COVID-19, summer break, and restorative practices
The World Health Organization has declared the COVID-19 emergency officially over. Let’s reflect on the past few years and look ahead to summer break. How can we pursue restoration?
KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. Our mission is to come alongside you, learning and laboring with you as you disciple kids and teens through culture and current events. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes.
JONATHAN BOES: Hello!
KELSEY: Together, we want to model conversation and apply tools you can use at home or in the classroom. We would love for you to send in your questions for us to address in future episodes. Please send your questions to email@example.com.
JONATHAN: After just over three years, the World Health Organization (or WHO) has declared an official end to the COVID-19 emergency. By the time you’re listening to this, the news will have been out for a few weeks. But today, we want to use this as an opportunity to look back, to see what this long and difficult season meant for us as parents, educators, and disciplers—but also to look forward. Summer break is here. How can we use this post-pandemic season, this season of rest between school years, as a time of restoration?
KELSEY: So this time last year was my first convention season. And it was the first season for many to be in person in such large numbers. I mean, it was such a shock to my own system. I had the precious opportunity to lead workshops through that convention season, just like this one. Last year, I thought, it is such a good moment for thinking about those challenges we faced during the pandemic season. And I use it to teach a little educational tool about structure and support that we use to meet with challenge. But at the end of those workshops, I just heard from so many people who were encouraged by the opportunity to reflect back.
So the May 5 announcement, it’s now another moment with this official end to public health emergency on the global scale, that we can look back. So drawing out this learning we have been experiencing, maybe even naming it for the first time, and maybe grieve, heal a little bit more from those things that happened in that season. And it’s really not for the purpose of dwelling there. So if just by knocking on this door, and suggesting that we reflect—if it’s starting to kind of trigger you, I want you to know that our intention is not to just roll around in that and dwell there and be characterized by that season, but instead, to see the Lord’s faithfulness and to pivot towards the next season with reflective intention.
So I want to invite you to think all the way back to March 2020. How old were your kids? Where were they in school? What grades were they in, if they were in school? What were the biggest challenges you faced that year? What losses? Or what loss did you experience? What measures did you take to try to mitigate those challenges and losses? What worked? What didn’t? Why? And what are the joys that surprised you, the blessings that the Lord met you with in that season?
So we want to invite you to reflection by showing you a little bit, telling you some of our own story. We’re not going to, like I said, revel in it. But we just want to share some of our own observations from which we’ve been learning. Jonathan, do you mind answering a couple of those questions as we launch?
JONATHAN: So I’m trying to remember exactly how old my kids were at the start of the pandemic. I believe my oldest would have been four, my youngest almost turning one. And there were definitely challenges in that year. Our oldest kid was still in preschool at that time, so we didn’t notice a lot of immediate academic disruption. But certainly, the whole social context was disrupted. Before the pandemic, we would have people come over and hang out our house. We had a book club, and that became disrupted during the pandemic. You know, people became angrier about everything. It seems like a time of great social turmoil where definitely, you know, there were friendships that were strained or even broken because of people butting heads. It’s hard to quantify exactly how that related to our children, but certainly, in that loss of relationship, your kids lose something as well.
But there were joys in the midst of it, time with family, and—speaking for myself—at that time in my life I was on staff at a church, and one of my primary jobs was media production. And so we found ourselves scrambling to create an online service when we thought we couldn’t meet in our building anymore. And it actually pushed us into new realms of creativity, finding new ways to do things. It was actually quite an incredible experience in that sense. So there was some joy in it. But definitely, you can look back and count some of the hard stuff as well.
KELSEY: It’s interesting—as you reflect on your story, I find so many touch points with my own. My husband was working in a church at the time. Now, it was a different vocational expression for him. He had been hired to lead small group ministries. So it was so dependent on that in-person experience, expression, programming. When we switched over, what a crazy time to try to think creatively about how to create community, in an in-person sense, because we kept trying to do something where we were at least showing up for neighbors, knocking on doors, sharing our number. We had moved just in the eight months previous to the pandemic, in order for my husband to take this job. So it was new schools for each of my kids. We were excited, until that point where all community and all vocational expression was interrupted.
