This morning my eight-year-old climbed into bed with us and started playing connect the dots with the freckles on my husband’s back. He said, “Dad! I can see a triangle on your back. It’s a perfect constellation.” He and I then proceeded to find parallelograms and trapezoids and discuss the difference between circumference and diameter–all on my husband’s back. 

My husband had no complaints. He got a back tickle out of the deal. And I was thrilled–it was clear that despite being outside of a formal classroom setting for the past five months, my son had retained a lot of what he had learned. Maybe I am overreaching a little bit, but the sentiment remains: kids are naturally curious and learn at every opportunity, even when they aren’t in school.

We have been incredibly fortunate through this pandemic; we flew back to Canada from Northern California shortly after school was officially out for the summer and went into hiding at our cabin in the woods north of Toronto. We knew there were inherent risks in our return. My husband is immunocompromised and we had heard about how non-residents had been vilified and ostracized by locals for fear of bringing the novel coronavirus to their small communities. Unlike many of my friends back in California, we had a place we could quarantine and both of us are able to work remotely. It is definitely a point of privilege I do not take for granted. 

I knew the change of scenery would be a salve for all of us. I just didn’t realize how beneficial it would be for my boys who span eight years–from eight to sixteen. 

Without the trappings of a gaming console or even a television and no WiFi to speak of (save for the internet access we require for work), the kids have had to find analog amusement. They have rediscovered the entertainment of reading a really good book, the cathartic properties of weaving friendship bracelets, the study of hummingbirds squabbling with each other when they come to the feeders we fill with nectar and the discipline required to study and take a test for their boater’s license. The older boys have also discovered they simply have to pay a little attention to their little brother by going for a swim with him or playing a round of crokinole in order to keep the peace.

My husband has taken up a hobby of identifying various flora and fauna on our wooded property through the assistance of an app. Now when we are outside the kids will poke gentle fun at him and say, “hey dad! I found something for you to make an observation.” While they might not admit it, they are having as much fun exploring our surroundings and learning about the environment we are living in as he is.

Conversations about what is going on in the world and how the world works have turned into multi-day discussions about economics, stocks and a free market economy. 

The reason one wears sunscreen whether it’s sunny or not has turned into conversations about ultraviolet rays. (“Why do old people’s skin get wrinkly?”)

Bedtime is still spent reading a chapter or two before the lights go out….and if we are feeling generous with the late hour, we will wander down to the water’s edge to look up at the millions of stars in the night sky and try and find a planet and maybe a constellation or two.

After 13 years we finally upgraded our propane cooktop and installed a wee stove, which means I can bake now. I think the kids were equally excited about our latest acquisition. The dishwasher is not another appliance–it is often my eight year-old who knows that he gets a “boost” to his allowance the more chores he does around the cabin.

For good or bad the kids have also learned about what a virus is, the miracles of modern medicine and how vaccines work. They also know, from all they have learned, that their father is at a disadvantage if he were to contract the virus.

There have been no complaints about the need to maintain social distance when visiting friends and family or the limits set on their outdoor social interactions.

That is why when we do venture out, it is customary for the kids to grab their masks and ask if I’ve packed hand sanitizer. They have been conditioned to follow this new routine and they do so without question. 

We have made the cabin our home base while in Canada. It used to be a weekend escape from the city, making the trek through northbound traffic hoping to squeeze as many hours out of the weekend before heading back to our office jobs in the city. Now we take refuge from the visual reminders to remain six feet apart, wear a mask and sanitize our hands and the constant barrage of news about infection rates, particularly south of the border.

While this summer has been anything but normal we know it will be memorable. And while learning in the outdoors doesn’t replace learning how to interact with classmates or learning how to manage relationships with peers and teachers, it has sparked curiosity in all my children and for that I am thankful.

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