The schools in England were back today, and with it, the mandatory home-schooling. Round 1 had its hiccups, smoothed by the Easter Holiday. It worked as a warm-up. As Round 2 starts, the language of rounds inevitably makes you think about Fight Club. And as I bring my peaceful parenting book back to my night table I know I must make this as distant as possible from fight club. Why do some kids fight so much learning at home?
Round 1: The home-schooling trial run
Home-schooling for us started in the second week of March. In the beginning, I spent long evenings putting together schedules, going through the dozens of links circulating in the parent’s networks, printing exercises and searching for a balance of activities. I wanted to be the best teacher ever, nothing less, even though I never consciously desired that. I thought that if I made a great schedule and great activities, everything would be all right. After all, I believed the only reason Little Girl C fought me over homework was because I was never home. She did not want to have anything to do with homework in the mere 1 hour she spent with me in the evening. Which eventually, we always did.
Armed with all these amazing ideas and just out of the first round of my encounter with Covid, I set myself up to go back to work and teach as if all this was so easy. Even Baby S had a schedule, even though I was fortunate to have our live-in nanny follow it through most of the times. I initiated a morning ritual of good morning and circle time, mixing the activities done in both schools and giving them a sense of routine. After a few days, Baby S would ask me to walk him to school (aka the kitchen). Little Girl C would go straight to the desk, though only to start complaining about whatever she did. Even when it was fun.
In Round 1, there was an attempt at a knock-out. As I had my relapse at Covid, I excused my lack of patience with this whole home-schooling idea with being congested and tired. I tried to take my foot off the gas and worry less. I would have my computer open for hours next to her, even though I would barely make it past 5 rows in excel. At some point I realised how ill I was again so I cancelled any prospects of working. However, I still made the mistake to try and do admin or charity, something! That was a fail too. And I probably partially blamed her.
Until I was too ill to get off the sofa, and bed. What would home-schooling be? Hubby B is a great father, but he is not such a great teacher. He won’t take offense. Teachers need patience, and some empathy. And he has very little of both, especially with his reflection-of-self daughter. And believe me, I get it, tablets of patience in the morning erode by the 11 in the morning break with her.
In the last afternoon, as I got myself to hospital I added baking to the schedule and they happily did that with the nanny. Luckily, my worse days caught the weekend so I was back on my not so strong feet the week after. Home-schooling, here I go again. As I stood up, I knew I was so exhausted I would not be able to cope with work. I asked for a week to try and recover my breathing and my brain. They kindly agreed to whatever time I needed. I was one of the early Covid patients and they were astonished of how had I had been hit.
That helped finishing the round without major setbacks and soon the Easter break arrived.
Easter: to break or not to break
I had no plans to break for Easter. I was finally back to work and having the kids on a schedule is easier than not. Given Little Girl C could tell that she had no work coming on the google classrooms, I ended up not being able to omit the small fact they were supposed to be on holiday, not home-schooling. I explained I had to work and, if she had any intention of spending time with me, that would only work in a parent-student capacity and then she could take the afternoon off. It took some negotiation but she agreed.
Eventually, I scored points adding a last minute coding course which she absolutely loved. I rated myself just a little bit higher in the parent-teacher scoreboard. OK, maybe not super high each time I lost my patience at her loss of patience. But some points were definitely scored as suddenly she started wanting to test out the new coding and typing skills individually. I had finally found something she was willing (or almost) to do on her own.
As we got to Good Friday, I finally agreed to stop for 4 days. That was a blessing, a time truly well spent and enjoyed. But needless to say returning after this and telling the kids they were back on a schedule just did not happen. I was very slowly able to re-implement some routine by end of the week, as she was adamant she needed holiday and I was not willing to fight more. Even Baby S was reticent to understand why I was back at my desk. How we pulled it through, I still wonder. How this will one day end and they go back to school, I will wonder too.
Round 2: For the foreseeable future
Home-schooling is back and so is the google classrooms work. It helps to have deliverables that the school requires, but it does not help that they give you no advance schedule. For the prepared person in me, that is a no-go. So I have to make it up and sometimes adjust it to what they sent. Most days, I am now getting it right and guessing. The pieces of work sent through today took no more than an hour and a half, so I am grateful for the Sunday night work on the schedule. Filling it with more activities, finding more fun links for the “free play” on the computer and maintaining a stock of exercise books in the house.
