It’s Monday morning at 6.55am.
I’ve just had my daily waking up cuddle with my eldest in our spare room (see my previous blog for the significance of that!) and am now starting to reflect on the week ahead.
I have 2 girls, aged 10 and 8 years old, in Years 5 and 4 at primary school. The month of July is normally filled with lovely end of school year activities – trips out, assemblies, sports day. But this year remains so very different.
It’s sports day this week – one on Wednesday and one on Thursday. But due to the school class bubble system, the girls won’t see each other on sports day and we won’t be able to watch this year. My youngest is fiercely competitive (perhaps a little like me) and is pretty gutted about how different it is but yet, they are both quietly accepting and remarkably resilient.
Last weekend we had our first family sleepover in 18 months at my brother’s house and whilst we were there he asked the girls what had changed with school through the pandemic. They quickly listed:
- Class bubbles
- Staggered drop off and pick up times
- One way system
- Eating at their tables (and not the dining room)
- Wearing PE kit to school (so it doesn’t get taken in when needed)
- Changed classroom layout (sitting next to one person rather than on a table)
- And of course, regular home schooling
They were able to weigh up the bits they liked and would want to keep and the bits they can’t wait to end and go back to how it was before. It gave us all a lovely opportunity to reflect on a 16 month period which has included bursts of home schooling due to national lockdown and then further home schooling when bubbles have burst.
I clearly remember that day back in March 2020 when I picked them up for the last time before the first national lockdown started. The tears, the unease, the nervousness. The excitement, the anticipation, the joy.
Mine and my husband’s first 4 months of the pandemic were filled with endless days of balancing working full-time and having two primary-school aged children at home. Work was the busiest it had ever been but my girls were at home and needed some attention and reassurance. The balance was hard and it was a constant challenge to not feel continually guilty, either for not doing enough in work, or not being present enough at home. As the boundaries between home and work totally disappeared it became hard to decompress from it all, to keep an emotional barrier between the different elements of life and to know when I needed to take time to rest.
It took a while to understand how to create the best learning environment for them both. I learnt that they needed to work at their own pace and not the pace I thought was right
Those first 4 months involved very little academic work. The weather was glorious and we are blessed to have a fantastic garden where we spent much of our time. We built dens, camped outside, explored new local walks, met the Heaton Moor bears and did a huge amount of gardening. Our indoor time was spent doing arts and crafts, baking, playing games and starting (and sometimes finishing) DIY projects.
It was a fun-filled period, where lots of time was spent making memories in our little unit. The girls played well together, formed an even stronger bond and amazed me with their patience and resilience. They got used to us flitting between work tasks and family time and became a regular visitor to the many meetings taking place on Teams or Zoom.
I’ve looked through the photos on my phone when writing this blog to jog my memory of all the things we did and at times its felt a bit bittersweet. I’d forgotten just how much we’d packed in to a relatively short time and feel so thankful that we had the opportunity and flexibility to have that time with the girls.
I have friends who are keyworkers and their children were in school each day or other friends who were working at home but without flexibility and needed to stick to traditional office hours of work. The balancing act was different for all of us but the shared experience was the guilt that comes with needing to split yourselves in too many ways and the constant weighing up of whether you are doing ok at keeping your children emotionally well.
In July the girls went back into school for a week and they loved it. It was so refreshing to have a working week without balancing everything. It gave me a glimpse that September would bring what we thought would be a return to full time schooling.
The girls did stay in for much of the autumn term with the odd days of burst bubbles and sickness. January 2021 however brought a further 3-month period of home schooling and this time was very different. Remote learning was now full on with a 6-hour timetable set for each day. All classes were by video and work submitted on google classroom.
It was a constant challenge to not feel continually guilty, either for not doing enough in work, or not being present enough at home
We’d returned to the balancing act of working early mornings and late nights, splitting the day 50/50 between myself and my husband. We worked through what lessons we’d lead on each and then would sit down with the girls and help them with the school work they had to complete. Sometimes that meant we’d all sit at a desk together and the girls would work individually on their work whilst I carried on with work I needed to do, still being on hand to offer help and advice when needed, but more often, it involved getting stuck in to their learning with them. My youngest definitely needed that interaction to help her maintain focus on what she was meant to be doing.
It was a huge learning curve for me over this 3 month period. I began to understand, in ways that I never had before, that both girls learn totally differently. It took a while to understand how to create the best learning environment for them both. I learnt that they needed to work at their own pace and not the pace I thought was right. I increased in patience when I understood that sometimes they needed to ask numerous questions on a topic before it sunk in for them. I was amazed (and a bit saddened) that I hadn’t truly understood their abilities before – they surprised me with what they enjoyed the most and what they excelled at. I saw qualities of mine that I recognised and some that I’d never seen before.
When they returned to school in April, I was deeply grateful that they would get back to some time with their friends, their teachers and in a school environment where they are happy. I was pleased that the balancing act would reduce a bit and I could focus more on one task at a time.
But I was also desperately sad.
I’ve loved our two bouts of having the girls at home and I miss them when they are in school every day now. So far, the girls have stayed in school since April with no bubbles busting to date.
Home schooling was a rich, and rewarding, learning experience for me. My overriding realisation, very unsurprisingly, is the absolute need for children to have a safe, healthy, happy environment which they can call home. My girls have found the transition back to school difficult in some ways, with increased anxiety, worries about separation and at times yearning to just be back at home; but they are navigating this return to the new normal with huge degrees of patience, acceptance and resilience.
I couldn’t be prouder of them or more in awe of how they have navigated the last 16 months.
I’ve learnt a lot from them over that time and am sure they will continue to teach and stretch me in this next stage too.