A Dad’s Thoughts on His Child’s Interactions with Brands During Covid

Over this past year plus, my family has been fortunate to have tools and resources that helped us get through this extraordinary time. We know that not everyone has those same things available. Beyond some of the basics like access to school and safe meals, I’ll look back on this time with appreciation for my family’s resolve to tackle each day head on, along with some Monday-morning quarterbacking for things we may have done better.

Now that my wife and I have a vaccine in our systems, it’s starting to feel like this can be a time to “look back on.” While I recognize there’s still work to be done, I can reflect on this time in my role as a dad, what I learned from it, and what helped my family get through it. Because I’m writing about this in my role as a Brand Director, I’ll focus on tools and experiences related to brands and organizations, and what benefits they created for my family along the way.

A Paradigm Shift in Using Technology to Educate Kids

Over the past year, I’ve spent most of my time in a basement. It’s not a bad basement. I don’t mind it. But it’s a basement.

My wife is situated at our dining table upstairs from me. She gets a bit more daylight up there and conducts her Zoom meetings from her iPad, which sits on a Zingerman’s cured meat gift box. (Zingerman’s is a deli in Ann Arbor that puts together great gift boxes. Their role in this story is basically limited to ‘iPad Pedestal,’ but they have a great box design and make really good bacon and I thought it was worth a shoutout.)

My daughter is located on our top floor. While she’s getting back into hybrid school a couple days a week now, she’s let me know that she’ll miss having a couch as her classroom moving forward. For us, the biggest hurdle when schools shifted to remote learning was to maintain some form of structure and stability. Our daughter is in the Chicago Public School system which services hundreds of thousands of students. Finding a common solution for the entire system was likely a herculean task. I appreciate the fact that they landed on Google Classroom as the solution.

Before I go too far on giving kudos to Google Classroom, I will first give credit to the teachers and administrators for figuring out how to use it in a clear and consistent manner. With the strong anchor of those educator brains, my family experienced the benefit of a familiar interface with easy-to-navigate functionality and Google Apps integration. Google Classroom seamlessly integrates with tools like Hangouts, Drive, Gmail and Surveys. My daughter’s teachers can consistently deliver clear direction for at-home learning, facilitate live instruction, and support a clear tracking of progress on assigned work. I’ve appreciated that it’s a system that my daughter was able to learn to use in an intuitive way. She’s developed a great deal of self-sufficiency while I’ve enjoyed a system that allows me to check in with her regularly and talk with her about her lessons.

When schools return to full in-person instruction, my hope and expectation is that education platforms like Google Classroom remain in place to enable a more effective system for students to manage their workloads, for teachers to manage their curriculum, and for parents to engage with their kids on their education. I recently saw that New York Public Schools will no longer close on snow days in the future and will instead treat them as remote learning days. I think shifts like these are a valuable step forward – and it leaves plenty of time for a good snowball fight once class is done.

Making Valuable Connections Between Online and Offline Downtime

It is my express plan to never try and learn how much time my daughter has spent on streaming services this past year. I have a general sense, but I’d probably lose it if I knew the actual number.

There are nuggets that I feel good about sharing with her. Her brain gets engaged and it creates curiosity about things away from a screen. A while back, Mythbusters was pretty much the epitome of this type of inspirational content. For my daughter, it’s Mark Rober. Mark Rober is a former JPL engineer and Apple employee that now makes YouTube videos about things like squirrel obstacle courses.

They’re awesome. As with most content creators, Mark Rober will occasionally hawk some goods on his channel. What I’ve appreciated about his endorsements is that they are very ‘on-brand’ for him, which is to make the intricacies of STEM readily accessible to audiences young and old. We ended up subscribing to one of the products he endorsed – KiwiCo – which provides at-home S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) kits for all ages. To date, my daughter and I have built a motorized spin-art machine, an air cannon tic-tac-toe game, and a mini catapult.

I like when my daughter’s downtime is spent with content and activities that enrich her. For those who create content, this audience-of-one will share his appreciation when you strive to engage her mind, rather than just seek to gain her attention for a view count.

Rediscovering Old Experiences Suited to New Norms

About a month back, we ventured out for one of the first ‘real’ indoor experiences in about a year – the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit in Chicago. This installation has been travelling the globe since 2008, so it is by no means new and was certainly not designed with COVID in mind. Even so, it was particularly well-suited for the protocols and behaviors that are inherent with our collective return.

The installation operates in 19 cities across the United States and opened in Chicago in February. It lets you know about the safeguards they have in place in consideration of Covid: temperature checks, painted circles on the gallery floor to support social distancing and contact tracing measures. The experience was an environment where my family and I felt comfortable and absolutely immersed. The exhibit runs on a 40-minute loop and allows you to be situated in a single, social-distanced location enveloped by the audio-enhanced visuals of Van Gogh. My daughter and I relaxed and lost ourselves in the artwork.

Before COVID, the movie theater was our go-to for random Saturday outings. Occasionally, we would shift gears and head to the Museum of Science and Industry or the Shedd Aquarium. As I think ahead to Saturday outings, I’ll look for opportunities like the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit where we have an opportunity to experience culture in a safe manner.

Preparing for Re-Entry

I know that we’ll never go back to the way things were before this thing hit us. My family’s experiences have changed us and our definition of ‘normal.’ For my daughter, the role of technology has quickly and vastly expanded beyond her daily iPad time and now serves a critical role in how she operates. For our time together at home, we now depend more on content creators to deliver valuable enrichment rather than just filled hours. And as we start venturing back out in the world, we’ll look for experiences that help deliver a sense of normalcy while staying mindful of what it means to transition back to it safely.


Pat is a Chicago-based Brand Director. He’s worked in advertising for 14 years and has been a dad for 9½. Of both ventures, his daughter’s critique would be – “Well, he tries hard.”

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