPad. As it appears much of the home curriculum will be coming at us via an app called Google Classroom, we’re stumped as to how our son will be able to participate when both of our computers are tied up for our work, and the iPad may not be robust and up-to-date enough to handle the software. Maybe I'll work the night shift.

Throwing our entire school system online at the same time also presumes the telecommunications infrastructure — which is already being taxed by everyone else being online to conduct their business affairs and meetings over their computers as well, let along voluminous Netflix streaming — can handle the additional load. We’re on fibre and already we’ve noticed slowdowns and quality drops when trying to participate in FaceTime meetings.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be getting our son to buy into his school time as actual school time when he’s surrounded by all his familiar environs and distractions of home, and he knows exactly which buttons to press in his parents, who aren’t his teachers.

Just as “I’m bored” won’t cut it with his teacher, he’ll have to learn that here, and we’ll have to learn to not let him play that card.

As with everything else in these uncertain and fluid times, it’s a work in progress.