The Effects of COVID-19 on Children and Their Families

A+family+photo+of+Krysten+Gentile+%28far+right%29+and+John+Gentile+%28far+left%29+with+their+three+boys%2C+Bradley+%28middle+left%29%2C+Christian+%28middle%29%2C+and+Dean+%28middle+right%29.%0APhotographer%3A+Stacey+Zarro+Photography

Stacey Zarro Photography

A family photo of Krysten Gentile (far right) and John Gentile (far left) with their three boys, Bradley (middle left), Christian (middle), and Dean (middle right). Photographer: Stacey Zarro Photography

Nicole O. '20, Reporter

School closures have been a huge effect of COVID-19. Usually, only older students are thought of during this time. High school and middle school students have the advantage of being able to easily meet with their teachers, do class work, and still hang out with their friends on a virtual level.

However, elementary school children are not able to do the things that the older students are able to do. They have a disadvantage of not being able to work technology on their own or to hang out with their friends outside of the classroom.

Kaitlyn Dechant, a senior, has a younger brother, Cayden, who is currently a kindergartner. Dechant explains that Cayden typically meets Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 11am. 

On Mondays and Wednesdays, “They’ll do math, like subtraction and addition, with a white board. The teacher also tells them to write certain sentences out with their word of the week.” Dechant says that they can only do those particular sorts of things mainly because “they can only do so much.”

Similarly, Krysten Gentile is a mother of three boys, two of which are in school and have to do work on a regular basis. “Bradley is in Kindergarten in Public school, his teacher has everyone meet once a week for 30 minutes. He also spends some time with his reading specialist once a week for 30 minutes. He’s not really thrilled with the reading. Christian is in Pre-K 3 at a Catholic school and he has had a few sessions with his class over the past 2 months, which is absolute mayhem. Because of this, his teacher is scheduling one on one calls every two weeks or so for 15 minutes,” says Gentile.

For Cayden, he and his class will have a fun day every Friday. “They’ll do little dances or the teacher will say things and they’ll have to go around the house on a scavenger hunt. Last Friday, they did a show and tell with something random that they could find around the house. Sometimes the teacher will let them talk to all of their friends since they can’t see each other,” says Dechant.

However, Bradley and Christinan both virtually meet differently than Cayden. “When they meet with the entire class they typically do a scavenger hunt (“go find a ball” “find a toy that begins with the s”) or it’s a show and tell. Bring your favorite stuffed animal or show us your pet.  The teacher will mute the class, then unmute when they call on someone. There’s approximately 20 students in each class. When Bradley is working with his Reading Specialist, she will share her screen and walk him through site words, letters and have him work on sentences,” says Gentile.

Other than video calling with his class, Cayden does get school work to do on the other days of the week. Dechant says “The teacher sends a bunch of stuff during the week that they have to send in. He does religion, a flip grid, and he has a bunch of books that he needs to read. My mom or dad will record him answering questions about the books that he reads and will have to read the book back.”

Bradley and Christian both have outside of class work as well. “Outside of the classroom is different for them both. Bradley has a packet of “homework” to work on math and reading. He also has online activities on a website called Seesaw. These are interactive sessions where he can use his finger to write letters and numbers. He prefers this over the packets of work. The teachers will also send fun videos for him to watch on YouTube. His teacher likes to send videos just to check in and say hi. For Christian, his teacher sends videos and papers to print out,” says Gentile.

A big issue for children during this time is the motivation to do their work. Children are being asked to do a whole school day’s workload at home. One big thing is that children are expected to be able to combine their school life and their home life, which is already hard enough for adults and older students.

Dechant explains that Cayden is not a fan of the at home work whatsoever. He seems to not mind doing the math and English on video calls, but “With homework, he is screaming because he wants to watch TV. He hates it. He is always saying how he misses his friends and wants to be with them. I think he definitely misses school and that’s why he doesn’t like [online and at home school] because he wants to go back.”

Gentile furthers the point that this is a very challenging time for children because Bradley and Christian both have a difficult time focusing on their work. “Bradley really struggles, and honestly, I dread doing his work with him because he really does not care. He wants to be playing with his brothers. It breaks my heart and I hate getting frustrated with him,” says Gentile.

