How to Survive and Enjoy Homeschooling During Lockdown.
We have homeschooled our children since my first child finished Kindy and my daughter has never been to school. We are passionate about homeschooling and natural learning. However, what parents are having to cope with now during lockdown is a very different challenge to navigate. We used to be out and about at groups, activities, community events and get-togethers, with lots of opportunities for our children to socialise and us parents to support each other. None of that is possible when you are on lockdown so it’s not surprising that it is proving to be very difficult for many families.
So I start by sending lots of compassion and love to people who are having to adapt to suddenly being forced to have their children at home for school, whilst also working from home themselves and dealing with all the stress, fear, uncertainty of a global pandemic at the same time.
Fortunately there are several things we can do to make this process easier, more successful and enjoyable. Aware Parenting gives us lots of tools to support ourselves and our children with these challenges.
Taking Care of Ourselves:
- The most crucial starting point with homeschooling at any time is for us parents to take care of ourselves so that we feel resourced to support our children. And this is particularly true during lockdown when parents are juggling working from home, having no time to do many of the things we enjoy in life and being forced into this situation. At the same time, our children are experiencing a lot of additional stress and trauma too.
- The reason why I start by focusing on us getting support is because parents are juggling so much right now, with all the many stresses of this lockdown. Most adults also have years of accumulated stress and unhealed trauma. So we need to prioritise the time and space for our support, to focus on our healing. Then we will be able to support our children to heal. They are able to heal in the context of their everyday life, by crying with loving support when they are upset and through laughter and attachment play. For us it's more complicated than that!
- Aware Parenting clearly understands that when we are feeling overwhelmed, stressed and stretched, there are 3 aspects that we need to explore: our beliefs and thoughts, our unmet needs and our feelings – both about the present and from the past.
- This is a time when we need extra support to explore what we are thinking and believing and how these thoughts are contributing to our stress. Having a safe space with a listening partner, an Aware Parenting Instructor, or in a journal where we can offload our worries and fears is so beneficial for us. Arrange additional time with your listening partner, or set up a new Listening Partnership with another mum from school who you know well and who can listen while you express your thoughts and share your concerns.
- Take time to check in with ourselves daily (or several times a day) to identify our unmet needs and then look for ways to address them. In times of global pandemic there will be so many additional unmet needs – choice and freedom, ease, feeling safe etc. etc.. Our nervous system will be stretched and stressed so finding ways to bring that back into balance is so important: meditation, yoga, placing a hand on your heart for 5 minutes of mindful breathing, barefoot on the grass breathing in the sunshine, whatever works for you. Focusing our awareness regularly during the day onto how our body is feeling and what we can do consciously and intentionally to help recreate balance in our bodies.
- Exploring our feelings (and there will be lots of extra ones right now) is also vitally important. LP’s, journalling and reflection time will help us to accept and surrender to our feelings, release our sadness, grief and rage, whether the feelings are about the here and now or unexpressed feelings from a younger part of us. Exploring and sharing them will help us to come back to feeling calm and resourced.
- Remember that, as well as helping yourself, modelling self-care in a crisis to your children is a really important lesson for them.
Strategies to support our children with learning and being at home:
- Prioritise connection and relationship with your child over learning. Remember that our children will be feeling lots of stress and fear at the moment, will be worried about the future and their time away from school, and will be feeling disempowered and angry. No matter how much listening to our children and attachment play we have done on our aware parenting journey already, there will be stress and trauma from their past that will also come up now to be heard and released. So we need to make time every day to listen to their feelings, to play, laugh and connect and to show them as often as we can, that our relationship with them is our primary focus.
- Extra attachment play will be life-changing, when we feel sufficiently resourced and supported to be able to offer it. Offering special time regularly, light-hearted, silly fun and power-reversal games are all particularly important now.
- When our children are being uncooperative, frustrated, struggling and resistant, see it as a red flag – a sign that they need us in that moment to move in, to connect, to listen or to play.
- Loving limits will also be very helpful if you find your child is acting like they are stuck in something and inflexible. “I hear that you really want to watch another program but I am not willing for you to be on screens right now” and then listen to the feelings that come up. We are saying “No” to the behavior and “Yes” to the underlying feelings.
- Try to identify (with your children) what unmet needs they might be experiencing and look at other ways to meet those needs. E.g. needs to be with their friends you could help them to set up a zoom chat with their closest mates or a need to move their bodies more you could take a break from learning to go and jump on the trampoline for 10 minutes. What this looks like will depend on the age of our children, but they are very resourceful and creative!
- Try to be flexible about their learning if possible. This could mean talking to the school and explaining what you are willing to do and what you are choosing not to do at the moment in terms of learning. Are the demands on the children realistic? If not, don’t do it! Remember that while your children are at home, you can choose what is best for them.
- Focus on the basics rather than trying to do everything with their learning. Reading books and writing stories together, cooking, board games etc. all provide lots of learning opportunities that are also valid and will be more helpful for your children at the moment than covering everything that is in a curriculum. Remember that what they learn at school was designed to be provided by trained teachers in a classroom in order to occupy children 5 days a week, not for stressed parents to deliver at home. Getting clear yourself on what you value most in their education will help you to prioritise what you want your children to do and remember that children are learning all the time, whether you follow a curriculum or not!
