You would think by now we would all be lockdown homeschooling pros. After all, we’ve been here before and we know what to expect. How hard can it be?
Very, it would appear. Parents (and children) have seen their energy levels and enthusiasm depleted from the relentless hamster wheel of school and work, all taking place under one roof. The novelty wore off long ago.
And when will it end? Expectations had been that schools would stay closed until the February half term. Yet Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, suggested this week that a “phased reopening” of schools is now more likely, which means it could be some time until all children are back in the classroom. Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, said today that he hopes all schools in England will be open by Easter.
While some families may be thriving, for many, it’s a question of surviving, potentially for a few more months. Here are some tips to help you do just that.
It’s easy to let things slide when our usual routines are disrupted. Whilst a military-style boot camp regime is not to be encouraged, children do still need a routine and boundaries to help them get the best out of their day which will then contribute to a more harmonious household.
Kelly Newton has four teenage daughters. She wakes them up at 7.30am and ensures they are washed, dressed and have eaten breakfast before school starts. Mobile phones stay in another room until break times. This way she feels they are mentally better prepared to face the school day. Pippa Best, a life coach, says her daughter has found the MultiTimer app useful to schedule work and rest time.
My own children have opted to wear their uniform during remote learning because they feel it gives them focus and changing out of it demarcates school and leisure time.
Just as a good morning routine can set a positive tone for the day, sticking to a sensible bedtime will help navigate the highs and lows of the homeschool rollercoaster.
Cat Cubie is one half of The Sleep Mums podcast. “Kids may be a little feral now and it’s hard not to let them get away with more than normal because you’re worried about their wellbeing. However, it’s important not to let them take control of bedtimes.”
Sleep-deprived children will not be able to focus on their work and once adults become ensnared in the tantrum cycle, the battle is lost. Decent structured bedtimes for children also means time for adults to relax – essential to avoid simmering tensions in the house.
Are you wishing your child mastered their times tables with the same fluency they ask for a snack, or that your teen’s focus on clearing the fridge could be re-directed to their abandoned essay?
Introducing more of a routine around food and snacks will help keep everyone on an even keel and prevent you having to hiss during a Zoom call where the crisps are hidden for the hundredth time that day.
Kayleigh Johnston, Director of COZ PR preps a snack box from which her children are allowed to choose at break times so that she is not constantly interrupted.
Remember: you are not an educational establishment
You cannot replicate school at home. You can make life easier by having resources and materials easily to hand to avoid a mad scramble but, be flexible.
Jemma Z Smith runs The Education Hotel, a tuition agency. “If your child really won’t do the school task of writing a story, have them act it, write a comic or try again at another time.”
She emphasises how learning can be built into daily life away from a desk: making a cake involves maths, English and science.
Short chunks of learning better to manage. Remember, time in the classroom involves a teacher spending time with many children. Remote learning can be intense and children reach mental exhaustion more quickly.
Move more and get outside
Amanda Frolich of Amanda’s Action Club is a long-time advocate of the benefits on the mind of bursts of activity.
“Children who are active are known to perform better at school. They’re calmer, more focused and their concentration is improved. Fresh air and movement are free and the simplest, most effective way, in my opinion, to improve the schooling at home experience.”
Proven to be a beneficial way for children to work through their emotions at this time. Francesca Green is the founder of HappySelf Journal.
“Journalling at any age during childhood helps build a routine – filling it out consistently, like at bedtime, offers comfort and familiarity when everything else is unpredictable.”
Make time for fun
Exhausted with thinking up activities? Ellie McPhail has set up boredom.bags.uk. Each bag contains 35 activities including recipes, crafts, games and science hacks giving you a break too.
One mum of two who runs Auntie K’s Childcare and Consultancy suggests creating an ‘After Lockdown Jar of Fun’ where everyone puts in all the ideas of what they will do when this is over. This, along with making an effort to have fun at weekends restores a balance.
Above all, take a step back. Dr. Helen Maffini, Director of MindBe Education has advice that we should all keep in mind: “In this time of uncertainty, your children won’t remember the days but will remember the feelings they had – did they feel safe, loved and paid attention to?”
Now pause on that worksheet and give them a hug.
Read more on Lockdown Long Haul
The psychology of how to keep going… and going… and going
How to keep exercising – even when you have ‘pandemic fatigue’