If home isolation has taught 7-year-old Miles George one thing, it’s that the unemployment office is nearly impossible to reach on the phone.

“We’ve made it a game,” laughed Miles’s mom Nicole George from their Flatbush home. “I was like … if you keep calling them and you get through’ I’ll give you $20.

“He’s just pressing redial.”

When Mayor de Blasio announced all schools would be closed in effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, parents across the five boroughs were faced with a new and overwhelming reality: home-schooling, while balancing the stress of the pandemic and their new lives in isolation.

Suddenly, they were balancing work or navigating the city’s overloaded unemployment system while going through the throes of remote learning, alongside an energetic child.

Will Homeschooling Actually Work?

Nicole George and her son Miles are balancing school work with games, and not feeling the pressure.

George, who used to teach, said at first she worried about how homeschooling would play out. But she has since relaxed into the situation.

She credits her peace of mind to the good rapport she’s developed with Miles’s teachers at P.S. 315, who she’s in constant contact with and is also just taking it day-by-day.

“The unknown is the challenge, and that just is what it is.

“They give us homework throughout the day, and I’m not really sure what he should be doing now or what he should be finishing, but I just think they’re doing the best they can.”

George said the two of them are waking up a bit later, and after breakfast, they start homework online and see what they can get accomplished in a couple of hours. Then, they take a break – maybe some computer games — and then repeat the same routine. In the evening they cook dinner, then watch TV until bedtime.

“I don’t put the pressure on for him to finish everything, because I know that’s just going to be chaos and meltdowns for me and him” she said.

“Field trips” to get groceries have become a highlight, she said, or walking around the block dribbling the ball.

Ultimately, George said, she isn’t worried about Miles falling behind, because when he’s doing his schoolwork he’s excelling, and she knows he’ll get back to it.

Finding a Rhythm

For Clinton Hill mom, Sally Penn, much of the first week of homeschooling was spent putting out fires.

Penn and her husband Michael, who is working from home, are figuring out this new reality with their two boys Oliver, 11, who goes to Dock Street School, and Saul, 7, who’s second grade at Compass Charter School.

Sally with sons Saul, 7, and Oliver, 11. Photo: Sally Penn.

Penn said at first, it felt like the beginning of summer when no one knows what they’re doing, so they grow a beard. But this second week, her family is settling in and understanding the expectations.

“I’m quite unstructured and fluid and quite drifty, and when I’m in distress I write lists, so I did a schedule. I can’t say we’ve stuck to it, but it planted a seed of how the day could be and the kinds of things we need to do.”

Penn said it’s important she balances their school work with some physical activity such as meditation to stop any creeping anxieties or feelings of being overwhelmed. For her family, yoga, meditation and FaceTime with friends have become necessities.

Her oldest son takes the work very seriously and would blame himself for any issues, which were often a small miscommunication. But she said, any problems eventually are smoothed. Ultimately, everyone is becoming less anxious, and he’s finding his beat.

“Something good that could come out of this is making the infrastructure for all kids to have access to remote learning tools and the ability to use them,” she said.

“And it would be great if we came out of this appreciating teachers more.”

Creating a New Norm

Bed-Stuy family Mattia Donadi, his wife Haamacha and their two daughters Luna, 5, and Gaia, 7, say communication has played a big role in learning to adjust to their new reality.

Mattia, who is working from home as the creative director of a clothing company, said they have very open conversations about how everyone is feeling and how they can support each other.

“You have to treat these things with a certain philosophy,” he said. “The reality is no one could have ever thought we’d be in this situation, and everybody is dealing with it as best we can.”

Mattia, Gaia, Hamaacha and Luna Donadi are settling into their new routine. Photo: Mattia Donadi.

He said what worked for him and his wife was asking the girls, who are at P.S. 11, first thing the morning what they would like to do after school– a treat like painting, arts and crafts or Lego, to motivate them through the trials and tribulations of remote learning.

After their morning routine, Donadi and his wife take one girl each and help them through their learning schedule, then come together for lunch and an activity.

After lunch, they get back to the last two hours of schoolwork, before coming together again for downtime and snacks.

After 3:00pm, Donadi logs online for work. He said his colleagues are very understanding about him balancing work with his daughters’ education.

Donadi said the mental health and wellbeing of his girls is more important than the scholastic side, so they balance everything and make sure to keep a light and healthy vibe in the house.

He said they’re not worried about any lag in education, given every kid is going through it.

“Every week has different challenges. We’ll take it a week at a time, or even a day at a time and see how it evolves. We just have to do the best we can and get over it.”

The real silver lining, he added, is spending more time together and creating stronger bonds for the future.


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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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