Well, what a difference a few weeks can make. Usually, at this time of year, I would be talking to parents about exam preparation, stress awareness and anxiety management for students, but all of that seems like a different reality.
Now, we have a new – albeit temporary – normal. For you, this could look like going to work and dropping your children off at a partially-closed school; it could be trying to juggle working from home and caring for your children; or it could be looking after them full-time with little respite or support.
Whatever situation you’re in, you’ve probably had thoughts about ‘home-schooling’ and how you will both entertain and teach your children during this unprecedented time. I have seen countless posts and stories about parents worried and anxious about becoming their child’s teacher overnight. But you know what? You don’t need to be.
As a former teacher with over a decade of teaching experience, I just want to let you know that this is not an academic emergency; it is a health emergency. Children all over the country and indeed, all over the world, are not being formally educated at the moment and that is okay.
In this mini-series, I will be sharing a few tips to hopefully help you find some much-needed perspective:
1. Have realistic expectations. At the beginning of last week, I saw some amazingly detailed home-school timetables consisting of 9-10am Maths and 10-11am English etc. If you can stick to this kind of rigid structure and it helps with your mindset, then go for it. However, for most people this is unrealistic to maintain long-term. In fact, you’re setting yourself and your children up for failure. This is so difficult to stick to unless you have nothing else to do in your house (unlikely) and your children are obedient and compliant 100% of the time (again, unlikely). Be honest with yourself and your levels of motivation and then reassess your expectations.
2. Please don’t compare yourself to other parents, especially on social media. This is not the time to be feeling guilty that you didn’t build a fairy castle with your toddler or teach your teen advanced algebra. You may not have the time or energy to do that and that’s fine. Use the wonderful examples on Pinterest and Instagram as sources of inspiration rather than comparison. You do you.
3. Be mindful of your environment. Don’t artificially create a classroom for 6 hours per day in your home. Even those people who home-school will tell you that they don’t replicate the school environment. Having a quiet, peaceful space where children can relax is always a good idea though, especially in a chaotic, busy household. It doesn’t have to be big…even a tepee or make-shift den will work. Put some cushions and a little blanket in there and even a few fairy lights if possible. This can be their haven when things get too much.
4. Many teachers lovingly, but hastily, put work together for your children to take home when schools closed suddenly. If your primary-aged children want to dip into it, great, but don’t turn school work into a battlefield. It’s not worth it. The likelihood is, your child’s teacher won’t have the time to check through all of the work done during this isolation period anyway. Secondary school children will probably have online work to complete. Trust that they will do some at some stage and if they don’t, they are old enough to explain their actions (or inaction) if they need to. Unnecessary power struggles won’t do anything to foster a calm environment at home.
5. My family has been working with a very flexible schedule or rather ‘daily flow’ as I like to call it. Dr Daniel J Siegel, an American Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and his colleague David Rock, developed a ‘Healthy Mind Platter’ encompassing seven daily essential activities to optimise brain power and emotional wellbeing. This is the basis for our normal daily flow but it is even more crucial to us now. It includes sleep, connection time with family and nature, physical time and downtime, such as reading or listening to music. Reading is a powerful predictor of academic success, so cultivate a love of reading in your children! The platter also includes time-in (e.g. meditation, gratitude journals etc.) and playtime. Child-directed, free play cannot be underestimated. It has huge benefits, as does getting outside and soaking up nature. One of the final elements is focus time and this is the part most parents are getting worked up about. Focus time includes school work but learning isn’t confined to the four walls of a classroom. Simple games like Hangman or writing letters to extended family are great for Literacy skills, playing cards and Monopoly are excellent for Maths and cooking involves so much Science. Learning life-skills such as tying shoe-laces, telling the time or sewing on a button can be equally valuable. Think outside of the box.
6. Throughout this experience, you don’t have to be your child’s entertainer or teacher. Let them play. Let them be outside if you have the luxury of a garden or yard. Let them be bored; it’s excellent for their imagination and creativity.
In the next part of the mini-series, we will look at what your children really need during this challenging time.
Stay safe and take care.
Nadia McSheffrey is founder of The Tranquil Treehouse. Nadia works with parents to help them be the parent they want to be and find tranquillity in their family lives. She also works with children and teachers to support their own emotional wellbeing.