Beyond a shadow of a doubt home schooling has been one of the hardest things I have had to turn my hand to overnight over the last 30 years or so – and it looks like it is with us for a few more months to come!
For those who don’t know, I’m married to Catherine and we have two wonderful daughters, Alexandra who is 11 and Olivia who is 8. Catherine and I have been home schooling since the Country went into its first lockdown in March 2020. At the same time both Catherine and I have continued working full time.
There have been many commentators who have taken the opportunity over the last few months to tell us how to get the most out of home schooling and what parents should or shouldn’t be doing. I am not proposing to add to this – what makes me think I’ve got it right!
For me there isn’t a blueprint for home-schooling that parents simply need to download and follow. All families are different, as are their circumstances, and each family will have their own method of home schooling which works for them. It is not for me to be judgemental of others.
However, as an amusing piece of writing about home schooling, and one which may strike a chord with others, the home schooling in the Ashman household normally starts with a cacophony of “…where’s my login details”, “…do I have to do this”, “… is it on Zoom or Teams”, “…what link do I use” and “…what it’s starting now, you could have told me!”
This is then met with the popular parental response of, “…you should have got prepared for this last night”, “…why is it so complicated to organise and why on earth have we got things happening on both Zoom and Teams”, “…why is Teams so difficult to use …”, and finally “…don’t you know that we’ve got work to do as well, we haven’t got time for this …”
As I mentioned earlier home schooling is difficult and each of us will approach if differently. I never saw myself as a teacher and always thought that teachers must have the patience of saints, now I know they must have.
So, what works for us? I have to say we have purposely tried to keep it simple and it’s taken us a good six months to feel as though we have a structure that works more often than it doesn’t.
We have all agreed a set routine. Routine and repetition is important for all of us and provides much need structure to the day – it doesn’t always work as some days it starts going wrong from the first minute you get out of bed! I work on the basis that we are doing well if it goes right more often than it goes wrong.
This is helped by plenty of tea and biscuit breaks!
For us we have a set time each day for all having lunch and dinner together, we’ve then put time aside to all get out for some exercise, whether this be walking or cycling, and we also expect all of us to be dressed properly for the day ahead, whether this be in school gear for the girls or working attire for Catherine and myself. People that know me will be amused that I have drawn the line at wearing bracers each day! for nights, we have kept to the normal routine of a set bedtime for the girls to allow some downtime for Catherine and myself.
This structure has been helped during the latest lockdown by the girls having structured lessons each day with their teachers via Zoom, which has helped provide something different to Mum and Dad telling them of the need to do work. We’ve also come up with new routines which have gone down well with the girls such as us cooking from scratch a curry each Saturday night and each of us taking it in turns to choose which one and making sure we all sit down to watch a film together one of the nights. At times like this it is surprising how this type of routine helps everyone stay sane!
Any curry recipes gratefully received.
Catherine and I try as far as possible to spread out the parental ‘responsibility’ for home schooling so that the burden doesn’t fall on either one of us too much. This also gives the other a ‘fitting chance’ of doing their main, wage paying job. If you ask Catherine she may challenge the ‘spread out’ assertion but I promise I do try!
Perhaps the biggest single lesson we have had to learn is not to be too hard on ourselves. As parents we are our own worst critics and are all striving to do the best for our children in very trying circumstances. It’s all too easy to feel guilty that you aren’t doing enough, not spending enough time with them and that you aren’t as good as their teachers and how are their long-term chances and opportunities being affected.
We need to give ourselves a break. We are not teachers and cannot simply turn our hand to teaching overnight which in itself is a skilled occupation and takes teachers years to qualify for. We are all doing the best we can under very trying circumstances. At the end of the day the main priority was (and is) to keep them safe, secure, and loved.
Don’t compare yourself with others or take too much notice of what you may see on social media. People always want to post their good days and how well they are doing. You rarely see the times when it isn’t going so well and let’s be honest there have been many of those days over the last 10 months or so! I must admit I’ve heard a lot of people saying how good lockdown has been in being able to provide them with the opportunity for quality time with the family. I don’t think this can have been said by someone trying to home school and work full time simultaneously!
As always remember there are people worse off than you. We will get through this albeit that it is a struggle at the moment in so many ways. You don’t have to think for too long before you realise how lucky you are.
And all of this on top of still working full time at work and also looking after elderly parents – who are a different challenge in themselves. Whether it be trying in the early days to show them remotely how to do online food shopping to stopping my Dad inadvertently ordering my Mum a new facemask online which unbeknown to him had a graffiti design all over it and would have made her look like a septuagenarian Stormzy!
I took the dangerous step earlier of asking Alexandra and Olivia what they liked and disliked about lockdown. I was expecting the normal, “…we don’t miss school meals and having to walk to school” and that “…missing our friends” was a huge issue for them, however I wasn’t quite expecting Olivia to say that one of the downsides of lockdown was seeing Catherine and I as much as she has! Perhaps though that is one of the bizarre consequences of all of this, in that it is an unnatural environment for us all to be spending all of our time with one another 24/7. Is it any wonder that at times things are difficult – this is why we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves.
As parents we have kept them safe, fed, watered and they’ve picked up education along the way and some of that education is in coping with change and uncertainty which will hopefully help make them resilient in the future to what is going to be a very different world. Education isn’t always about having to complete all the home-schooling set in a day!
It would be wrong of me in concluding not to acknowledge that none of this could have been achieved without the support of family, friends, and work colleagues. A big debt of gratitude goes to the unsung hero in all this which is my wife Catherine who is far better equipped than I am for home schooling and without whom we would have achieved far less.
Above all try not to lose your head when someone shouts, “… Dad the internet has gone!”
What a year it’s been.