When my son asked me to assist him with his third-grade math yesterday afternoon, my first instinct was to back slowly out of the room. Me and math, we have a strained relationship. But it turned out that he could do the math; it was the damn program on his Chromebook that wasn’t cooperating by not allowing him to select what he knew to be the correct answer.
It’s a problem I’m seeing mirrored in text messages from friends all day long. One friend told me today that she routinely calls out “SUBMIT!” to her fourth- and sixth-graders because the work they’re doing is getting lost whenever they forget to click that all-important button at the bottom of the screen.
The truth is that we don’t all have the knowledge, skill sets or time to teach our kids what a teacher could—it’s all we can do right now to manage the scheduling and technology involved in juggling classroom conference calls and online assignments. It’s easy to feel like the kids aren’t learning enough at the moment—like they’re falling behind. But they are learning. What they’re learning right now might actually stay with them longer and server them better than we realize. They’re learning soft skills.
Writer Lora Devries explains on Scary Mommy:
Soft skills are the “humanness” of work, and hard skills are the educational and technical knowledge. And although hard skills are important, they can easily be learned throughout your child’s life. It is the soft skills that are built through experience, role-modeling and real-life challenges.
Ask yourself … do you really remember 9th grade algebra, or do you remember the teacher who taught you about compassion, laughter and self-worth? Do you remember a 5th grade history lesson, or a life lesson you learned from recess?
I teared up while reading Devries’ piece because she put into words a sense I’ve had that I’ve been unable to articulate. It started while I was on a lunchtime walk with my son last week. He was frantically explaining how he needed to learn a variety of Latin and Greek words because he’s supposed to know them by the time he gets to fourth grade, and fourth grade teachers won’t stop to teach them to him because he should already know it by then.
We talked about how this is a unique time and how adjustments to those types of expectations will have to be made—because none of his classmates are going to know Latin or Greek. And yet I had this feeling bubbling under the surface: that what he has been learning over these nearly four weeks of physical distancing is so much more indispensable than a handful of words he’ll learn and just as quickly and forget.
Right now, our kids are getting a crash-course in patience, resilience, communication, conflict-resolution, compromise, creative thinking, empathy and mindfulness. These are soft skills we practice to a certain degree with them every day, but right now everything is heightened. They have to learn to be patient with the parent who can’t hop off a conference call to get them a snack (or they have to figure out how to get a snack for themselves). They are resolving conflict with their siblings, oh, every four minutes. They’re trying to brainstorm ways to cheer up a friend whose birthday is passing in the quietest of ways.
I think the best soft skill we’ve been working on during the past month has been our positivity. A month ago, my son would have told you that “let’s go for a walk” was the most boring combination of words imaginable. But when your world suddenly shrinks, the littlest things grow. Now, we hate to miss a day’s walk. On windy days, we say we’re glad for no rain; on cloudy days, we’re grateful for no wind; and on warm, sunny days, we can hardly believe our luck.
Of course, some days, they practice these soft skills so much we think our heads may explode from the incessant yelling, whining and crying. And none of this means that the situation we’re in right now as parents—home all day, every day during a scary pandemic—is easy or fun or worth all of the stress or any of the fear.
But if, at the end of this, our children are able to recognize and appreciate the beauty of a spring day in a way they simply couldn’t before… I think that’s more important than a few words on a vocabulary list or a single math assignment. Whether it’s been submitted or not.
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