What We Learned From Home Schooling: Los Angeles Mothers Share Their Wisdom

What Lessons Were Learned For Parenting & Education?

In many ways, the closing of schools during the pandemic challenged families almost beyond their means to cope. Yet, considering the mounting pressure and how hard it was for a family to substitute for a fully staffed school and active community of devoted parents and teachers, families were motivated to come together and devise solutions.

Eventually, less than half the class participated in zooms regularly, while the rest were schooled in alternative ways. In addition, I interviewed several mothers whose children attended the same school that had to shut down completely for over a year due to the pandemic.

The first mother I spoke to, Shelly, participated in a group in which five families joined efforts to host playdates, form learning pods, and keep their children safe while providing them with learning and socialization during the pandemic. It is hard to imagine how much and how quickly their lives changed as their responsibilities grew tremendously.

Shelly had toured many schools before choosing the right one for her kindergarten-aged child. She put her heart into the school, volunteering, fundraising, and joining in and relishing the school community. Then, “poof,” as she described it, “school just went away.” The mother cried; her son cried. Then, at first, it was all replaced with zoom, which did not meet the needs of many kids. So much had seemed to vanish…routine, connections, lifestyle, and the basis for developing our children beyond academia.

Full On Parenting Has Its Benefits

Shelly said she had heard “some amazing stories of how nice it was for parents to be around their kids more.” She described the tears in her eyes when she dropped her son off to return to school for the first time more than a year later when it reopened.

Shelly describes a relative whose full-time job before the pandemic led to a pretty unsatisfying evening routine when she would return home tired, prepare dinner for the family, and go to bed; the family never left with a “moment together.” Covid upended the routine and provided a time when it was “so nice not rushing around.” Shelly says. For her part, she focused on some learning issues she discovered with her child when things slowed down. In addition, this time enabled mothers to recognize where their child needed more home support.

Mothers are convinced they will be more in tune with their children’s learning in the future. They are also convinced they do not want to return to the “old life” of rushing around to the point they do not have enough time to spend with their children. However, time is of the essence when observing children, as it may take some time for certain behaviors, preferences, and emotions to reveal.

Remove Any Pressure That Is Not Worth It

Shelly could not keep up with her part-time job during this difficult time. Eventually, she came up with a plan for a home-based job to replace the one she had to leave behind. She observed that she began to ask herself, “Is my child’s stress worth the income I earn?”

Shelly is an example of a mother who could take a hard look at the hardship her family was under and have enough flexibility to make changes that lessened the load.

The pandemic has shown many families that multiple pressures cannot always be managed. When things are dire and demands exceed the capabilities of a family unit, it is time to re-prioritize. It is one thing to realize something needs to change and another thing to have the will and means to carry out that change. In households in which women have accepted the main responsibility for childcare, they also found that it was their new “job” to prepare for all these changes. Yet, it is still predominantly women who take the helm for children and households.

Parents Have So Much To Learn About Educating Their Children

Parents turn to teachers as professional educators. These mothers were not used to managing their children’s education. Shelly became aware, “We all want our kids to learn,” but, often, “we have no idea how it happens.” This attentive mother admits to really having no idea about what the curriculum entailed at her son’s school.

Education revealed itself to these families to be more than just academia. It is reliant on their confidence, happiness, processual, social, and communication skills. We had never seen how much more holistic provision needed to be provided to children. Completing homework projects in the past revealed only part of the story, the specific skills required in a particular task. Alternatively, homeschooling helped them see how their children learned in specific ways. For example, one child depended on visual clues. Another was “slow to settle” and needed to release physical energy before being still and concentrating. Mothers discovered some of these unique learning traits for the first time when they became so involved in their children’s teaching.

Adventure Can Be Found In The Simple Things – Some Of The Best Learning Takes Place In Nature

Before the pandemic, we lived in a culture where we felt we were doing something wonderful when we got on a plane and went to a distant destination to experience adventure. With strict limitations on travel, families were channeled into focusing on different kinds of adventure. Surprisingly, the “new” adventures brought their own enrichment, even though they had gone unnoticed before. Elated, Shelly described how much time her son had spent in nature and how much he had enjoyed it. She also enjoyed so much seeking out “the cool nature places to hang out,” exploring nearby parks in a way they had never done before, going to a close canyon, other times a stream, seeing things they had not known existed before the pandemic.

Build Closer Connections With Those Around You

Playdates became the thing, first in the backyard, then in the park, when restrictions relaxed in Los Angeles. Mothers actually developed into a sort of mutual aid society in which they began to fill in for each other and help in other ways. For example, a mother with a newborn would bring her baby to the playgroup and socialize with the other mothers while her older child played, thus remedying the isolation some new mothers feel. Connecting children and children, children and mothers, mothers and mothers, provided meaning when so much was being lost to the pandemic.

