Homeschooling during a pandemic has quite possibly been one of the hardest things a lot of us have ever done.
The first time round was pretty hideous wasn’t it? But we were all so shocked at having to do it, I think we somehow stumbled our way through it in a bit of a blur.
The second time round it felt like everything went up a gear. Like shit just got even more real. Telling us outright that we would be doing this for at least half a term was pretty savage. It felt like forever, and knowing how easily the goal posts and end points change in a global pandemic, there really didn’t seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel, did there?
And what about giving us, ooh, precisely 12 hours notice, that it was going to happen?? I was probably not alone in shedding a good few tears the evening of January 4 2021, after watching Boris’ announcement that schools were closing THE VERY NEXT DAY!
Tears, that quite frankly, have flowed quite a lot over the last 6 weeks. And over the most stupid of things!
Homeschooling has led to frustration and confrontation
The frustration and confrontation homeschooling causes has been ridiculous, and I’m sure it’s the same for everyone.
I’ve recently read a few posts about what people have learned during their time homeschooling – and tips on how to get through it.
So as always, I thought I’d write the REALISTIC version. With, mmm, absolutely NO tips whatsoever on how to get through it at all. Unless alcohol consumption can be considered as one? It most definitely can, by the way. If you can get through homeschooling in a pandemic then you definitely earned yourself a drink, (although you might want an alcohol-free option on a school night!)
10 things I’ve learned about homeschooling – the realistic version
1. There is no ‘good’ situation to be homeschooling a child in
If you know me, you’ll know I’m not a big fan of cliched stuff like #blessed or #ifyoucanbeanythingbekind. But the current one doing the rounds about all being in the same storm but different boats, is in fact one I can get onboard with. Excuse the pun.
It’s true for the whole pandemic isn’t it? Some people have been in absolute dire straits. Others have been pretty alright. But it doesn’t mean that we’re not ALL allowed to feel crap and have a moan.
It’s the same for homeschooling if you ask me. There are huge differences in people’s situations. But unless you’ve actually CHOSEN to homeschool, then they’re all pretty bollocks. Although I’m guessing there are advantages and disadvantages of everyone’s set up. Maybe.
For example, I absolutely take my hat off to people homeschooling different aged kids at the same time. And the thought of having to try and teach something like GCSE maths or physics to a teenager fills me with dread. I couldn’t even understand it when I was a teenager myself, let alone *several years later. I guess an advantage might be that they’re older, more capable, more responsible (maybe?) and could *hopefully get on with a lot themselves? The disadvantage being you have no fucking clue what the question even means, let alone the answer. The technology is way above your head, and you get a call from school asking why your teenager hasn’t logged on for a week.
Homeschooling little kids is frustrating
On the other end of the scale you have someone like me. Homeschooling a five year old in Year One. The advantage? The work is easy. Like piss easy. (Other than that day they decided to floor me with stupid number bond type rubbish just to add two damn numbers together, FFS). But generally I can help the five year old write a sentence containing an adjective, work out simple additions and subtractions using a number line, and teach him phonics ‘special friends’. Though don’t even get me started on Read, Write Inc‘s Rosie (if you know, you know).
What’s the problem I hear you ask? Well here’s the problem. He’s five. Not even nearly 6 to be fair to the lad. He’s FIVE, and has the concentration and attention span of a gnat. He cannot be left to do a SINGLE thing by himself or he just wanders off. He can’t even be trusted to watch a 12 minute video lesson on his own without suddenly conjuring up 5 different Lego mini figures out of nowhere and drifting off into some imaginary Ninjago battle world.
So you have to be on him at all times. Like literally sit on his shoulder. I have to clear ALL items within reach away from him. Even a pencil and bit of paper until he needs it, or he just fiddles with it intently rather than listening to the video. Why do kids FIDDLE so much, FFS?? The number of times I tell him to concentrate in a 30 minute session is off the scale.
2. Three hours actually means five
So this time round the Government has got serious, hasn’t it? None of this ‘do what you can’ attitude like last year. This lockdown the pressure of homeschooling and getting the work done – at whatever stage your kids are – has gone up to the next level. And I totally get why. But it’s massively harsh on parents (and kids), who are trying to get through it all at home.
As set out at the start, we in Year One are being given three hours of homeschooling work a day. It’s not the teachers’ fault who are setting it, this is what they’re being told to do from on high. But what someone somewhere seems to have ignored is the fact that little kids (and big kids probably) will not get on with the work at home like they would at school.
There are ALL sorts of reasons/excuses to not do it, not start it, not finish it. I mean, I don’t actually think my son goes to the toilet a quarter of as much in school as he suddenly seems to do at home. Coincidentally at the start of a White Rose Maths worksheet on ‘greater than/less than/equal to” usually.