Trying to keep young kids on top of their school work can be very difficult for those who have to look after them.

Gentile says that she is very concerned for her oldest, Bradley. “I feel like I’m failing him in comparison to the stay at home moms who can make more time for homeschooling. When I do talk to other moms, the general consensus is that they feel the same way I do. The expectations are a little too much. I’m a maid, a chef, a nanny, a teacher and I’m expected to work 40 hours per week.”

Dechant is still regularly attending her own classes, so she often has to show up late to them because she has to be on the video calls with Cayden due to her parents being at work. “I just kinda sit there and make sure he is following the directions. Like his teacher will make them use finger spacing when writing sentences, so I’ll make sure he does that. I basically make sure he is actually doing the work and participating and not just doing something else.”

There is also a lot of concern among the children’s families that they are not progressing as much as they should be. This is mainly due to their short attention span and the lack of social interaction.

“The teacher sends out letters about how he has progressed. He just got one back saying that he is on track. We can see that he is reading better and that he is writing better. Like he is not losing any education. I think it is more about not interacting with other kids,” says Dechant. 

Dechant also thinks that his education might be a little set back when compared to previous kindergartners’. “It’s just different online. I mean, he probably zones out most of the time now. Even though the chart says he’s improving, I feel like he’ll never have that experience that I did as a kindergartner,” says Dechant.

Gentile expresses that she is concerned for Bradley because of his disinterest in the class when compared to his other classmates. Gentile also says, “I decided to hold Christian back. It was a really tough decision, but it turns out he is much younger than most in his class anyway.”

Other than the concern for the children’s education, their families are worried about their lack of structure. Since these children lack going to school, attending sports practice, and partaking in social events, there is no set time restraints on them.

“Cayden used to get up around the time my sister and I would leave for school. Then when he would come home, my grandparents would help him finish his homework. All my parents would really do is read him a book and then he would watch TV with them before going into his own room and going to bed,” says Dechant.

Similarly, Gentle says, “A typical day used to be very regimented and scheduled for them. They knew exactly what to expect and like their routines.”

“It’s definitely been a lot harder keeping him on a schedule,” says Dechant. Cayden’s new day starts with him waking up at 9am, him eating lunch much later than he used to at school, and him doing his homework a lot later because he does not have the motivation to do it. 

On top of that, “He doesn’t really sleep at night and goes to bed at like 11 o’clock. He sleeps on my parents floor almost every night. At this point, everyone just doesn’t know what to do. He is not on a routine schedule,” says Dechant.

Bradley and Christian’s change in their typical day is a bit different, but it is still a vast contrast to what it used to be. “It revolves around me and their dad’s work schedule, which both differ every day. We squeeze in school when we can and it’s usually in the evening or on weekends. I wish I had more time to get Bradley’s work done during the day, but it’s just not feasible. Hopefully this will help them become more flexible in life going forward,” says Gentile.

Since children are at home every single day, it may be easier for them to become bored and out of ideas of what to do. On the flip side, this can also make them become a little bit more creative with how they choose to spend their increased free time.

Dechant explains that “Cayden is absolutely bored out of his mind. Like he makes it a point to tell us every five seconds. It also has gotten to a point where he eats out of boredom. He’ll say that he is hungry all of the time, but it is just because he is bored. Also, me and my sister can go get coffee or something, but he literally cannot leave the house. I mean we sometimes bring him, but my parents don’t really like it. They would rather him stay at home.”

“Other than that, he mainly does his own thing, but I feel bad. I mean, me and my sister would have had each other if I was in his situation. He doesn’t have anybody else. I’ll often bake and make him pancakes or waffles and we’ll both sit here and eat together. Personally, I have also been watching a lot of Dance Moms lately, so he’ll watch it with me. This morning, actually, he came into my bedroom and asked me if I was watching so he could watch with me,” says Dechant. 

She also says that her and her family will try to watch a movie every night for him. However, she says that “We’re trying, but there is only so much that we can do without getting annoyed with each other.”

Gentile says that Bradley and Christian seem very bored at home. But, Gentile does say that “One positive that came out of this is that they can find ways to entertain themselves more easily than they did before. They know mom and dad have to work, and can’t rely on us as much.”