- Offer as much choice and autonomy as you can, whenever possible, even if it is just asking "do you want to do reading or maths first today?" Our children have strong and legitimate needs for autonomy and choice in their lives and these will be unmet for most children when they are locked down.
- What do your children love to do? What are they most interested in learning? Identify these things and do more of them. They will be much more motivated to do learning independently and consistently if it is something they are interested in exploring.
- Plan your day if that helps. Organise a timetable and plan in regular breaks and pauses. Then everyone knows what to expect and you can make sure you are spending your time efficiently and deliberately on what you are prioritising to do. Your kids can be involved in making the timetable with you and you can book in time outside, fun time, learning time, quiet time, screen time, time talking to their friends etc..
- Regular family meetings have been so helpful for us throughout our homeschooling adventures. Keep it respectful and calm and ensure everyone gets a chance to be heard.
- Become familiar with your children’s different learning styles and then incorporate that into what you are doing. Does it work best for them with music in the back ground? Do they learn best visually? Do they need to be moving when they are learning?
- Recognise and learn to value the learning that is not curriculum, book-based. So much of my children’s learning has happened through conversations and going about our daily lives. Learning is often not linear – it can be jumping from one thing to another as you explore things together and have discussions.
- Getting your kids to cooperate and contribute to the household jobs. If they are feeling connected to us and have had the chance to release stress, they will be much more inclined to want to contribute. Doing chores together, giving them choice in how they want to contribute, putting on some loud music and dancing together while you do it, being clear with them about what you want will all make their help more likely.
- When we feel ourselves getting wound up and annoyed with our children, before we get to the shouting stage, try to tell our children that something is coming up for us and we need to take a moment. Then, making sure the kids are safe, take yourself away and do what works for you to come back to center. For me, hand on my heart and taking 5 deep diaphragm breaths through my nose while giving myself love and compassion really helps.
- When we aren’t able to do this and we lose our temper with our children, which we all inevitably do from time to time, practising rewind, repair and reconnection with them as soon as we are able to is a great habit to get into. We explain, we apologise, we reconnect and through this we model that we aren’t perfect and that’s ok. Aletha Solter (the founder of Aware Parenting) says that the sign of a healthy family is not one that is free of conflict. It is one where conflict is handled in a way that leaves everyone feeling loved.
Screens and lockdown:
- It is likely that your children will be spending more time on screens during lockdown than they usually would. So it’s really important to try to be compassionate if you are finding yourself inclined to judge yourself and your children for this. You may need some time with your listening partner to get support around screens.
- It is helpful to remind yourself of all the ways that screens may be meeting needs during this time – needs for your children to connect with their friends, for you to work, for everyone to relax and switch off, to learn, for entertainment etc.
- There are lots of ways that we can use screen time to build connection in the family – watching cool stuff together, everyone choosing a Youtube to share, watching “try not to laugh” challenges together, regular movie night where everyone takes turns to choose, get your kids to teach you how to play the game they are into at the moment or to do a Tik Tok dance (great opportunities for power-reversal games there!), sending your children silly snapchats of you looking ridiculous with filters on.
- Bringing some humour and silliness to screens – jokes about screentime are really helpful for the whole family. There are some very funny memes about lockdowns and screentime that my kids shared with me.
Reframing some of your worries:
Over the years, I have found it so helpful to re-frame some of my worries and fears about having the children learning at home. This is only helpful if we have also already had the chance to express how we are feeling. So then, when things come up and after we have had some listening and support, we can choose to look at things differently.
- Being on lockdown and having your kids homeschool is stressful and overwhelming but it is also an opportunity to strengthen your relationship and connection with them and to support them every day.
- When we feel worried that no one is learning anything, that they might be falling “behind” or things are falling apart, we can ask ourselves “Is that true? Is that really true?"
- We can choose to feel really grateful that we are getting to be with our children every day and that they are having time away from the stressful aspects of school and the parts of school that you don’t like, reclaiming our children from their peers for a small period of time, that you aren’t rushing out of the door everyday worrying about school lunches and stuck in traffic, and that you all now have the chance to follow the natural rhythms of life – taking time to rest and sleep when you all need to, and they are getting to tune into their bodies and recognise and meet their needs more. All of this can provide the opportunity for your children to be much less stressed for a while.
- Ask ourselves “what do we want our children to remember about this time”?
- Take the opportunity to really think about what you value for yourself and your children and let go of anything that doesn’t feel really important to you.
- It is also a great opportunity to practise trusting ourselves and our children.
Lockdown, pandemic, crisis homeschooling is very stressful for families. We need to give ourselves and our children lots of compassion and love, to prioritise our connection and relationships, to play, laugh and have fun together, to let go of the pressure and just do what we can. Every day, we need support for ourselves to offload what we are thinking, to identify our unmet needs and take deliberate steps to meet them in whatever way we can, and find ways to express and release our feelings. Only then are we able to connect with our children and thereby support them to cooperate, to contribute and to be able to learn.