I was contacted recently by a dear friend who I haven’t seen in many years but who has – like many other parents around the world – been thrown in the deep end of homeschooling during a pandemic. Actually, homeschooling isn’t the right word. Another friend used the term “crisis remote schooling” and I feel this is much more apt, because much of what we’re all doing now isn’t really homeschooling at all.
I’ve always loved homeschooling and we’ve homeschooled since my eldest started kindergarten 8 years ago so the concept of keeping the kids at home to complete bookwork is not new to us, but I’ve seen so much anxiety and concern around this sudden change and I wanted share a few thoughts and ideas which I hope will ease the burden a little for you.
First of all, I want you to understand that this is not normal, happy, healthy homeschooling.
Nothing about this situation is particularly “normal”. In many cases, parents are out of work, a family’s entire support system has gone completely virtual and we’re no longer allowed to mingle… Our kids can’t see their friends or go to the library or attend music lessons in real life. They can’t visit grandparents and cousins or play with neighbours in the street or do the weekly grocery shop with me. They can’t attend church or go to the skate park or to the cinemas or meet friends for chip sandwiches and a kick of the footy. Or go to science fairs or do that work experience they had lined up.
Most schools have been able to provide online delivery of lessons and resources so that’s one way in which the pressure has been eased a little for parents, but at the same time, some families are finding the overload of resources just too much. If you fall into the latter camp, I would strongly recommend speaking to your child’s teacher about perhaps scaling back a little or using this time to work on specific areas that your child is struggling with.
It must be incredibly disconcerting to have a schedule that’s been working well and that everyone understands to suddenly have that schedule completely discarded and of little to no value as you navigate having the kids around for 6-8 extra hours a day.
I’m not an expert by any stretch but I hope that some of the tips I’m going to share will be practical ways to start slipping into a new normal, even if it only has to last for a few weeks.
We start schoolwork at 8 am and are always finished by midday. For the most part, my 13 year old does her own thing and the big boys (11 and 9) are also quite independent. I help each of them individually with their English, but they do the same spelling list, Spanish, science, PDHPE, etc. They all do Maths Online as maths has never been a strength of mine and it takes the pressure of immensely to have 50 minutes per child sorted with very little input from me! I do everything with my 8 and 6 year olds but they’re also reaching the point where they can start doing some stuff on their own. The 3 year old pretty much just draws or colours in the entire time the older ones are doing school work. Here are some activities
to keep toddlers busy while the bigs do their work.
The kids know that if I’m helping one child, then the other child who needs help with a subject has to just move on to something they don’t need help with (ie, handwriting or a morning chore) and I’ll help them next. It’s definitely a juggle, but not unlike any other aspect of parenting when you have more than 1 child per available parent.
Setting realistic expectations with the kids about how much you can help each one will help to ease the pressure on everyone.
Non-screen based activities
I know how hard it is to find non-screen based activities for kids, but it’s particularly important if most of their lessons are being delivered online. We’ve just had the kids music lessons moved to online which is pretty tough because they love their music teachers and seeing them every week in real life, but hopefully this curve will start to flatten soon and we’ll be seeing the light at the end of this tunnel.
I’m a huge fan of board games and feel it’s worth investing in a good stash. Ticket to Ride is probably our favourite, but Scrabble is great too, especially if you can tie it in with their spelling list. There are some good history/geography board games too.
It’s important to keep the kids active as well, so bike riding, gardening, woodwork, small animals, baking (maybe get each of the kids to perfect a certain family meal each month) are helpful activities that get their bodies and minds working without tech input.
I’m hearing most parents find their kids power through the work they’ve been given from the school and then have nothing left to do so this could also be a good time for them to hone a hobby or learn a new skill. Ask them what they’re interested in and see if there’s some way you can facilitate their development in this area.
Working from home and homeschooling
I run my own business so I am lucky enough to be able to set my own hours and work as much or as little as I want, so this information probably won’t help if you have to meet specific timelines and requirements from an employer.
I usually work in the afternoons between 1 and 3, so the kids are finished their schoolwork by this time and they’re free to do their own thing. While the weather is perfect, this is quite easy as they’re generally outside. When the weather cools down it’s a little harder, but they have lots of board games, an insane amount of Lego and musical instruments, plus each other.
Even if you don’t work from home, it’s important to maintain some time during the day in which the kids can do their own thing so you can do yours. It’s vital for your wellbeing but also helpful for them to be able to create their own fun and fill their own time.
I think the biggest thing that’s going to get people through this time is realising that they don’t have to replicate school at home. Even if you wanted to achieve this, it’s almost impossible and pretty stressful! I really feel quite strongly that the kids will learn more from how we deal with stress and change and uncertainty during this time than they’ll learn from any lesson plans that are sent home and we have to be super aware of how the kids are handling the change, because some will breeze through it while others may really struggle.
If, in the future, you need to look at homeschooling as an option for one or more of your children, please don’t let this brief experience impact on your decision. In real-world homeschooling, we have a large, eclectic support network, our children have many and varied friends, dozens of extra-curricula activities, events and lessons to choose from and are able to be involved in the community, on a daily basis if they choose.
If you’re that family that’s been thrown in the deep-end and is expected to educate your kids now on top of all the other stress you have going on, please know that what you’re experiencing – what we’re all experiencing- is not normal, happy, healthy homeschooling. It’s protecting our families during a pandemic and it looks and feels weird because it is weird!
It’s ok to be struggling with it all.
We’re all in this together.
Remember to breathe.