Why you shouldn't feel guilty about your lockdown homeschooling

Updated: Jan 16

And how to make it work...

As an ex-teacher, my heart goes out to anyone who has been plunged into the stress that is Covid-19 homeschooling. All of my hair would have been torn out by now (just two weeks into lockdown 3 in the UK as I write) if I had to homeschool my youngest son in particular.

There would be tears, tantrums and regular cries of "I don't understand!" and that would just have been me.

Let's get realistic

Homeschooling, when planned for and in a pandemic-free world, can be an effective and enjoyable alternative to school for families who chose it and are aware of the downs as well as the ups.

Your homeschooling is not that.

Covid homeschooling has been thrust onto you. Even if you had to homeschool during lockdown 1, it felt very different.

Back then we had weeks of glorious sunshine (the remember that thing? Warmth and long walks across the fields and throwing the kids out into the garden) and now we are plunged into not-quite-enough-cold-for-snow, and relentless drizzle and grey skies.

Back then we still wanted to draw rainbows and clap for carers. We felt a camaraderie of a nation going through this together alongside the fear and uncertainty of something new.

Back then we were all leaping around together along with Joe Wicks (well, you were. I was probably still in bed eating chocolate).

Back then we thought it would be a couple of months and then back to normal.

This is not 'back then'.

Now, we've had Christmas and just have the long drag of winter ahead. The weather forces us all indoors together and we've, quite frankly, had enough. We're slogging through it, head down, just determined to get through. The fear and anxiety are still there, but this time they're not being softened by anything other than the anticipation of the vaccine, which many of us might not get until the autumn.

I'm not here to depress you (despite that last paragraph) but I think it's important to appreciate what we are going through. What you are going through.

On top of that is being expected to suddenly turn into a teacher overnight.

You can't. Don't let the stress of 'trying to be a teacher' be the thing that breaks you.

Let's be realistic about this too:

To become a teacher you need an undergraduate degree (3 years) plus gain Qualified Teacher Status through a postgraduate teacher training programme. This includes 120 days of practical classroom experience in two or more schools, professional mentoring, and academic study. Then there's the Newly Qualified Teacher year.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Teaching is a profession, and you need to be a qualified professional to do it.

You're a parent. Doing your best is good enough. You are not expected to teach your child to the standard that their teachers do.

If your metaphorical lockdown homeschooling hedgehog cake looks half as good as the one on the right, then fabulous! (Go and eat it, you probably deserve it!)

There might be a few meltdowns along the way (both yours and the kids) but that's because you're doing something hard. So if you find yourself 'having a moment' then just remind yourself of the reality of the situation you're in.

It's not you struggling, it's the situation that is REALLY HARD.

So, what can you do to make it easier?

  • Don't expect your kids to work 9am to 3pm - your child's teacher has to spread themselves between 30 kids. You can get a lot more done when it's 1 adult to just 1 or 2 kids (though it might not feel like it at the time).

  • Take as long as your child is able - don't expect each lesson to be an hour. Aim for between 20 min and 45 mins depending on age, ability, agreeableness, enthusiasm and the state of your mental health. If you only manage 10 minutes, that's still better than nothing.

  • Timetable your day - not to the nth degree, but think about having some exercise first thing to wake them up. Then plan to get maths and English done in the morning, with a break of about 20 minutes between them.

  • Talk to your kids about what they want it to look like too. Would they prefer to get it all out of the way in the morning, or do it in small chunks but all day long? You may find that by giving them more control they are more likely to chose to do the right thing, rather than laying down the law and causing arguments

  • Bribe them - don't forget technology (tablets, phones, telly etc) are a privilege and not a right. If they refuse to work then refuse to let them game until they've at least tried.

  • Use rewards - just as tech can be used to bribe or reward your child, so can a good old fashioned sticker chart. Sure, it would be nice for all our kids to turn up to homeschooling with a smile on their face, but let's face it we expect to get rewarded for going to work by way of a salary. You're a lucky person if you'd keep doing your job without some kind of reward at the end of it, so why do we expect our kids to be any different? Rewards don't need to be huge, but perhaps they get to choose what to eat on Friday night or which family movie to all watch together.

  • Just have a go. If you don't get it all done, that's fine. If your kids don't understand it, no matter what you do, that's fine too (perhaps they wouldn't have got it with their teacher either!). You've tried and that's all any school can ask.

  • Use BBC Bitesize - or any other website that explains how to simplify a fraction or what a subordinate clause is.

  • Celebrate small wins - if they only learn one thing today, that's better than nothing.

  • Don't worry about 'keeping up' - no matter how amazing you all are, every child will be getting a slightly different experience. Teachers understand this and will reassess their class when they get back to work out what holes they have to fill.

  • Contact your child's teacher - not for every little thing (I've never seen teachers so stressed as they are now, which is saying something) but if the work seems to be far too hard, or the kids have gone feral, then don't hesitate to talk to the school. They'd rather you said something so they can help than have a nervous breakdown

  • Keep normal waking hours - it's far too easy to let everything normal and routine to slide away and suddenly you're in the middle of chaos. By keeping bed and food times normal you're got half a chance of keeping control of everything else as well.

  • Let them teach you - there is nothing more satisfying for a child to be able to explain something to an adult. And teaching something to someone else embeds the knowledge more firmly in their own mind. Their self-esteem will rise too if they can teach you something.

  • Admit when you don't know - your kids don't expect you to know everything, and it's healthy for them to see you saying 'I don't know, let's look it up'. It teaches them that they don't have to be perfect and know everything, and you can also show them how to look up information they're not sure about.

  • Don't expect 'school behaviour' - just because your child is an angel at school (or so you think), don't expect them to behave the same for you. It's a whole different dynamic. Children feel more comfortable with you so they'll push the boundaries more. Try and approach it as you all being 'in it together'.

  • Do other learning activities too - bake (that's Food technology), play with Lego (design technology), play board games (social skills) and READ!

  • READ! If you do nothing else, read! If your child won't read a book, then comics are okay. Or non-fiction. My son refused to read until he realised he needed to in order to play Top Trumps. That was fine with me.

  • Remember they are stressed too - when we get stressed or anxious we can go into the Fight, Flight, Freeze response. For some kids that will look like anger (the fight part) - they might argue more, shout, break things or say mean things. Think about whether they might be stressed, and try some calming strategies or talk to them about changing the timetable or how things are done.

  • Protect your family's mental health - if you're working and trying to teach, or you have a difficult relationship made worse by being stuck together, or you're not well, or you can't sleep from the stress of it all or a million other reasons, then teaching may feel impossible. The most important thing is the mental health of both you and your children. If they learnt how to work out the area of a shape but are you are all wracked with anxiety and depression then that learning won't help them at all.

However your lockdown homeschooling is going, try to remember you are not alone. Every parent is experiencing new struggles they never thought they'd have to face. Even veteran homeschoolers would normally be able to take their kids out and about, get together with other homeschooled kids etc.

So, just remember:

This thing is hard and whatever your best is good enough!

If you found this post useful, please don't forget to share on social media to help others find it, and comment below (to keep me motivated 😁)

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