Updated: Feb 13
A huge part of my business is social media, I therefore don't really have a choice but to look at it every day (even if I did I'm not sure I'd find it too easy to step away, I'm a self-confessed addict!) but during this lockdown I'm probably spending more time on Facebook and Instagram than I ever have before. It's hard not to when the weather is so dull, and at times the days seem to roll into one.
With each day that passes I am seeing more and more of my friends and clients struggling with the pressures of educating their children at home. It really makes me sad to see so many struggling, physically and mentally with the additional workload of parenthood at the moment. Overnight we have gone from being just parents, to friend, teacher, peer, classmate, PE instructor, and at times, therapist overnight.
That might sound like an exaggeration, but for lots of us our contribution towards our children's education usually stops at making sure they have practiced spellings once a week and read a short story daily.
Last March we were thrust into the alien world of home-educating. Only it wasn't home-educating at all, it was remote learning at best. I know lots of us embraced this additional time with our children, blessed with amazing weather there were plenty of days spent enjoying being outside, having fun in the paddling pool, and the attitude and approach to any work done at home was mostly a relaxed one.
Fast forward to 2021 and here we are again. Anxiously tuning into the 8pm announcement to see what fate our future would hold. I like so many, sat glued to the television, anxious to hear if schools would reopen the following morning. I have to admit, I was not expecting to hear that schools would close the following day. I had spent the Monday (an INSET day at my sons school) ironing uniform, and preparing reading bags and PE kits ready for his return to school. I know I am not alone in having ordered new uniform especially for the start of term, and topping up the school dinners account for the next 3 months.
But here we are. A decision about or child's education that we were not responsible for, but are duty bound to make the best of. I know we are all facing different challenges as we adapt to this new role of teacher, our situations are unique but our outlook doesn't have to be.
It doesn't matter what resources you have available to you, if your children work from their own laptops in their own bedrooms or you have 3 of the little lovelies fighting over one device round the kitchen table. Our challenges may differ, but we are united in that none of us chose this. Not for our children, and not for ourselves.
I am a firm believer in having a positive mental attitude. I really do think that "looking on the bright side" of things can really help.
Here are just a few things that I am trying to remind myself daily, it doesn't always work - but for the most part it has kept me sane over the last 4 weeks!
Choose the structure that works for you. Keeping to some sort of routine and structure similar to the school day is what the schools are recommending, but this won't work for everyone at home. Don't feel under pressure to have the kids up dressed fed and ready to start learning at 8:30 every morning. When you're working from home or if you have a shift worker living in the house it's not always possible. So be kind to yourselves, and stick to the structure that works for you. If it's routine, that's great and it will make the transition back to school easier when the time comes if it's not then enjoy this time off and make the most of the lay ins while you can!
Accept that you don’t have to do EVERYTHING, every day. Schools know that parents don’t all have the knowledge and skills to teach effectively – teachers are human beings, they are parents too and they know that this has been thrust upon us unexpectedly, and most of us were not prepared. However, we are all good at SOMETHING! We all possess valuable skills and knowledge in one area or another, make the most of this time and teach your children what you are good at. My eldest got a keyboard for Christmas, it's been years since I played the piano but the basics never leave you so we have been using the extra time at home to work on a new skill together. If you are good at drawing spend time doing that. Most children jump at the opportunity to get creative given the chance. Youtube workouts and Just Dance count as PE. Baking can be adapted to include basic maths and measuring. Tell your children about places in the world you have travelled to, or plan to go to in the future, Geography - tick! Chat to them about important people you admire from the past and the impact they had on the world, History - completed! All of these things are educational, not all learning is done from behind a desk, so if the desk-life isn't working for you then don't be afraid to shake things up abit!
Be realistic over timings. Your teachers will give you an idea of roughly how long each piece of work should take your child. It will vary depending on their age, my 7 year old has been advised to spend between 30-60 minutes on each piece of work. If it's taking longer than 60 minutes or he isn't understanding it, then we move on. There is no point in your child spending hours over a piece of work, they (and you!) will only end up getting frustrated, and that's not a productive state of mind for learning.
