With schools closed under Covid restrictions, millions of parents across the country are now finding themselves in charge of home-schooling their little ones – on top of balancing jobs, housework, and maintaining physical and mental health.
But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Here, we asked a host of Penguin authors to share their experience of being home with kids – the dos and don’ts, the pains, the pleasures, the tips and tricks – with the hope of finding common ground and shining a little bit of light in the dark.
Romesh Ranganathan: It's been a real rollercoaster
My wife and I found parenting a real rollercoaster last year, but just to clear up any suspicion this was pandemic specific, it’s a rollercoaster every year. We were worried about them becoming anxious about the virus and lockdown, and so we were very relaxed about talking to them about the repercussions. I feel like we may have gone too far though, as they were so blasé about it we started discussing ways of injecting a bit of anxiety.
We, like many parents, were utterly overwhelmed by the prospect of being responsible for our children’s education. We decided that we were not going to be too regimental about it in the end. We did some stuff with them in the morning (and by “we” I mean my wife, with some spiritual support from me before I went off to incredibly important Zoom meetings) and made the decision that them playing video games in the afternoon was probably ok because it gave them a chance to chat with their mates. Also, that was the easier decision.
Romesh Ranganathan is the author of As Good As It Gets: Life Lessons from a Reluctant Adult.
Sam Copeland: I am forever grateful for teachers
I just asked my wife if we had any amusing anecdotes about home-schooling. The look she gave me was one of burning hatred, filled with the fire of a thousand suns.
“No,” she replied. “There is absolutely nothing funny about home-schooling.” I edged slowly out of the room.
I know I am lucky. I have a job. I am published. And I am forever grateful for teachers. And my wife. It’s also a miserable experience for my children – so at least they are, for once, suffering as much as us parents.
Clover Stroud: We can do this
At the start of 2020, my eldest son was on an art foundation course at university and my youngest was beginning his first year in reception class. Having been a mother since I was 24, now, at 45, for the first time all five of my kids were going to be off my hands and out of the house, every day. It was going to be a momentous year, I told myself, blissfully unaware of just how momentous it would be for me – and the entire planet.
Instead, since March all five children have been at home non-stop. Huddled in the claustrophobic blanket of despair that lockdown can bring, I’ve tried to find the cracks of light. I needn’t have dreaded my eldest leaving home because he’s here, teaching bushcraft and yoga to the younger kids in between cadging crafty smokes out of the back door. My worries that my youngest children were not getting enough reading time at school can be shoved aside, since I’ve no excuse now not to read with them myself. My guilt that my teenage daughter has not had enough time alone with me since her three younger siblings were born has been displaced by movie nights and late-night time hanging out in the kitchen making popcorn.
I look for the light, ignoring the chaos of Lego scattered like confetti over every surface, the monstrous amount of laundry a family of seven creates, the teetering tower of washing up waiting in the sink. It’s hard, but we can do this.
Adrienne Herbert: It's about managing expectations
The most useful piece of advice I can offer is to manage expectations: yours and your child’s. My son, Jude, is nine years old, and the biggest realisation for me was accepting that I won’t be able to perfectly recreate a school environment at home. Instead, I focus on placing merit in the ‘home’ part of home-schooling: science lessons from the garden, teaching geography through ingredients in the kitchen, that kind of thing.
Similarly, I recommend structuring your time in order to manage your child’s expectations of the day. Kids need boundaries between work and life, just as we do. I give Jude a schedule like he would have at school, and make clear when it’s work time versus free time. But don’t be too hard on yourself – even the best-laid plans can fall apart, and that’s never more true than with children around. Try your best to have a structure in place, but let yourself off the hook if it doesn’t go perfectly too.
Ericka Waller: Remember, we are all swimming upstream
Home schooling? Well, the little two have made a ‘day care’ in the back of a cupboard. I hear them telling the dogs (dressed as babies) off a lot and talking about nappies.
My middle daughter has ADD – trying to get her to do work is like trying to catch the wind. They read and go outside each day. They have a diary in which they occasionally write how bored they are. I’m not going to add pressure to an already intense situation trying to keep up with three sets of learning from schools; we are all sick to death of making posters and learning about ancient Mayan people. The family version of Cards Against Humanity has saved us, as has Disney+ and Harry Potter quizzes.
It’s a strange time – we are all swimming upstream as best we can. But we are safe and healthy; that’s the main thing.
Kehinde Andrews: We cannot rely on schools alone
Lockdown has forced me to engage more directly with the day-to-day schooling of my children. I often talk about the need to decolonise the curriculum, but seeing the problem close up was a sobering experience. Black History Month was one of the rare opportunities to explore important people outside the British island story, so as much as we of course appreciate the contributions to the world of figures like Marcus Rashford and Idris Elba, my sons resisted some of the suggestions for people to focus on for their projects; my five-year-old chose Malcolm X (no pressure from me) and my seven-year-old, Ghanaian warrior Yaa Asantewaa. They made PowerPoint presentations so good I converted them into videos for social media. It was a reminder of how we cannot rely on the schools to educate our children.
Chris Bradford: I chose to teach life skills
Life is a lesson in itself. We’re all here to learn, grow and hopefully become the best versions of ourselves. So rather than worrying too much if my two sons are doing enough maths, English, history or science, I chose to teach them about life and the skills they may need to overcome the obstacles they will undoubtedly face:
#1 The Way of Nature: Every day I take my two boys out for a walk, run or cycle. This is for my own sanity, as by 9 a.m. they are bouncing off the walls! But it is also to teach them to appreciate and value nature, to see the beauty in the world around them and to give them the confidence to explore. This is often the best mental health kick anyone can have!
#2 The Way of the Warrior: Playing to my strengths, I turned our lounge into a dojo and instructed my two boys in martial arts. Great for fitness, it also taught them self-discipline, respect and how to defend themselves safely. They most enjoyed ‘duck-and-dive’ when they had to dodge pads I threw at them!
#3 The Way of Happiness: Each evening I ask my boys to tell me one thing that has made them happy or they can be grateful for that day. It can be as simple as the taste of a fresh bread; the warmth of a hug; or the extra time on the PlayStation! Whatever it is, this process of gratitude sets their minds on positivity and on what they have rather than what they lack.
So where will you go for a walk? What’s your strength that you can pass on? And what can you and your children be grateful for today?
What did you think of this article? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to appear in our reader’s letter page.
Image: Alicia Fernances/Penguin