The fights begin mid-morning, generally when she finishes a school exercise and I add an extra for me. Or around lunch time, when I send her out to the patio for sports and she wants to tidy up the desk a million times in the middle of my conference call. It peaks at piano time if I don’t move close enough to the piano. The farther away I am the less she will remember the finger position. Funny enough, if I sit next to her she has no problem remembering it, even if I am absolutely silent. The girl just hates doing work on her own. At least when I am around.
Baby S fights with hugs…
Baby S is more easy-going with all this and he escapes to the living room only a couple of times during the morning. Usually to ask if I have put iPad time on his schedule. He respects that it is not coming until the afternoon and leaves again. Only to come back 45 minutes later with the same question. As he comes in again, he drops a hug and an “I love you” and wins any frustration to be interrupted again. He knows he has a good chance to get 30 minutes of music lesson with me in the afternoon, so he also checks often on that, hoping I don’t have a call at the same time. Not that he knows what that means. But he knows what it means to do Action Amanda with Mummy – he has never done that before.
Fighting for Independence
I have no expectations that this will ever be easier or better. I know it is better than it could be, but I also know it is not as good as some people have it. For reasons beyond my comprehension, Little Girl C is absolutely averse to working on her own. She can totally do it, she does not want to do it. The insecurity in her rises as she feels like I am on a call or not available to respond to her questions. If I am just working and there, she will probably do it all on her own without much fuss. It is incomprehensible.
The independent Baby Girl turned out a very dependent Little Girl. Every day I hope that this quarantine can make it better. Every day I hope that she will be less worried about when I am there. Or less anxious about when I am not (even if I am really just going to the bathroom, where else can I go!). And every day I lose my temper at this, whilst also every day committing to try to be better and more patient with her. I tell myself it’s not her fault and she does not do it on purpose, but then I just beat myself up over it.
The parent-teacher relationship
Parenting is hard enough as it is for me. My perfectionist means I am constantly downplaying anything I may achieve with them. I am never enough. The third evening I was preparing for home-schooling in Round 1 I stopped and said. Home-schooling will be the end of me. Staring at an endless list of links, I had to take a deep breath and recognise my short comings.
Accepting that I can’t make this perfect and enjoyable at all times, I remind myself school isn’t always that fun anyway. I can’t teach properly and with an open calendar all the time – I have work to do as my main function. And I can’t always bend the schedule – the schedule is actually the best way to reduce friction. Today, I got sticky tape and put it in front of her nose. I am hoping tomorrow there is no shouting when it is time to leave the living room for sports, arts and lunch so I can get 2 hours of uninterrupted work.
The imperfection of home-schooling
I think it is OK that home-schooling is imperfect. However, I struggle with accepting it. And I know I will continue to struggle, because of the difficulties I spot in her and that she may not be getting proper attention at school. I find this an amazing opportunity for her to learn those parts in a safe space and with my devoted attention (even if not always undivided). I try and use this at a time where she is OK to fail in front of her parents and not feel judged. She makes a mistake in Maths and I hug her and explain that I am not upset. But she really struggles with failure.
I have a few weeks ahead of me to continue to work on it but sometimes, I feel like time is slipping away and I can’t make her feel any better. But whatever is happening in school, it is not helping, it is only getting worse. Whatever state of mind she was when she was bullied did not help already. And now reversing it is taking so long and I constantly feel inadequate at dealing with it.
Making my school different (and memorable)
And then there is the bucket-list. I decided we do the school stuff and the few extras that I think my help can make a difference in – spelling, fun reading, even Maths and dealing with failure. But, more importantly, we have added different things to her curriculum that we would otherwise not have the chance. She has also done a bucket-list now (and it includes coding a robot!).
I have added Spanish, which her school does not offer, on top of the French extra lessons she had asked me to add. I have added coding and typing practice. We have extra ballet on Instagram and an extra piano lesson via Skype. This week, we even started Portuguese lessons making use of the Portuguese TV school program. We finished the day with mindful colouring, though we missed the family workout at the end of the day. We will do weaving and sewing, cooking and zoom chats. I think, at least in my plan.
The impossibilities of parent-teachers home-schooling
I am hoping these things will compensate for my not so successful teaching abilities and for how I make her feel when she fails, no matter how much I try and tell her it is OK. I am hoping she will warm up to them so she has less tantrums when I ask her to do extra Maths. Or when I tell her that the drawing she just did in monochromatic pencil could use some more colour. I will eventually figure out better ways to say this, or maybe not. Maybe parents will only be offensive when giving feedback to their children. Being the people they mostly love and where they look for their appreciation, I guess any critique can throw them into fight mode. I don’t want to fight. I want to enjoy warmth, peace and growth for this quarantine. Good luck to us all!Rubén Rodriguez