Today, I attempted to teach my nine year old son to write an email.
Wait, I need to backtrack. My son attends a small private school that is arts and science integrated. The program is exceptional and project centered, blending art, science, and engineering into all subjects. They also teach the children to do everything by hand. They write and edit and rewrite and make final copies of all writing assignments – from kindergarten on – by hand. The school is not technophobic. The teachers have Macs and iPads, and they use tablets for projects like podcasting and research, and for soothing background noise for easily distracted children like my son. They introduced iPads for research and some judicious use of apps for the middle school kids this year. But the ethos is centered on the handmade, whether it be a written report or a handmade art project.
Yet in this new, and hopefully brief, era of social isolation and quarantine, the school has decided that they need to shift to online learning. The faculty are amazing and are enthusiastically embracing all sorts of new technology in order to facilitate learning for the students and assist in their creation of the same calibre of work that they guide in person. We are peppered daily with emails about setting up accounts, new processes, and verifying the level of technology and time available in each home and providing equipment and adjusting individual learning expectations as necessary. First up were email accounts for all students, so that they can access the G Suite for Education, and, once everything is up and running, Google Classroom.
So, as I said, today I decided that the writing part of Literacy class in Mom’s Quarantine School would be to write an email.
My son is not unfamiliar with technology. He can work the various devices to find programs he wants on the TV, and he can whiz through apps like nobody’s business. He has managed to download podcasts and games, and has sort of mastered FaceTime. He has even been exposed to talking to his grandparents on our old-fashioned landline, and sometimes stops holding the phone out in front of him and looking for their pictures while he is doing it. Sometimes when we are getting ready for school, he will swipe my phone when I am not looking and laboriously text his dad or my sister. But in order to participate fully in online learning, he will likely need to email his teachers and type messages in live classes, as well as doing a great deal of work offline. I figured that learning to send an email was a good start.
He decided that he would email his friend, Thomas, who also has a new email address through the school. I showed him how to enter the email address. Then, we got to the subject line.
"What is a Subject?" "That's where you write what your email is talking about." "Ok, I will write 'Thomas.'" "No, you don't write who you are talking to. You write what the email is about." "But my email is about talking to Thomas."
Eventually, we sorted out that he was going to tell Thomas about some pots he made out of salt clay over the weekend. Over the next twenty minutes, he orally explained his email to me several times, and, slowly and with massive difficulty and frequent requests for help with spelling, as well as some freak-outs about Google trying to helpfully finish his thoughts and objecting to his spelling and grammar in a distracting fashion (“Why are there wiggly lines everywhere? What does that meeeeeaaaaannnnn?”), he triumphantly finished his email. It was one sentence long, but hey, he used a semicolon correctly. (Never mind that he called it a “dot comma” when he asked if that was the right punctuation mark to use.)
I congratulated him and pointed out that he should sign his email. Ever so slowly, he did. He proofread it again and thought it was great, until I pointed out that he wrote “what” instead of “want.” He started to backspace through the entire email.
"No! You can–" "Mom!" Arms thrown out in an excellent approximation of teenage annoyance. "Stop! I KNOW WHAT I AM DOING!"
I bit my tongue and refrained from telling him that he just put a period in the middle of his name, and that “Miles” does not usually call for punctuation. I let him do it his way, and walked into the kitchen to make another cup of tea, which is my go-to coping mechanism for child induced frustration. (My mantra is “When you want to scream, make a cup of tea instead.”) (I drink a lot of tea.)
In the four minutes that I was gone, he had sent the email, navigated out of the gmail program, added a tile puzzle game to my desktop, found YouTube, and was randomly watching videos about what it feels like to walk in freezing weather while wearing medieval steel armor.
Sigh. 21st century kids.