Mom Hacks, Special Needs

What Is A “Pandemic Pod” And Should You Consider One?

students working together in a pandemic pod

I’m a working mom with a school-aged kid. Since March, my husband and I have been engaged in the tightrope act of living at work while also being teacher/parent/counselor to our daughter. A lot has changed since school and pretty much all extracurricular activity was abruptly closed in March. We’ve had some wins, A LOT of fails, and a few adjustments for the better—all things considered.

One of the biggest realizations we had early on was that we couldn’t be an island. We not only desperately needed support to stay above water, but we also needed community to keep us tethered to something. So after lots of open dialogue with friends and family we started to expand our bubble.

It wasn’t easy and there were lots of stops and starts, but we now have a set Pandemic pod. 3 families—6 adults and 5 kids in total. We lean on each other for errands and child care. We socialize regularly. If someone has a family member that wants to visit or if one family is planning a road trip, it’s something that needs to be discussed with the pod. Quarantine periods are established, shifting of responsibilities happen, new lines of comfortability are drawn. Everything is an ongoing conversation.

Is it exhausting? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Naturally, our pod has become laser-focused on how we can transition our summer quarantine pod system into a schooling system. There’s no escaping it. This school year is going to be challenging. It’s right around the corner and a new set of questions and conversations have already started.

Our school district has started to trickle out plans but nothing is set in stone. One thing is clear: there’ll be educational holes that need to be filled. And we know we need to pull together a real education plan—and fast. All parents are between a rock and a hard place right now. The system of “winging it” that we had in March won’t cut it for the long run. For our kids, or for us.

Why a Pandemic Pod for School?

We’re looking at our pod as a home-schooling hybrid that builds a bridge to the school ecosystem currently reeling from COVID-19. Forming a pod in the summer was in response to isolation. A School Pod goes a step further by incorporating education into the socialization mix.

In the middle of the sudden shut-down, we didn’t have much of a choice but to forge the new world of remote learning alone. It wasn’t easy. We began to fray trying to fill one-too-many roles in their children’s lives. The kids struggled too. They missed their teachers and their peers. The community part of the school is at the heart of what makes school work.

By turning our Pod’s focus onto schooling, we’re not only bringing together our collective resources (time, skills, money), we’re also reforming the essential components of a school community in the face of a pandemic. We can’t replicate the typical classroom experience with the fantastic teachers at our school, but we can do our best to support our kids’ education, however possible.

How to Form a Schooling Pod?

Just like with the Quarantine Pod we formed over the summer, over-communication and aligned viewpoints have been critical. That said, we formed our Schooling Pod with even more intention and consideration, mainly for kid’s ages and educational levels. You could start by proactively reaching out to your circles to see who would be interested in forming an educational co-op for the school year. Luckily, the pod that worked for us in the summer works for us during the school year. However, that may not work for you. Places to look include:

● Your School Community Group
● Neighborhood Association Groups
● Local Parenting Groups
● Child Activity Groups
● Church Groups

Always start with an open dialogue and discussion to gauge if it’s a good fit. This is a completely new situation for everyone and it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all. The first step is starting the conversation, sooner rather than later.

Things to Consider When Forming A Schooling Pod

That initial conversation needs to be thorough so everyone involved can be on the same page from the very beginning as families build a new system together. Ours was tough to get through, but I’m so glad we spent the time working through the details. Consider setting a focused agenda like the following:

  • Desired Goals of Forming a Pod
    • What’s the #1 thing you want to get out of forming a pod? Is it elevated education? Is it supplemental social development? Is it simply to support remote learning?
  • Grade Specific Needs
    • What level are the children involved at? Are there certain areas that need more focus? Are there multiple age groups
  • Incorporating School Resources
    • Will you be participating in any virtual or in-person sessions? Do you want to follow state/federal school guidelines/curriculums or consider building your own?
  • Resources
    • What can you bring to the Pod? Time, Money, Space, Skills? Be realistic.
  • COVID specific questions
    • What are the hygiene and social distancing practices you should address when considering expanding your bubble for any reason?
    • Additionally, you need to have clear plans for if anyone in the pod is exposed.

Hiring Support for Your Schooling Pod

Remember, you can hire someone to support your Schooling Pod. Our pod is most certainly looking to bring in some outside help. During our initial discussion about goals, there was a common theme that certain subjects were MUCH harder to teach as a parent (**cough, writing, math, cough**). Outsourcing someone to fill in the teacher/tutor role can help mimic the school experience and bring another voice/perspective into mix. Additionally, it’s an excellent option for working families. Working parents, like us, are not able to commit loads of time to educate the kids, but we’re able to pool our resources together to hire someone.

Using a platform, like Sittercity, allows parents to customize what they’re looking for. Post a job that outlines pod specifics that have been discussed like:

  • Number of kids involved and their age ranges
    • How many kids a child care professional can manage depends on their experience and personal comfort level. Additionally, the CDC recommends limiting class size to groups of 10 or fewer.
  • Your ideal schedule
    • Will it be full-time in-homeschooling? Part-time to cover the days the kids aren’t in their physical classrooms? Will it be just a few hours to supplement virtual learning?
  • Specific educational requirements
    • Do you need a subject-specific tutor? Someone with teaching experience or a degree in educational development?
  • A competitive rate
    • Pooling together your monetary resources gives more room to offer a competitive rate that will attract the best talent. Remember, more kids = more compensation.

There are a lot of unknowns and variables at play. But there’s also certainty in the fact that humans are incredibly adaptable. We, as parents, have a lot on their plate, but support is out there. It’ll just require most of us to think outside the box, lean on the village, and call in help when we can.

From our pod to yours…Good Luck!

To read more about education during pandemic times, click here.