Flexibility Is Enriching, And We Can Get Stuck In Our Routines

Shelly had always felt school five days a week was a “stretch” for her son. However, she envisions that 2-4 days in the future might work better for him. Sleeping in during the mornings has also been nice for her son. Indeed, a more relaxed bedtime schedule has developed for lots of families.

Once families commit to the schedule of a school, they usually try not to deviate. A lot of effort goes into being on time to school, knowing when school lets out early or is not in session, allowing for time for students to complete homework after school. In other words, life becomes pretty subject to routines, and it is hard to imagine a more flexible lifestyle. Nevertheless, mothers enjoyed some newfound freedom to let life unfold. So much of a relaxed schedule may not be a formula for the future, but post-pandemic, it has suggested a new way to balance flexibility with rigor.

The Teacher Makes The School

This was one of Shelly’s main realizations as she began to rethink her son’s regular school experience. Whereas families usually choose schools for their educational philosophies, facilities, and track records in meeting academic goals, Shelly has discovered the following: “I’ve really learned that if you have a good teacher, it changes everything.” If you take the teacher away and put the student in front of a computer, “it takes the connection away.” The heart of the matter seems to be that personal connection is the most important element in a student’s education. Education is based on relationships of trust, and so far, teachers are best at modeling and communicating trust face-to-face.

Don’t Follow The Crowd – Don’t Be Guilted If You Aren’t Following A Norm.

I followed up this initial interview with Tanya, a mother of three who had been a thirteen-year-old teacher. Understandably, her experience was different in that she was more than capable of teaching her children. She also decided to utilize the zoom technology as her children wanted to see their teachers and friends on screen and find out what was planned for the next day.

Tanya agreed with most of the lessons Shelly had learned and added a few of her own.  For example, Tanya was able to individualize with her children, not only when it came to teaching but also cuddling. She, too, valued her children being out in nature more. She noted how they applied concepts they had learned in school in nature. “We don’t have to rush in a car,” she said with great relief. It had been hard in the past to fit in all of the extracurricular for three children. Pre-pandemic, she had often wondered, “How am I going to time everything?

When it came to the new bonds her children formed, Tanya had a different experience.

The first mother described the bonding between the mothers and children in the playgroup; this mother noted the even closer bonds she formed with her children. However, her children missed the friends they had pre-pandemic. As a result of friends not getting together due to different restrictions, she taught her children a lesson; she called it acceptance. She told her children the following:

“We are going to do what is right for our family; other families are going to do what is right for theirs. And, that’s OK.

Something Different Is Not Always Unmanageable Chaos

Initially, Tanya found the new situation her family was thrust into during the pandemic difficult to manage. The family of five currently lives in one section of their house with two bedrooms and one bath. Almost overnight, everyone was at home, including the father, who was working remotely. The zoom schedule was such that two children at a time might be zooming away on separate screens.  She recounted a time when three children were singing different songs at the same time. As a former teacher used to conduct a well-ordered classroom, she felt challenged.  She described her new lesson as being able to cope with “managed chaos.”

Replenishing Lost Connections

On all levels, it seems these mothers could replace lost connections, develop new ones and new ways of relating. However, it is important not to dismiss the hardship that fell on families, the result of schools closing, the personal disconnection that defined the pandemic lost friends over pandemic responses, the very diverse experiences of families coping at a desperate time.

Too, mothers and fathers have modeled bringing to life new family circumstances during the pandemic, despite the chaos. These mothers took over education, for the most part, because the fathers were working full-time. Tanya had a home-based income, and Shelly could eventually replace her part-time job with home-based work.

The families I interviewed turned out to be skillful in adapting to their circumstances, but the stories of thousands of economically disadvantaged will be considerably different. How much harder if electronics and tech-savvy parents had not supported the children? What of the scores of people who had lost their jobs? What of parents who were required to go to work or were isolated in their communities?

The biggest lesson of all may be how we need to value family units and interdependent connections.

Classified as the woman’s recession, we need to recognize the remarkable resilience and strength women possess in leading our families forward. They adapted in their jobs; they adapted to caring for wider family members. They led the way in teaching their children and adapting to their social needs, all whilst carrying extra loads whilst maintaining the home lives of their families. Of course, we cannot dismiss the contribution which both women and men played. Still, we should celebrate that what is perceived as usual activities for women are actually remarkable leadership and resilience features. We used to refer to women “who did it all” as superwomen. Never before the pandemic had life been “all that” for so many women. I want to call them supra-women for the women who stepped up for people they loved (meaning rising above). They rose above the pandemic and all the losses it entailed to do whatever was required of them whilst keeping and protecting what meant most to them.


We would like to express our gratitude to Shelly Niemand and Tanya Wierzba of Los Angeles for Sharing their insights and wisdom for this article