Homeschooling – the good, the bad, the impossible?

Homeschooling. A year ago, this word had never really meant much to me. I had friends who were homeschooled, I had an idea of what it included, but I never truly considered the real meaning. It’s February 2021 and in the UK, the school doors are closed and working from the kitchen table has become the new ‘norm’. Only, it certainly isn’t normal and it doesn’t feel normal for anyone (and if anyone says it does, they’re probably lying, we are all hiding in the downstairs loo to eat chocolate. Right?)

I have two children. A five year old and a four year old. My youngest is fine, thriving. He is enjoying not going to nursery, spending so much time with mummy and getting the opportunity to explore the great outdoors in all weathers. But today I want to talk about my eldest child and the effect that ‘lockdown schooling’ is having on him. Jack is a child who absolutely loves school, a very lively child who enjoys learning. He has a brilliant imagination, adores science and numbers and gets a kick out of the challenges school presents him. The first lockdown we were plunged into, almost a year ago now, didn’t seem to phase him. The weather was great, we spent all of our time outside, the schools all told us not to worry and just to focus on having quality time with our kids while the world dealt with the pandemic and we all adjusted. But now, a year in, schools have no choice but to ensure the kids are following some kind of curriculum otherwise we risk a nation of children who have fallen behind on their school work and need to play catch up. The schools have excellently prepared materials which are accessed through google classroom and older children are having online zoom classes, but there is just one problem. While this works wonderfully in theory, the reality is very different. The online classroom assumes that a parent is adept at teaching. It assumes the parent has the time to dedicate to teaching the child all day, every day to ensure they don’t fall behind. It assumes the parent isn’t also working full time from the kitchen table or in my case, studying for a degree. And finally, perhaps most importantly, it assumes that children are not struggling with the changes and the expectations being pushed upon them.

Alternative schooling activities – watching the live stream of the NASA spacewalk with astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover – https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive

I Jack is feeling the strain. I can see that every single day. He is becoming more fractious, angry and less cooperative with his online classes and school work. He is not alone in this. You only have to do a quick search in all the ‘family lockdown tips’ Facebook groups to realise that hundreds of parents are reporting the same issues. You see, as much as I try, I’m not a primary school teacher. And even if I was a primary school teacher, it is a well known fact that children don’t respond in the same way with their parents & carers as they do with teachers. I have friends that are teachers who will say the same – their kids don’t respond in the same way to their efforts to homeschool, and they’ve had all the training! To date, we are lucky if we get through two pieces of work during a day, and even luckier if those pieces of work don’t trigger a cataclysmic event in the household with his brother and I running for cover.

School is such an important time for children, especially those early years where we learn skills like socialisation and relationship building. These are the skills that make us human and I’m worried what prolonged shielding from the development of these skills will do to our children. Are we squashing their chances to build on their imaginations with their peers? I can certainly see the frustration in Jack when he doesn’t get the same response from me or his younger brother as he would from his friends, when he wants to play a role playing game. There’s only so many times I can break from my work to take on the role of Doctor Eggman (Sonic).

The latest role I have to assume daily – source https://sonic.fandom.com/wiki/Doctor_Eggman

The words ‘zoom’ or ‘breakout rooms’ strike horror into the souls of most adults now, so I can only imagine how the kids feel. We know that a zoom meeting removes the opportunity to build those real connections with other humans, but no one seems to be discussing the fact that kids are also missing out on these experiences.

A tribute to the wonderful Captain Sir Tom Moore who sadly passed away last week after raising an incredible £33m for the NHS – by Jack
https://www.army.mod.uk/people/leave-well/service-leavers-veterans/army-skills/captain-sir-tom-moore/

I absolutely want to take a moment to give a huge thank you to every single teacher out there who is fighting to give our kids the same opportunities and the same access to education as they would at home. An especially huge thank you to those teachers who have their own children and are trying to teach them AND other people’s children. This past year I have developed a new level of respect for teachers and realised the hard work and effort that goes into the job, dedicating their lives to giving the next generation a chance.

A rare moment captured, a completed piece of homeschool work – by Jack

There are of course some positives. This time has given me time with my boys. Time that I wouldn’t normally have had with school, nursery, university and working commitments. It’s given me a chance to really get to know my children well. There have been some excellent resources put out there to help parents and children and we have made great use of them. We have found that taking the school work lightly, doing what we can and submitting it to try and keep him up to date and learning in a more practical way which suits Jack yields better results. As does spending as much time as possible outside, exploring the world around us. We have to try and balance what is required with our children’s wellbeing. Jack’s writing has improved, he enjoys reading, we’ve built a bug hotel and learnt about insects that inhabit our garden. He’s built a model of the solar system and can now outdo most adults with his knowledge about space. My boys have had the chance to become best friends. They spend every waking moment together and while that of course has it’s rough moments (who doesn’t have rough moments when you’re trapped with the same people endlessly), but it’s brought them much closer together with a bond that I hope will last.

Our Solar System – by Jack

I don’t know what I wanted to achieve from putting this down on ‘paper’. I am not here trying to solve the problem, I’m just trying to highlight the fact that people are struggling. I know full well that the benefits of opening schools must outweigh the risks posed by the surging virus, but if we don’t speak out for the children’s mental health then who will? I am here in the hope that someone will notice and take my message on board. I am also here writing honestly and openly about my experiences homeschooling in the hope that it will reach another parent who is struggling and let you know that you are most definitely NOT on your own. Kids are struggling, kids mental health is declining, what are we going to do about it? What can we do about it? The answer, I just don’t know.

Exploring the great outdoors – a frozen York racecourse creating a spectacular optical illusion

Here is a little list of resources that are helping us get through:

BBC Bitesize has been a bit of a lifesaver, also available on the Iplayer:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize

STEM Homelearning have some great lessons prepared to give your kids something different to focus on:
https://www.stem.org.uk/home-learning/primary

I will keep adding to this list in case it helps someone!

Finally here’s a link to a short article in a local paper, featuring yours truly. https://yorkmix.com/for-us-its-getting-worse-single-mum-from-york-reveals-the-strain-of-prolonged-home-schooling/
I was also given the wonderful opportunity to speak about this on BBC Radio York with Jonathan Cowap. I am grateful for that opportunity and hope my experiences reach people and let them know that it’s not just you, we are all in this together. We all have our own battles to fight, but the more we pull together, the sooner we can ride our way out of this storm to a brighter day.