Homeschooling in a Pandemic

I don’t blog often, but I felt compelled to write about the current situation for homeschooling parents because...it’s shite. Unavoidable and necessary, yes; but still shite.

I’ve been interested in homeschool before. I’m an ex-teacher with a Masters in education, and so the concept of an entirely child-centred education was interesting. I’ve occasionally entertained the idea when my children have had worries or struggles at school, but ultimately felt that they were best off with their peers and teachers and we were best off working. It was the right decision for us, but I appreciate that home-school works really well for some families and I’ve listened with interest when people I know have taken that route.

Fast-forward to March 2020. I kept hearing the news about Covid and thinking, ‘no… this is all scare-mongering, it won’t be that bad.’ Then the schools closed. I was stunned - I couldn’t believe that this could happen! But, I decided to be optimistic. Fortunately, I was in the position to be able to free up time to educate them. I bought a load of activity books and craft materials. I wrote a timetable, made them design a school crest and came up with various ideas such as sharing books together daily. I had this vision of finding out what their interests were and us enjoying discovering how far we could take those. We could take this opportunity to learn and have fun together.

And then the school sent work home.

Homeschool as we see it at present is not the same as what homeschooling kids experience usually. Children right now aren’t able to find rhythms and subjects that allow them to learn in a way that works for them, reaching academic goals but enjoying the process and discovering their own interests. It’s not a decision that a family have come to together and made arrangements for. It's education provision in an emergency. Children are having to do what they would do at school, but at home, and it doesn’t work.

Firstly, parents are trying to balance this schoolwork with their own lives. Those working full-time are performing the ultimate juggling act, fitting in educating and caring for their children around maintaining their own jobs. On top of that we have the usual daily tasks - the washing, the sweeping, walking the dog…I work part-time hours and have a husband with very flexible work and we struggle with it all.

Of course, most parents aren’t teachers. And even those of us that are find ourselves sitting by while somebody on a video delivers dry content and then the kids work through yet another worksheet. In class, children would be moving around, working in groups, using their senses. Asking an eight-year-old to sit in front of a laptop day-after-day doesn’t make anyone feel enthusiastic. And what if you don’t have enough devices for your children (and you) to be able to get on with their work? And while, of course, I understand that for teachers setting work to be done at home is tricky, especially as many kids will have to access that fairly independently while their parents get on, the tasks are unquestionably tedious.

We all know that children don’t behave the same for their parents as they do for their teachers. We parents are their safe space. People are always meanest to those they love most - kids feel able to shout and slam doors and tell you exactly what they think. So when we try to deliver the same information that their teachers do, we get the full force of ‘I don’t want to do it!’

I think the mental health impact of the current lockdown is noticeably greater. We’ve all had enough - the children included. We all miss our friends (and let’s not forget that many kids got a tantalising 24 hours with their peers before the schools closed). In the UK we’ve also only got about eight hours of daylight and the weather is cold, damp and miserable. This lockdown we can’t so easily run off steam in the garden (if we’re lucky enough to have access to one) or go for a walk. Again, we’re met with ‘I don’t want to!’

Yes, we chose to have our children. However, at no point in that decision did we discuss ‘what if there was a global pandemic and all the schools closed.’ We will have made arrangements around our children’s early years, but generally expected that they would go to school and the pressures of life would change. Families’ decisions around their jobs and financial commitments will have been made with that in mind. Sure, we had things in place for illness or a snow day. Suddenly having all of your kids at home, with them not particularly enthusiastic about that fact, was never part of the plan.

Motivating teenagers and ensuring they’re doing their work isn’t easy. Neither is sitting next to a tween and explaining things that we were never taught at school. Having your house destroyed by a bored pre-schooler or tolerating a one-year old climbing on you for attention while you’re on a zoom to your boss…you can imagine. Parents at the moment aren’t having a lovely time cutting and sticking and going for long walks. We’re tired and frustrated and dealing with daily antagonism. We’re trying to support our children’s wellbeing while struggling with our own mental health. We don’t know how long this will go on for and if all this could happen again. Many are worried about their jobs and paying the bills while having to balance that with their children’s needs. It’s a nightmare.

There’s not much of a solution other than a lot of self-care and ranting on WhatsApp groups; we have to do our bit so that we can see the end of restrictions as soon as possible. But, I wanted to raise a voice to explain the pressure we're under, even if there's no way to fix it but to wait it out. However, if you’re struggling right now, I feel you. And when we’re all out of the other side we parents should get some kind of award — and the full-time multitasking parents with small children at home should get knighthoods.

We love our kids, but this is hard.

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