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There's a rapid shift to homeschooling due to COVID-19. Here’s how to keep your mental health and wellbeing intact and kids happy and learning while doing it.
There’s no denying that COVID-19 (coronavirus) has changed the way we work and play; and it’s also changed the learning environment for all school kids and parents for the foreseeable future.
How each state and territory in Australia is returning to school differs – and is changing – but between a staggered return for some and other students still set up to learn from home, many Australian children will continue homeschooling – at least for part of the week – and often with parents working from home full-time. Add the financial and emotional fallout from COVID-19 to the family-life balance equation and it’s no wonder that mental health and wellbeing can feel sideswiped.
Youth and family counsellor, eSafety educator and author of The Modern Parent, Martine Oglethorpe, has five children of her own and says she is definitely seeing overwhelm in her circles. “Particularly because we have parents trying to work and supervise lessons for their kids at the same time. What most have found is that it’s not just a matter of setting them up and then letting them go – particularly younger primary and middle primary – it’s very hands on. I think it’s a lot more work than anyone expected.”
But there are ways parents can combine work, play, teaching and learning under the one roof – and keep their sanity. Here are Martine’s top tips and tricks for family and school-life balance when kids learn from home.
Martine suggests a simple rule when it comes to combining working from home and supervising kids with their homeschooling: don’t try to do both at once. “What I’ve learned is that I cannot put any expectations on myself to do my work in the time I have allocated for teaching,” Martine says. “I have to allocate uninterrupted time for teaching the kids.”
Also be realistic about the number of hours you expect to be supervising school work a day. A school day may be six or seven hours, but that includes lunch, fruit breaks, PE and assorted downtime. “I don’t think parents have to be teaching for the same hours as school,” Martine says. “I aim for two or three hours of productive work on school days.”
Like most things in parenting land, it’s great to have a plan but be prepared for the plan to, well, not go according to plan. “Look at your day before the day begins,” Martine suggests. “Where is the gap in your working day to put in two to three hours of helping with school work? You need to be flexible because a task you allocate 30 minutes for could take 60 minutes to do because you’re having trouble with the app, or kids may need extra time on a task than allocated.”
Knowing things may not go according to plan will, hopefully, keep everyone in the house calmer, and stop emotions from getting heightened. Important considerations for everyone’s mental health and wellbeing. Also, it’s important to remember that the school week is for school and to keep weekends relaxed like you would normally.
In every school day, teachers need a break from teaching and kids need a break from teachers and learning. Kids may opt for active breaks to expel energy, or quiet time to settle, while adults may simply need some space to call a friend or talk to a colleague and have some adult-to-adult interaction. Family-life balance is key.
“I’ve found, for myself, breaks are crucial,” Martine says. “Just like kids have fruit breaks and lunch at school, we still break up the two to three hours of learning – for everyone – at home.” She aims for the two to three hours of school work to be completed in the morning, with afternoons open to get outside and ride bikes or kick the footy.
Not all teaching and learning comes from textbooks or maths games online, often kids learn simply by carrying out everyday activities. Martine says it’s important to ask yourself: what incidental learning is happening in the home?
“Broaden your idea of what is learning. Are they helping you cook dinner and cutting veggies, are they helping to organise the grocery shop? They’re skills, that’s learning. It may not be perfectly following the curriculum but there are opportunities for incidental learning during the day.”
There is also emotional learning occurring in households, where kids have been asked to – suddenly – attend school in isolation without their friends. “I think we need to remember kids are building resilience during this time,” Martine says. “They are missing out on so many things like birthday parties and weekend sports and practices and just catching up with friends.”
We are in such uncertain times, Martine says, and kids are feeling and experiencing this as well as adults. “Having rituals and small routines like bedtime stories and having dinner together can give kids some certainty in their day.”
When times are feeling overwhelming, it’s always good to concentrate on school-life balance and the basics outside education: a good night’s sleep, good food and some exercise, Martine recommends. Having those solid foundations may help emotions not get too frayed and – for everyone in the house, parents and kids alike – to get through this ‘new normal’.