Proximity Learning in the Age of Quarantine


We’ve all become accustomed to distance learning in the last few weeks. But I have a proposal. What if we try a little (or a lot) of proximity learning?

We may all be RGV moms, but we have kids of different ages going to different schools, preschools, and daycares. Some of us are essential workers and others of us are no longer employed. Some of us are furloughed and some are working from home. Some are single parents and some live with extended family.

I present these proximity learning ideas with these differences in mind; not each one will be feasible for you, but it might help get your imagination going about what’s possible.

If you are at home with your children, here are some tips for proximity learning — teach them what you know while you’re close by. Please feel free to leave more ideas in the comments!

Practice proximity learning instead of (or in addition to) distance learning:

  • Only use screens for learning when you absolutely have to. Remember that the conclusions of the scientific research detailing the harm of too much screen-time don’t disappear just because we are in a pandemic. Use screens for entertainment and connection with family members and leave learning to the physical world (and the world of the mind). Remember that you can question the authority/tools of your child’s school. Administrators are not going to take responsibility for your 20-year old who doesn’t know how to focus because they spent eight hours a day on the iPad doing “homework” when they were 10.
  • Let your kids cook with you or for you. Some kids like to pretend they own a restaurant. Let them make the menu of foods they can make, and then you can be the customer.
  • Show your kids how to sew or crochet or knit or needle-point. This may be the best time for this type of thing since we have no extra-curricular activities to take them to. Whatever you love to do, do it with your kids around. Music? Scrapbooking? Cleaning? Just don’t force them into it; make them come to you. Joy is contagious.
  • Let your kids be bored!
  • Show the kids home-movies and photos from when you were young. Use this time to bond as a family.
  • Institute a special night: game night, family movie night, etc. Don’t do this every night. Make them wait for it and it will be special. Focus on creating memories for them. The key is to put the phones away. Most people mistake taking photos for making memories. To make a memory last, do not take a photo of it. Think ahead of how they will describe this pandemic time. What will stick out most to them?
  • Don’t think of education as “out there” but “in here”: what can I show them about what I know, what I can do, what I enjoy, etc.? Education is infinitely greater than algebra, science, and social studies. Education traditionally means passing along your wisdom and know-how to the next generation, which takes living and doing, and not just thinking.
  • Think differently about formal education. Ask yourself: what does the teacher/school want my child to learn? What are the benchmarks? If it’s learning the multiplication table, then you can have a say in how they do it. Think: what are the goals? instead of what did the teacher assign? Math can be learned through cooking, and science can be learned from taking a walk. My advice is to stay as tethered to the physical world as you can.
  • Read physical books together. The McAllen public library is open for people to pick up books. Order them online and they bring them to your trunk at the main branch location.

One thing I have found helpful is to give children choices at the beginning of the week and let them decide what to do. This includes chores, games, projects, sports, etc. They do much better when we create the conditions and give them a few choices but then they get to have the final say. This doesn’t necessarily apply from moment to moment or you may be setting yourself up for constant change.

Instead, have a weekly discussion about what they want to work on this week. For example, I want you to take on a new chore this week, and I have printed out a list of options. Choose whichever one you would like to learn/do. Note: all of the options should be equal to you, and you should show no preference. As soon as my kids sniff out what I want them to do, it goes to the bottom of their list. We are inherently rebellious, aren’t we?

Recommended reading: Duct Tape Parenting (2013) by Vicki Hoefle. This is one of the best parenting books I have ever read, and it has worked wonders in my house.

Previous articleOn Wednesdays We Wear Pants
Next articleA Silver Lining While Stuck at Home
Mariana loves sandwiches best, although going 95% vegan two years ago means having traded in ham and swiss for eggplant and roasted red pepper. Her boys, Santiago (5) and Sebastian (3), agree that sliced bread is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The boys are native Spanish speakers despite the fact that neither of their parents is, which has made raising them in Spanish a labor of love. Her commitment to raising bilingual children was made possible by being a first-generation Chilean-American born and raised in New York City, and by having spent two pre-kid years living abroad in Mexico City and Salamanca, Spain. Mariana moved to the RGV in 2010 and never wants to live anywhere else. While the kids are at school, Mariana is a full-time Assistant Professor of Philosophy at UTRGV. She has written for the New York Times, Womankind Magazine, and Yahoo Parenting.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here