What we've stolen from our kids

But even for children whose needs are less physical, school is often their entire external world. It is a place where their relationships are not dependent on their parents, where they try and fail and then try and succeed. School is where they make friends and mortal enemies and friends again. School is where my children are not my daughter or son; they are themselves, figuring out who that is every day.

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I am not a developmental psychologist; I’m just a mom. But it has always seemed to me that headlong, unstoppable forward development is the normal state of a growing child. In the same way that a shark that is alive must swim, a child who is alive needs to be in a constant state of movement and change. When the forward motion stops, something is very wrong.

With no school, much of that progression, that learning, that schoolyard negotiation—in short, much of a kid’s life outside their house—disappears. And it is becoming clear to more and more of us that much of it may be gone for a long time.

One friend, a longtime teacher, told me: “We’re having trouble deciding whether to open schools, because we don’t agree on what schools are. If you’re optimizing for academic learning, a lot of teachers think you should keep kids at home and make remote learning work for more kids. If you’re optimizing for child care, maybe you go for in-person learning in small pods for K–5 while letting grades 6–12 stay at home. If you’re optimizing for giving kids a meaningful social environment, you absolutely need kids to be back in face-to-face environments.”

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