COVID-19: Day 50 — You win some, you lose some
(8th May 2020. VE Day bank holiday)
My darling Pickle and Boo,
It’s seven weeks to the day that we started isolating, so we’ve now completed more weeks at home than we would during the summer holidays. That feels like a milestone of sorts, although I can’t decide if it’s gone at a snail’s pace or quick as a flash because the groundhog nature of this period means time has taken on new meaning.
I haven’t written that much about how we’ve coped with the demands of home learning during lockdown, so here’s a little run down of what we’ve figured out so far.
On the eve of our lockdown, I made a plan. It came in the form of a colour-coded schedule that blocked out set hours for physical activity, maths, literacy, free play, creative time, and screen time which basically turned out to be a complete waste of time.
I was under the illusion that we’d be able to replicate the basic structure of school within our home and that your new (wholly unqualified) teachers would guide you through this routine with near military precision. I mean, I wasn’t completely naive. I knew we would have to be a bit flexible and adapt some of the structure occasionally. But I didn’t know that my expectation of creating a school-like day within a non-school environment was just completely unrealistic.
By the end of day 2, it was time to regroup.
My colour-coded schedule hasn’t seen the light of day since the very early realisation that it was destined to fail. In its place, a routine of sorts has come about more organically. We are in a rhythm as we move through each day, each week and, now it’s May, each month.
We’re doing a pretty good job of sticking to the following principles:
- We start the day in a similar way
I knew there was a risk that if we let mornings drag into afternoons without any routine at all, we’d soon be on the road to chaos. As much as I’d like to be the kind of mum that’s totally down with you eating lunch in your PJs on a regular basis, I’m just not. Aside from the fact I don’t think it would be good for your well-being, I know it wouldn’t be good for mine! Starting the day in the same way means we are all on the same page and it’s taking the guess work out of how to get through the daunting hours ahead in this bizarre world of home learning.
I’m trying to get up before you to either go for a run or do some chores (it’s amazing how efficient I am at tidying, emptying the dishwasher and cooking when I’m not being distracted by you both or my phone — there’s no messages to be dealt with at 6.30am unsurprisingly)
Once you’re up, you know the drill and that really helps to get us on the right track for the day ahead.
- We know what needs to be done, but we don’t always do it in order
On any given weekday, I have a mental checklist to cover which includes online reading, at least one task set by school, some numeracy, and a walk around the block.
A ‘good’ weekday goes something like this…
- Up and dressed, breakie and brush teeth
- Bounce on the trampoline
- Pickle — online reading, Boo — online maths lesson and worksheet then online reading
- One task set by school
- Daily walk
- TV / play
- board game or card game together
- second school task or other joint activity — or play outside if sunny
- do what you want until dinner
A day that follows that pattern is one I’d declare a win.
But… not every day pans out like that. When the weather is particularly sunny, I want us to make the most of it. So we’ve had days where you’ve barely done any formal learning, especially on a Friday when my reserves are empty, I’ve lost the drive for home learning and nearly all the tasks set by your actual teachers have been done anyway.
I’ve also been given some ‘Welfare Days’ by work over the past couple of Fridays when I’ve not been expected to do anything, so I’ve declared them as days off for you too. On those warm, sunny days, I’ve taken the view that it’s more important for you to get fresh air and play outside than be cooped up indoors doing phonics. Given how changeable the weather is, we need to make the most of the sunshine as it’s a great mood lifter and we’re in need of that more than ever.
Other days, we broadly get the same tasks covered but not necessarily in the same order. If you are particularly engaged in an activity, I don’t shut it down because I’d planned for us to move on to something else. I’ve learnt to not poke the beast — if you are engrossed in something, let it run its course for as long as possible.
- We take it in two hour stints
Expecting you to sit for more than 20 minutes to do any one tasks is expecting too much. Sometimes, if it’s something that really interests you, you’re happy to stay on task for longer, but it’s best not to assume that will be the case.
Likewise, I find my own attention span only lasts about two hours before I need a mental break. So if I’m flitting between the two of you to do structured tasks, playing games or doing arts and crafts, after two hours, I am ready for some ‘me time’. I don’t really get it but that’s when I count my lucky Cbeebies stars for Numberblocks — I don’t feel too guilty about putting on shows that I know you watch in school.
