I listened to Boris at the press briefing on Tuesday 4 January with two very conflicting thoughts in my head. The 1st was that this version of lockdown is necessary, albeit difficult, frustrating and tough. The 2nd was, “Please don’t close the schools! Please don’t close the schools!”
And then he closed the schools.
Now, both my husband and I are keyworkers but last lockdown our children were homeschooled – and I know how the lockdown-homeschool maths…
Let’s estimate 7 hours at school (now homeschool), 7 hours of parenting around school times, 8 hours (at least) of your own work (if you’re working), say 2 hours of home stuff like cooking, cleaning and eating, 1 hour for a walk outside and 8 hours of sleep – and we are at 33 hours in a 24-hour day before you have even gone to the toilet to do a pee, never mind anything else!
Yet this is the situation we find ourselves in again, at least until February half-term – quite possibly longer. And although, yes, the end is in sight with a vaccine, there is still a way to go.
So, if your kids are now doing school from home, you need to find a way to manage. And here’s what I’d suggest:
- Prioritise your absolute non-negotiables. If you’re working and you have an important meeting or if you absolutely need to workout to protect your mental health, then prioritise that – even if it means the kids workout with you or they have some downtime in front of the TV while you have your meeting.
- Think about how much supervision is required for each school activity. For example, it may be that a particular activity can be set up by you but your child can sit next to you while you do your work and they do theirs. There have been many occasions when I have had a child sitting on the floor next to me while I write articles, or even when I am on TV!
- Don’t underestimate play. Not all learning is of the ‘reading, writing and rithmetic’ genre: young children learn through play, too. So, 30mins of making things out of playdough is 30mins of fine motor control practice that’ll help with writing and forming letters; doing jigsaw puzzles or Lego develops spatial awareness and maths skills; playing board or card games involves counting, turn taking and other social skills (including learning how to lose); going out for a long walk and jumping/hopping/skipping/balancing on walls will further develop gross motor skills. It is all learning; it all counts.
- Know that helping round the house is learning too. If your child comes out of this lockdown being able to pair up socks from the washing machine (fine motor control and life skills), chop veggies for dinner (life skills, safety knowledge and fine motor control) or change their bed sheets (gross motor control and life skills, then they have learnt something extremely valuable. Some of their activities may seem like play but actually have a really significant amount of learning attached…
- Boredom is OK. If your children have to amuse themselves for a bit, that’s alright. Boredom is sometimes the maker of invention, allowing your child’s imagination to come alive.
- Make an activities timetable. Most children will really benefit from a timetable, be that something with times or a more visual choice board of activities. It can be as simple as a range of activities they can choose from in a day, which may include schoolwork or a more formal schedule.
- Fill up a ‘Bored Jar’. Fill an old jam jar with ideas of activities your children can do on their own when you are busy and they are bored. I tipped out our jar to write this article: it is full of pieces of paper with activities on such as ‘throw and catch a ball 20 times outside’, ‘100 bounces on the trampoline’, ‘do a jigsaw puzzle’, ‘spend time with a sticker book’, ‘make up a song or dance and record it’, ‘ learn a poem’ (older child!), and many more. Sit down and ask your children to write the activities on the pieces of paper – you may be surprised with their choices and how many there are!
You can’t do it all, there aren’t the hours in the day to do it, but importantly you don’t NEED to do it all. Schools are better set up to provide online learning than they were last year, having already had a go at it last year and may well be able to provide help. Teachers are adept at identifying gaps and will help your children when they go back to school.
At home with you, your children will be learning, be it via schoolwork or play. This is an incredibly stressful time for all of us. So look after each other, look after yourself. You’ve got this.
About our expert, Dr Philippa Kaye
Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.