As a self-employed, home-schooling mother of seven years, some of my friends have commented in recent days that it must be pretty much ‘life as normal’ for us. It’s true that we’re used to having our children around us during the day and it’s also true that we’ve had plenty of time to practise juggling home, work and ‘home school’ life, but it’s certainly not ‘life as normal’.
You see, for us, and for many other families who choose it, home education (as us old-timers prefer to call it) is less about school at home and more about learning through life. In fact, during a typical week, our children are rarely at home – spending most of their time dashing from one activity or group meet-up to another.
Of course, life as we know it, has changed for now and we, like many families the world over, are finding ourselves in the unusual position of having nowhere to go and nothing in the diary. So, over the past few weeks we have been busy finding new ways to connect with our friends, colleagues and family as pretty much every aspect of our lives has been catapulted headlong into the virtual world.
Like many, I’ve embraced the internet like never before. Work has been crazy-busy as we’ve undertaken the enormous task of switching all our students to online tuition, and pretty much all aspects of family life have been reborn as Facebook groups, Skype calls or Zoom meetings. Now, even more than ever, there are so many online resources, so much advice, support and ideas for parents. I’ve signed up to free subscriptions of learning sites, I’ve downloaded countless worksheets, I’ve joined new social media groups and I’ve read, liked and commented on many posts. It’s been a hectic, chaotic and bizarre few weeks, with a rollercoaster of emotions thrown in for good measure, as I’ve watched the Covid-19 outbreak continue to unfold the world over…and, to be quite honest, I’m totally exhausted.
And judging by the many comments on social media from parents across the world: I am not alone. Over the past few weeks, I have been watching, with concern, the posts from parents who are tired, anxious, stressed-out and scared of failing their children as they embark on their ‘home school’ journeys. There appears to be a growing sense of overwhelm right now as many struggle to come to terms with what is happening in their own lives and the wider world. Many parents are trying to adjust to working from home, or sudden unemployment, whilst simultaneously teaching their children, running a household and worrying about family and friends from afar. Inevitably, some are looking to what other families are doing and measuring their own achievements against the unrealistic benchmarks of others. Many, like me, are suffering from information overload.
So now I am starting to come up for air and I’ve realised that I need to slow down, take time to adjust, to take stock, to adapt to our new, temporarily isolated way of life. And I strongly recommend that everyone else out there who is feeling anxious, overwhelmed, stressed, scared or just plain tired, does exactly the same. Just stop. Take a deep breath and calm down.
My advice, from one home-schooling parent to another, is simply to do what feels right for you and your family right now. If a timetable and set schedule will help you have the structure needed in your day for you to get your work done and keep your sanity, then go for it; if that all feels too rigid and unachievable at the moment, then don’t worry about it. Don’t compare your family to others and don’t beat yourself up if you get to the end of the day and nothing has been ticked off the ‘to do’ list.
Now, more than ever, it is important to be flexible: what may work really well one day may be a total flop the next. If your child is up for doing their schoolwork and you have the capacity to support them, then do so; if they are not interested, leave it in their school bag for another day. Above all, be kind to yourself and if things don’t go to plan, forgive yourself and those around you: let it go and move on.
And if you are feeling tired, stressed-out or overwhelmed, then consider this for a moment: What if there was absolutely nothing wrong with putting the schoolwork to one side, throwing caution to the wind and just allowing yourself to let go for a while? How would it feel if you could ditch the teacher hat and focus instead on being the loving, caring, compassionate parent your child really needs you to be right now? What if you allowed yourself the time and space just to be present with your child? To play games, to chat, to do crafts, to bake, to watch movies, to play some more, to get outside for a walk or to play in the garden, to try a new hobby, to really connect?
This is a time of uncertainty; a time of change and many of us are feeling scared and anxious. But it could also be a really special time, a time when we have the rare opportunity to slow down, to let go of the rule book and to spend some unexpected extra moments with our children.
Advice for Reducing Overwhelm
If you or your children are feeling overwhelmed, stressed-out or anxious right now, my advice is to stop what you are doing and take stock. Give yourselves time to slow down, to adjust to the new reality and to find the home-school-work-balance that works best for you and your family.
- Take some time over the next few weeks to allow your child to come to terms with recent events. Many children (and adults) are feeling scared, anxious and stressed by what they have seen in the news or on social media. We are all experiencing an upheaval like none of us have experienced before.
- Allow your child to let go of the usual routine. Let them have some time off the early morning starts, the routines, the schedules, the timetables, the pressure of having to always get something done.
- Allow yourselves time to adapt to this temporary new way of life. Don’t rush to set up new schedules and work routines; give your family time to adjust to the new ‘real’. Give your child the time and space torest, to play, to just ‘be’.
- Take some time out for yourself: go for an early morning walk, take a long bath, do some yoga, read a book – whatever appeals to you. It really is true what they say: you can only be the best parent if you put yourself and your health and wellbeing first.
- Spend time together.Spend time with your child doing something fun – let your child choose the activity and set the rules.
- Talk to your child. Ask them how they are doing, what they are feeling and really, really listen.
- Start re-introducing some structure when you have all had time to rest and adjust and you feel ready to do so. Get out that homework from school, log onto those learning sites, but only if you and your child feel ready to do so.
- If a timetable feels like the right way to go, draw one up with your child rather than for them. Talk to them about what they would like to learn and how they would prefer to structure their day.
Help them to plan their schoolwork into a manageable schedule. The amount of time spent will vary according to the school, the child and what you feel is reasonable. And remember: they don’t have to do it all – and neither do you.
Take little steps: start with one session or class a day and build up rather than trying to do everything at once.
And remember: Don’t compare yourself to others – we are all different and have our own unique set of circumstances. You need to find the balance that is right for you and your family.
Siân Goodspeed is an experienced primary school teacher and the founder of Flying Start Tuition, an award-winning company with a different approach to tuition. Siân has two daughters: her eldest is twelve and has been home educated since she left school at the end of year one; her youngest is eight and was home educated until January 2020 when she started school for the first time, attending part-time (three days a week).
For advice and support for parents home-schooling their children during the Covid-19 school closures, join our Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/529916137522321/
For further information on Flying Start Tuition, visit www.flyingstarttuition.co.uk