Thankfully, Daddy and I are tag-teaming so one of us is with you in the morning while the other one works, and then we swap over at lunchtime. It helps us juggle all the demands of home learning with our paid work and means we’re sharing the load. Over the years, Daddy and I have faced a few big challenges, especially in our early years together, so working as a team when life gets tough is something we naturally do. I am incredibly grateful for that, and for him. And it means you are getting the benefit of our distinct parenting attributes (I’ll hold my hands up, Daddy is way better at pretend play, Minecraft, Star Wars chat and coding).
I also realise how lucky we are to both still have work and to be able to fit that work in around your needs, many parents are finding it impossible to do it all.
- We look for informal opportunities to learn
Before I’d ever attempted to educate you in any formal way at home, I assumed we’d need to follow some sort of curriculum and that your learning would have to involve sitting rigidly at a table, completing worksheets or similar formal tasks.
Now, I look for ways to teach you much more informally — a bit like disguising veggies in meals for fussy toddlers. So when we bake, I get you to do the measuring and we talk about liquids, solids and the shapes of the utensils (that’s about the extent of my knowledge on such things but I hope you’ve not twigged that yet). We play describing games at mealtimes to expand your vocabulary and use of adjectives. We get crates full of water and a load of random crap around the house to see what will sink and what will float then make a table to show our findings — well, we only did that once but it illustrates the point.
Not only does this type of learning kill time, which we shouldn’t underestimated in lockdown, it also makes me feel better for not doing more of the formal stuff. Some of our friends are being sent masses of work from their respective schools on a daily basis and I’m so relievedthat’s not the case for us. It’s hard enough juggling everything as it is and I would hate to feel under any more pressure, but it does mean that I’m keen to find opportunities for additional learning where we can find them.
- We’ve learnt to accept that some days are just tougher than others
Part of the learning curve for me has been accepting that some days are bloody hard work. As brilliant as you’ve been in adapting to these huge changes in your lives, being taught by your parents is just not ideal. We get frustrated with you in a way that your teachers wouldn’t (or, at least, they’ve had the training and practice to know how to hide it) and you show your frustration with us in ways you wouldn’t with your teachers (or, at least, I hope you don’t).
Early on, I was stubborn as hell. If I felt you weren’t doing a task to the best of your ability, or if I could see you were tired but we’d started something, I would insist we finished it because that’s just the ‘starter finisher’ I am. I wanted another ‘to do’ ticked off my mental list, regardless of the battle that invoked.
I’m not claiming a total evaporation of my stubborn streak, but I’ve learnt to curb it. I know there are times when we will all be happier if we park what we’re doing and come back to it later. I’m better at reading you, what your limits are, and lowering my expectations — not of your capabilities, but of your attention spans and ability to stay focused for set times. You are both so bright, I forget you are only 5 and 7 years old and would probably rarely be expected to sit and do one task for more than 20 minutes at school.
So forgive me but, really, I’m learning about home-learning as much as you.
I’ve also realised that if every task ends in tears (yours and mine) and getting you to do your school work becomes a massive bone of contention, not only will it make our lives miserable, it might just rob you of your love for learning completely. And what a tragedy that would be.
Finding the balance between keeping you educationally motivated, completing the tasks set by school and not letting any progress you’ve made slip away, with nurturing your emotional well-being, and that of our family, is not an easy thing to accomplish.
I’ll be completely honest. There are days when you are grumpy, I am grumpier and the whinging is relentless. Those days are so long and tiring and if we could escape to see friends and recharge in the company of others, I know we would all benefit from that so much. But, on the whole, the home-learning days make that easier as we follow a semblance of a structure and have less time to think about how much life has changed and all the things we miss.
In terms of your education, intuitively, I think that as long as you are reading and being read to regularly, everything else will catch up. It breaks my heart to think of all the children who have gone into lockdown without access to a single book. I suspect that will disadvantage them more than anything else. So, despite my desire to completely ace this parent-teacher role, I believe that tooling you up with the emotional resilience you need to cope with COVID-19 will be more important and influential on your ability to bounce back into learning when schools do reopen than actually teaching you formally right now.
I’m trying to accept that some days are wins, some days are far from it. But we are trying, and, as you’ve now heard me say at least 8,000 times, giving it our best is all that counts.