Week eight of lockdown and week six of home schooling. I’m taking deep breaths before the start of this new week as last week saw me hit a new low.
My five-year-old was writing the letter “h” under much duress. He is reticent at best to do his work. We would bribe him with jelly beans if he completed some of his tasks, but now even the jelly bean trick doesn’t work. Jelly beans? Pssht! He looks decidedly unimpressed. What else you got?
He’s writing the letter “h” but it looks terrible. The letters are either illegible scrawls or look like n’s. I correct him patiently but he doesn’t want to know. He wants to be doing anything other than this. “You and me both, babe,” I want to say but don’t.
I’m also aware we have a number of tasks waiting on the school Seesaw app where every day a new bunch of home schooling assignments for his kindergarten class appear. We gave up trying to complete all the tasks after the first week. At current check, a bold red number notifies me that my son has 124 outstanding tasks. Each day that number grows bigger.
Meanwhile, my older son comes forward asking for snacks. “It’s recess,” he proclaims. In his head he is watching the clock and still keeping track of the various junctures that usually break up the school day. I point him towards the kitchen and as the dutiful middle child he ambles in that direction and finds something to satiate himself. As he does, my daughter pops out of her room. “Can you help me with this maths question?” she asks. I look at her extension maths work and decide somewhere along the line I lost the ability to do year seven maths. I ask her if she can ask her teacher for help. She shrugs.
In our bedroom down the hall I can hear my husband on a Zoom call for work. Between his Zooms he puts on the teacher hat so I can focus on my work. It is like this all day, each of us passing the baton to each other till we collapse in a heap on the couch at the end of the day.
I look down at the writing my five-year-old has done, hoping he has written at least one presentable “h” so I can take a photo of it and upload it under his writing assignment. This way the number on the app won’t tick over to 125. Instead, I see a page full of scribbles. My patience is exhausted.
“Your writing is terrible!” I say. “You can do better but you’re not even trying!”
He looks at me with big wide eyes and at that moment I can picture myself as the scary monster I must appear to him. I’m horrified. “Back off, lady,” I think to myself. “Back the hell off.”
The only timeouts we are currently having in our house are for the parents. I give myself a timeout in the bathroom as that is, for at least five minutes, a place where I can lock the door and give myself room to breathe. As I sit on the edge of the tub, I realise again that maybe as a family we need to give home schooling itself a big time out.
In the vast majority of homes with children, parents are working. While the world is going through a pandemic like nothing any of us have experienced before, the demands of our jobs never stop. If anything, they seem to go up. Work wants us to be more productive it seems. Meanwhile, our children are somehow expected to continue at the same pace with their schoolwork as they did when they were in school.
By the end of each day our sanity often feels like it’s in shreds but somehow we get up and do it all over again in a never-ending groundhog day, made harder because the end seems nowhere in sight. Research has backed up how many of us are feeling, with stress, anxiety and depression shown to have risen in parents during lockdown, especially due to home schooling.
I am also aware of the disparity in learning that home schooling will bring about. In the UK they found that educational inequalities for children “mushroomed” during the pandemic . Those children whose parents were able to devote the time and energy to ensure they are caught up with all their schoolwork will obviously be at an advantage to those whose parents are unable or unwilling to do the bare minimum. How long, I wonder, will this disparity continue? Will it be something that casts a shadow across the school life of a number of children for years to come?
My children are somewhere in the middle. I’m certainly not a home-schooling tiger mum, but I am striving imperfectly every day so my children have learned something. But should we even have that pressure to teach them? Should we all just say we are calling it quits on home schooling for the rest of the term until we know better what the next term looks like? Will that give us all a bit more room to breathe? Will it mean I will shout at my child less, especially over something so inconsequential like his h’s looking like n’s?
I come out of the bathroom, take a deep breath and take a photo of the scribbles my son has done and upload it on to the app. At least he’s done one task. The number counter on the app ticks down to 124, and won’t be going up for now (don’t worry, it will later – we have the letter s tomorrow).
“Where’s my jelly bean?” my son asks. I give him some and toss a few in my mouth as well. Perhaps the jelly bean bribe still works, if not on him then maybe me.