Here we are, in the grips of a third lockdown, and once again schools have been shut to restrict the spread of Coronavirus and we are home schooling again. Parents are expected to grasp the role of educator once more, as well as juggle all their other responsibilities and demands of working from home, housework and shopping, caring for elderly relatives, dog walking and still find time to look after their own mental health and wellbeing.
Many parents will tell you that they really struggle to support their children with learning. In my experience, parents often admit to beating themselves up for failing to engage their child in learning, but there are many reasons for this relationship being difficult. Firstly, the dynamic is complex. It’s extraordinarily hard to step from a parent role, which is nurturing, loving and physically affectionate at the same time being a disciplinarian, mentor and role model to one of teacher, learning supporter and instructor. It’s an almost impossible balance to achieve. And that’s before we factor in the issue of motivation (that’s the child’s, not the parent’s!).
You need to manage your time in a way that retains your sanity! Whilst we’d all like to be superheroes, the reality is that there are only so many hours in a day and, right now, it’s expected that you fit in a sizeable chunk of your child’s learning on top of everything else. The Government have ‘suggested’ that each primary child should have 3 hours a day of learning during the weeks they’re not in school due to the pandemic, and 4 hours a day for secondary students. Some schools have managed, through a combination of live sessions, pre-recorded lessons, downloadable worksheets and learning tasks and independent learning activities to meet these targets. Some have not. Some schools are really struggling. Many parents have employed an online tutor; this isn’t practical or realistic for many, but there are still a large number of free activities available to children learning online. Putting this altogether in a structured format is no easy task.
How are parents meant to juggle 3/4 hours of learning with perhaps 3 different ages and year groups, combined with challenges around special needs, whether academic or behavioural? You can’t, is the answer. All you can do is do what you can. And stop feeling inadequate because you feel you’re not handling home learning as well as you think you should. Allow those feelings of self-doubt to run away with the bath water, after you’ve had a long, luxurious soak to congratulate yourself for getting through another ‘school’ day. Or there’s a real chance of ‘parent burnout’ – another expression which I’m sure will be added to our English dictionary along with other pandemic related words such as: unprecedented, lockdown, furlough and social distancing.
For those fortunate enough to have ‘support bubbles‘, use them! They are there, and allowed to be there, to help and support you. Don’t feel you’re failing because you have to rely on your mother, father or friend to take the helm for the odd morning each week. We are all human and with that comes all our ‘humanity’; it’s ok to need a break and it’s ok to lean on someone else.
Where all learning has moved online, one of the more common issues parents have experienced is the lack of household devices. If you have several children all needing to learn at the same time, this can prove difficult. According to a recent report, 40% of households have limited access to the tech needed to participate in online learning, including a working printer or even stationery and craft materials. And how difficult is it for a secondary student to learn using a phone? There are initiatives to help with this. The London Grid for Learning have a scheme to supply the hardware to those who need it, EE, O2, Three and Vodafone have promised free access to Oak View Academy’s online lessons to those households struggling with their broadband and/or data restrictions and you can even access Microsoft Teams and Google classroom via a PlayStation or Xbox. Yes, really, you can! Even the BBC have laid on both primary and secondary lessons through their mainstream service as well as their sister channels.
My advice to you is to set up a strict routine. Children need structure. That’s why they work to a timetable when in school. Factor in regular breaks for drinks, snacks and exercise. If you can, set up a learning space which is comfortable and free from distractions. And mix it up a bit; learning is not all about formal activities. Reading, playing Scrabble, dominoes and even talking to each other all boosts skills and knowledge. Non-tech tasks are now more important than ever within your child’s learning world. Small children might enjoy imaginative role play, older children might enjoy putting together the dinner (under supervision of course).
Lack of socialisation is hard for children, especially as siblings don’t always get on together, so ensuring your child interacts with others can be a major headache with schools closed, extra-curricular activities cancelled and no friends over to play. Look for imaginative ways to help your child stay sociable, talk to them, encourage them to discuss things which are important to them which in turn will support their mental health and decrease their chances of isolation.
Whatever home-schooling throws at you, think about it as a challenge, not a chore. Think of it as a chance to do something different, to build YOUR skills. And most of all, think about it as another way you can help your child grow and develop, academically, psychologically and socially.