Deep in Digital

From the 16 March 2020, the schools in Switzerland closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses were also closed, or employees worked from home. During these extraordinary times, we were all using technology for distance education, communication, entertainment, and more. On the ​Family Matters Switzerland​ ​Facebook page​ we posted Deep in Digital,​ a series of small stories relating directly to the reliance on technology during this unusual time. Here is a compilation of those stories.

A Night at the Circus During Lockdown

Last Saturday night I surprised my family with a night at the circus, and we didn’t break a single social distancing rule. After supper I asked, “Who’d like to come to the circus with me tonight?” The mixed look of shock and delight on my five- and eight-year-olds’ faces was priceless. “Quick: go to the toilet, wash your hands, and then come down and pack some sweets into a bag to take with you and meet me in the living room.” There, seating was allocated and we settled down on the sofa for an exciting glimpse into the worlds of the Cirque du Soleil. Silently enraptured for an entire hour, they then went happily off to bed after their “night at the circus” and their favourite acts were the main topic over breakfast on Sunday morning. What a welcome break from the current monotony, and I thank my sister in the UK for the tip about the free link. The normally (understandably) protective Cirque du Soleil is sharing a one-hour show each week as “CirqueConnect.” If you’re feeling really brave, they even have fitness videos! Maybe we’ll see you at the circus next Saturday night? We’ll wave…from an appropriate distance. Join in here: ​CirqueConnect​.

By Michelle Kiener Vogel

Grade Six is Different

Ema, aged 12, has been talking about the last semester of the sixth grade ever since the beginning of the fourth. Those kids — the oldest in the school: organising special trips, testing their freedom, and experiencing the ongoing process of letting go of the place where they spent their early childhood, made their first forever friends, and played with the idea of love…they fascinated her. Now that it’s her turn, it’s an entirely different setup. Her search for freedom of expression, for establishing new boundaries, and the newly discovered potential of girl-boy relationships: all of this has moved online. She doesn’t seem to mind it as much as I do, though. Maybe because, from my own experience, I keep thinking that she is missing out on things, but she is just living her normality and her time. Some days ago we were talking about the changes that the last weeks have brought, when she suddenly said, “I don’t think I have a best friend anymore.” My heart sank a bit. I stood there, quiet, thinking about a way to comfort her, when she continued, adding that they are all equal friends now; all in her class are best friends! There was a new sense of community, I realised. Once again, just as we, the adults, are writing motivational texts and building up apps to encourage the community spirit during these dreadful days, kids are doing it naturally, by using the tools of their times. “Being in this together” suddenly made more sense.

By Laura Munteanu

Omi’s Creative Online Project

“Let’s Skype today, Omi?” is a common message in my Facebook chat. Skyping with my young grandchildren (Alex, four and Emily, seven), who live in Connecticut, was already an established part of my Saturdays. But lockdown has accelerated our digital relationships more than I could have imagined. My son and his wife now work full-time from home, while also running their household, home-schooling to some extent, and providing entertainment to their children without playground equipment (a nightmare scenario, in my opinion), the tensions are growing, as are the challenges that seem insurmountable. And there’s no reprieve in view, because Connecticut is weeks away from a COVID-19 peak.

Unable to travel and help them, I initiated some special digital time together online with my grandkids, daily. It is a time when the kids can talk about whatever they like on video chat or through Messenger. Em, my granddaughter, and I play board games together and solve math problems, because she loves math above all else! And although I do talk with Alex, I tend to spend more time with Em, because she has been particularly disturbed by her lack of real school and the absence of her dance classes. Of course she misses her friends, and her class’s virtual school via Google “is OK,” according to Em, “…but I miss school; it’s not the same online.”

Recently, she admitted that she didn’t like the books they were reading in school so we chatted on Messenger about the possibility of our own special project. And so, about two weeks ago, Em and I began to write a collaborative story together. Taking the lead from Em, we made a plan to write a chapter book. She began with a book title and chapter titles, our setting crystalized, and Em added characters — I took notes as she spoke. I realized she had so much creative energy all bottled up just waiting for the chance to get out. Once the plan was set, and yes I mean plan — she is more logical than many adults I know — we began to write our story. We took turns writing each line on Facebook chat and Messenger. Sometimes she would write two lines or we would then change a line; she made suggestions and so did I. It is truly collaborative. Each time we connect online we discuss our plot and characters: what they might feel and think, how they might act, and why. Facebook’s video chat is good for this. We have now finished three of five chapters, complete with a bearded villain and a brash heroine who clash in a colorful ancient setting. And to my surprise, help comes from an unexpected source. We should finish the story this coming Saturday. I can’t wait to share it.

