Why I choose not to homeschool this time around

My children are in the sitting room in their pyjamas, eating the end of their selection boxes while their parents attempt to re-enter work after the Christmas break. They are beside themselves with delight that the coronavirus has leveraged them a few extra days off school, hoping that they might squeeze an extra week out of it. But not too much, says the eldest (very-nearly-but-not-quite-10) – “I would miss my friends”.

They don’t know what’s ahead of them, and neither do we. WhatsApp groups have lit up around the country with stories of night-time teacher meetings in schools, preparing a vast amount of online teaching for the foreseeable. Teachers who are parents will neither confirm nor deny whether these scramblings under the blanket of darkness are actually happening. Fair play to them – they won’t react either to comments like  ‘lazy teachers off on another holiday – sure what’s new?’ Spoiler alert, complainers: teachers are trying to get through this hellish nightmare too. 

If I have learned anything since last March, it is that I can only control what lies in my own domain. I can control how many contacts I interact with. I can control my own emotional spirals by getting out for a walk. I can make a commitment to Not Bake Bread this time. 

I can also control my attitude toward homeschooling.

As we embark on this third go around the lockdown merry-go-round, I am filtering out the white noise to figure out what is plausible for my family. We are a family of four, with two parents who are (lucky enough to be) working full time. We do not have an arsenal of laptops at our disposal. We do not have an arsenal of patience.

In our house, homeschool will not be mandatory. It will be used as a mechanism for distraction. There will be no stress allowed to seep out of that Google Classroom into our already precariously balanced home. 

Should there be a whisper of us teaching our children how to further their maths or English or Irish ability, it will not be done in our house.

We will be practising maintenance. My two boys love maths (they did not get this from me), so if a half an hour of Busy at Maths enables them to puff their chests out with pride, then they can go for it. Last time around, our school gave us wonderful opportunities to discover the nature that lives in our garden – I would love to see more of this during school closure. 

They will be practising physical education – at the baske

tball hoop in our back garden, so thoughtfully given to them by Santa. They will start to read the books that they were given at Christmas. They will jigsaw and draw and write. But they will also play on their Xbox and watch YouTube.

I see lots of chatter on the internet about ‘being kind’ to ourselves at this time, and remembering that we are ‘parenting at work’. Yes, we are parenting at work. And we’ve been doing this – so many of us – since last March. And we are doing a really, really good job.

Most of us have been working early in the morning and late at night to make up for the hours that we have to (and want to) spend with our kids. We’ve found a way of existing that doesn’t compromise our productivity and hopefully, our parenting. But it takes its toll. It takes our entire energy reserve to do this.

So there is a lot to worry about. On top of the worry of contracting Covid-19. On top of the worry of keeping the wolf from the door. On top of the worry of being in charge of making sure that everyone is sane and fed and warm and cosy and loved.

Homeschool and the pressure of educating our children to a standard beyond our reach is a worry that my husband and I simply cannot withstand.

This time, in our house, we will be concentrating on educating our children about when it is important to say no. We will be teaching them about the importance of family, and health and the great outdoors. We will be learning – as a family – to exist in a lockdown where the weather is colder and the days are darker and the feeling in the air is thick with emotion. We will be homeschooling in the art of survival. 

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