Homeschooling: Learning on both sides of the kitchen table

Home-schooling since March has been a learning curve. And not just for the kids! As the school year officially comes to an end, three mums tell Helen O’Callaghan what they’ve learned from ‘doing’ school at the kitchen table.
Homeschooling: Learning on both sides of the kitchen table

Home-schooling since March has been a learning curve. And not just for the kids! As the school year officially comes to an end, three mums tell Helen O’Callaghan what they’ve learned from ‘doing’ school at the kitchen table.

Laura Erskine, BabyDoc Club, with James and Lucy and baby Poppy, and finace Peter Neligan. Picture: Moments Photography
Laura Erskine, BabyDoc Club, with James and Lucy and baby Poppy, and finace Peter Neligan. Picture: Moments Photography

Learning to be patient

Mum-of-three and BabyDoc Club parenting expert (https://www.babydocclub.ie/) Laura Erskine says home-schooling James, 11, and Lucy, 8, while also working herself and minding 17-month-old Poppy has been quite the struggle.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is just how different their needs and learning styles are. What’s it like for teachers, dealing with varying needs of up to 30 children!

“Lucy (second class) is very independent. She doesn’t ask for help, so you assume she’s doing better than she is. Then she reaches a problem and gets frustrated, and you have to unwind her to a state where she’s able to listen. It’s like she assumes she should know this and – without classmates around – she thinks she’s the only one struggling.

“I tell her anecdotes from my schooldays when I struggled with a Maths problem and I work in the ‘trick’ I had for solving it. It works – she feels she’s clued into a shortcut, maybe ‘one up’ on anyone else who mightn’t know this! So I’ve learned I can’t let Lucy march on too far ahead without checking her work.

“I hadn’t realised how visual James (fourth class) is. He finds schoolwork easy and flies through it. The difficulty’s keeping him motivated. We got extra projects from teacher to keep him ticking over. Also, I’ve been managing sibling rivalry around how long schoolwork takes each of them – whoever finishes home-school first has to do chores!

Learning patience has been huge. There’s a lot of internal counting to 10, trying not to react to behaviour but focusing on what’s going on for them. I’ve learned to set realistic expectations about what I can achieve.

"My mantra is: ‘I’m not a teacher, my home isn’t a school. Take a breath, it’s hard, you can only do your best. My children’s education won’t suffer – our emotional wellbeing and mental health’s more important’.

“I’ve also discovered my Irish is shocking! And there are some very obscure words in James’s spelling book, like ‘architrave’ – how would he ever use that in a sentence?!”

Not adding up

The S-Mum blogger (https://www.instagram.com/maria.rushe/) and secondary schoolteacher Maria Rushe is mum to Julia, 8, in second class, and Danielle, 4, who just finished preschool. Maria and husband Emmet also run a gym.

“We both work fulltime, so we found doing solid home-schooling very difficult very quickly. Julia’s at Gaelscoil – the added language element meant I had to do most of the work with her.

“We were glad RTÉ Home School Hub and TG4’s Cúla4 ar Scoil started – we home-schooled with the classroom on in the background. Julia chose from the teacher’s list. I insisted she chose different subjects each day or there’d have been no Maths!

“I’m not great at Maths. I tried teaching Julia Maths but it ended up in a row. I’d be trying to explain, she wouldn’t understand or she’d get distracted. I can teach anybody ambiguity and irony in Shakespeare – but I can’t teach an eight-year-old basic Maths! Once it became stressful, we stopped. It’s not that we pander to her. We’re strict about following through, but we had our own work going on.

“We learned how easily distracted Julia is. She needs a lot of reminding to get back on-task. We always knew she was imaginative and could get distracted, but it was never an issue at home. You realise the teacher’s incredible. We’ve learned Julia’s strengths too – she’s able to imagine and write and is so happy reading and drawing.

“I’ve realised I couldn’t be a primary teacher – the patience you’d need! People said to me ‘you’ll be fine, you’re a teacher’. But I’m not a primary teacher. Some of my friends are saying ‘my God! How do they do it?’ Primary teachers’ general knowledge and ability to jump from subject to subject is phenomenal.

I’ve realised how much I learned at school that I’d forgotten, for example about Christopher Columbus. I’ve been picking up most in music – from School Hub’s Múinteoir Clíona teaching about notes and scales. I direct a musical society but I can’t read music!

Respect for teachers

Mum to Caoilinn, 10 (fourth class), Fiadh, 8 (second class), Ollie, 6 (senior infants) and Jacob, 4, parenting blogger Cliona O’Connor (https://clionaoconnor.ie/) has found home-schooling tough.

“I’ve renewed respect for how demanding teaching is. I was a PE and Science teacher and I did a lot of subbing in primary. I know kids act differently in class – well I hope mine do – but imagine having 30 in the classroom!

“Originally we started home-schooling at 9am. That slipped to 9.30, an hour and a half a day – maximum two hours and that’d be with a cup of coffee in the middle.

“I found senior infants the most challenging. Volume-wise, Ollie had the least to do but he needed most attention – with reading. My kids are in a Gaelscoil and he wouldn’t be sure what language book he was in.

“He’d have six to eight pages to read, two sentences a page. It took six and a half minutes to do one page. It was just torture. You’re there biting your fist, they’re sounding out the words and it’s so obvious to you but not to them. Sometimes they can’t marry the phonetics into the word.

“The girls were fine. If they had a new Maths concept they’d need help with that. I remember my mom teaching me Maths – she’d say ‘breadth’ and not ‘width’, and I’d be like ‘oh Mom! You’re not cool!’ How the tables have turned – they do a different long division method now and I’m trying to figure that out!

“I’ve learned I can find more patience. Every time I think I’m drained, I can dig a little deeper. I can learn to adapt and accept and stick with things. But also some days I accept I have to walk away, that it’s only Maths.

“It’s not like they won’t get into university because you didn’t do the worksheet on Tuesday, April 21!”

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