Change has come. The world is no longer as it was. Coronavirus, and or the responses thereto, has made sure that our lives will just not be the same again. One key change is the accelerated move to working-from-home arrangements. We are seeing almost all sectors of white-collar work (where physical labour and physical presence is optional) move in this direction and it seems to be a trend that’s here to stay – it’s unlikely we will ever again see the numbers of commuting office workers we have seen in recent decades. This will have far reaching implications (transport, roads, inner city developments, etc .) but arguably the biggest impact is on the home and on the family. We have all seen and or experienced some of this already. It does look like the parents of young children have an especially challenging time, with “home schooling’ one of the biggest challenges….
On a point of clarity, it is worth noting that what most parents are doing under covid-lockdowns not actually home schooling. Home-schooling is a deliberate decision to educate children outside of the formal school structures, long term. There are various motivations for this but in essence some parents feel they can do a better job than the school system, with cultural or religious preferences often playing a role too. These home-schooling parents usually have a very clear plan, adequate resources (space, Internet, books, etc.), and the results are often quite positive (the children are typically strong independent learners although peer-socialising can be a challenge). But right now, under lockdowns, we are seeing parents taking on a rather different role: parents are being asked to support distance-learning programmes that are being run by “normal” schools. The resulting scenarios are therefore not always highly planned, not deliberate, not well-resourced. Most families find it extremely challenging. Parents often feel that they cannot do a good-enough job, given that they are not trained teachers and they do have busy lives already. Many feel that they end up failing their own children and there are growing concerns about another “lost generation” whose education is inadequate. All of this is real and entirely understandable. So, what advice can be offered?
Understand your role. You are not a trained professional educator. You are a parent. Do not make the mistake of thinking that you’ll fail if you cannot do the same job that a schoolteacher does. Put differently: be realistic. Put differently again: give yourself a break here.
Create structure. Perhaps the biggest role of the education-supporting-parent-at-home is around structure. Schools are highly structured environments with strict rules, start and end times, dress codes or uniforms, disciplinary procedures, etc. Your home is not a school of course but when it comes to learning, some structure is essential. We suggest things like:
- Clear learning times that are not negotiable. Each day should have a clear structure with well defines learning and “free” times. The details will vary, and by all means work around your own daily schedule, but a schedule is worthwhile.
- Build a school. Well, just a dedicated space for schoolwork. If you’re fortunate you might have a study or a spare bedroom, or a big dining room that you can convert, etc. But many will have to use temporary spaces (e.g. a kitchen table that reverts to kitchen use when “school” is over). Whatever your situation is, please try to create and use a dedicated space for school and learning work.
- Dress for school. It’s unlikely you will ask your kids to wear school uniforms at home, but insisting on comfortable adequate clothing can be helpful. Discourage pyjama-school and the wearing of “weekend” or “going out” clothes when learning. This might seem too restrictive, but it can be helpful in reinforcing the importance of school-work at home.
Be honest. There will be questions you cannot answer. Science or maths you do not understand. History you have forgotten. Books you’ve never read. And more. This is fine. You do not need to know everything. Your children know you do not know everything (sorry, they do). Use Google. Ask the school. Ask your child (!). Your job is not to know the answers but to help your child find the answers. There is a difference.
Talk to the school. Schools are trying really hard to respond to this new-reality. They are developing new distance-learning methods. They are implementing innovative classroom-scheduling approaches to maximise classroom time when possible. They have all sorts of resources for your kids and for you. Talk to them. We know that some schools have made more progress than others (and we have a fair sense of the complex reasons behind this) but all schools are trying their absolute best and all schools are ready to help parents.
Talk to work. Your competing daily roles (mother, worker, wife, daughter, gym-goer, etc.) will get into conflict sometimes. This is happening to all of us. Including your boss. Most bosses are human beings too. Really! So ask your boss for a bit of flexibility when you need it. She or he is likely to be more understanding than you might think. If you remain committed to delivering your work deliverables in a reasonable timeframe, you can probably expect a fair and reasonable response.
Begin with basics. Every stage of education has its foundation. We begin with reading, writing, and numbers. We develop these skills as we add musicality, world-knowledge (history, geography), and more. You will not go far wrong by concentrating on the key foundation skills of literacy & numeracy (indeed, many believe that these core skills are already under-taught).
Don’t overdo it. Childhood is not only about school. So don’t expect your kids to study for 10 hours a day. Remember that before you were the learning-facilitator at home, you were, and you are, Mom (or Dad, etc.). Children need love. Children need fun. Children need exercise and fresh air. Etc. Try to remember all of this and the need for balance.
Remember age. If your child is already at high school, the need for parental involvement is much less. It is really primary school children who need parental input the most – older children take on the role of independent-learner quite well when encouraged. As your children age, you can and should start to let them take more and more personal responsibility for learning. The details and some professional opinions vary a bit here (how much supervision vs how much independence and at what age) but the basic point is clear enough. So please give this some careful thought so that you support your child in becoming an independent, educated adult.
There is no doubt that in these times of unprecedented change, school-going children may suffer from lack of schooling, and all that that means. Parents can do a great deal to manage this and to support the vital education process. There is a need for sensible balanced realistic planning, careful thought, and a flexible family approach. It is not easy. It is actually very challenging. But much can be done by smart dedicated parents, like you.