We spoke to parents to find out how they’re making homeschooling work for them while taking care of their own, and their family's, mental health
As schools around the country closed to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, once again parents are faced with the challenges of homeschooling their children.
And it’s no easy feat. Contending with schoolwork alongside juggling your own work, not to mention the mental wellbeing of your family, parents have a lot on their plate at the moment.
In these difficult times, it can be reassuring to remember that you’re not alone. And to help you along the way, we collected together the advice from eight parents who, along the way, have picked up a tip or two on making homeschooling work for them.
1. Make time to take care of yourself
Sarah Cooke, a marketing and business coach, highlights how important it is to take care of your own mental health, so that you can be there for others.
“I'm a big believer in self-care, and in order to look after those around me, I need to look after myself so this remains a priority in my day.
“Mental and physical health is key, as well as time on your own and with your partner. Having regular exercise scheduled in as well as a meal plan has really helped me to maintain these areas.
“We have enjoyed daily walks exploring new routes around our local area. We are lucky to live very close to beautiful countryside and we've enjoyed watching the seasons change on our regular routes.”
2. Find a routine that works for everyone
Blogger and ex-teacher Cécile Blaireau suggests that the key to success is in finding a routine and structure that works for the whole family.
“Stick to routines that work for your kids. I start the day with breakfast and a story with my son. He looks forward to it and gets involved in selecting the story. For younger ones, do an activity for 20 minutes, and then something more fun.
“Get at least 30 min to yourself, and don't feel guilty about it! And go out with the kids as much as you can – there are so many activities you can do for them to learn!
“I am keeping a homeschool journal so that I can go back to it in the future and see all I achieved with my son while working full time. Celebrate all your successes with the kids, however small they are. My son telling me he had 'the best day' ever is fab!”
3. Stay in contact with school
John Adams, author of the parenting blog dadbloguk.com, recommends staying in touch with teachers and reaching out for help when you need it.
"Do you have a copy of your child's school timetable, and do you know when lessons change and breaks have been set? If not, message the school and find out. This will make it much easier to establish whether your children are doing the work they are meant to be.
"If your children cannot do absolutely every task set in a school day, don't panic. Tell the teacher. They should be sympathetic and offer help. Remember, we are dealing with a global health pandemic and simply cannot do everything.
"Stay with your children first thing in the morning until they are set up and you are sure all IT is working correctly. Once everything is up and running properly, you can probably leave the kids to it for a while. I have found my main role is to provide IT support!"
4. You can’t do it all
Running a business, caring for her one-year-old, and also homeschooling her seven-year-old has taught Cassandra Davis a lesson on being forgiving towards yourself.
“You can’t do it all. This was the biggest thing that helped my own mental health this time around. I had to decide what I was going to let slide and what I really needed help with. My husband has worked full-time throughout the pandemic as he’s classed as a key worker (but works from home) and I was doing my best to not disturb him so he could work, teach the seven-year-old and look after the baby, make sure the house was tidy, and that we were all fed and had clean clothes. Not to mention running my own business!
“We did things like meal planning for the week so we didn’t waste time deciding what to have for dinner and knew we had the ingredients and who was going to cook it. I gave the 7-year-old some chores to do in exchange for things like extra screen time or a later bedtime, and it helped to take the load off me.”
5. Divide your own work into chunks
Liana Fricker is a business owner and mum to two primary school-aged children, who learnt lessons from the first lockdown on how to manage her own work alongside homeschooling.
“If you're working full time, try to do it in chunks. I wake up at 6 am to spend two hours answering emails and/or making a head start on my to-do list. I take calls in the afternoon when the children have finished online lessons for the day.
“In Lockdown one, I approached homeschool like a to-do list, and would get stressed out when we started to, inevitably, fall behind. This time I know the most important thing is for the kids to feel happy and calm. If that means we skip a lesson (or two) so be it. As working parents, we can only do what we can.”
6. Reach out if you need help
If you’re struggling, it’s important to reach out to those who may be able to help, as Ivana Poku explains.
“If you have a boss or supervisor, tell them if you are struggling, and try to find the best solution that works for you both. There is no good in hiding your emotions or pretending you are OK if you are not. If you find things difficult, be open and honest. Most employers are happy to help and support their employees, especially at times like this.
“This is an unprecedented emergency situation impacting the whole world. It is absolutely not possible to facilitate distance learning with a primary aged child and work from home at the same time. You can certainly have activities where your child learns, but your focus is your job, and survival.”
7. Follow their lead
Parent and early years education expert, parent and Education Lead at tiney, Laura House suggests ways of following your child’s lead.
“If they aren't massively engaged by online Zoom lessons, don’t freak out. In the early years, learning is about building new skills, developing independence and thinking creatively. So instead, I’d recommend asking them to pick something they are interested in, and give them the tools and support to build their own project on that topic.
“For example, if they hate online lessons but love fairies, build a fairy house, design a complex fairy city, or encourage them to write their own illustrated guide to fairies. If they refuse to do school worksheets but are really interested in LEGO, build replicas of global monuments or design an extension for the International Space Station, and email it to NASA.
“They'll probably have much more fun learning this way, and are far less likely to bother you while you're doing your own work if they're doing something they really care about.
“Learning at home in this way - when you take the pressure off and leave space for your children to explore their interests - can provide brilliant new opportunities to engage in deep, child-led learning that they may not always get at school.”
8. Emphasise with your children
Nick Grantham, a digital recruiter from Saffron Walden, is juggling work with homeschooling, and emphasises the importance of empathising with your child.
“Home schooling can be the most frustrating experience for everyone, but it’s vital that you try and empathise with what your child is going through. Yes, it’s rubbish for parents who are trying to work whilst suddenly having to juggle their child’s learning at the same time, but it’s probably harder for them than it is for you. All of a sudden they’ve stopped seeing their friends, learning amongst their peers and as a part of a collective, and having all the stimulation and social interaction that the school setting provides. That’s a lot for a child to absorb. Our eldest son is just five years old, so we try really hard not to expect too much of him and to prioritise his happiness over anything else. And praise goes a long way, so celebrate anything that they do well as it will help boost their morale, and yours too.
"Tapping into the resources that might be available to you also does wonders. Get outside and learn about nature whilst having a walk, factor in a scavenger hunt to capture a child’s attention, download some audiobooks to help fill time away from screens (by the way, Audible gives two free audiobooks away with a free trial), or think of who might be available to do something a bit different to support home learning - our son’s aunty is a French teacher, so was kind enough to do some short online French lessons for our son.
“Most importantly, know that this won’t be forever and you’re unlikely to have this time again. So, really try and make the most of the time with your children. Does that email really need to be answered instantly, or could it wait half an hour?"
Struggling and need to talk? Connect with a counsellor.