Why I refuse to homeschool my kids this lockdown

partial view of parents and kids skating on roller rink together

We will not be slavishly following the supplied material from school, and I refuse to attempt the schedule of running a school (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

I surprised myself with my reaction to the latest national lockdown announcement.  

As I digested the news that I would once again be in charge of ‘homeschooling’ my kids – four daughters, aged 10, seven, five and three – I had a visceral reaction in my gut.  

No, I thought, NO. I’m opting out. This time, I’m determined that things will be different. This time we are doing our own thing.  

This isn’t ‘unschooling’ – where parents follow the kids’ leads about what to do and learn. I am very much running the show, but in a way that’s palatable for all of us. 

So, we will not be slavishly following the supplied material from school, and I refuse to attempt the schedule of ‘running a school’ from 9am-3pm (ever) again. 

This means skateboarding and roller-skating practice for the older ones each morning as well as chats – and some educational activities – with beloved grandparents on Facetime every day.  

I believe art has healing powers, so we’ll listen to musicals, look at paintings in art books and watch old Audrey Hepburn films.  

The kids love to help me cook, so we’ll be doing practical maths as we measure out baking ingredients and count fruit and veg.  

We already do lots of reading and writing, but this time they will have a twist: we will create our own flap books, or collage old magazines into new stories. And we will do it in a time frame that works with my workload, so yes, the kids can play during the day, too. 

Back in March 2020, I started lockdown 1.0 with high hopes: there is no one I’d rather hang out with than my kids and my husband, and for the first time ever, we’d all be home together. 

We’d go on adventures! We’d learn to use that sewing machine my eldest got from her grandparents last Christmas! Maybe we’d even be that family that roller skates in tandem?  

An image of Jen's daughter playing with Lego

Yes, the kids can play during the day, too  (Picture: Jen Barton Packer)

Reality quickly squashed my fantasies.  

My husband and I both work, and while my freelance writing career is more flexible than his job running a research team, I needed to hold on to the clients I’d worked so hard to get – and keep – over the past decade.  

We managed (and as soon as allowed, had our amazing nanny back) and the kids enjoyed being together, playing with dolls and building Lego. But when I tried to get them to do any schoolwork, the screaming and crying started (theirs, and mine too).  

I’ve made countless errors as a parent over the years, but I’d done one thing right pre-pandemic: my kids weren’t hooked on devices, not even my almost 10-year-old. All it took was two days of homeschooling and my one significant parenting achievement was wiped away as swiftly as the smug smile I used to have when telling people my kids ‘could barely use an iPad’. 

My two older kids, who were assigned work on various different websites (we had no working printer), would be wild-eyed and feral after staring at the screen all morning. They were cranky from overstimulation, and not enough time outdoors.

We eventually relented and purchased a new printer (my husband was now full-time WFH); this was equally stressful, as I realised whole forests were being felled in order to print the hundreds of pages for three kids’ schoolwork daily.  

Everyone was unhappy. Instead of bonding, we hardly spoke to one another. Our main communication was me shrieking that someone had logged me out of a document I was writing and I’d lost work, or cursing under my breath as I cropped pictures of schoolwork to make it uploadable to the various different school blogs.  

I felt wretched, like a failure in every role I was meant to be doing. I wish I’d had the guts to stop but we kept trying, and failing, with the homeschool protocol until the end of summer term. 

They do work – an ample amount (Picture: Jen Barton Packer)

As if I didn’t have it in spades before, the experience gave me added respect, gratitude and love for every teacher – and school head, staff member and assistant – working in education. 

I adore the educators at my kids’ schools. They go above and beyond every single day – and that’s one of the reasons I don’t want to be the parent bombarding them with inane emails and IT troubles, giving them the extra pressure of checking through my kids’ work as they teach vulnerable and key worker kids on-site and ensure everyone else’s needs are met at home.  

They have enough on their plates so as we descend into the third national lockdown I have decided: when my kids are home, they’re my responsibility. 

My children will undoubtedly still watch a teacher video (my kids love their teachers, so are particularly excited for those!) or do a compelling school project at some point over the next several weeks.  

In fact, they do work – an ample amount. It just doesn’t always feel like ‘work’ (one of the best bits about my kids’ primary school is this is precisely what they excel at – getting the kids to learn creatively). 

Since I hate breaking rules, I did look at the homeschooling guidelines up on the government website and… it’s all a bit vague, to be honest.  

I’m fairly confident that I am allowed to teach the kids how I like (in fact, even full-time homeschoolers by choice don’t need to follow the National Curriculum). I’ve emailed teachers and they’ve been wonderfully understanding; telling me to do some reading, writing and maths daily and asking me to upload some evidence of home learning as and when I can.  

Admittedly, I know my approach won’t work for every family. My children’s young ages are absolutely a factor: I personally believe they can miss a few months of traditional schooling without derailing their education.  

My eldest, in secondary school, has live, online lesson provision during the day and shares our ‘home office’ space with my husband and me, and we regularly chat to her throughout ‘school hours’. Yet this is new for us all and if it gets to be too much, we will give her a day, or two – or however many are required – off. 

More detrimental than missing out on some worksheets would be for my kids to see their mother, anxious and irritable, at the end of her tether, unable to be there to support them through a very stressful time. 

I refuse to be that parent this time. Perhaps we can take this strange opportunity to connect and grow as a family. We can bond over something other than the pandemic that’s keeping them away from school and friends.  

When my kids look back on this period, I don’t want them to remember themselves siloed, their backs to their loved ones, staring at a screen.  

I would much rather spend these next few months snuggling them on the sofa. I’m sure the conversation will get around to a chat about fronted adverbials – eventually. 

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