With the new strain of COVID-19 rampaging across the country, the nation’s parents, or at least those in London (for now), are bracing for another round of home schooling.
If you are one of them, this most likely is not the way you envisaged starting off 2021. With the trauma of last year’s home schooling still fresh, you may have, understandably, shed a few pre-emptive tears of despair. Many of you will yet again be attempting the impossible task of juggling work and educating your children.
Looking back on how the first lockdown happened, with parents assigned the role of teacher almost overnight, with scant resources and even fewer teaching qualifications, I wish the dominant narrative had been to simply be together. To not worry about formal learning. To throw out the homework and the expectations. To focus on happiness and wellbeing and a sense of security for the kids in this uncertain world.
Going into this next period of home schooling for many will be even harder than the first. Gone are the uncharacteristically hot, sunny days of last Spring and Summer, and here we all are stuck at home, again, in the January gloom.
Last year, I too was thrust unprepared into the world of home education. Like many women worldwide, I had to stop my career to focus on the kids being at home. At first it was really hard. All those worksheets with little communication from the school and the sudden loss of any time I could call my own.
One morning I had well and truly lost the battle with the worksheets and getting the kids to stay sat and concentrating at the table. Instead of studiously working down the list of additions, the kids were sliding down the stairs on their duvets.
With a lungful of air ready to scold, I paused.
The noise was so joyful. They were playing together, they were working out which duvet was best to slide on, they had apparently done a risk assessment and placed a pile of pillows at the bottom, they were taking turns and best of all they were laughing, uncontrollably.
From that moment, at only a few weeks into lockdown and despite my fear that they would “fall behind”, I ditched the school-set work and we haven’t looked back.
Gone were the arguments, the tears and the frustration. Gone were the schedules and rules. Gone were the random pointless tasks they were asked to do to show learning.
What appeared, in addition to my son’s mullet hair style, was the idea that my kids know how to learn and can learn by simply playing and experiencing. I developed a new respect for them and a joy for watching and helping them explore the world and follow their curiosity. I grew to trust their innate desire and ability to learn.
Without being asked, my son began to pick up books. Long books, ones with no pictures, fundamentally, books that he was interested in. He developed a passion for all things aviation and he read, researched, drew, wrote, calculated, invented, created. This was the boy who, at school, had begun to refuse to write saying “I’m a failure. My writing is too messy and my spelling isn’t good enough”. By May he was writing chapter adventure stories about fighter jets, learning to code and had voluntarily picked up the guitar.
My daughter learned to bake (much to our delight). By the summer, and at 5 years old, she was pretty much independently keeping us stocked-up with psychedelically-decorated Victoria Sponge cake. Between the caking and imaginative play, one morning I found her at the kitchen table with the ukulele having found a YouTube video to show her basic chords. I was speechless and full of pride. I still have no idea how she entered a search term that got her what she wanted.
Gone, then, was the idea that my kids would “fall behind” without formal schooling.
For those of you faced with the news that Primary Schools will stay closed after the Christmas holidays, I know it’s only temporary, but if at all possible I encourage you to embrace Winter as a time for comfort, cosiness and restoration.
Basically, set very low expectations surrounding productivity and achievement!
I appreciate that this might be difficult. The school will likely set work and may expect it all to be done.
If you can though, I suggest you be together, play and have fun. Find out what your kids want to learn about. Talk about the world, about their ideas and dreams. Tell stories, go for walks and drink hot chocolate with marshmallows.
And yes, Netflix is fine too.