How To Survive Home-Schooling Your Kids During Covid

Toby Hazlewood

Remain flexible, positive, and easygoing about life - as if it were that easy.

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Parenting can be tough at the best of times. Each phase of childhood brings its own unique challenges and just when we parents seem to have found a way to make it work, something else comes up - another problem to be resolved.

The test facing many parents and kids alike is Covid-19 and how to get through daily life and make home schooling work alongside everything else.

I want to share some of the tests I’ve been facing as part of the parenting team responsible for the four teenage kids that make up our blended family. Maybe these will provide some assurance to others who may be going through the same? Some may have innovative solutions to the tests we're currently facing as parents?

While we all have our own issues to overcome, things would almost certainly be worse if one of our kids were seriously unwell, suffered a disability or other life-impacting condition. I’m also selfishly grateful that our kids are older and able to comprehend what we’re going through right now.

With a few kids of different ages, here's how it's playing out.

A second-year university student

When lockdown looked likely we decided our eldest should fly home to the UK from the Netherlands where she’s studying. She’ll finish her second-year studies online and the first semester of her final year will also be available remotely too — at least her education remains on track.

She feels cheated though, since living and studying overseas was a big part of the appeal, to begin with. Fear of missing out is a powerful force for teens and she’s annoyed at all the experiences she could have and should have been having.

Being home would ordinarily mean a chance to catch up with her old friends, but that’s not possible either. She’s wholeheartedly embraced Zoom cocktail parties and virtual pub nights with friends, but both are a poor substitute for catching up in person.

Going to the gym is also off the agenda. She’s could exercise at home, but struggles for motivation. She’s usually disciplined and likes structure in her life but has struggled when procrastination and distraction have overtaken her determination to get her work done. The freedom to get to bed later and get up later have also disrupted her normal routine.

When we‘re given freedom and have little forced routine or structure in our day demands self-discipline from us all to keep on track. All our kids have learned this the hard way.

A High School leaver

My second daughter was due to sit her high school examinations in May and June this year. Instead, she’ll be awarded her school-leaver qualifications based on her performance over the last couple of years at school. She’s always been a diligent worker and was predicted to achieve great things in her final exams, and we’re all confident she’ll receive the qualifications she deserves.

I’m concerned that she’ll always be part of the ‘Class of 2020’, known as those whose qualifications weren’t fully earned. Will she forever be branded as such by future employers? Will her (likely excellent) grades be viewed as somehow substandard for the circumstances under which they were awarded?

I sure hope not as it would seem unjust.

She feels she’s been denied completing the first phase of her education formally, which speaks of her attitude towards the situation.

Since lockdown, she’s gone through different phases and developed new interests. She’s taught herself to paint (thanks to Bob Ross), dabbled with baking, and learnt to play the guitar with alarming ease.

She’s also not using her mind as she used to — I worry that she’ll struggle to adapt back to studying when she eventually moves onto the next phase of her education in September, a two-year pre-cursor to university.

I’m concerned also that she seems to have become insular and isolated from her friends. She’s not an introvert as such, but she’s like me in lacking sociability and has only a small circle of friends. Undoubtedly we’re all missing our friends but I fear that she’s too cut off, choosing instead to focus her attention on her family, and her online life. Maybe not the most healthy balance?

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Our 14-year-old boy

The sole male offspring in our blended brood is my stepson. He’s extroverted, sociable, and occasionally loud (said with love). Home school for him and his sister (our youngest) has been structured and rigorous — all credit due to their school and the teachers.

The quality of his schoolwork has improved since being at home, maybe helped by the lack of distraction? That at least is a positive.

He’s a homebody at heart but clearly misses his friends. FaceTime calls, Netflix watch-parties, and social media are poor substitutes for his normal social life and I know he’d like to be able to hang out with his mates.

He also misses his father, and that’s understandable. They’d usually visit with him once per month but haven’t seen him since February. There’s no end in sight unfortunately and based on his job (nursing), it seems unlikely that even a brief visit will be possible any time soon.

I’m not usually pushy about trying to be his stepdad and now seems even less appropriate a time to be so. His mum, my wife is furloughed and does a great job keeping him and his sister buoyed up and optimistic. Nonetheless, emotions run high at times

The pre-teen girl

Our youngest was becoming a teenager in all but age as Covid-19 was coming into view. She’s hard-working at school and sociable, with a large group of friends. Her grades since homeschooling began and have remained high — she works hard.

Her biggest hardship has been in the lack of access to her friends when she probably wanted them around her the most. She’s ordered photo prints online and filled picture frames with collages of selfies with her friends — these now adorn her bedroom walls.

It’s notable that she’d rather be FaceTiming her friends of an evening rather than joining a family Zoom call and we’ve had to acknowledge and accept that.

We’ve eventually learned that while we’re all confined in the same home 24/7, sometimes we need space from each other. Forcing the kids to take part in family Zoom calls in the name of encouraging cohesion can have the opposite effect it seems.

Common struggles

It seems there are some common themes and lessons to take away.

We all need structure

Structure remains important for us all. At weekends we let the kids sleep in, but they all do better when they’re getting to bed at a decent hour and not sleeping through the day at weekends.

We preserve family mealtimes and often take a daily walk together. We encourage them to take further exercise with us in the garden. Board games are a good diversion from social media when they can be persuaded to play and we try and encourage them into the weekly family Zoom calls. When my girls were staying with their Mum, I wrote them each a weekly letter by snail-mail which seemed to be well received too.

Knowing that all their routines have been disrupted, it seems reasonable that we as parents provide structure at home. Teenagers have the will and autonomy to resist at times and just as school will impose rules, it helps us as parents to do this at home even if it’s painful!

Missing their friends and family

This is a no-brainer but worth re-stating. A kick-around with a football in the garden is a poor substitute for doing so with their friends. Watching a movie on TV with us parents isn’t the same as watching movies with their pals. As much as we may try and fill the void by spending time with our kids, the appeal for them must be limited.

We’ve learned through encountering resistance that it’s better to offer the opportunity but not to insist they join in with family stuff. They take part when it suits them and are left to their own devices when they object.

We encourage all our kids to FaceTime and call their other parents. When visiting is impossible it’s important they’re still able to feel in touch with their parents and wider family.

FOMO

FOMO is an ever-present feature in the life of a teen. Fortunately, while they might fear the things they would ordinarily be missing out on, at least right now there really isn’t much at all going on elsewhere!

Our kids are pretty pragmatic and while they might feel hard done by now, there’ll be time to catch up in the future.

What will education look like?

We often speculate what education will look like in the future.

With our kids spanning all of the main stages of the British education system, we’ve seen how educational institutions have adapted to continue educating students via new technology. This may become the norm or at least a feature of education in the future for them all.

Maybe this will mean they can access teaching from universities around the world without a need to travel or live overseas?

Perhaps it will force schools to accept that teaching facts and setting standardised tests aren’t the most effective means of awarding qualifications?

Maybe new opportunities will be unlocked for adopting online tools for learning and personal development in daily life? It might mean that home-learning, like home-working becomes a more widespread and accepted norm?

As a committed and established home worker myself, I see that as a very good thing.

Summing up

Parenting can be hard, even under the most favourable and positive circumstances. At times like these things are harder still.

Weathering this successfully as a family (so far) has demanded that we try and remain flexible, positive, and as easygoing about life throughout. It feels easier, happier, and more balanced when we are each able to go with the flow, allow each other slack and not prejudge situations, or each other too harshly.

We will continue to try and ride the ups and downs as we have done and hope that sooner or later we move on to the next phase, our new normal (whatever that looks like!)

I hope you and your loved ones remain safe and healthy.

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