So the challenge for us, oh man. I have a ninth grader—I think of them in terms of the grades that they were in, and that helps me to track. I saw you doing the same thing. It was hard to track their ages, because we lose perspective. And that makes this exercise so much more important, because it helps us to remember those things our kids were doing, the developmental stages they were in. So my eldest, she was 15. She had just started at a new high school. My middle daughter was in seventh grade. And my youngest, she was in preschool too, because she and your eldest, they line up in age. And she was so excited. My youngest is such an extrovert. And so for her, I think that was one of the most painful experiences. And by nature of the fact that was painful for her, also for the rest of our family. She was just needy for those places of learning that were social for her life.
And so yes, the need for creativity, which interestingly—just like you said—lots of blessing came out of thinking in different dimensions about how to be who we are called to be faithfully in those instances, how to structure our days differently in a way that was still healthy, and gave our children a chance to be children, and how to serve the church in that moment. I just really appreciate reflecting on that myself. So listener, we encourage you, maybe even pause and think about some of these questions as you look back. But I also want to think about, what does it look like to be in this particular place in culture, and where culture is looking back? So not just the personal reflection on the past, but also reflecting and seeing the way our culture surrounding us, the world surrounding us, is reflecting on what happened, as we’ve even seen in some articles titled, the way they’re “counting the cost.”
JONATHAN: Definitely. It seems like there are new things in the headlines almost every week about the effects the pandemic is still having, whether those are health effects or social effects or economic effects.
KELSEY: I see so much that has been related—of course, because it’s my area of passion—I’m seeing so much related to concerns about education, and a sense of loss. Testing results roll out at different times of the year. I think we’re anticipating more testing results in the next month or so from the public schools and standardized tests. So I’m watching as educational reports unfold and mention the delays.
JONATHAN: And late last year, I believe it was in the news, that there were record low math scores reported from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and schools and teachers trying to figure out what to do with that.
KELSEY: I love that you brought that one up. I want to camp out, in fact, in that specific area for a minute and unpack it a little further. Because it was interesting to me to think about how math in particular was getting the short end of the stick, and to see the various different ways that solutions or interventions were proclaimed as the way to go. What did you notice? Did you see that article? What did they suggest there in terms of some of those interventions that they proclaimed as the way to go?
JONATHAN: So actually, the World and Everything in It covered some of this last year, some of these attempts that schools and teachers and even companies like Duolingo have been making to really hammer home math improvements. We see Duolingo creating a math skills app, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funneling more than a billion dollars towards math-related grants, even schools trying to lengthen the school year and the school day to be able to fit in more learning—all in an attempt to bolster this all-important subject of math. And now we’re seeing, more recently, there was a piece in the Conversation, suggesting that actually this hyper-focus on math in an attempt to regain was lost during the pandemic has now brought its own problems. Because it’s taking the focus away from subjects like art, which might immediately seem less important to some people. But if you look at the data, art classes are actually strengthening kids across the board, giving them something they need that improves their performance even in other subjects.
KELSEY: So yeah, it’s interesting to think of the different tone in each of these different articles. You know, I noticed with, “Let’s make an app, let’s increase school time, let’s increase the school year,” I noticed really a tone of urgency and anxiety. And it’s really prevailing in much of the reporting on these things. But then, I noticed as well, and I’m synthesizing some of these observations with, where are we in this moment? What are we seeing in reports? So many educators have chimed in and pushed back against that sense of urgency. We have some educators who are kind of stirring the pot of anxiety, but we have other educators and educational psychologists who are saying, “Hey, wait a minute, everybody learns at a different pace.” There are multiple different dimensions of our learning. There were things that received the benefit of that crazy time we call our pandemic time. Even if we’re seeing, also, some territory that needs some attention, needs to be regained. And so the sane voices, the calm and non-anxious voices, are really broadening our perspective and helping us to think through multiple different dimensions, and we can really taste a different flavor in the way that they speak.
