Home schooling? Been there, done that. And survived.

It’s not a holiday. And especially not for the temporary stay-at-home parents who didn’t see it coming.

I’ve been there. Last October, schools in Chile shut down for a week due to social unrest, which was followed by a planned November holiday week. Then all exhausted parents could return their kids to school, which went all right for a week, until teachers went on a strike “indefinitely”. 

Let me share how I survived then, and what I will do differently now.

A rotation system for home schooling

With a couple of parents, we set up a rotation of homeschooling for five kids. The kids were all in the same age group, and shared the same teacher, who sent us suggested homework for each day of the “indefinite” strike. Each family took care of the kids for one day in the week. The great advantage was that it allowed me to work on the other days of the week.

This time around, I am not so stressed about staying productive. The whole world is slowing down, so it will be easier to keep up with the “constant flow of opportunities and demands”. And I’ll be pickier about what I do and what not. The cancellation of all networking events is a great help too.

Also, bringing kids together - even in a private environment - goes against what the suspension of schools aims to achieve i.e. flattening the corona curve and saving lives. So, it will be just Stella and me for the next two weeks.

Trying to keep up with the school curriculum is exhausting, and unnecessary 

Last year, when I was a homeschool novice, I tried following a well-prepared schedule of maths and reading. I awaited the kids with a full and diverse set of worksheets, school supplies and assigned seats. And it did’t work. For some reason, kids don’t just execute what you tell them to do. And they each have their own rythm. And some kids just tell you that they find the tasks -that you’ve been researching until late the night before- boring. They are frank like that.

Needless to say that trying to keep everyone “on schedule” is incredibly exhausting. So Netflix saved me. I let the kids choose out of five French-speaking cartoons (they go to French school), and after a democratic voting process, three out of five kids were happy to sit on the couch for 30 minutes. The other two moaned a bit, so they could choose the show in the second TV-break.

The other parents were more relaxed, and cleverer than me. Claudia took the kids to a local museum, Carol taught them yoga, Paula shared her passion for Frida Kahlo and Daniel let the kids splash in the condo’s swimming pool. It was exhausing for them too, but at least the kids had more fun, and they learned new things.

This time, I am not so worried that my daughter Stella will suffer severe developmental delay, or that her chances of getting into an Ivy League university will be jeopardized. It will all turn out just fine.

There are so many fun ways to practice reading, writing and maths. Who knew writing a shopping list, reading a recipe and measuring ingredients could be so much fun and stimulating for a 7-year old? And think of all the reading and math skills you need to play Rummikub, Uno, Monopoly and Connect 4

And if the school is sending over homework, take it as a guideline, not a mandatory assignment. You’re not trained to be a teacher (unless you are), and the dynamic at school is so much different than at home. 

What’s most important now is to keep your kids safe and relatively content. Learning is a bonus. Getting some work done too.

Screens in times of corona 

Too much screen time reduces our kids’ creativity and increases their chances of obesity. What is too much screen time? It seems to be a moving target. And should you apply the same rule for every day of the year?

Let’s keep in mind that this is not a holiday. Parents are supposed to be working, whilst the kids are at home. You need to find a balance here, or you’ll lose your sanity. 

Our family has rules and exceptions. One rule is that meals are completely separate from screens. No tablets in restaurants, no meals in front of the TV, and phones on silent whilst we eat. This rule remains valid.

Another rule is that Stella has no free access to tablets or phones, unless we are traveling or waiting in a hospital. For the very simple reasons that hospitals, airports and planes are tricky places to entertain kids without bothering the people around you. And you can only play tic-tac-toe until you get extremely bored with it yourself. And now, with a 7-year old in the house for two weeks - or longer, we’re charging the iPad again.

The internet is rich with beautiful teaching aids. Like that time when Stella was hospitalized during our holiday in Thailand, we watched videos on why people get a fever, how blood circulates in our bodies, and on we went to learn about heaps of other bodily functions.

For links to great educational resources, have a look at these recent blogs:

There will be instances when we need some time to ourselves, and let the kids be entertained by the little screens on their own.  Whilst I make some phone calls, sit in front of my own screen, or prepare dinner without the “help” of an underage assistant, I’ll hand over the iPad.

Before handing over a tablet or a phone, make sure that there is a lock on the apps that you don’t want your kids to have access to such as your personal e-mail, Google or YouTube. (See links to how to lock your apps for iPhone, iPad, Android.) And don’t forget to disable the apps store!

Then, agree with your child what he or she can do, and what is off limit. For example, Stella knows that it is ok to:

  • Watch videos of when she was a baby. She loves it and I see no harm in this.
  • Write text on the “notepad” app: she practices her writing skills and even found a way to include her baby pictures.
  • Browse YouTube Kids (available in English, Spanish and Cantonese). She loves the dance instruction videos from Disney, and the somewhat silly arts and crafts videos.
  • Take pictures of herself or her dog. 
  • Use my phone to call her friend through her mother’s phone.  
  • Play the games that we have downloaded together. 

Let go of your guilt, and throw in an extra hour of quality screen time for your offspring in this exceptional situation. 

A schedule is great, when it is not a straight-jacket

I am the champion of planning. My plan is the reason why I get out of bed in the morning. 

And then, whilst getting ready for the day, I change the plan. Not completely, but I tweak it and make amendments to my schedule. I change the order of the plan, or I make space for something urgent, or for a great idea that I just had. 

The point of planning and scheduling is to structure your day, so that you get an idea of what you want to accomplish before you go back to bed. It increases your productivity and decreases your stress. Now, with the kids at home, you need to think of how you’ll get through the day, and what you want to accomplish - and how tidy you want your household to be.

What’s important to you? And what are the mandatory activities you can’t get out of? And how long is the day anyway? When you have the answers to these questions, you have a beautiful draft schedule.

Don’t overload your schedule, and allow for flexibility. No point in getting all worked up for not following the schedule you made up yourself. Nobody will punish you.

Relax. Give yourself and your kids some structure. And take it from there.  

These are tough times; social isolation is very stressful, and even more so for kids. Be kind to yourself and to your loved ones, and take it easy.