Home canteens and other lockdown hacks for parents

Tips for homeschooling parents

When a friend posted an image of her ‘home canteen’ recently, it set my Facebook feed alight.

Who knew a simple cardboard box filled with junk food could be the lifeline that parents are desperate for as they direct home learning in lockdown?

Better take notes, South Australian parents who are this week joining their New South Wales and Victorian counterparts in lockdown schooling.

The post sparked a flurry of likes and comments – many thanking her for the idea and others wanting details about exactly how the canteen system works in practice.

One commenter asked: “Is there certain times? I want to do this but I’m afraid my kids will think this their [sic] meals for the day!”

Another joked: “Does your canteen take uber orders?”

“Do they [the kids] pay for it too? Might have to adapt this and maybe they’ll stop asking for food,” said one mum.

“They’ve been pretty motivated because they really want the snacks!

The idea for the home canteen came from 14-year-old Ruby Starr who lives in Sydney, with her brother Isaac, 11, her mum Carolyn and dad Stuart, who is lead pastor of New Life Anglican Church in Oran Park.

“Ruby was pretty devastated to hear that they wouldn’t be going back to school after holiday lockdown,” Carolyn tells Eternity.

“After two weeks of being stuck at home, we talked about getting some treats to keep them going and we decided on a kids canteen.

“We didn’t want them to pay for it with money (as they don’t usually have any!), but instead they would show us they were trying to get through their schoolwork.

“They were allowed maximum two snacks in a day. First snack was allowed at morning tea if they had done their regular morning chores (made beds, unpacked dishwasher, fed chickens, and the like), and their afternoon snack was earned after going for walk or exercise, or music practice.”

The idea seems to be working.

“They’ve been pretty motivated because they really want the snacks!” says Carolyn. “They’ve been getting through their schoolwork, and (mostly) getting through the afternoon as well.”

Another friend Kate, a member of an Anglican church in northern Sydney, copied the home canteen idea for her three kids – James, 14, Amelia, 13 and Luke, 9.

“It’s caused a degree of, shall we say, controversy at our house. So now I present …” commented Kate on the Facebook thread, adding an image of a printed list of “canteen dollars” now stuck to their fridge.

The Barclays' home canteen system

Kate’s home canteen system.

Rather than simply giving rewards for ordinary schoolwork, Kate also uses canteen treats for deeds that go above and beyond – such as a “deed of kindness/selflessness as determined by parents”; doing jobs without being asked; for performing “extra chores”; helping with dinner; and walking Louie the dog.

Since implementing this system, Kate says that the home canteen is “working well for us”.

Use your vouchers!

Another lockdown hack that Kate shared on Facebook was she wisely used the $100 Creative Kids voucher provided by the NSW Government to purchase a hefty pack of art supplies. Her kids are able to get into some sketching, to fill the lockdown hours.

“The sketching pack comes with online art lessons, which the kids are planning to do,” she says.

“My youngest son – Luke – has been doing some sketching already. He has drawn some trees and then made a card for his grandmother.”

A sketch of trees by Luke, age 9.

C’mon get ‘appy’

Meredith Wright, writer at Baptist World Aid, has found several apps and websites particularly helpful for her eight-year-old daughter’s home learning.

“My older two daughters, aged 12 and 15, are being heavily directed by their school, so I don’t need to provide them with much, thankfully,” says Meredith. “But my younger one needs more input.”

She gives the following online learning suggestions: “The Khan Academy website is an excellent resource, particularly for maths extension activities. The lessons include really clear explanations and visuals, followed by practice activities. Khan Academy Kids is a great app for younger kids – Kindy, Year 1 or 2. It’s fun and playful.

“My kids have also all enjoyed Reading Eggs and Reading Eggspress in terms of literacy activities. The learning is gamified so it’s fun!

“And finally, the educational content on ABC iView right now is excellent when my kids want to ‘watch TV instead of learning’.

“The number one priority is that we get through this together, as a family, supporting one another and helping each other where we can …” – Meredith Wright

“My biggest tip for parents trying to work and supervise their kids,” adds Meredith, “is to prioritise the kids as much as possible.

“This is obviously really challenging when the professional workload doesn’t magically disappear in lockdown, but I think in the long run it’s better for everyone if the family relationships are the focus. That’s also why as much as is possible, parents (and older kids) need to share the load – both domestically and in terms of supervising schoolwork.

“I also try to encourage my kids to realise that school isn’t the number one priority either; that the number one priority is that we get through this together, as a family, supporting one another and helping each other where we can – and trying to include fun in our days too!

“Our kids are so blessed in this country to have access to schools, teachers and technology that will help them keep on moving with their learning, even if the standard slips for a while.”

Do what NEEDS to be done, dump the rest

HR manager of Baptist World Aid, Rebecca Hill, agrees that parents, and kids, should just “focus on key priorities and let go of the rest”.

With three kids of her own aged 10, eight and six, Rebecca has been encouraging employees in her organisation to “adjust our expectations.”

She gives the following advice: “Above anything else, [we need] kindness, for self and those around us. To managers, make sure you’re having loads of (helpful and meaningful) conversations with your staff to understand their unique circumstances, stresses, capacity, and so on.”

“We cannot possibly work and home school all day …” – Rebecca Hill

“For everyone doing this juggle, make sure you prioritise only what needs to be done, and where possible, let go of the rest for now. Minimise unnecessary meetings and block out time for schooling/kids where it makes sense.

“I’ve found getting an early start on my own work, responding to emails and urgent requests, etc, then blocking out two hours to help my kids – the younger ones – with their work, has worked pretty well so far. I then get back to my own work for the day and check in with how the kids are going.

“To be honest though,” Rebecca adds, “if they still have tasks left for the afternoon, I’m not worried about it. We cannot possibly work and home school all day, so we get done whatever we can in those morning hours.”

Just dance!

Bible Society Australia HR manager Roba Tohme also encourages being realistic about how much the whole family can achieve during this challenging season.

“What’s working for me, most of the time, is lots of breaks, sharing the supervision with my husband and staying relaxed about it all,” Roba tells Eternity.

“The day is constant supervision.” – Roba Tohme

While her older children – Charlie, 12, and Alannah, 11 – are “doing their own thing”, she admits that home learning for her five-year-old Patrick, in kindergarten, is “proving a challenge”.

“I usually start home school at 9am (unless I have a meeting) and sit with him for about one and a half hours. Then give him a break for about 30-60 minutes and then go back to do another one and a half hours. By then it’s lunch break and he spends time in the afternoon with one of his siblings who have finished their work – they love to get it all done in one go.

Roba adds: “The day is constant supervision. When Patrick isn’t learning, I need to make sure he’s not up to trouble, such as turning on the garden hose yesterday and getting soaking wet! Oh, and I make up time not working during the day, in the early evening.”

For those struggling with the amount of time kids are spending on screens, many Facebook posters are scheduling sports times into their kids’ school-day timetables – whether that’s kicking the soccer ball outside, going for a bushwalk or a bike ride.

One Bible Society Australia staff member shared her slightly different approach to PE lessons when asked by Eternity:

Just Dance is the perfect way to burn off some lockdown adrenalin and have a bit of dance fun,” she says. “I can recommend my top three songs [to dance to]: Ca Plane Pour Moi, I Will Survive and, at number one, Rasputin!”