Back to School In Person vs. Distance Learning: How Do We Decide?


Back to school season is practically here and things look very different this year. According to many parenting Facebook groups, local listservs, and group text messages, parents are sharing concerns about two topics: What schools are doing for the 2020-2021 school year and what they are planning for their families.

Many parents facing this new school year have already been through some type of distance learning and—regardless of how well some kids adjusted—many agree that it sucks!

I miss the days when I dropped my boys off in the morning and headed home to my usual routine. I miss the quiet spaces where I could write, create content, do my workout routines, and get things organized. For households where both parents work full-time jobs, things might even be less pleasant. 

It seems like ages ago when we first received instructions on how to log into Zoom, Google classroom, or whichever platform our schools were using. Confusion, followed by a short period of excitement, ending with complete exhaustion and frustration is something we all experienced during the last part of the past school year.

Now, I can’t complain; my oldest child had a wonderful adjustment to this “new normal.” Whatever your experience was, it was clear that it required a lot of parent guidance, especially for the younger kids. 

Distance learning

What challenges will the 2020-2021 school year bring?

We are now in the middle of the summer break looking into the fall. The DMV is doing relatively well in controlling the spread and keeping hospital beds available. Yet uncertainty about how things will play out in the fall is an ongoing stress point for parents. 

We’re asking:

  • What will my school do? Will I have options?
  • What will the classroom experience look like?
  • Will a blended model be good enough?
  • How can I manage my professional obligations on top of distance learning?
  • Will my kids fall behind?
  • What are the psychological impacts of either scenario?
  • Can my kids handle distance learning? Can I?
  • Should I look into homeschooling?
  • Will I ever get a break?!

The political pressure on a full reopening is adding to the uncertainty. Low guidance from the top is leaving school leaders to make decisions on their own and plan for adjustments based on the recommendations from the CDC. 

With every day that passes, we hear from more school districts, charters, and private schools. The moment of truth comes as the imminent parental decision comes closer to a due date, for those schools offering the option.

It goes something like this: As we plan for the next school year we are offering the option of 100% distance learning or blended learning. Please submit your response in the next (insert panicking emoji)… BOMB! 

Should I choose distance learning or in person instruction?

We are in a fortunate situation. I know my husband will be home until at least the beginning of next year. By now we have developed a clear rhythm for our weekday routine, with a general understanding of boundaries and breaks.

Don’t get me wrong, it is still challenging. There are days where I lose my patience too easily, or when I dream of a solo vacation to a remote area with no cellphone reception. I hope that day will come, but until now I know we can survive.

We recently received a message from our school giving us the option to choose between going back to campus two days a week or going 100% distance learning. We chose the second option.

When it comes down to making big decisions for the kids, our minds can go to all types of weird places. It reminds me of the zebras from Lion Guard that at the slightest sign of trouble, they all shout “panic and run, panic and run”.

Yes, your life probably already goes by whatever cartoon your kids are currently obsessed with, but just follow along. As we learned from the zebras, if we take a moment and breath we can find a solution.

Look at the positive.

Finding the silver lining during such difficult times could be challenging. As we were thinking about our option we decided to look at the positive aspects of the next school year.

  1. No flu season (hope I don’t jinx it): We recently had our 7-year-old’s wellness telemedicine appointment with our pediatrician. We asked him about the lack of socialization and how could that create problems for our kids vs. risking an infection.

    His response was simple: You will probably enjoy a flu-less fall. That was great news to us, as we have spent many hours at the urgent care and ER during the regular flu season. Last year it was so hard that in January I proposed to our school to organize a vaccination drive. Which by the way turns up to be a very challenging endeavor. 

  2. Mobility: We can now easily relocate for a couple of weeks at the time to change scenery. We can visit relatives and get additional help. My parents are in Texas and I am happy to know I can eventually go down to stay with them during the regular course of the school year. This of course is counting on decreasing cases in the state, but that’s a different subject.
  3. Time outdoors: If schedule permits we will be able to go for a nature walk or a longer adventure during the week. Why is that important? Because weekdays seem to be the times of lower crowds, therefore, there is a lower risk for infection. 

Weekday hike

How will we get through this?

Now, unless you have a vocation for homeschooling—which I don’t but I truly admire those who do—you are probably be thinking how would we survive? I mean, we all made the cute homeschool schedules and have been through infinite arts and crafts activities.

All great, but are we seriously going to be able to handle it for another semester or year? Add to this all the doubts on how would we able to support learning and your mind will go crazy. Parenting doubts are the worst.

We have heard about the potential learning loss and psychological effects of the extended closures. But if you think about the current conditions of going back to school, I believe the limitations outweigh the risks.

If there is a learning loss, it will happen at a national, if not on a global scale. So it is not really that our kids will be left behind.

There will definitely be an increasing learning gap between certain groups, and that extremely alarming. If you ask me they should be the priority, but that’s a matter for another post.  

So how is distance learning going to work?

There are a couple of possibilities if you are choosing distance learning. The first is, of course, what most of us experienced this past spring: kids stay home supported by parents when needed.

I have also talked to people who are opting for hiring a tutor or a nanny to help the kids during the day and assist with their online learning.

Another option, the one we are going with, is working out a schedule with friends or neighbors with similar age children. This would resemble something like a co-op, where parents can take a break when needed and kids will work and learn together.

The only difference is in our co-op will be led by the individual work assigned to each student by their school, because the beauty of DC Charters means that we are not all at the same school. It won’t be easy, but we will learn as we go and adjust.

Now, I am not advocating for distance learning over in-person instruction. That is a very personal decision, just like many more when it comes to parenting.

Trust your instincts and go with what suits best in your particular situation. Just remember, you are not in this alone. You can scream and cry and doubt yourself along the way. But in the end, I believe we will be okay and so will our children. 

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Tatiana was born in Bogota, Colombia and moved to the United States at age 15. She moved from Houston to DC in 2007 to work for an international organization. She met her husband at work and married in 2011. She has two children: Santiago (2013) and Antonio (2015) and a Masters degree in Conflict Resoliution. After the birth of her second child, she decided to take time off to stay home and focus on the kids. She is passionate about nutrition, self-led weaning and homemade food. The Story of My Table is her Instagram account and blog where she shares her adventures in the kitchen. She strongly believes that a wine a day keeps the doctor away and that the key to parenting two boys is to keep in good shape. She is not a fan of baking, but would occasionally do it to avoid highly processed food. She is an advocate for natural foods, Montessori education and allowing children to get bored. One day she dreams of building an organization where she can combine her passion for food with peacebuilding.