Mrs Chaos and myself are three weeks into our new job roles during the Coronavirus lockdown. The politically correct term is homeschooling parents. But really, we’re more like prison guards at a maximum-security penitentiary.
We’re currently in Spain where the lockdown means that we are only allowed outside our property to buy groceries, for a medical emergency, or to walk a dog… but not a child. You will not be surprised to learn that people are renting out their dogs and selling their children. No off-property exercising and no more than one person can leave the property at a time.
I had come up with a cunning plan for a jail break with the twins but was foiled by Mrs C. I think she objected to the dog outfits and leashes. Or perhaps it was the muzzles… All I know is that her eyebrows were raised to an all-new-high.
Anyway, back to our prison guard duties. I mean homeschooling. We’re not complete newbies at this, having dabbled at homeschooling our eldest for a few months last year.
We were however a little unprepared to be homeschooling all FOUR of our kids. As were millions of parents across the world. We’ve had some successes and failures in our first three weeks during the Coronavirus lockdown. What were our biggest lessons learned?
Though there are so many failures lessons, there will likely be a part 2 to this post…
Divide and conquer
I suggested to Mrs C on day 1 of prison camp that I take responsibility for ‘teaching’ the 3 boys and for any communication for them with the school. Mrs C would do the same for our elementary aged daughter. That way none of the messages (the many, many, copious emails) from the school would slip between the cracks.
After the first week, we realized that this wasn’t working. It meant neither of us got a break. It also meant that the kids were largely stuck with the same parent, and more importantly, we were each stuck with the same kids.
So we changed our process. From week 2, Mrs C has taken responsibility for homeschooling everyone on Monday and Tuesday, and I’ve done the same on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday is our passion project day, hands-on-deck for everyone because the mess is phenomenal.
This means that whilst it’s more hectic on the days when we’re on duty, we each get a break for couple of mornings a week.
We are in the incredibly fortunate position of neither of us currently working full time. We do have some volunteering commitments, but those are fairly flexible as to when we schedule them. A big kudos to all the parents still working their fulltime jobs whilst homeschooling, catering and cleaning. Just do whatever you need to to get through this.
Expectation gap from teachers
The announcement of school closures in Spain came suddenly. That left schools scrambling to come up with plans for how they would do remote schooling.
Our kids were all assigned some remote work by the school. For our three preschoolers, that was 2 or 3 short activities per day. But for 8-year-old Leia, a mountain of work arrived for the first week.
As well as Leia complaining about the work (and how much she wished she was back at ‘proper school’) it added to the stress levels at home – particularly for Mrs Chaos. After the first couple of weeks we highlighted our concerns to the school, only to find out that the majority of work was optional and just to keep kids busy. We should have reached out to the school earlier. Knowing we had this flexibility would have reduced some of our home stress levels.
Expectations gap between the prison guards
My view when we started picking up guard duty was that our role was one step up from babysitting. After all the whole world is going to be 2-3 months behind by the end of this year. It’s not like our kids would fall far behind if they ended up learning nothing during the lockdown.
And our kids are young. That allows plenty of time to catch up. For the record, kids in Finland, consistently amongst the best education systems in the world, only start school at age 7.
So my baseline was low. And as noted above, I was initially looking after our three youngest – where the school expectations were also limited.
Mrs Chaos had a different expectation. Driven in part by the level of work assigned to Leia, as well as the need to make sure our kids did not fall behind.
Our mistake was in not talking to each other at the start of prison duty about our expectations. Mrs C could see me ‘slacking off’ on my days and that made her pushier with the kids. Yet I could see her driving our kids hard and that made me go easier on them when I was covering them. What started as moderate differences, ended up becoming wider and wider.
We both sensed after the second week that we were frustrated with the process and each other. We talked about the difference in our expectations and realized that if we each came a little bit towards the other’s starting position – that we weren’t that far apart.
When we combined this with a new schedule that gave us each some time off, and clarification from the school that the elementary workload was a suggestion only, we arrived at a homeschool process that has worked much better.
No Easter holidays
Our school is now on Easter holidays, meaning that there was no assigned work for this week. But our kids are not on holiday. Much to our daughter’s disappointment. With us detained at home, it helps us to have a structure to each day. Our kids have continued with a ‘light’ version of their schooling.
This week is more focused on passion projects, completing assignments from school, and more time for family games. Some of the games Leia has come up with are slightly more disturbing due to recent events. Including Easter-chick pom-poms that she repurposed for ‘Hunt the virus’…
As well as ‘Corona tag’. No elaboration needed but at least its teaching them the importance of social distancing.
A flexible schedule
With four kids, we find our lives work best around some sort of schedule. That way everyone knows roughly what they are meant to be doing at any given time. But it also meant that we were a bit more intentional about activities that we wanted to do with the kids. Rather than getting bogged down in Covid News Updates.
Our first week had no schedule i.e. breakfast around 9ish. Our second week, Mrs C drafted up a plan to block in time for schoolwork, passion projects, and game-schooling. Though I was not amused when she tried to include my morning ‘office time’ in the schedule.
Keeping a tight schedule with unpredictable minors adds artificial stress. We find that if our schedule is a general plan, but we are relaxed about exact times, our school time / time together is a lot more enjoyable. If Yoda was engaged in a dice game (ie. Gambling math lesson) when it was time for snacks, we just kept playing.
Or when the kids decided to invade our bed one morning. Rather than hustle them out of their PJs and down the stairs for breakfast, Mrs C suggested they all play push daddy out of bed. Vader was not amused.
One thing we’ve added to our morning routine after breakfast is talking as a family about what we are thankful for. That’s included our health, our garden, the food we’re able to buy, and that coronavirus hasn’t made our favorite toys sick.
We also try to explain to our kids how privileged we are. We lived in Africa for many years and we know how challenging it will be if the pandemic takes hold there. Aside from the tragic lack of medical care and families who rely on their daily wage to buy food to eat, very few kids have pencils and paper to continue their studies at home. Never mind the technology or an internet connection for anything more advanced.
Our faith is important to us as a family, and this has been a great time to talk as a family about our values. Gratitude is definitely one of those.
We want to figure out how to retain this time of gratitude once the kids are back in school and our mornings revert to the usual version of whack-a-mole.
Recess is over
Unfortunately my recess is coming to an end and I need to go back to teaching our kids about economics (Catan time in case you’re wondering). It looks like I’ll need that second post to tell you about the rest of our mistakes.
To summarize our lessons from above – good communication all around and a bit of (flexible) planning / scheduling significantly reduced our stresses around homeschooling.
But that’s enough about our failures. What have you done that has gone really well? What lessons have you learned, and what challenges are you going through for which you are still looking for a solution?
If you want to read something more upbeat – here’s a follow up post where we talk about what’s gone well for us.
p.s. you may have noticed that Mrs Chaos has significantly more time on her hands to play with Lego…