Give them choice. Every morning I read out Jake's work for the day and let him choose what he'd like to do first. It gives him back a little bit of control, when so much has been taken away and I find he's a lot more motivated to get the work done when he's chosen which order he does it in. He started off choosing the "easier" tasks first but now he's realised if he gets his Maths and Literacy out the way early there is usually some Art, Music or PE to look forward to in the afternoon!
Don't beat yourself up over screen time. Jake is spending more time in front of a screen than ever before, anyone who knows me knows I'm not a big fan of tablets or screen time for children but they get to an age where it's inevitable and during lockdown I'm finding it unavoidable. His favourite thing to do at the moment is play his close friends from school on his Nintendo Switch, he looks forward to it every day when he has finished all his schoolwork and it's a fantastic motivator for him. It's the most contact he has with any of his friends from school and I felt so much guilt over taking it away from him each day. I've now set a daily limit using the parental controls via the switch app so it shuts off automatically when his time is up, I can choose to extend or restrict his time as I see fit. I've accepted increase screen time is inevitable at the moment and am trying not to beat myself up over it too much! I make sure he goes outside once a day and gets some form of exercise so as long as there's balance, it really doesn't matter.
"It takes a village" use them where you can. The old saying is "it takes a village to raise a child" and it's so true. It's even more true that it takes a village to educate them. Even in Primary schools teachers aren't responsible for every single subject, Jake is in Year 3 and has separate teachers for PE, Music and French. His class teacher leads the remaining subjects. Schools recognise that one person can't be good at everything, and we should too. If you have a grandparent who's strong point is Maths get them on Zoom/Skype/Facetime and let them take control of a lesson for you. They will probably love it, and you might find your child responds better to someone who isn't Mum or Dad! You can apply this to anyone in your circle. Lots of people are at home, furloughed and bored - make use of them! They will most likely be happy to help and it relieves some of the pressure from your own workload. Teaches are also still in work every day, and are there to help. Don't be afraid to contact them to help you with anything from explaining a method of learning to giving a reluctant child a pep talk. They are only a phone call or email away, and know what they are doing more than we do - use them!
Accept that we aren't in the same boat, but we are in the same storm. This is a big one for me, I've found myself getting frustrated at times by seeing constant negativity from the same people, usually the most negative people are those who have the most resources and help at their disposal. It's easy to get sucked down into comparing our lives with those around us, but this isn't a competition. It's not always necessarily easier for people who have help from grandparents, or those who have a partner to come home and relieve them of their duties at dinnertime. Having one child is sometimes harder than having 3. It's easy to look at other peoples lives from the outside and think we have it better/worse, but we never truly know what is going on behind closed doors or what struggles people are facing.
Looks like I wasn’t the only one fed up of home learning!
I take my hat off to all those working from home full-time and educating simultaneously, a huge part of the work that keeps my business running is done from home, around my children - and I have to confess I usually confine it to naptimes and bedtime because it is virtually impossible to get anything done efficiently when they are under my feet! I really don't know how you guys are doing it, you are all superheroes.
Single parents who don't get to hand over to somebody else come 6pm - WOW, you're amazing.
People with multiple children of different ages, the idea of doing what I do with Jake x2, x3 or more blows my mind. I don't know how you're juggling it all, but keep going, you are doing an amazing job!
Parents of only children, it must be really tough being your child's teacher, parent AND only playmate during this time. You must be exhausted but your children will have the best memories of this time with you.
Remember, above all, this is not forever. Our children will go back to school, they will catch up, they will run round a playground and play tag with their friends again.
This situation is temporary, its an unexpected blip in our child's education but it doesn't have to be the end of the world. Instead it can be the start of a new one, one where we better understand our children as learners, one where we know more than ever before about the structure of their school day and the content of their lessons. We will leave this experience better equipped to question our children about their school day, we will be able to better help with their homework, know what methods and resources work well for them and what doesn't. We will have spent more time with our school-age children than ever before. We will never get this time back, take each day at a time, make the most of it when you can, and when you can't ..... just start afresh the next day.
To steal a quote from the wonderful Sir Captain Tom, "Tomorrow is a good day."