Adventures in COVID homeschooling

When work and school collide

Rebecca Abbott: Day 1 of homeschooling – the surprise silver lining 

Day one of COVID-19 homeschooling in the Abbott household: We collect a laptop from the school office for our youngest daughter Charlotte (aged 10, in Year 5), feeling very blessed that our local public primary school is willing and able to lend these resources.

After getting home and trying every password combination we can think of, we call the school’s IT manager. He tells us to bring the laptop back to school in order to disconnect it from the school’s domain.

Meanwhile, my second daughter Lucy (aged 12, in Year 7) is setting up a sewing machine on the dining room table, right next to Charlotte’s workspace, to start work on her textiles project of sewing a beach bag. This is the first time a sewing machine has ever been seen in our house.

I’m on a Zoom meeting with the Eternity team, trying ignore sounds from the scene of Lord of Flies that’s beginning to play out between my children.

A fight ensues when my eldest daughter Caitlin (15, in Year 10) tells Lucy she is not allowed to use the machine without supervision. The unanswered question hangs: who will help Lucy with this ambitious task?

In the (doorless) office upstairs, I’m on a Zoom meeting with the Eternity team, trying ignore sounds from the scene of Lord of Flies that’s beginning to play out between my children.

After the meeting, I head downstairs to suggest it might be morning-tea time. It dawns on me that we don’t know the usual recess and lunch times at the kids’ two different schools. A scramble ensues to scavenge morning tea snacks. It dawns on me too that we didn’t pack lunchboxes the night before.

I begin to question my decision to pull the kids out of school. Both the primary school that my youngest attends and the high school where my oldest daughters go are still open this week. However, for my elder two it’s a 45-minute bus ride to school, shared with primary kids from a nearby international school. This is the main reason for deciding to take the homeschooling option – the bus just seemed too great a risk to keep taking. For my youngest daughter there were two deciding factors for pulling her out of school: 1. Because we can – now that I’m working from home; 2. Because if we sent Charlotte to school, there would be fights over the fact that her sisters were at home.

We are fortunate that my teenagers’ high school is tech-savvy and has already run successful trials of remote classes using a platform called Canvas. I’m anticipating that the only direction my eldest daughter (also very tech-savvy) will need is to stay off YouTube.

Meanwhile, Lucy in Year 7 is going to need a bit more help and Charlotte, who will be using Google classroom remotely for the first time, is likely to need some attention every hour or so to make sure she is receiving and understanding the messages given by her teacher. Charlotte is armed with a folder of printouts to accompany lessons that have already been uploaded to Google Classrooms by her organised teacher, with instructions not to start on tasks until directed by her teacher via chat.

For once, in real time, I can actually share in my children’s school learning experiences.

On this thought, I head downstairs, ready to implement crowd-control procedures. Instead, I find Charlotte writing a review on a moving short film. We watch the film together and discuss some of the main themes. I check in on Lucy, who is happily unpicking some sewing while on a group chat with friends during a break from school work. Caitlin is working on a geography assignment and takes a few minutes to explain to me what “aeolian processes” are (the wind’s ability to shape the surface of the Earth, in case you’re wondering).

I am coming to an unexpected realisation about this experience of sharing work and school in our home: even if the days aren’t as neatly structured and we don’t get quite as much work done as usual, there is a lot to be gained. For once, in real time, I can actually share in my children’s school learning experiences. Not only does this open the door for further connectedness but it also enriches the depth of their learning as we discuss their findings together.

Now I also realise that we’re only at day one with a long way to go, but at least now instead of simply dreading the juggle of work and school at home, I feel more hopeful that we can grasp some of the silver that lines the unusual clouds under which we are all living.

Postscript from Charlotte: “So this is what doing school from home is like. I thought we would be watching a lot more TV.”

PE time – homeschool style

PE time – homeschool style

Kylie Beach: Day 7 of homeschooling – Jesus, take the wheel!

Look, you can’t do all the things, all the time, and get it all right and make all the people happy. Especially when there’s a coronavirus prowling around and you’ve decided to pull your kids out of school about a week before anyone’s organised.

A week ago, I had the romantic idea that a time of forced isolation was going to be good for us all. I knew it was going be awful, but I was a big believer in the whole silver lining thing.

I’d even pitched a story idea to my Editor, waxing lyrical about this being a forced sabbatical for a world desperately plagued by business. This, I declared, would allow us all to get off the treadmills of work, ministry and family life and allow us to reset. And we’d probably never be the same. He told me to go ahead and write it.

The thing is, though, by the time I sat down to write it, the romantic vision had already begun to fade. And try as I might, I just couldn’t claw the feeling back.

I dictated the day’s tasks to him at the exact same time that I made them up and wrote them down.

My husband was working all day, every day to make our church’s online experience at the weekend run like a dream. I was also working from home. And then we had two school-aged kids at home, quarantined from the germy world because we have a few health issues in our family.

Given that I hadn’t had any time for preparation and schools weren’t yet set up for online learning, it was on me to figure out what the 11-year-old should be doing. So, every day, between Zoom news meetings and working at my kitchen table, I dictated the day’s tasks to him at the exact same time that I made them up and wrote them down.

To make it all sound more official, I called for a lot of “report backs”. As it turned out, these were also a good reminder to myself that he was in the house when I got caught up in my own work. Provided that he actually did report back back, of course.

“Now, start by listening to the Squiz Kids podcast and making notes, then reporting back to me what you’ve learned,” I said, every morning, to buy myself some thinking-up-tasks time. I’d learned about the podcast because it was advertised in the Squiz Daily (adults) that I often listen to, but I’ve never actually listened to it. I just sort of crossed my fingers it was okay – and it seemed to be, from the report backs.