JONATHAN: And that’s so good, because there are a lot of anxious voices. There are real facts. The test scores are facts. But the way they are spoken of, the way they are discussed—so often there’s a tone of defeatism. There’s a message almost like we’ve done this irreversible damage, we’ve failed entirely, we’ll never make it out of this. And when you express those facts with that tone, with that sense, with that defeatism? Yeah, I think that stokes anxiety. And that makes you want to do something drastic right away and rush into an urgent response, maybe without stopping to take a breath and think through it.
KELSEY: It’s interesting to think, you know, we are given this fight or flight response for a reason. And I know there are other F’s that go in there, like “freeze,” or there are a couple other ways we respond to that adrenaline in our system. But it’s so interesting to me to connect to what you were saying about the turmoil, the emotional and social turmoil that arose during pandemic times. And it’s almost as though we don’t know how to function unless we sustain that sense of anxiety and fear. You know, we’re trying to prompt one another towards action.
One of the things that happened with me during the pandemic is, I actually had a cortisol crash. So much stress, so much trying to have a good response. My husband lost his job during the time. So you know, our stress went really, really high. I had a cortisol crash that came with two days of debilitating migraine. I couldn’t get out of bed. When we have an anxious or a sustained anxious response, we end up either crashing or being paralyzed, ultimately, for good reflective action that is wholesome.
So we’re making these observations for ourselves, for you who are listening, for the sake of—again, I’m going to use this phrase—reflective intention rather than urgent, anxious, maybe even knee-jerk responses. So what activities do you most closely associate with this sense of urgency or spirit of fear? What activities in the news, or what is proclaimed to be “this is the way to solve this problem?” Did you notice some of those?
JONATHAN: I think just drastic measures, seeking to make sweeping changes. The idea that something’s not working, so we need to make a big change, and I think almost it can even slip into a disregard of things that have worked in the past.
KELSEY: And I noticed—we’re going to return to this again—but almost an anemic “This is what’s important, nothing else is.” We’re only going to look at these two things in order to make sure that our children are intact.
JONATHAN: Utilitarianism, ultimately. The idea that what is useful—you know, these test scores are going down, what is the easiest and most efficient way to make those numbers go back up? We lose a sense of the whole person and we focus on “What button do I need to press to make this number that means everything climb higher?”
KELSEY: It’s interesting to think, again, adrenaline can also make our eyesight narrow. It’s like we only see what is most important for our survival. Our focus narrows. It’s one of those weird functions that chemically happens for us. I love that you also mentioned, we’re losing sight of the whole person. And so a healthy return, a wholesome return, is a return to thinking about whole person and whole communities, and moving with this understanding of maybe a restorative work.
As an educator, I firmly believe in this concept of restoration and renewal. Because we have been made in this unique place as human beings where we grow, and we change, and we develop. We don’t start complete. We move into greater and greater completeness. One of the things I most wish to offer right now is this encouragement, that no matter what the apparent setbacks or test results say, no matter what they’re saying in terms of this snapshot of kids learning, no matter the delays or the cost, there is always hope for growth. There’s always the opportunity, in Christ and by His Spirit, for healing, for renewal, for a future. Because our days are in His hands. So for the remaining portion of this episode, we really want to camp out in that idea of restoration, or restorative practices. And so here are some things we have noticed in reports, in the news, in educational journal articles, things like that.
