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In 2020, the concept of distance learning became a familiar one to parents of school-aged children and, with that, came the sobering revelation that we are not nearly as tech savvy as we once thought. After all, there’s nothing more humbling than needing your five-year-old to show you how to navigate Google Classroom. But with so much of our lives now taking place via video chat, some moms chose to take their new role as IT expert and roll with it.  

When Bridget Clark, a mom to a 10-year-old girl in Tappan, New York, became the leader of her daughter’s Girl Scout troop, she knew that the majority of their meetings would be virtual. She taught herself how to use Google Classroom to keep track of badge requirements and tech projects like making career vision boards with Google Slides. “It’s been a great way to use the technology for a fun reason, but also one that I know they can manage as fourth graders,” says Bridget, who says it took her a few tries before she figured out how to create custom documents for each girl to use. “I look at it as an opportunity to blend the skills they’re learning through school and reinforce their value. We can’t wait to get outside for a hike, but when we do, we’ll have fun songs to sing, thanks to YouTube videos and digital lyric sheets.” 

Two kids using a laptop

Even if your kids have gone back to in-person learning, chances are they’re still getting extra screen time, given that their activities probably haven’t reached pre-pandemic levels just yet. Facebook Messenger Kids was a lifesaver for so many, especially in the early days when socialization was abruptly shut off with anyone who didn’t live in your house. “I’ve watched my daughter and her friends play Barbies, color in coloring books, and make holiday decorations while on the app,” says Kristina Turcio, a mom of a six- year-old daughter in North Branford, Connecticut. 

Caribu, a video chatting app for kids, took video chatting up a notch by letting users read, draw, and play video games while on a call. Maggie Marton, a mom of two daughters in Carmel, Indiana, heard about the app from her own mother, who signed the family up for an account and created standing dates with her grandkids. “My older daughter, Violet, meets with her twice a week to read, color, or play games for an hour,” says Maggie. “It’s like having a babysitter for those two hours each week because Violet is so engaged that I can focus on other things!”  

Kids doing homework with parents

FaceTime, the  video chatting app that we used before Zoom, Houseparty, or Google Hangouts were a thing, provided plenty of virtual play dates, and made us all feel less guilty about extra time on the tablet. “My son would FaceTime his friend and play WWE figures or Minecraft and talk at the same time,” says Allison Paul, a mother of two boys in New City, New York, who relaxed her rule on only allowing her kids to use FaceTime to chat with their grandparents. “It was the only socialization for months.”  

As of this writing, my own kids are mostly back in school in person and remote learning is slowly becoming a distant memory. While I’m eager to go back to the days when our lives and social interactions weren’t dependent on a screen, I’m also grateful for the tech skills I picked up along the way. And I will be forever grateful to the circle of parents who introduced us to Facebook Messenger, which became a lifeline for my kids and their friends in those early days when in-person social interaction ground to a halt. Now if I could only find that Google Classroom password.  

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Michelle Hainer is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, InStyle, People, Good Housekeeping and more. A former teen magazine editor, Michelle’s covered everything from pregnancy to peer pressure, but these days she writes mainly on the subjects she is most passionate about: parenting (she has two children, from whom she draws loads of inspiration) cooking (she loves finding new ways to make her favorite meals healthier) and of course, eating (she’s never met a potato or a piece of dark chocolate she didn’t like.)

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