Homeschooling during lockdown

As many of us continue to balance work with caring responsibilities, we thought it might be useful to share perspectives and experiences from colleagues across the University. If you would like to share your experiences, email internalcommunications@sheffield.ac.uk

Patricia Cater

This week, Patricia Cater from Student Recruitment Marketing and Admissions shares her experience of homeschooling as a grandparent.

At the beginning of the national lockdown, my husband and I knew we were going to be homeschooling our grandsons, who are nine and six years old.

I thought to myself, this is going to be cool, teaching them and having an impact on their education – not to mention how I innocently believed that this would be something they could remember when they were adults and may even tell their own children one day.

Well, I could not have been more wrong.

My husband took to homeschooling ok, he has more patience than I do generally, but even he at times looked bewildered at what we were expected to teach them and how we were meant to deliver it. I swear I have more frown-lines now than before!

I suppose we were naïve about the teaching side of things, thinking that it would be as easy as it had been to teach their parents when they were that age, but things have moved on massively since then – no more teachings through Janet and John books.

The various web links, google slides and presentations (not to mention where to find them using the calendar for each child – that was very uninformative) blew my mind to the point of migraines.

At the end of the homeschooling day, I was left feeling frustrated, my grandsons’ attention spans plummeted as we went through activities, it appeared that they hadn’t remembered anything that I had taught them only moments before.

Logging into regular class meetings, at 9.30am and 10am, 2.30pm and 3pm, added to the stress but once in there it was a little light relief for half an hour.

I attempted to start with English lesson, as this was my favourite subject at school and I thought, surely this would be easy and enjoyable. However, it was no mean task to try to get my grandson interested in the lesson, when I was struggling to find it interesting myself. While one child was learning about adjectives and where to incorporate them in sentences, the other was learning about speech directives. I was surprised that they are being taught this at age six and nine.

To keep things interesting, we incorporated art into as many sessions as we could. We created a massive moon and planets to teach Finn about the planets in our solar system. When we had finished our design, it was the full length of our garden, which totally held both my grandson’s interests.

To help Finn to remember the names of the planets there was a saying: My Very Enthusiastic Mother Just Served Us Noodles. We learned that Pluto was no longer included as it was deemed too small to be a planet (a change from when we taught our own children.)

The photo of our creation made the school bulletin and another plus was that Drew, my other grandson, now knows his planets too – result!

Scientific experiments were quite exciting. The result from mixing baking soda, food colouring, oil and water equalled a lava lamp effect. I was happy with our achievement and so were the boys.

The maths lessons went way over my head, especially the fractions. I did my best, but struggled through and I think my grandson Finn knew I didn’t know what I was talking about half the time. I have never liked fractions – the only time I’ve used fractions is when dividing a chocolate orange three ways between my kids!

Next month, homeschooling Finn and Drew will end and my husband and I will be released. I will be able to work throughout the day as normal as I have been fitting my work hours in at the evenings and weekends. There will be no more trying to keep them occupied while I have my work team meetings, trying to be professional while, from the corner of my eye, I can see that Drew has taken it upon himself to go into the ‘treat-box’ and take treats out for himself and Finn before lunch.

My manager has been so supportive and understanding in allowing me to work like this – I could not have done it otherwise.

I think it is time for the boys to socialise with their friends, to get back into the schoolyard and play tag. They need some kind of normality in all this and to just be children. I feel sorry for Drew, he is six years old and has missed so much of his first year at school. It is time he can never have back.

In all of this, I have learned three things:

  • If you do not keep it interesting, a child will not learn.
  • As grandparents – we now have super skills!
  • Soleil is sun in French.

To all teachers, especially my daughter who is a teacher for people with special educational needs: I applaud you. I do not know how you manage to teach your own children at home and at the same time other people’s children at school and online. I certainly feel now that teachers are so undervalued. It must be such a stressful job and having to cope with it all now in this pandemic, you all deserve a medal the size of a gong.

I just hope that I haven’t scarred my grandsons’ minds…

Rachael White

Chair of the Parents Network, Rachael White, shares her experiences of homeschooling during lockdown.

Image of Rachael White with her two childrenI have an 8 year old and a 5 year old.

For me it’s been a story of two school closures. The first lockdown felt new (and to a certain extent exciting) the ‘do what you can’ message from schools was received loud and clear and we just muddled along enjoying the sunshine and doing bits and pieces of learning when we could. Working from home was still very new and we were all just finding our feet so setting boundaries and the understanding that we were also homeschooling was fresh in everyone’s minds

This second school closure during lockdown 3.0 has hit us, and I think everyone, much harder. The novelty has well and truly worn off, the weather has been much worse (although the occasional snow day did help lift the mood), the amount of work sent by schools has increased dramatically (as has the expectation that you will do it all!), and as working from home has become more embedded, and because we had those glorious three months when the children were at school and I could be much more productive, resetting boundaries with colleagues and myself has been much harder this time.

Consequently the exhaustion and emotional strain felt during this lockdown has been much more significant. Both for us as parents and also for the children. Our eldest keeps asking ‘Why has Boris made it illegal for me to see my friends?’ and as a parent you have to take on their emotional load too which just adds to your own.

I worry about the amount of screen time they are getting at the moment, and I do worry about the amount of teaching they are receiving from us. We’re regularly told (at least daily) that we’re ‘not as good as their ‘real’ teachers’ and we know many of their friends are in school getting taught by these ‘real’ teachers. However, the 1:2 nature of the teaching at home must count for something (at least that’s what I’m telling myself!)

We have found a routine that works for us. I start work very early whilst my husband deals with the morning breakfast routine and morning lessons and then we swap at lunchtime so he ‘goes to work’ and I deal with the afternoon lessons, evening meal and the start of bedtime. It means we’re like ships that pass in the night and there are the inevitable meetings that happen when we’re home schooling so we have to juggle both but on the whole it works and our line managers have both been fantastic at supporting this.

We’re quite fortunate that the ‘live’ elements the school provide are just 30 minutes per child on a Monday and Friday morning, the rest of the lessons are pre-recorded videos and activities. As neither child is old enough to be an independent learner we do the lessons sent by school via Microsoft teams prioritising literacy, English, maths, phonics and then doing the other lessons if they have time they also read to us every day. We then do a baking/gardening/arts on Friday afternoons. It is nice to see up close the learning the children are doing and I have a renewed appreciation for the skill of teaching. It has also brought into sharp focus some of the idiosyncrasies of the current curriculum (fronted adverbials anybody?!).

It’s really hard balancing everything, my mantra is ‘first and foremost a mum’. I’m not a trained teacher (nor am I trained mum really!) but my job is to keep them happy and healthy. I know we need to do the learning, and we can normally fit that in, but if they miss the odd day because of our work then a day of Netflix or some time on their tablet isn’t the end of the world. Having said that though we try and get out for a walk every day and also we do try and get some ‘outdoor play time’ in the garden once a day and we’ve discovered waterproofs over PJs work just as well as actual clothes.

Colleagues are now quite used to the children ‘visiting’ meetings and my youngest was very proudly showing colleagues the gap after her first tooth had fallen out. The funniest moment though was during quite a senior meeting when she burst into the room in tears ‘Help mummy, quick, there’s bird poo on my dress’ luckily colleagues totally understood that I needed to disappear and ‘parent’ for a moment. A swift outfit change and a cuddle and she was good to go onto the next adventure.