JONATHAN: Yes. So just to recap, we started by reflecting on the pandemic season, what that meant to us personally, what we saw change in culture, what was reported in the news, specifically about education—what it means for our kids. We’ve talked about the tone that often carries, of defeatism, anxiety, urgency, and how that narrows our focus and maybe drives us to make unwise decisions. And now we’re turning our minds to a more restorative view. What have we seen that we can turn to in hope of restoration and healing, as we’re coming into the season of summer, when a lot of us have more time with our kids and families, and our kids have this less structured time where they’re out of school? How can we use this time in a restorative way?
KELSEY: One of the things I’ve noticed, particularly in the older daughters in my life—I have one who’s graduating now, the one who was in ninth grade at the beginning of the pandemic, she is closing up her high school career. And I’ve noticed increasingly, they are dependent on computers and even often online classes. This has become more and more the tendency as we pivot towards summer. One of my desires, that I see even reflected in many wise counselors in their words, is to move away from the digital towards the analog, towards the tactile, towards the in-person. And so, a great article that I read was in the Journal of Play. It’s an article with a somewhat depressive name, where it’s talking about how the loss of play is associated with psychopathology actually. So in this great and very accessible article, honestly, he discusses how a return to play is so necessary for emotional health, for mental health for our children. So I’m noticing voices like his stoking that appetite and that sense of “Okay, go into this world; go enjoy it.”
JONATHAN: Yes, and that article was by Peter Gray. And absolutely—if you’ve listened to our podcast for any length of time, you know that we are not anti-computer, anti-technology people. We often talk about the goodness of man’s ability to create technology and how we can use technology like computers—even artificial intelligence—well. But yeah, the importance of real things, and the tactile. During these last few years, so much has gone purely digital, just a person and a computer or a person and a phone. And maybe there are times or even seasons where things have to be more digital for whatever reason. But ultimately, people were created for real things. We’re not just information receptacles.
I think about C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. I think I’ve earned another C.S. Lewis reference. It’s been a few episodes since I referenced C.S. Lewis. But I think his line from Mere Christianity is, “God likes matter. He created it.” In Christianity, we can often be very information focused. You know, just give me the facts I need to know. And computers, the digital, it’s all about information. It’s basically information coming directly to our eyes with as little interface as possible. But God created things for us to touch and feel. Even in worship, we have baptism, we have communion, we have things we feel and eat and drink. God knows that physical things we can taste and touch and see are so important to educating and shaping a whole person.
KELSEY: Yes. We use this term more and more nowadays—you’re probably familiar with it—that we are “embodied creatures.” The Lord has affirmed that from the beginning, made for us to engage with His world in the sense of it being matter and us being made of the same matter. So to go out, to be encouraged to go out and graze words, to just encourage free play with no agenda, to go out and explore the world and to behold it. I’m thinking in our Christian terms of asserting dominion over it, learning how to engage the world that the Lord has made through experiment and through seeing how it responds to our actions in it.
JONATHAN: The quote I loved from Peter Gray in his article was: “Free play refers to activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken”—here it is—“for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends that are distinct from the activity itself.”
So the idea that play is not as effective if we are telling our children to go and play so that you will have strong bodies and healthy minds and get the rest you need to work. We’re going back to utilitarianism then. Actually, the most beneficial play, according to Gray, is when it’s pursued just for its own sake, just to play. That is true play. And I think that brings us back to what you mentioned: structure. At least what I perceive is that, during the pandemic, a lot of structures were just obliterated. The usual structures people knew, whether that’s school or work or even church, suddenly were free floating. And the response to that—again, that urgent, anxious response—I think was often to heap structure back on. Just build structures.
KELSEY: That was me. That was absolutely my instinctive response to the high challenge. I was thinking through these ed frameworks that I was given about, you know, how do we ensure that challenge is not too great, that it doesn’t send you into this miseducation zone, where disequilibration is sustained for so long? It’s just like sustaining that adrenaline for too long. It becomes something detrimental instead of something that encourages growth. Because challenge, we don’t grow without it. But if we increase the structure so much, then it also becomes a part of that challenge. And it smothers learning.