I made sure there was balance, including exercise and art, although, admittedly, one of the “art” tasks was practising his photography of the dogs on his iPhone, which I guess is about as slapdash a homeschool art task as anyone has ever been set.

I learned there’s loads of great exercise for kids videos on YouTube. In fact, one of them appealed to my ’90s child hip-hop sensibilities so much that I even joined in.

The 11-year-old

The 11-year-old

During one lunch break, I raced up to the plant store and bought a bunch of seeds, informing my son it was for a future science lesson. In fact, it was really more a weak moment of COVID-19-induced panic that made me feel like I should be prepared to grow my own food – just in case.

We never actually got to that science lesson. The panic has since passed, but the seeds are still here, just in case.

Periodically I yelled out to my 17-year-old “are you working? I want you to be working or you better go to school”. One time he responded, “Mum, I hardly do any work at school anyway. This is about the same amount of work” – which, much to his surprise, I found significantly less reassuring than he intended.

At no stage during the week did I embark upon my sabbath-level reflections or take up a new hobby or clean out cupboards or bake something wonderful and nutritious.

I did pray, though. In fact, I actually caught myself praying at one point for, “Gael’s cousin, Amanda’s anonymous family member, and my beautiful ex-next-door-neighbour’s chain of Spanish cafes” – which are, unfortunately called ‘Satan’s coffee’. I don’t even know whether Christians are allowed to pray for something called that … but they are wonderful, kind people and good friends, so I did.

Today, though, learning-via-distance classes began.

I sat alongside my 11-year-old at the kitchen table and watched his teacher direct him through a well-structured and reasonable day’s work. Occasionally, I had to remind him it was time for the next task to start. But generally, I let the brilliant Mr H. handle it and thanked God for the gift that he is.

Maybe after a few more days of this, those sabbath vibes I’ve been seeking will be found after all.

The Hadley family schedule

The Hadley family schedule

Mark Hadley: Day 1 – So far, so good!

My kids came home because their schools decided they had to. Both my wife and I work, and are usually helped with after school care situations by our elderly parents. However, beginning this week the school began to individually inform us that they could no longer do face-to-face teaching time. It was staggered and very uneven, as much has been in the current crisis. So from Wednesday this week, we find ourselves, like many parents, ‘home-schooling’ our three boys.

My wife and I are both television producers – you can read as much organisation or anal retentive RSD into that as you like (heh). Let’s just say that our work relies on structure, so we’ve taken that to our new jobs as well.

The first thing we went out and bought was a whiteboard and mounted it on the wall in the kitchen. We’re trying to stick to the routine they’re used to, so they have a school activity followed by ‘recess’ break, followed by another activity, then lunch, then a final activity. We’re starting earlier so we can get them going while we prepare for our own work, which has also moved home.

Yes, it’s all a little more ‘North Korea’ than some might do, but we’re trying to avoid slipping into a multi-month, pyjama-pants PlayStation session

But we’re also finishing earlier and aiming for an hour of something physical to finish their day. Mum is planning walks and bike rides; Dad is thinking calisthenics, heh. Yes, it’s all a little more ‘North Korea’ than some might do, but we’re trying to avoid slipping into a multi-month, pyjama-pants PlayStation session … and we figure we can always relax things, but it’s harder to tighten them up.

Would we have brought them home anyway? No, but not because we’re cavalier with their safety. We talk often and clearly about taking care of ourselves in this time so we’re better able to care for each other.

But our family also makes a big deal about being in the world for Jesus. Each night we pray with the boys for someone they hope will come to know Him. We want them to grow up knowing we are here to be salt and light to a sated and dark world. But it’s hard to witness to the world if you’re not in it.

Our fallback position now is that the boys are encouraged to check in with a friend each day, ask them how they’re going, if there is something we can do to help, and ask if there’s anything we can pray for. I know it sounds a bit hokey, but we can’t help thinking God put us here for just such a time as this.

Did I mention we had to bring work home too? Well, three boys at home complicated that. We actually had the luxury of two workspaces at home. One has been turned into our makeshift classroom for the boys, and my wife has moved in with me. We don’t really feel bad, though – honestly, all we have to do is think about other people who are doing it much harder. Or worse, have no work at all. We’re thankful that our jobs can move with us, and that gives us perspective.

Besides, we feel like even the hard things are God’s good things if we just trust him. My boys are actually looking forward to spending more time with us, and I can’t help but think God had that in mind to help us grow to be more like him. Me especially.

This will sound ridiculously’ holy,’ but I’m worried that we will just get through’ this, and pop out the other side not having really learned anything. Our family has had to deal with a lot of disability and illness. It’s often been very hard, the sort of hard that makes men cry.

But we look back on those times and think, “Wow… and God did that!” I’d like my boys and my wife and me to look back and say, “That really helped us along the road to heaven.” I’m not really worried if they miss school for that.

Personally, I think I’m already gaining it. I’d like my hands to be loosened a little more on this world, and my eyes lifted to the next one. I’d like our children to look at us and see how we turned them to God when things got tough… especially as they’re likely to get tougher yet even when the virus is sorted.

There’s financial pressures ahead that will be with us for years to come, I suspect. But if they can see us looking forward to heaven and up to our Father? Then I think we can handle all the in between stuff together.

When I told my youngest son we were going to be seeing each other every day for months to come, he looked at me as though I’d actually manufactured this whole situation for him and said, “I love you, Dad.” I hope very much to be worthy of that response.