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Home schooling – déjà vu

If you’re a parent or guardian who has entered 2021 facing the prospect of home schooling again, you would be forgiven for having greeted the prospect with despair. After all, a New Year normally heralds a fresh start and new beginnings, not a return to previous challenges we all thought had been dealt with.

There are two aspects to consider with another bout of home teacher/worker/work-outer juggling – each with very different perspectives, but both are valid. On the one hand, we have Absolutely Got This. We did it before, and we can do it again. After all, when lockdown V1 hit we were amateurs, this time we’ve gone pro. We’re armed to the teeth with resources like our Broadstone Hub, remote learning sites, and tips and tricks aplenty to keep kids of all ages busy for at least part of each locked down day. Last time we were completely unprepared, and so were the schools. This time schools have had the chance to assemble remote learning plans, get their Skype or Zoom systems up and running, and sometimes even send home in advance contingency work packs. And we are much better prepared to be home technical help too – 2020 has seen many of us up our skills as far as video meetings, virtual classrooms and the inevitable tech troubleshooting that comes with this are concerned.

On the other hand, for many of us, the novelty has Absolutely Worn Off. This time around there is no air of novel challenge in trying to figure out how to balance home schooling with home working, especially if you’re juggling children at multiple ages and stages. It’s fair to say as well that we’re (inevitably) tired of the whole situation. This is both understandable and entirely natural. When we’re faced with an urgent situation, like we were when the pandemic hit the UK in spring 2020, our body rises to the challenge, producing adrenaline to spur us on in a ‘fight or flight’ response. A combination of this, and a sense of all pulling together for the greater good meant that we could keep spinning multiple tasks, putting in bigger efforts and longer hours to make everything work. But that initial rush has now worn off, and continuing to face challenges and trying to sustain the same levels of energy and motivation is incredibly hard. Especially hard is adding in a dose of super home teacher enthusiasm whilst we’re at it! It’s also difficult because the usual diary milestones that we put in place to keep us going (holidays, social activities, and family celebrations) are impossible to plan yet. But on the bright side at least we have vaccines in the pipeline and immunisation programmes that have already started – so there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we just can’t pinpoint the target ‘end’ date with any certainty.

So what practical things can we do in the face of fatigue and a dwindling resolve, but another round of home schooling? We’ve got a few tips:

  1. Make sure you know what support and remote learning is on offer from school. This will differ from school to school, and will in all likelihood differ from the last lockdown. Don’t assume that you know all that is available, and if you or your children are struggling then let them know. It might be that they can tailor school work, alter deadlines, or provide additional resources if they are needed. Don’t forget that most teachers will be aiming their home schooling content squarely at the ‘average’ level for their class – your child might need more work, or more help, but school won’t know if you don’t ask. Also, check out our Home Schooling Resources page for extra input and content.
    2. Structure is a saviour. One of the most important features of a school day for kids is structure. Having a range of activities on offer, with clear and set expectations about how long each activity or task should take helps them gauge their effort levels and also helps them see the wood for the trees in terms of when a task will end. A bit of time spent at the beginning of the week mapping out a loose timetable for each day (which doesn’t involve you ‘teaching’ every session, it might include play, TV, online class work or an online workout) will save you much more time over the week, and be a lot less stressful. Try to stick to your plan where possible. Read our article on Scheduling a Home School Day for more ideas.
    3. Take the pressure off yourself. A lot of us are guilty of piling additional pressure on ourselves by setting unrealistic expectations that we can be absolutely amazing 100% of the time at 100% of the things we’re doing. We have ideas of ‘making the most of the time’ and ‘adding in new skills’ – giving ourselves a big ‘to-do list’ and adding mental pressure. If you’re home schooling again (and not by choice), even if you were the textbook model of home school parent perfection last time, it’s possible that you won’t have the energy to sustain that again. That’s ok. Remind yourself that you’re doing your best – you didn’t volunteer for this! – and sometimes good enough is, well, good enough.
    4. Rope in a bit of help. Do you have family, friends or neighbours that are at a loose end and restricted at home, that wouldn’t mind lending half an hour here or there via Skype or FaceTime to read a story (younger children), test times tables or maths, or discuss school topic work or course work? This will help take the pressure off you to cover every base yourself, and to be honest, might be welcomed by those that may be feeling more isolated than normal.
    5. Play the long game. This could (deep breaths) go on for a couple of months or more. Be realistic, and don’t expect to win on every front in week 1 (or 2). Make sure your schedule for the kids is manageable and sustainable, and for you too. Try to plan in time to NOT be together (as much as your home space allows, and the age of your children) – a bit of space does everyone good.
    6. Talk to your employer. If you need to rearrange your working day to cope with home schooling / young children at home let them know and ask for help.

Don’t forget you aren’t alone if you’re feeling a bit of despair – it doesn’t necessarily help in a practical way to know that others are in the same boat, but it can help to talk about it and share stories and ideas. And if you have any top tips, we’d love you to share them with us!