JONATHAN: I’m just encouraged by the idea that, as we’re going into summer, our kids just playing and resting for the sake of playing and resting without us even having to insert some kind of agenda into that—that is actually so healthy for them, not just for their bodies, but for their minds and even their souls.
KELSEY: It’s an invitation, I think is what I want to say there, to us as adults to enter into that play with them. Jonathan, if you’re willing, I’d love for you to share something you learned when your kids were really young, because it was such an invitation for my own heart.
JONATHAN: Yes, and I wish I could remember where this piece of advice came from. I don’t remember if it was a sermon or a book. If somebody else has encountered this exact thought and can source it, reach out and let me know, because I’d love to be able to attribute this correctly.
But when our oldest daughter was still a toddler, from somewhere my wife and I received the advice that, when you play with them, don’t always be directing. Don’t always be going from “Now we’re going to do this; now we’re going to color; now we’re going to build blocks.” Don’t always be setting the agenda. Actually let your child direct the play. Let them take you where they want to go and decide what they want to do. So instead of us setting out activities all the time, actually just letting our daughter take us to the toy box, and seeing what she wanted to play with. And that really revolutionized the way we played with our kids. And it was so much healthier in a lot of ways, and it helped us to connect with them on their level.
KELSEY: It’s helpful to hear you say that, because even though it presses into so many places of my own failure as a parent, it also has such a promise of joy that can be found, a chance for curiously moving into those places and trying something new and reaping the beautiful benefit of abandon, in some ways. I think of that term “abandon” as relates to the Lord and our relationship with Him. When we’re in a relationship with Him, it’s not for all the benefits. If we’re doing that, then we’re also treating Him in a very pragmatic way instead of in a relational, quality way. He wants to know our hearts. He already does, but He wants us to bring them to Him, and to fall into Him with this sense of abandon because He’s safe and big. And He’s also not safe at the same time.
KELSEY: Yes, here we go, my turn. It’s this opportunity to know and to be known fully, and to grow more and more into the ways that He has in His most magnificent of imaginations. So you just tickle that fancy in my mind, that there’s this opportunity for more growth, and joy, and just relational reveling. That’s where we want to revel—not in all the past harms or costs, but in the future and the future hope.
JONATHAN: What I love about this is, we can honestly reckon with the things that have happened. We can say “Mistakes were made. We’ve depended too much on the digital. We’ve lost chances to learn.” But we don’t need to end there. We don’t need to live in that. We don’t need to be defeatist. We can instead look to the future and see—there is restoration; there is hope. There are things we can do, that are not only duties we have, but are so joyful and such a good work to participate in.
KELSEY: So as the educator again, in this moment, I want to do the coach thing and ask you: Now that you know what you know, now that you’ve heard what you’ve heard today, what are you going to do with this next? How does it set that reflective intention for you? Here are a few more questions that you might meditate on as you think about pivoting towards summer and thinking through next steps:
How does this discussion in particular influence your plans for the summer? How does it encourage or challenge you? For me, I can, as I said, lean way too much into structure, and I need to ask myself: Where can I make some more room for play? For rest, for exploring, for joy? For renewal? How will I lean into that curiosity that we talked about? And how will you lean into that, looking for the Father’s hand instead of applying our own hands so heavily that we squash the potential out of the next few months?
We are made for these rhythms that we’ve talked about before, of work, of rest, of play. How can you engage these rhythms? And how can you stoke the curiosity in your children with the same joy and with hope?
Let me anchor us today in the idea that part of our work is rest. From Hebrews 4:9-11: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest.”
JONATHAN: It’s such a great juxtaposition of striving and rest. Like you said, rest is part of our work. I also thought of Joel 2:25-26: “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.”
KELSEY: And He delights to restore us, just as He delights to equip us for our work. So parent, teacher, mentor of kids and teens—we are so delighted to encourage and come alongside, and remind you again: He has equipped you for the work.
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