Posted: April 1, 2021
A few weeks ago, I had nice email from my buddy Jim. He had included some pictures of his recent walks with Tuli their Shapendoes (Dutch sheepdog) in their local park. Toronto is the fifth largest city in North America but functions residentially as a collection of neighborhoods. Each one has its own little collection of retail storefront streets, and most feature a park as an important part of the community.
Where he and Janice live is close to the beach along lake Ontario so that beach and the two kilometers of boardwalk are the main park area but even with that they have another little park with some play areas, a bandshell and a couple of ponds. Those ponds are the home of ducks, turtles, frogs and birds in the warmer seasons and sit largely just as inactive frozen ice cubes in the winter. Not this winter.
Jim’s picture was of kids on the pond – skating, playing hockey, etc. The part that impressed him the most was that in these times with the conventional indoor ice facilities closed and most of the outdoor rinks closed as well, and no organized hockey or figure skating going on, this little pond had become a place for kids of all ages to just go, lace up and cut loose from their isolation inside with their parents. Young kids playing with older ones or adults in pick-up games of hockey. The scene of older kids teaching younger ones to skate and everyone just enjoying an unorganized bit of athletic fun could be an image from a small rural village in the 1930’s from any northern community around the world.
Yes, it’s true there are not a lot of masks to be seen but for being outdoors, with a bit of distance and for all the mental health advantages, it really does seem like a good solution.
The aspect of the older kids working with the younger ones really struck a chord with me. I am an only child so my experience with siblings is artificial -the odd older neighbour kid, or younger family friend experience is really not the same as a sibling. But recently I have been going to one of our local parks that’s adjacent to the marina where I live and bumping into a family from the marina I know a bit. They are from Norway and were away for a sailing trip in the Mediterranean when this Covid nonsense hit a year ago. The decision was made to hunker down and stay in Malta until the summer (last summer) when Covid would be over, and to teach the three kids their schoolwork on the boat, and then sail back to Norway. They have revised that by a year and are now planning on sailing home this summer. Over last spring and now through the fall and this winter they have been co-existing as a family on their liveaboard. What makes it work is the great climate Malta has. Their oldest, a teenager, “camps” in a large tent on the deck. When I was growing up in Canada it was the fashion for teenagers to move to the basement of their parents home to have more freedom and independence. Well, this is like living on the roof!
I know them all somewhat as all three of the kids have taken cooking classes with me. So when I saw them all working at a picnic table in the park, the mom came over to say hi and explain their school week. On Monday to Friday they all have school online in the morning and she and her husband try to get some of their own online work done. Then in the afternoon the kids work away on various school projects or assignments. The oldest one is getting a school credit for teaching the younger two – often being a resource really, more than teaching a class but at times teaching as well. By teaching you learn the subject yourself more comprehensively. Its sounds like the Norwegians have a handle on this online learning business.
She was also telling me how well it works for some subjects that are reading based or even some subjects like history and geography. The whole thing is based on the layers of understanding. So while the youngest one is learning the names of cities and regions in the world, the middle one is learning more about the general politics and culture of the places and the oldest one is focused more on the culture and evolution of those centres or regions. Similarly when they read a story geared to the youngest one who is just enjoying the story and trying to read along, the middle one is more focused on the grammar, and the oldest one is trying to pull out whether there is a more hidden message or metaphor from the piece to share with the middle child.
Most days they do it in the park just to get a change from the boat and to let their dad or mom have some zoom time with the office, but on rainy days they do it in the pilot house. Large old powersailers like mine have a pilot house that is on the top level for seeing where you are and navigating, while staying out of the elements. Newer boats like theirs have a similar but more luxurious bridge level with lots of windows but enclosed as well. One advantage is that the pilot house or enclosed bridge are the brightest inside place on the boat, so it lends itself to a nice learning environment. In smaller boats this area is usually only really big enough for one or two people but on older boats or really large ones like theirs it is big enough that they have moved their dining table up to that area as these days their enclosed pilot house is not needed for its designed purpose and it is their one room schoolhouse during the day and dining room at night.
I had never understood how a one room schoolhouse could work before. At times each of these kids needs to just work on their own material but on other occasions they can all benefit from working on the same material in different ways.
While we all can readily list off a string of negatives from Covid, I think in the hands of people who really put their minds to it, there are some real positives as well, particularly with focused and committed parents. My dad used to talk about growing up as a young person in the depression and how his parents, particularly his mom, my Odie, had made the whole experience something of an adventure. These kids may remember this time, despite all its terrible attributes, as the best of their school years.