Microscopic picure of coronavirus

My kids are at home. What should I be doing with them?

Personally…I’m not going to do school-at-home…I’m not going to turn myself into my child’s teacher…Let’s face up to what this really means – nothing will continue as normal, including the delivery of the school curriculum.

We find ourselves living in interesting times. Here in Australia we are more or less at the point of school closures, with parents being asked to keep their children home if at all possible. It’s probably just a matter of time before the restrictions on social gatherings are even more extreme. In many countries, physical distancing in response to the Corona Virus pandemic has meant that the schools are completely closed, and our children are at home. We are all being encouraged to stay home and limit our contact with others.

Many parents I have spoken to are optimistic about this chance to spend some extra time with their children. They are also anxious…if getting out kids to do homework is a hassle, what is getting them to do routine schoolwork going to be like, day in day out?

School at home?

Personally, if it comes to this, I’m not going to do school-at-home.  While my child is at home, I’ll encourage her to to do the work the School asigns; if my child is motivated to do some work, or the school manages to provide enough contact and structure online, she can do it if she feels like it. She’s a teenager, and pretty self motivated. But I’m not going to turn myself into her teacher.  I’m going to focus on staying connected with her.

Some parents, who are teachers, or are inspired, seem like they are relishing the opportunity to experiment with home-schooling.

But I’m not. I will be trying to keep my work going while she is home. I don’t have time to put into figuring out what she should be doing, or to police it. But I also don’t want my relationship with her to be fouled up by having to impose some kind of school routine on her.

Should we be our children’s teachers?

Mother helps her son with homework at kitchen table

Managing homework is hard enough. I never asked for the homework, and there is hot debate, and in my opinion, not a lot of research which supports the value of homework, at least up until the middle years of high school. Homework is one of those externally imposed things than reaches in and affects family life – we parents are left scrabbling around trying to manage it, and having our relationships with our kids damaged by having to try to get it done – helping either by offering practical support where we have the resources, skills and expertise, and moral support when what they need is encouragement. And sometimes, I have to admit, we might even stretch to doing the homework for them, just to get everyone out of what feels like an impossible jam.

What is homework good for? Upsets, at the very least. Holding out to our kids that they need to get down to homework is a kind of limit we parents end up having to set. And when we bring limits, it often pulls our children’s feelings up to the surface. When this happens, we can be confident that listening will help. Those feelings will be better out than in, and our kids will function better after the upset.

I didn’t ask for Corona Virus, and I didn’t ask for the schools to close (though personally, I am relieved that they have, at least in some places – seems to me they are surely hotbeds of potential contagion, but that is a different topic). We are in the middle of a most unprecedented, unplanned and extraordinary rupture to our normal routines.

Let’s face up to what that really means – nothing will continue as normal, including the delivery of the school curriculum.

What’s the hurry, anyway?

I’ve increasingly been concerned about the growing pressure of later high school – the sense that young people get that it is “do-or-die” as if making the right choices at school, and doing well in these final years at school, is the their only opportunity to secure a good life. But we all know that there are many pathways to success. And, speaking for myself, it took me an awful long time to figure out what success looked like for me. There’s no way I could have set things up right at the tender age of 17, though admittedly, I got very little help. I think these days, there is much more useful support offered to young people to help them find a path in life than was offered to me. But really, is there such a hurry?

Seriously, what difference will it make if this cohort of children end up taking a bit longer to get through school, because one of the world’s worst epidemics in modern times took over our health systems, our economies, our schooling systems, our social systems – in fact, deeply affecting just about every system we have. How is is likely, or even desirable, that our children will power through their prescribed 12 years of curriculum as if none of this is happening? Surely their progress through school will be disrupted, interrupted, just like everything else.

Online access??

There’s been a lot of talk about schools using online platforms to deliver the curriculum during this crisis. But the capacity of at least some schools to deliver this “online learning” is going to be limited

chemistry homework in spiral book and calculator

, anyway. I have lived and worked in communities where many families are lucky to have one computer in the house, and where the cost of accessing the internet would be prohibitive. Communities where the schools struggle to deliver the curriculum face to face, across the barriers of disadvantage, culture, and language. How is “online learning” going to go in those communities?

And speaking to parents who are also teachers, but with only one computer in the house, they have wondered how they might spend their time providing online support and teaching from the same computer that their children are using to access resources from their own school.

I don’t think we want to be leaving our children in front of endless hours you-tube or other screen based distractions. But I also don’t think we want to be fouling up our relationships with them, at this stressful time, by trying to make them do schoolwork.

If we end up with an enforced period at home as part of the response to this virus, then I will be a) trying to work as much as I can, given the insecurities of my income and b)taking the time to enjoy my child, spending time doing things together, perhaps embarking on some joint projects to learn some new things, or do some new things together, within the confines of our home. I’ll be doing whatever brings us closer together. But I won’t be trying to supervise and enforce the doing of schoolwork. Once this is all over, if she has to take an extra year or two to complete the education she decides she needs or wants, then so be it.

Thinking of all the parents, all over the world, currently working out what this big challenge to humanity means for them and their families. Wishing you the best during these difficult times.

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© 2020 by Madeleine Winter.
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