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Home schooling in the Time of Coronavirus

 

 

Tips to get us through Term Six

It’s 11.45 on a Wednesday in mid-May 2010. I’m standing in the kitchen clutching my fourth cup of coffee, breathing deeply and counting silently to ten. I turn to my 14-year old son and ask him - as calmly as I can…this is the third time already this morning - what can I do to help him?

He rolls his eyes, pushes his laptop to one side and bangs his hoody-covered head repeatedly on the table, emitting a special teenage boy noise, which lands somewhere between a prolonged grunt and a howl.

 

Honeymoon Period

Lockdown. Enforced home schooling. It’s been a struggle. For children and parents alike...I teach for a living and I don’t mind admitting I’ve found it a very painful experience at times.

I have two children and I would say they are fairly typical 12 and 14-year old boys. Their initial reaction to lockdown was, I am sure, similar to many of their peers: They revelled in the idea of actually not being allowed to go to school and adopted with gusto their new routine of early breakfast, PE with Joe Wicks and lessons online until late lunch. 

 

Reality Check

Fast forward a few weeks and my eldest and I find ourselves in the deep breathing/head banging kitchen scenario above, and the closest my youngest gets to PE with Joe Wicks is searching up the Friday session on YouTube to find out what costume Joe was wearing so he could report back to his dad that he’d completed the expected week’s sessions whilst at his mum’s house (sorry Joe, not sorry sons’ dad). 

Time for us all to admit defeat, take a break and succumb to a half term spent in our PJs, feasting on a varied diet of FortniteNetflix, BBQs and Solero ice creams.  

 

Motivation, Oooh Motivation

If you’re as old as I am, you’ll be going all Roy Castle in your head right about now. But motivation is what we need, what we really need, if we’re going to just survive the rest of the school year in lockdown, let alone “be the best”

Motivation is the key I think to rediscovering our collective mojo and pushing the re-start button on home schooling. So, I’m sharing with you my best-laid plans for a way forward in our house – could they work for you to motivate you and yours too and help us all get to the summer holidays in peace, sanity and family relationships just about intact? 

 

Tips to get us through Term Six

  1. Make sleep a priority

Most of us are aware of the importance of good quality sleep and its effect on our performance and wellbeing. However, sleep is one of the first things to suffer when our lives go a little bit wobbly during difficult times (such as a global pandemic for example). 


Re-visiting these basic but fundamental steps can help us all get back into a more effective sleep pattern:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (or weekday)
  • Come off all screens (TV included) one hour before bed
  • Stop eating two to three hours before sleep 
  • Ensure the room you sleep in is as cool and as dark as possible 

If your teens are anything like mine, they respond much better to advice coming from experts than parents… The UK’s Sleep Council has a page directed at teenagers themselves which includes an interactive bedroom highlighting the pitfalls to be avoided in order to get a good night’s sleep (one of which is an untidy bedroom…sigh)

 

  1. Eat breakfast together

We have been told for years how important the first meal of the day is: The right breakfast (ideally a combination of carbohydrates, proteins and fibre) will provide energy, lift and maintain mood and kick-start metabolism. 

Fortunately, I have two children who are both big breakfast fans and so getting them to eat something first thing is not generally a problem (although my eldest is currently trying to stick to a vegan diet which brings its own challenges…a post for another time I think…). 

However, my goal for the rest of this school term at least is to get more out of breakfast and use it as a positive starting point for us all. Slowing down and taking the time at the beginning of each day to sit and eat together should give us breakfast with added benefits! :

  • Promotes better food choices = improved nutrition
  • Fosters a feeling of togetherness – facing the day as a team
  • Provides opportunities to talk through the day ahead, ease worries or make plans for post-schoolwork activities 

 

  1. Lead by example on the exercise front

According to NHS guidelines, children and young people aged 5-18 should aim for at least one hour of moderate activity per day. Taking my boys as an example here, I know, in the absence of school games lessons and the obligatory break and lunchtime footie matches (why do they always get so muddy?), that they have fallen short here. Must do better.

I’ve decided that I need to motivate by leading by example and I am determined to make exercise a non-negotiable part of my daily routine. I’ll try and involve the boys too by choosing activities they might want to join in with: Early morning running with the youngest and some on-demand BODYPUMP™ with the older one. Sounds do-able…on paper!
 

  1. Pay real attention

One of the positive outcomes of lockdown for me personally has been a dramatic reduction in the length of my daily ‘Have-to-do’ list. My two main workstreams (supply teaching and managing holiday lets) dried up overnight as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, and so for the first time in a long while I have more time on my hands. 

And because I’m not trying to multitask my way through the day, I have given myself permission to just focus on one thing at a time. And some of the time, that one thing has been a cuddle on the sofa, a walk with the dogs down to the river, a goal shooting practise session (I’m the one in goal…and actually I’ve impressed myself with my cat-like reflexes).

The point is I have paid real attention to my boys. I have stopped, put down the phone/laptop/washing and actually listened, talked, played with them.   And I have really noticed the difference this has made: Smiles, hugs, suggestions of things to do together. Making re-connection one of my ‘Have-to-do’s has given us all little grounding pockets of ‘feel good’ during uncertain times.
 

  1. Give quality feedback

Most of know how disheartening it is to keep plugging away at something for which we receive very little in the way of feedback or reward. Yet this is what many of our children are having to do every day during this prolonged period of learning in lockdown. Yes, there are points to accrue, levels to climb and virtual cups to be won, but after a while these online rewards lose their value. 

Nothing beats the nod of encouragement or proud smile from a teacher, or the fist-bump-flushed-face cheer from the mate you sit next to in maths. Human interaction plays a crucial role in effective education and it is this aspect of being at school that I know my two are missing the most. Their school has embraced technology - lessons are being taught through virtual classrooms and the boys have access to plenty of online learning resources - but without enlisting the use of a bank of online tutors, providing regular, face-to-face feedback for each student is an impossibility.

As parents we can do our bit though: Ask questions; take time to look at what your child has produced; give smiles, encouragement and praise. They need it.

 

  1. Invest time together on a non-school project

For us it’s the garden. We have been looking out onto a half-constructed veg patch for the past six months, the sheds need painting and our dogs continually escape through the gaps in the fence at the back of the lawn. 

Tackling a team project such as this can provide opportunities for:

  • Practising planning skills
  • Taking on individual responsibility
  • Relaxed conversations, opening up and sharing thoughts
  • Exercise by stealth!

So, there we have it. Whether or not we will be to stick to all six tips I have no idea. But I always feel better when I have a plan. And during these crazy months of free-falling, if there’s a plan - no matter how simple - I am going to grab on to it.