Louisa's blog: Home School

“Home-school”: enough to chill the heart of many working parents and, until recently, two words that had rarely entered my mind as potentially one day being relevant to my world.  

Two weeks ago, the government here in the UAE, where I’ve lived with my family for the past 5 years, announced all schools would close due to the ongoing spread of Covid-19. Shortly after, and three weeks before the planned end of term, schools closed on 5th March for 4 weeks of distance-learning and holidays.

So it began: home-school. But for me, not just home-school; home-school and home-working. My fear around whether the two would ever be able to successfully co-habit was real. At Cityparents we’ve spoken often of work/life boundary, of finding a healthy balance with technology, of family time measured by quality not quantity. As an advocate for working parents, these are messages we support and believe in. As a small-business leader, however, I’ve rarely adapted them for myself.

My work running Cityparents, where the whole team operates on a remote and largely term-time basis, affords incredible flexibility. But it also absorbs me as if it were my third child – and one who’s never been taught routine and boundaries. Work is ever-present, fitting seamlessly around school pick-ups and drop-offs, benefiting from uninterrupted attention during the school day, then pausing and resuming when (the real) children permit. I allow it because I love it - but I love my family more, and so circumstances now dictate this has to change.

‘Stiff-upper-lip’ helpfully prompted my husband as we sat down to make a plan last weekend that allows for home-school, and our children - our 6 year old son and 8 year old daughter - to take priority. The day is ruthlessly carved up, with slots for the children’s work and my own work timetabled (and my husband’s too, in the event his office is closed) and stuck on the fridge because, well, nothing happens unless it’s stuck on the fridge.

Natural school-lovers, our children have often role-played home school, so it made sense to put them in charge of creating the real thing. And so the “Rosa Huggles Academy” was born (motto  – “always time for cuddles”), a uniform devised (red, white and blue being their patriotic colours of choice), a reward system planned (involves lots of chocolate mini eggs*), and resourcing agreed (Daddy won the headmaster job sadly; I am merely Mrs Mummy).

Together we drew up a timetable, as at the moment we're running home-school without school aid - official 'distance-learning' kicks in next week. Around a curriculum core of maths, English, science and humanities, the children planned their own daily themes – Monday is Careers Day, Tuesday is Pyjama Day, Wednesday is Roman Day, every Thursday Teddy Bears Picnic Day. We raided the house for learning resources, realising that unwittingly we’ve been planning for this moment for much of the past 8 years. Piles of hitherto unread non-fiction books were dusted down and sorted into themes and the children chose their favourites - over the past week we’ve read and learnt about Space, the Body, Roman history, Coding and the Titanic.

My printer ink ran out on day 2 printing off free column-addition and fraction worksheets from the internet but a quick online delivery sorted that; the App store has been raided for everything vaguely educational; abandoned BrainQuest books have come back to life, National Geographic has become the default TV channel, and the musical instruments - harp, cello, violin and piano - are winning, finally benefiting from the long-hoped for daily practice. 

My husband, keen to broaden ‘home-school’ to ‘life-school’, helped out on his days working at home - a novel experience for him (cue much ‘debate’ as to which of us gets to use my single desk in the study).  He delivered lessons on music appreciation (carefully planned around his record collection) and the stock market – the children now have a virtual share portfolio they’ve selected and are monitoring daily, although they’re unimpressed with the current downward trend.

Then suddenly here we are, on the other side of week 1. The fear about how we will manage home-school has gone, replaced by routine and the children’s rapid adjustment to their ‘new normal’ (I still cannot bring myself to think of it as this). It’s been a successful week, my 6 year old sweetly announcing home-school was waaaaay better than the real thing, although I think he just wants me to keep smiling. The highlights, undoubtedly, are the moments that have come from spending this unexpected extra time with the children, participating directly in their learning experience and witnessing their pride and enjoyment at small successes.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. It has involved intensive mental energy keeping positive for ourselves and the children, staying calm in the face of worsening global news, being organised so everything important gets done, giving both work and the children undivided attention to maximise efficiency and productivity.  There have been many compromises, and obviously my work is one. I’m managing, just. Exercise has been a major failing – we’ve been wholly home-based this week and ‘cabin fever’ is starting to creep in. My daily step count is under 500, and my diet has reverted to an unholy trinity of cheese, chocolate and wine. But staying physically healthy is essential for all of us, so diet and exercise will be a priority as we begin week 2.

Rumours now abound that schools here will be closed until the Summer with distance learning continuing – as parents we understand the need for precaution, but my two children are so sad they may never get to go back to their lovely year 2 and year 3 classes again and enjoy time with their friends and teachers.  I confess I’m still daunted by the prospect of a few, or even many, more weeks of this. Unchartered territory this may be, we are soldiering on, fuelled by Herculean effort on all sides and an overwhelming desire on the part of my husband and I to make this, as much as possible, a positive experience for our children and ourselves.

*the answer to everything.

Category: A Citymother's Diary

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