I’m sure his teacher doesn’t have to give him countdown warnings every minute or so before he needs to sit on his arse and get on with it. And don’t even get me started on the snack requests, or ‘can I have a break?’ Jeez, don’t they need a lot of breaks to be able to concentrate again? All of this added up basically means that those ‘three hours’ of set work, actually take at least five some days.
3. Trying to work whilst homeschooling is impossible
It’s not rocket science to realise that the biggest challenge parents are facing during this lockdown is trying to work at the same time as homeschooling their kids. Surely it is actually IMPOSSIBLE to do your own job to the best of your ability whilst teaching your children. Or at least it’s impossible to do either very well. But that’s what is being asked of so many.
I am very lucky that as a freelancer I can work around homeschooling, and catch up in the evenings and weekends. I control my own diary, can work when the kids have gone to bed, or even turn work down, but most people working from home don’t have that luxury. Or they’re doing both! I find it incredibly frustrating even trying to answer emails during the day as the five year old won’t leave me alone. Let alone try to do a zoom call or speak to a colleague. Huge praise to everyone that is attempting, and somehow managing it.
4. It’s also impossible to homeschool with younger siblings around
Similarly it is also damn near impossible to get any learning done with your child when there are younger siblings around. My three year old twins are luckily at pre-school two days a week and during that time homeschooling is SO much easier. But on the days they are at home, it is an absolute fucking shit show. A SHIT SHOW I tell you. Anyone with preschoolers in the mix will know what I mean.
You basically spend the entire time trying to ‘get rid’ of them into another room. So that you can have a tiny bit of quiet to engage with the five year old. Because God knows he needs all the help he can get. Whatever you give the twins to do, lasts a matter of minutes. Or they want you to do it with them. They wander back into you every 5 minutes asking for something, or needing a poo. And instantly five year old’s concentration bubble bursts and you have to start ALL over again to win him back.
So you resort to the easiest thing to hand. The TV or iPad. And feel ridiculously guilty over it. The amount of TV watched in this house over the last two months has been insane. The first day I had all 3 at home, I think the television was on for pretty much 10 hours’ straight. The worst ever and I was actually quite upset about it. I’m pretty much over that now. Because unless I was actually able to magic up a second person who was somehow ALLOWED in my house I had absolutely no hope of doing anything else.
Even harder to engage when his brothers get to watch TV
The other problem is when they’re around, the five year old is even harder to engage. If they’re watching Dino Dana, he wants to watch it. If they’re watching Disney +, he wants to watch it. And when I tell him he needs to do some school work, there’s the mother of all meltdowns. Because, and I agree, it’s not fair. Why should they get to sit around watching whatever they want and have the run of the house? When he has to sit at the kitchen table (with me on his shoulder) and learn ‘ew – chew the stew’ or ‘oa – goat in a boat’ whilst his little sidekicks are having fun.
So this means everything takes even longer. To ease tension a little, I find myself letting him watch 5 minutes of it, then he has to get on with it. But of course 5 minutes is usually 10. Then you practically have to drag him away.
The flip side to this is that the twins are being ignored. Like in the first lockdown. Luckily they’re not quite such vandals as they were last time, and my walls have *generally escaped being graffitied. But they’re not getting anywhere near as much attention as they should be getting from me. The Other Half comes out of his office now and again to work on his laptop in the lounge with them, to stop them fighting, but he mostly spends his days on online meetings tucked away. (Not that I’m bitter about that or anything…)
5. Homeschooling involves a LOT of screen time
Whether your kids are having online lessons or just working on a laptop, there’s a shed load of screen time going on, isn’t there? We don’t have live online lessons at all, but all the work is set on Tapestry and videos are posted for us to watch.
So bearing in mind the time the five year old is glued to my laptop, what does he want to do when he finishes? Watch TV or his iPad! No wonder he complained that his eyes were sore the other day. Added to the twins’ Netflix consumption, it’s way too much. But we’re all doing what we can to get through the day, right? And if he doesn’t want to watch something, the alternative is WAY worse. He wants to PLAY!! I mean, seriously, what is this?? I’ve just spent the last hour making you do what should have been a 20 minute bit of learning, and now you want me to make fucking Lego mini figure ninjas and ‘battle’ with them. By battle, obviously I just mean die instantly and let you win. Every single time. Pleeeease just give me two minutes’ peace.
6. Online calls with five and six year olds are hilarious
Do your kids have online calls with the rest of their class? We have a 15 minute call on Microsoft Teams every morning first thing. Sometimes they are brilliant, other times we’ve lost the thread within 3 minutes. Even with this I have to sit next to the five year old to make him stay still, and actually position himself so his face is on camera and he’s not chopped his head off. Which apparently is REALLY funny. Every day.
