Hello! Yes, I’m still here. Just.
It feels very, very strange to be back in front of a screen as The Homework Fairy Godmother. And I’m not here with advice, or any hints and tips today. I wanted to share our journey through lockdown and beyond and how it’s affected us. And it’s not been a pleasant ride.
It’s been 120 days since The Teen was last at school. It’s been 118 days since The Tween was last at school. We’ve navigated the troubled waters of online learning through this time and it has been a rough crossing.
Right at the beginning, I was confident I had home-learning IN THE BAG. I knew this stuff. I taught this stuff. Time away from face-to-face tutoring was going to hit my finances, sure, but just THINK of all the online content I could produce, and I could teach via Zoom, right? I could improve my fitness (hello, PE with Joe and Yoga with Adriene!) and I could teach the kids SOOOOOO many life skills. The garden was going to be a sanctuary. The house would get decorated. This was going to be the time we’d REALLY come together as a family – good food, lots of family activities, online learning, everything was going to be UTTERLY BRILLIANT.
And for the first couple of weeks it was.
Then I discovered that teaching via Zoom was horribly uncomfortable and almost impossible for me to do effectively. I had lots of enquiries, and I gave it a good go, but it simply didn’t work for me, or the kids I tried to work with. It didn’t fit with my teaching style, and I hated it.
I’ve battled anxiety and depression for many years and I never seem to remember that upheaval and uncertainty are the biggest triggers for mental health issues for me. I stopped sleeping well. Getting through the days became like swimming through treacle. All my energy went into supporting The Teen and Tween through their online tasks. And they struggled too: the sheer volume of work paralysed them both, and I would sit on Sunday night and at the crack of dawn Monday going through ALL the Teen’s work and a lot of The Tween’s organising and breaking it down into tasks. They are both autistic, and although their academic ability is generally either at, above, or in some areas, way above their peers, their executive function (the ability to prioritise and organise their lives and work) is a very long way below. This means that they can be willing to do the work, but completely in the dark on where to start, or if what they are doing is correct.
Often, it would take an hour or two before they could produce anything meaningful. The Teen settled in eventually, although he needed to talk through all his English Lit essays with me before he could write them, and then he needed me to read them and suggest improvements before he was able to hand them in without massive anxiety.
Some subjects seemed more accessible than others. History and Geography were difficult – masses of Google slides to read through, and lots of research, which sent them down rabbit holes and off on tangents without a teacher there to guide them. The Tween refused point blank to do any French after the fifth week, stating that she didn’t see the point of learning it. I caved immediately (my French is appalling, anyway, so I was very little help) and informed her teacher. Maths and Science were done through MyMaths and Educake, and this was a great success with both kids! They Googled what they didn’t know, and the repetition in the questions really helped their understanding. The Tween loved her Art homework, which she would spend hours on, and The Teen did the same with his IT homework. The school has been amazing, especially their form tutors, who rang weekly to see how they were.
We managed to get out for a walk most days, after an hour or so of procrastinating. We baked nearly every day. They began staying up later, and getting up later. We put rules in place – they had a set bed time for school nights, but Fridays and Saturdays they stayed up often until midnight (or later). It was less stressful for all of us – I got time in the morning to try and catch up with housework and organising their work, and they got time in their rooms without interruption doing their own thing (which normally involved online games and chatting to friends via WhatsApp). The Teen often struggled to sleep, and had occasional night terrors, something he hadn’t suffered from since he was nine. The Tween’s food choices dwindled – she stopped wanting to eat many foods she’d liked before lockdown and lived off toast, yoghurt, apples, grapes, the odd bit of chicken, ham and bacon. Both began to hate baths and showers – I had to nag them to get clean and dressed.
Pretty soon days merged into each other. I cooked, cleaned, fretted over things I couldn’t change, worried about the schoolwork, and became more anxious. I’ve been here before, and I knew (in my head) that this was a completely normal and natural response to an unprecedented situation. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was failing. I’d set myself a completely unrealistic goal and it had backfired spectacularly. My only relief was sitting down in the evening, crochet hook in hand, creating a soft, squidgy crochet blanket. I’d fall asleep sometime past ten, waking five or six times in the night, crawling out of bed and doing it again and again.
Finally, the end was in sight – last week I took the decision that it would be the end of term for us last Friday, even though they officially had four more days to go. And it has been as if a weight is lifted. The Teen has slept ten hours or more a night. The Tween has started writing a book. And I’m starting to be The Homework Fairy Godmother again.
Why am I telling you this? Well, I hope that this makes YOU feel better about your homeschooling journey. And that you’re not a failure if you haven’t managed to make sourdough bread, or learn a new language, or keep up with a fitness routine or the washing up. You’re not alone if you’ve struggled to get or keep your children engaged in educational activities. And you’re certainly not alone if you, too, have fought mental health struggles during this time.
Give yourself a break. Have a cuppa, and make sure that you tell yourself you’re awesome to have got through this. Whatever your situation, whatever you’ve faced – I’m proud of you.
Wishing you a week of peace and calm, my lovelies.