As the pandemic lingers on, families are finding ways to allow their children to socialize and learn with others by creating pandemic pods or bubbles. By setting up adhered to guidelines, children can safely play with friends and learn in a group setting, while parents and grandparents get support from the other members of the pod. The Institute for Natural Medicine checked in with a few families – each with their own set up – on creating pandemic pods.
Pandemic PODS (Parent Organized Discovery Sites) typically bring together three to six families and employ a teacher, college student or other adult to assist in their education and childcare. As this idea takes hold, even some schools districts are forming pandemic PODS (read more about that here), as well as local YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, non-profit education organizations and churches (check with your local community and our list of resources below).
One organization, Pearachute is forming community PODS in Chicago and offering scholarships for families unable to pay fees. “Our children missed more than just math and science this spring. They missed the additional growth that comes from sharing, listening to instructions, learning a new sport, and experimenting with new creative mediums. It is our hope that we can combat that loss by bringing children back together,” they write in a blog post (learn more here).
Grandparents to the Rescue
Michael and Margaret Redemer are fortunate enough to have all of their seven grandchildren (between the ages of two and twelve) living nearby in the San Francisco Bay area. When their grandchildren’s social and school lives dramatically changed in March, they made a collective decision to support one another by setting up learning and social pods at their home. Margaret is a former grade school teacher and Michael is known among family and friends as the enchanter, which means his job is to organize fun. During the summer months, they filled a small pool in the backyard with armory of squirt guns. “On hot afternoons, we turn the grand kids loose to get as wet as possible. The grand girls use the pool and the boys have shootouts on the lawn and around the yard,” says Michael. Selective weekends are reserved for girls only sleepovers and the boys only stay over on separate nights to give the parents a date night.
They are now homeschooling 5 of their grandchildren two days a week and the oldest attends a learning POD at a local church. As of the time of this interview, they had just completed the first week of homeschooling. “It was exciting, rewarding and exhausting,” says Michael. “The Zoom thing just does not work for those under about age 10 based on our experience, so we are making sure they get what they need,” he says. “We have found it a joy to connect with our grand kids in an intentional learning setting to see how they process new information and their bright little minds.”
Forming Neighborhood Pandemic PODS
For parents without the luxury of having grandparents nearby, many are forming their own social and learning PODS with the help of former teachers, college students and fellow parents. Nina Damato, who lives in the Washington-DC area, spent one-on-one time in the summer teaching her daughter to swim, ride a bike and cook. But now that school is approaching, she and neighborhood parents formed a pod and hired a teacher who had decided not to return for the school year. The teacher is emphasizing outdoor learning, so weather permitting, much of the teaching will take place outside. “These are stressful times and this pod offers us the possibility to have slightly more control. We are very fortunate that we’ve been able to pull this together. Who knows if it will work but at the moment it’s the best solution for us.” says Damato.
Damato says that all of the parents have agreed to socially distance and have made their wishes very clear during the planning phase of the pod creation. “We’ve come together with the families to make sure everyone understands each other’s social distancing practices, which is crucial to ensuring the safety of everyone, teachers, students and parents,” she says.
Essential for Essential Workers
While forming a pod may seem like a luxury during these difficult times, for some families it’s an absolute necessity. Fern Smith and her husband are both essential workers, which means they need the support not only to educate their twin boy and girl, but to also allow for she and her husband to do their jobs in healthcare and as a municipal internet service provider for the small Massachusetts town they live in.
“Yes, our goal is to weather the storm, but above all, I want my kids to feel secure,” says Fern. “So far, she says they don’t see the chaos.” This is largely because their summer social POD and now school POD of four kids is very structured. “Routine is my best friend,” she says, “but to the kids, it feels like camp. On their first day of school they came home saying it was the best day of their lives.” The teacher is very in tune with the kid’s feelings and self-care is a big part of the lessons. For instance, the students have a box that is used to help them express their emotions with useful toys such as thinking putty, textured fabrics and other items to help relieve stress.
Fern says that it is very important to be respectful of individual situations. For instance, one of the children in the POD has special needs and is particularly at risk. So everyone wears a mask, even indoors, and all safety rules are carefully followed.
When Michael said he began planning the family POD, he and Margaret considered the safety of such an endeavor. He recalled a story from his own family when a great aunt died of the Spanish flu at age 20. Her mother survived, which left an indelible mark. “I think there was some sense of failure in not being able to help her child and she grieved her for the rest of her life,” he said. “When we made the decision as a collective group to pod together, we told our children that if either Margaret and I contracted the COVID flu and God forbid died, we did not want to have any of the kids feel responsible or guilt. We were all making an informed decision and the need to keep our family together was of the highest priority and gives life real zest despite the risks.”
As families make these difficult and monumental decisions, it is clear that for our children and families to remain whole and healthy, we must all work together as a community. In hindsight, perhaps that is the lesson regardless of COVID-19.
COVID Parents Seek Alternatives, published on Real Clear Education This article includes resources on the reinvention of schools.
Pearachute Learning PODS in Chicago / The new initiative called Learning Pods will allow families to sign up for pods for their children four weeks at a time, to minimize exposure and create as much flexibility as possible.
20 Questions To Help Decide What’s Best For Your Kids (And You) This School Year This article is a list of everything to consider as you decide what are the best education and learning options for your children.
Pandemic Learning “Pods” Don’t Have to be Just for the Rich Read how communities of all types are finding ways to help children get the educational and social support they need during the pandemic.
This article is sponsored by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine.
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors.
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine.
Stewart is an award-winning editor, food and health journalist and best-selling author of Eating Between the Lines, the supermarket shopper's guide to the truth behind food labels (St. Martin's Press).