School Daze: The homeschooling mum

School Daze: The homeschooling mum
Joanna O’Sullivan with her daughters, Holly, 9, and Sadie, 10.

In Conversation with Ciara McConnell

My friend, Olive, had an aunt in the convent attached to my primary school in Cork, Christ The King in Turners Cross. 

We assumed it was for this reason all the nuns loved Olive, but looking back, I think she might just have been well behaved.

I was outgoing and curious and certainly happy. Looking back, I think I worried a lot though. I don’t know why. 

I think the worry came from myself, If I got 8/10 in a spelling test I’d be upset about the two I got wrong. And I dreaded putting my hand up in class to ask to be allowed go to the toilets, because I was always asking and was regularly refused. 

It wasn’t just me, this happened to other girls as well. 

As I got older I often left exam halls early for that reason, and rushing through exams became my way of managing. 

I found out years later that I have Crohn’s disease, and that I have probably had it since I was young. I wonder now if that had an effect and caused an underlying nervousness.

I went to South Pres in Douglas St. It’s Nano Nagle Place now. It did not look then like it does now; it was falling apart. 

I was on the debating team, which sounds more impressive than the reality: I’m sure there were only three blazers in the school, they weren’t part of our normal uniform, and one of them fit me.

I was good at English, Irish, and music. That might have been because there was a lot of learning off in those subjects. 

I was woeful at maths. The homework used to make me cry, and I’m sure it made my mam cry too!

I remember when I had to get my wisdom teeth pulled, for each appointment I asked my mam to book it for Tuesday’s double maths. I preferred the dentist to that lesson.

If at all possible I was even worse at knitting; I can remember the strain on my teacher’s face when she’d get to me and I was still trying to get through the hair band while everyone else had graduated to knitting slippers. 

I never managed the slippers and my finished hair band had at least three holes in it.

I homeschool my daughters, Holly, 9, and Sadie, 10, and I had a number of reasons for choosing this route. 

Definitely, the moments of being told to sit when I needed to leave the classroom reinforced my choice, but there was nothing bad that happened to me at school, and I didn’t know anyone who had been homeschooled. 

My children were born in 2009 and 2010, and the years quickly took us spiralling on the recession wave from two jobs and two cars to one job and one car. 

My husband, being an oyster farmer, often starting shifts at 4am, didn’t inspire me to wake the children, drop him to work every day, and then get the children to school, and do those runs in the car all day long. 

We are not religious, and I was unwilling to have the children baptised to secure school places, so, all things considered, home education became a viable option.

I observe the school days and school holidays, with an adjustment for extra days off, of course. 

My daughters and I aim for two hours five days a week. 

That includes a break for hot chocolate. 

With two of them to one of me, that’s plenty of time. And they are happy when it’s finished —we all are!

For younger children that would be far too much time considering the pupil-teacher ratio. This is a change for them and could seem intense, so start off the same every day, maybe saying what day of the week it is, and finish the same every day, with a song or a poem.

And when your lesson is over, say it, let the children know that when “homeschool is finished for today”, that you mean it.

I know there are a lot of parents who are finding themselves homeschooling their children now, as we find ourselves in a national emergency. 

As hard as it is for adults to adjust to the sudden changes, it must surely be worse for the children.

For pre-schoolers and creche-goers, it must be confusing and unfamiliar.

My children are old enough to understand the new restrictions they’re experiencing. 

However, they miss swimming and drama, and really miss their friends… and homeschooling isn’t even new to them.

Remember, I chose to home-educate my children. That means I had time to think about it and prepare, neither I nor my children had a different routine replace an established one overnight. 

I know a lot of people who unschool their children; they are home-educators who do not apply a routine to the learning. And those children are indistinguishable from mine in terms of literacy. 

Take it easy on yourself, and your children, you are all well able.

- Joanna O’Sullivan is a stay-at-home homeschooling mother. She holds a degree in English and geography and a diploma in Irish and Italian. She has taught English as a foreign language in Ireland and abroad

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