My reactions are now razor sharp after 6 weeks of practice, in grabbing his arm as he goes to unmute himself to say the silliest thing. When the rule is to stay on mute until told otherwise. It’s like that rule for a five year old is just MADE to be broken.
There is always one kid who thinks they’re muted but they’re not so you can hear the mum having a lovely oblivious chat in the background, despite the teacher repeatedly asking them to turn their microphone off.
The school mums Whatsapp group has at least 4 messages at 9.16am every morning, asking if we’ve been ‘let in’, or ‘has it started?’
And my three best school mum mates and I spend most of the 15 minutes chatting in our Facebook messenger group, having a joke, psyching ourselves for another day at it, or asking why the teacher has got a cat on her shoulder. The highlight for me has been spotting another mum in her pants in the background. Hands down the best bit of Lockdown 3.0!
The kids have to do little games or challenges – like mini scavenger hunts around the house, they’ve played hangman against the teacher, or Higher or Lower. On a Monday a few kids are picked to tell their friends what they did over the weekend. When it was his turn, my five year old conveniently forgot about the two new parks we’d discovered and told the other 60 kids that he’d watched (the no doubt unsuitable) Godzilla the movie. Thanks mate!
It’s also a chance for the kids learning at home to see their friends in school as both classrooms are on the Teams call. Although more about that in a bit!
7. The things we find ourselves saying to our ‘pupils’
Phrases that I never imagined would come out of my mouth are now blurted out on a regular basis. And after chatting to my homeschooling mentors (my 3 closest mates), it seems I’m not the only one to say these classics every 5 minutes:
- Sit STILL!
- You wouldn’t do that in school, so don’t do it at home.
- FINGER SPACE!
- Would you speak to your teacher like that?
- Right, that’s it, I’m emailing your teacher!
- You have just HAD a snack!
- Do you sit on the table at school? No, so don’t do it here!
- I have got your teacher’s phone number now and I will use it!
- I love you but I don’t like you very much right now.
- You don’t get your bum out in registration at school, do you?
- I am TRYING to teach you to read. The single most useful thing you will ever need to know.
8. The whole homeschooling situation is unfair
Okay, so this might set the cat amongst the pigeons, but I’m going to say it anyway. When I mentioned something along the same lines on facebook and on BBC radio I had lots of messages from mums saying they agreed so there are at least a few of you who think the same.
In my opinion, this whole situation is massively unfair. And what I mean by that is that there are ridiculously high numbers of children still going to school. They are by no means closed. Year One at our school on their busiest day has between 27 and 29 pupils in, the teacher told me a fortnight ago. That is almost half the entire year group. It was nowhere near this in the first lockdown, and I can only assume that this is because the Government changed the criteria for who is allowed to send their children.
I’m all for ‘essential’ workers sending kids to school
Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely for frontline and essential workers sending their kids. Of course they have to, they have no choice, and the country needs them to do their jobs. But what I disagree with is how many parents are suddenly key workers who weren’t last time. And I don’t mean just at our school. Everywhere seems to be the same. Companies are expecting employees to work, and therefore have declared them key workers in many cases, so they can send their kids to school. I can totally see the logic.
Taking those who have to GO to work out of the equation, it’s sadly created a situation where there are people working from home whilst sending their kids to school for whatever reason. Then there are others working from home whilst struggling to teach their kids at the same time. Those working from home don’t have ‘less important’ jobs, they just don’t fit the very wide criteria. Obviously most people have absolutely genuine reasons and nobody is breaking the ‘rules’. Sadly I’ve heard of others in different schools who are just plain taking the piss. Including a stay at home mum with a key worker husband who sent her kids in because homeschooling is ‘hard’. Nobody is breaking the rules, but take some damn responsibility and do the right thing. We’re trying to get out of a global pandemic!
So schools aren’t closed at all. Running with almost half the kids in, is making a joke of the whole notion of shutting them to prevent the spread of the virus and to protect the NHS. It’s also putting massive pressure on the schools and their staff.
Kids learning at home are at a huge disadvantage
Forget the rights or wrongs, and of course I’m envious that neither of our jobs ‘fit’ the list. But I absolutely believe the kids at home are at a disadvantage compared to those going to school every day. I know from friends whose children are in school that it’s not the same as normal, and I wouldn’t expect it to be. But the children at home are having no contact with their friends or other kids their own age, no playtime with them, no banter, chat, or school routine. And they’re not being taught by anyone vaguely qualified to do so, whether that’s a teacher or teaching assistant. They’re being ‘taught’ by people like me!
