“I think parents of color have other concerns than can my kid get into the best school,” she said. “They see everything that’s happening and they’re asking me about current events. Especially at this moment, I’m very aware that my children, especially my son, who’s 6-foot-1 and 15 years old, are perceived in a particular way.”
She and Carrie Sampson, a professor at the teachers college at Arizona State, said this was also a chance to give children something they weren’t getting in school: culturally relevant material, taught by a variety of adults in their lives. Both their children took an African dance class and take an online black social studies class. Ms. Sampson’s cousin is creating a virtual class about body image, and her sister-in-law is giving singing lessons. Ms. Sampson, Ms. Demps and colleagues wrote an article on Medium explaining why they thought continuing this type of family involvement in children’s education was important even after the pandemic.
Some parents have loosened their approach, giving their children more time for independent play, outdoor time and screen time. Twenty-nine percent said they were giving their children more freedom than usual, and 16 percent said independent play was more important during this time than parent-led teaching. They’re focusing on life skills, like making their own lunch, solving sibling conflicts or finding their way out of boredom.
“I’m trying to mix in school of life,” said Brandi Bovell, a natural health practitioner in Mechanicsville, Va., and the mother of two children, ages 5 and 9.
She brings them on outings for her business, and during the school year, she supplemented those with lessons, like watching a TED Talk by a hemp farmer before visiting a farm. This summer, they’ve paused structured learning, and instead are practicing skills like cooking and hanging the laundry outside to dry. She said she tries to gauge their mental health each morning, and if they’re feeling particularly emotional, she lets them have freer days — her son gets lost in a book, and her daughter has dance parties.
“Luckily I haven’t really felt pressure,” she said. “I definitely kind of let them do their own thing, and a lot of times it’s them learning on their own.”
Parents who were not able to work from home were almost twice as likely as white-collar workers who worked remotely to say their children would not be participating in education this summer. Experts say the disparities could worsen learning gaps; even in normal years, research has found that gaps between poorer and wealthier children narrow while school is in session and widen during the summer. Even short breaks from school, like after natural disasters, can have lifelong impact on learning.