Learning Differently From Home: One Mother’s Story

Leo watching his teacherDiana Chacon, of Chicago’s McKinley Park neighborhood, is the mom of 6-year-old Leo, an active, curious boy who happens to have ADHD. I spoke with her yesterday about how she and Leo are learning and managing from home.

Being home all day is tough, especially for a child as sociable and physically active as Leo. “He misses his friends. He misses the sensory room [at school] a lot. He spends a lot of time there,” when school is open, Chacon said.

Because Leo already has attention issues, Chacon is vigilant about not giving him too much screen time. She’s also not giving him medication to help him focus right now, since he’s not in school and the medicine sometimes makes him feel nauseous.

But Chacon, whose regular job is substitute teaching, has a lot of time to give and a lot of strategies to keep Leo occupied.”I have a lot of things I use for him–sensory tools. I can kind of tell when he needs to move his body. We have a big backyard and we can go out there.” For indoors, she also has a trampoline. She feels confident she can keep him learning, too. “I have a background in teaching, I don’t feel like he’s going to miss out a lot educationally.”

Leo enjoying his trampoline.

E-Learning, in Moderation, Can Be Helpful

Plus, she has strong support from Namaste Charter School, where Leo is a first-grader. Although Chacon limits Leo’s time on devices, the e-learning Namaste offers has been fun and valuable. “His teacher is on YouTube and she’s very active,” Chacon said. For St. Patrick’s Day, “she gave us this leprechaun trap activity.” The children posted photos of their leprechaun traps on ClassDojo and they could like and comment on each other’s projects.

Leo with his leprechaun trap.

Yet even with all these supports, it’s still tough to be on deck all day. Chacon is taking an algebra course at Malcolm X College and trying to stay on top of her own learning in the middle of everything else is hard. “Yesterday [Wednesday] was a trial. If I try to do my homework, I get, ‘What are you doing? What’s that, Mom?'”

The best times for Chacon to tackle her own learning are, of course, when Leo is asleep. But that poses other problems. “It’s hard to do math at night. I’m going to have to wake up even earlier,” she said.

Take Breaks and Don’t Try to Do It All

When I asked if there was anything Chacon didn’t have that she wished she had, she joked, “A babysitter? Someone to watch my kid so I can do homework!” Chacon’s partner is working from home, and they are still learning how to swap in and out of being with their son. “It’s about time management and pacing,” Chacon said.

It’s also about triage. “Leo needs a lot of breaks. We’re not getting all of the work done at a decent pace,” she observed. “I’m going to have to figure out what homework we’re going to tackle and what we’re going to let go. It’s difficult for moms because we’re trying to tackle everything. We can’t tackle everything. We want to do it all, but we can’t.”

Outdoor fun time is important, too.

Yet even with the challenges, Chacon remains optimistic. “I think we’ll be able to get a rhythm going on. I read Sara Urben’s post—look at the positive in a bad situation. I feel blessed to be a substitute teacher and be able to care for my child and spend time with him. Usually I’m really busy and this is a gift to be able to spend this time with him.”

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Maureen Kelleher

Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an associate editor at Catalyst Chicago, the go-to magazine covering Chicago’s public schools. There, her reporting won awards from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the International Reading Association and the Society for Professional Journalists. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of an elementary student in the Chicago Public Schools. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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