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Our home-school portal is up and running

The menacing coronavirus consumes our collective thinking. I have found unanticipated daily respite. Perhaps my story can enhance yours.

Every day at 5 p.m., our 7-year-old grandson calls us on our Facebook Portal — an 11-inch screen placed on our kitchen counter to provide multidimensional access to the world. Our youngest grandchild approaches learning with unfettered gusto. And he misses the teacher he describes as “my best friend in first grade.”

So we created a plan. At 5 o’clock each day Jordan calls us on Portal to say he is ready for “school with Nana.” And thus begins 45 minutes of personalized audio-visual home schooling.

My husband found the Portal equipment online https://portal.facebook.com/ and purchased it for Jordan and his parents — as well buying and sending devices to our other children/grandchildren.

That would be the same husband who dons his white terrycloth bathrobe at least once a week to play the role of “Mr. Science” in our at-home-at-a-distance school. Yesterday we had the Portal positioned in front of the microwave for a science experiment titled ”Soap Souffle.” It involved putting a bar of Ivory soap, cut in quarters, in the microwave for one minute and creating a frothy cloud that makes your whole kitchen smell really wonderful and can be repurposed as bubble bath. Yes, there was science behind this, but I am at a loss to explain it. There was a second effort involving vinegar and baking soda and the unexpected inflation of a balloon. It was less aromatic but a definite success.

I have ordered a book titled “The Everything Kids’ Science Experiments Book,” which will assuredly keep the ideas coming. It promises experiments that teach how to boil ice and measure gravity. We are on this.

My own home-schooling responsibilities with Jordan involve something I call “story-spelling.” As illustration, there are usually 8-10 questions. “What is a word that describes what you do on your bike that rhymes with cried? Spell it.” He laboriously writes the answer, circles it and holds it up to Portal’s screen so I can attest to its accuracy.

We are also doing fractions with quartered apples and segmented oranges, and this week’s big assignment is to write an essay describing the downside and upside (pictures and words) of “sheltering in place.” It broke my heart when Jordan previewed his essay with “bad” and “sad” written in large, red, sprawling letters across the page of his spiral notebook.

Other family members are coming on board. Our son in another state is a pilot — not flying much these days but living in a small apartment directly adjacent to an airplane hangar and planning to provide Jordan show-and-tell instruction on aerodynamics. Jordan’s teenage cousins will hopefully teach him all about the cello and the trumpet — perhaps not to play these instruments but to better appreciate people who do.

Auntie Deb, a gifted elementary school teacher, in quarantine herself because of exposure, is preparing a Portal-based class on “How to Manage Anger and Feel Better.” I definitely want to participate in that one — the Portal allows piggyback learning.

We can do this. Let’s do this.

Sharon Johnson is a retired educator and loving grandmother. Reach her at sharon@rbtrv.org.