I’ve been surprised at how effortlessly it is going. Em looks forward to our sessions, and her mom says that her mood has greatly improved: “You wouldn’t know it was a learning activity,” she told me. There is an important added benefit: the parents have more freedom to interact with Alex, carry out necessary chores, and of course tend to their professional work. This digital interaction has also contributed to our deep friendship, and we are both learning. I think that when lockdown is over, this is one digital connection we’ll definitely continue.

By Dr Teresa Bingham Mueller

Toddler Screen Time

It’s been a bit strange to adapt to a new relationship with screen time for our toddler, which used to be strictly monitored and doled out in very small amounts. Suddenly, video chats have become one of the only ways he can see and interact with anyone besides his mom and dad. He’s adapted quickly to video chatting and often runs over as soon as we set up the laptop for a call. However, it’s always a balancing act, because he thinks the keyboard is an amazing toy and will try to snag the computer for himself if we aren’t careful — he even sent text messages (featuring such cryptic pronouncements as ” ,.”m..//////‘’\\\{‘]]]’’”) to his grandmother when he was left unsupervised!

Last week, we attempted our first Zoom music class, but he was so relaxed by the music that he fell asleep within the first few minutes. This week, we tried again, and this time he was following along enough to shake instruments and even dance a little in time to the beat. Even though daily life is upended, it means so much to have these happy, silly moments of “screen time” as fun diversions in our quiet new routine.

By Tracy Wellons

I Love Having the Kids at Home

For my kids, it’s the end of Week Six of distance education (as of 24.04.20). Daily at 8:00 the children log on to Microsoft Teams and follow their normal school timetable with their regular teachers leading the lessons. I have a son and a daughter aged 16 and 14 years who are at Gymnasium in the first year of the four-year programme. I like having the kids learning from home; it’s like a daily school Open Day where I can experience what happens in their classes. They are currently at home for lunch everyday (obviously!), so I get to see them and chat with them more often. I cherish this time with them while they’re still children, as it is true what is said about kids growing up so fast.

Before lockdown my kids wouldn’t say much about school. Now they are much more communicative and I feel more involved in their education. They’ve told me they’re currently learning about the Middle Ages in History, birds in Biology and the passive tense in English. During Art lessons I’ve been watching first-hand as they create drawings and a model. For Chemistry I’ve learnt a new term in German and the kids have learnt it in English; the term is Edelgas​/noble gas, in case you’re interested! For French and German, novels were delivered to our door, which they’re now reading and working on. The amount of assessment is greatly reduced, though recently there was a mock test in Maths. There is not much homework for any of the subjects. The kids still haven’t been told if they will get grades at the end of the semester.* I don’t think they’re bothered by this, and I’m not either. Nor am I worried about the small gaps in their current education: everyone is in the same boat, and what they’ve missed they’ll pick up later.

What I appreciate is that during these difficult times of lockdown, my kids can have structure in their day and continue their education in the safety of our home. What I worry about is their mental health, sitting in front of the computer for big chunks of the day. Their down time is also largely spent with a screen. They haven’t been beyond our garden for a couple of weeks, despite my trying to motivate them to go for a bike ride or long walk. Physical Education is the only school subject that isn’t carried out online. The teacher has listed what sport/activities her students should do; these then need to be logged and sent in weekly. My kids have done a bit of cycling, been on the trampoline, unicycled, juggled, done some YouTube workouts and played table tennis, but it’s not a lot and is sporadic at best.

For them it looks like distance education will continue until 8 June. I’m glad they now have spring holidays coming up to recharge for the next round of online school.