I keep seeing people online say that there shouldn’t be a need for kids to ‘catch up’ when this is all over. Catch up to what, they say. Well, I disagree. As brutal as it sounds, my five year old will need to catch up with his mates who have been getting proper (albeit it probably different) teaching by his ACTUAL teachers. His mates who have been able to use proper learning equipment to do their maths, in an ACTUAL learning environment. In an ACTUAL school. Not at a kitchen table with two three year olds racing around distracting both pupil and ‘teacher’ every five minutes.
And this five year old is bloody lucky to have a parent who can work around homeschooling, and make sure he’s done every single task that’s been set. (Apart from the ‘optional music lesson’. Sod that.) He had a one-to-one phonics assessment online with his teacher the other day. I felt huge pressure that he did okay, and that I’d helped him learn enough over the past weeks to get him through it. It was just as much a test for me and whether I’d kept him ‘on track’ in my eyes. What would have happened if I’d ignored phonics for the last 6 weeks?
What about all the kids whose parents haven’t, through no fault of their own, been able to commit so much time to their children? I’ve read some truly heartbreaking stories these last few weeks about children in some dire situations. Now tell me it’s not unfair.
9. Homeschooling turns you both into emotional wrecks
I think I can safely vouch for both myself and my five year old that homeschooling is most certainly emotional. The number of times we’ve had confrontation and tears over doing the work is ridiculous. And it’s not even just him doing the crying. I think I’ve actually cried the most!
Lockdown with all its restrictions has had an effect on all of us, no matter what situation we’re in. Add homeschooling a five year old to the mix and I’m on the edge, and so is he! Thank God for half term and a break from it as in the run up to it, the meltdowns and outbursts over ANYTHING not just learning, were getting serious. He would literally sob because he couldn’t fit his Lego together properly, or have a completely over the top hissy fit because he’d dropped his spoon on the floor. It’s so sad to watch.
And likewise I’m just as bad (albeit I’ve not yet broken down over a Lego model). You know when you feel on the brink of tears constantly, and that anything could break you? I’ve felt like that every other day in the last 6 weeks! The weirdest thing is that it’s more likely to be the ‘nice’ assembly or lesson videos from school, or the lovely encouraging messages from the teacher, that make me well up. Or when the five year old asks me during a Teams call why there are so many of his friends in school and he’s not, and that he wants to go back…
10. Teachers are amazing. I am not.
Probably the main thing I’ve learned during this whole homeschooling malarkey is just what a crap teacher I am or would be. I have the commitment to get it done, (possibly too much so I won’t give up when really it would be best to) but I have ZERO patience. Like zilch. I find it incredibly frustrating when the five year old gets stuff wrong, and I have to bite my tongue so hard to not just shout ‘But WHY don’t you know what is one more than 16?”
I’m regularly having to remind myself that he’s only five, and that his generation is making history having to do this whole learning from home shit. I am ridiculously impatient when he doesn’t concentrate, and I think a little bit of me actually dies inside when he can’t remember what he learned just five minutes ago. And THIS is why I never wanted to be, or trained to be a teacher. It’s not for me. I know teachers who have said it’s easier to teach a class of 30 kids than one at home, and I totally get that. No child wants to be taught by their mum or dad. Or at home surrounded by temptation and distractions.
My son’s teachers have been incredible since the pandemic started
So oppositely, this situation has made me realise even more how amazing teachers have been in the last year. I’ve always been open about how much I love our school, but lockdown learning has made me appreciate them even more.
Our Year One teacher is fabulous, and has definitely gone above and beyond. When I’ve written that we’ve struggled with a certain bit of work, she’s rung me straight away to come up with a solution and to support us both. Not just the five year old but me as well. She even rang me at 7.15pm one evening and we chatted away for 20 minutes about my hate/hate relationship with phonics YouTube videos. She didn’t need to do that, she could have left me a message on Tapestry. But boy did it mean a lot to me. And all this time, the teachers are having to do effectively two jobs, with so many kids in schools. They certainly have my utmost respect.
And today this arrived from his teacher. A handwritten personal message on a postcard of the school. Every single pupil will have got one. That’s 420 children. They didn’t need to do that, and whilst the five year old was a bit ‘whatever’ about it (whilst trying not to look super proud), I was over the moon. Talk about going the extra mile because they care about the children.
So there you have it. If you’ve got to the end of this long and waffling rant, you deserve a Lockdown Learners Award. Gold Star for you!
Think that safely sums up what I’ll be taking away from this very strange period of our lives once it’s over.
Oh, and also, is anyone else’s ENTIRE camera roll filled up with home learning pics, and absolutely sod all else?
DISCLOSURE: This post may contain links I have been paid for.
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