School’s out for summer so writer Sadhbh Warren humorously reviews what her family have learned over the last three and half months of homeschooling in Cork.
Some of the family have definitely been schooled. The grown-ups now have no doubt that we failed the crash course as teachers.
Our kids have learned nothing but Mum and Dad’s favourite spots to hide the TV remote, the fancy biscuits, and occasionally ourselves When the primary schools and daycares announced closures, we stayed hopeful. After all, many Irish people choose to homeschool their kids. How bad can it be?
It’s bad. It’s terrible and we’re terrible at it. Do you know the cunning required to make a 6-year-old willingly study Irish? The tenacity needed to get them to sit down and finish a page of writing? The mess a 3-year-old can create while you’re briefly distracted by helping out with maths problems?
Homeschoolers are clearly in a class of their own. Let’s be grateful they’re tied up educating their kids. If they had time and inclination to use their hard-won skills on the rest of humanity, we’d be subjugated to their will in a week.
The first thing that my time as a reluctant homeschooler taught me is that planning is absolutely key. And clearly my planning sucked. If I had one tip for people with children on surviving the lockdown it would be this; don’t have children.
Child-free, I could have been learning Japanese and watched my artisanal sourdough rise from the smugward Labradoodle position on my luxury yoga mat. Instead I am forever doing laundry, while preparing the kids’ five millionth snack of the day, and repeating “just one more page” like a mantra as I google “can you evict a toddler”. (You can’t. Sorry.) Not that parenting has stopped some self-improvers from topping the class. Social media is full of serene Insta-mums rhapsodising about connecting with their children through yogilates. When we tried family yoga, the only thing that connected was the kids’ flailing feet with our ears.
Lockdown has revealed our complete lack of preparation to be teachers and maybe even parents. Why don’t we have a printer? Why do we have two children under 7 and an aging dog, and not two dogs under 7 and an adult child qualified as a vet?
What were we thinking, 8 years ago, when we said “let’s have kids - who likes having spending money anyway”?
We could have spent lockdown holidaying childless in Dalkey, drinking cans from a Supervalu bag with a socially distant Matt Damon, instead of ugly-sobbing into our children’s workbooks.
I know, I know, we should count our blessings. Friends and family, isolating solo, said they’d “love” to have children about for company, but no one took me up on my offer to drop one off for a week.
People ask me “What has homeschooling taught you?” Actually, they don’t. Either they don’t talk to me at all or they say something like “is that your child running naked down the street again”.
But if anyone could manage a conversation over the screaming (both from my children and in my head) they might ask that. I mean, it beats “what’s in that paper bag you’re drinking from”.
So we often skipped official homework but managed some real studying. My kids engaged with the literary themes of Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games, both thrilling tales of conflict in a disintegrating society. I didn’t read the books to them or anything, but every time I left them unsupervised for 5 minutes I’d come back to find them staging a live-action version.
We’ve also worked on our reasoning. If one child is crying, how long before the other does? Is that chocolate or poo? If there’s no summer camps for under 5’s, where do workplaces think all the magical summer childcare is coming from?
And there’s always PE. There was a lot of chasing and Hide and Seek - ready or not, here they come! Generally when the grown-ups weren’t playing but were in an office Zoom meeting, or the bathroom, or just trying to sneak in a fancy biscuit.
For all the tears and tribulation, it hasn’t all been bad. There has been a lot of play. A lot of cuddles. Lots of days out the back garden studying bugs and enjoying the weather. And, through homeschooling, we’ve discovered a lot about the kids’ learning styles. We’ll be better at supporting their teachers and definitely appreciate their capability more I mean, just look at a class photo. Look at the children, in school, reading things and not biting their siblings or the dog. Look at that lovely teacher, somehow managing to get thirty children to stand still for 30 seconds. We used to have a teacher like that. Saw them every weekday. We barely thought about them when dropping off the kids each morning.
I’m thinking about them now. Thinking what will happen if teachers don’t come back. I’ll definitely get them a decent gift this Christmas. Some of us have learned a lot.
Not my kids, of course. They’re off the garden eating mud or setting small fires or something. And, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to use the brief peace to sneak in a fancy biscuit.
[i]Sadbh's submission is part of a digital initiative on irishexaminer.com called Personal Insights.
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