Updates: *On 24 April the Gymnasium’s principal emailed us to say that there would be no end of year exams, except for the final year Matura students. Nothing was said about grades. On the 12 May, we received an email saying that all students will be admitted to the next year level. On the 28 May we heard from the school principal that distance learning will continue until the 02.07.20, which is the start of the summer break. That means that our kids have been doing school online for about twelve weeks, excluding the spring holidays.

By Andrea Snashall

Motivating My Eleven-Year-Old

Recently my daughter was getting bored without schoolwork during the Easter holidays, so I decided to make a plan for her to remain as active as possible. At first I thought of making a timetable, but as I know very well, most kids don’t like timetables. Instead, I decided to write down, on small pieces of paper, the names of different activities: read a book, clean the table, play the guitar, practice German, do yoga, and so on. I organized them in three different holders. My daughter was free to choose any three tasks for the day, and believe me, she was so happy to do any of these tasks. Very soon she came up with a drawing (see above) and some other ideas (see photo).

Now there is an easy daily routine that she is able to follow, along with her school homework, which she mostly does on Skype with her close friends. I have the time to learn a new programming language or try a new recipe!

In the middle of this, I do remind her of how Mother Earth is rejoicing with cleaner air and less noise. We surely are making history. Not to forget the relentless hard work of all the medical teams around the world who, with their selfless efforts, are proving the goodness of mankind.

Let’s hope and pray things will soon become normal again.

By Veena

Lessons of the Lockdown

Before the lockdown, I had no idea that the rules of society could ultimately prove to be so elastic and that such reserves of strength could be found. I have watched in awe as tiny groups have coalesced from all over the world — from their couches — to raise funds for the people who have been most affected. As a Third Culture Kid, I am lucky enough to call two countries my home (and indeed a third, if I include Switzerland). As an Indian through and through, I have watched with dismay how the lockdown in India has exposed the stark differences between the moneyed and the daily-wage-earning migrant workers. Equally, it has revealed how the diaspora, as well as those in the country, have tried to band together, to do everything possible to help. I am equally British at heart and I have been following the adventures of Captain Tom Moore eagerly, humbled by his determination and courage. The 100-year-old British army veteran raised over 30 million pounds for the NHS (the National Health Service) by completing 100 laps of his garden with the assistance of his Zimmer frame.

Ordinarily, we like to take snide digs at the digital world, but right now, it’s all that’s holding us together and keeping us going. Because of it, I have been reminded of the wonder of humankind. I have been able to harness some of this mass outpouring of support and generosity for my own children who have had access to everything from coding classes, to illustration classes, science, and storytelling. I have also been pleased to discover that when push comes to shove, we really don’t need as much as we think we do. I’ve heard it being said often enough but now, when it really matters (and we are trying to conserve, because we don’t know what the future holds) I have enjoyed watching my children fall in love again with their old and discarded toys or try something that they never would have tried before. My nine-year-old son is merrily making up fantastical tales about dragons who gobble up bedside lamps, using his sister’s miniature dollhouse and her toys. My nearly-four-year-old daughter has been feistily disrupting each game, proving time and again that princesses rather enjoy ​doing​ the rescuing. I have enjoyed seeing them pick up picture books and retell the stories to themselves, or try out muddled science experiments that never really work but, somewhat in the vein of true scientists, they keep on trying.

There is so much fear, uncertainty, and unadulterated tragedy and trepidation about what the future holds, that for the first time I’m really learning to be appreciative of the present and live in the moment. These clichés and truisms were always clichés and truisms before. It’s kind of heart-breaking that it took a pandemic for me to realise this, but when we do return to normal, I hope it will be a revised normal — one into which we carry the lessons of the lockdown with us.

By Nayana


On the 11 May, nine weeks after school closure, children in compulsory education could go back to the classroom. Older children or adults attending ​Gymnasium/Lycée/Liceo​, vocational school or university were still learning remotely but most cantons returned, some part-time, on 8 June.

Deep in Digital stories compiled by Andrea Snashall

Andrea has been a member of the Family Matters Switzerland team since 2004. For the last 30 years she has been working in education, either as an educator or in community relations. Andrea is Australian, though now lives near Lake Zurich with her family and their rescue dog.

Illustration credit: Photo by Nayana with overlays by Andrea Snashall

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