I am a little over a week into teaching my little cherubs [feral brutes] at home so I thought I’d impart a bit of advice to my fellow sufferers aka parents out there. The sea of “helpful” home schooling tips, websites and lists that flooded my WhatsApp groups last week was, frankly, nothing short of alarming.
Much of the advice seemed to involve either endless screen time or way too much effort on my part. Or it was all: hug your kids, dance in the sunshine, laugh, make love. Um, no. Let’s get real here everybody. So here’s my own little list of how I’ve kept the children educated, amused and out of my hair during Corona home isolation. I hope you find it helpful.
1. Draw up a timetable for the school day.
I did this on day two because day one was such a shit storm that I needed some semblance of routine to at least pretend to stick to. But don’t be a dick about it. Include things on there like TV and wine time. Also, don’t follow it, necessarily. It’s a guide. Everyone knows guides are geeky girls who like to “be prepared”. (Full disclosure, I was a Brownie for years. I’m just being trite). Sometimes a guideline is useful to add structure to the day. Other times it can go stuff itself.
2. Make a chore chart.
I was astounded how well this worked. We have never attempted rewarding good behaviour with bribes, mainly because we’re tight and don’t want to be beholden to such things. But my six year old clearly relished the opportunity to outdo his older brother in unpacking the dishwasher and laying the table. Absolute win! I felt a right smuggins about it until said six-year-old realised on day three that he wasn’t getting his Pokemon tin until the end of a fortnight and the novelty quickly wore off. Still, they have working arms and legs and according to their teachers they help tidy up in their actual classrooms so they can bloody well do it at home too. Now more than ever.
3. Play to your strengths.
I was a massive nerd at school so I quite enjoy the free Twinkl worksheets for English and maths that I’ve printed off for the boys to do. We do them first thing in the morning when I’m still sparking off my double espresso and they haven’t yet got bored of my mum jokes and enthusiasm. Then Ed takes over as Head of Sports and Languages. This morning he was teaching them “I’d like to go to…” in French. Sam’s answer was, “Australia.” Awww. Toby’s was “Wilfie’s house.” His best friend. WEEP. I know you’re expecting me to say I teach yoga to the boys but they don’t like yoga, so, um…Yeah.
4. Do stuff as a family.
I know that we are stuck within four walls. I also know that I am incredibly lucky to have a hands-on husband whose work schedule means that he has a lot of days off - when he isn’t fevering and coughing in our marital bed with suspected Covid19 as he was last week. When he works this coming weekend, it will be from 8am until 9pm both days and he won’t leave the office (our bedroom) apart from lunchtime. Side note: Christ knows what I’m going to do all weekend. I’m thinking endless hours of Netflix for the boys while I chat to mates abroad on Zoom and drink wine in the sunshine. On the days that Ed’s not working he can help me home fool and it becomes a collaborate effort. Yesterday we made a film. Sam wrote the script. The boys made masks out of paper plates and came up with costumes. Ed filmed it on his phone. The boys and I learnt our lines and acted and Ed taught them how to edit it, adding sound effects and the likes. It took up most of the school day and the end result was brilliant. They absolutely loved it too.
5. Cook together.
This sounds like an obvious one but I’m not talking baking organic sugar-free brownie bollocks here, I mean get the kids involved in helping you prepare the family meal. I’ve never bothered before. In those old misty pre-isolation days of yore I would always cook while they were watching telly, it was just quicker and easier that way. But now that time has stretched and warped I’ve got them involved in helping me. I let them use big sharp knives and cook on the stove. My heart is in my throat the whole time but they are loving the fact I’m letting them do something so “risky”. At the same time they are learning about measures and Sam has been keeping a recipe book. And it’s genuinely helpful! It means I can drink wine and let them stir the bolognaise. Result.
6. Keep moving. We have always been an active family. If it got to 10am on a weekend and we hadn’t left the house to go to rugby or cricket practice or on a family bike ride or country walk we would be climbing the walls. Even in the dead of winter we ALWAYS go out and brave the elements. So to be confined in our little house has been a challenge. But guys, JOE WICKS PE ON YOUTUBE! I mean, that guy. First of all he’s not bad to look at, let’s be honest mums. Second of all, seeing Ed do burpees in our sitting room is seriously amusing, and I don’t mean the ones he does after drinking beer. And third of all with his Essex accent Joe Wicks sounds just like Toby, our little one! “Fanks for tuning in everyone, wicked!” The resemblance is quite uncanny. We are also eternally grateful to mother nature for all this lovely spring sunshine during the days of solitary confinement which has meant the boys have made our trampoline the best returns-on-investment purchase ever and also have discovered a newfound passion in football (ie soccer to this South African). The only problem being they seem to have inherited the English footballer histrionics somehow despite never having watched a football game in their lives. There are tears and tantrums every two minutes. Still, they’re getting exercise.
7. Rediscover old toys.
I am no Marie Kondo. I like things to look generally tidy in my house but this means stashing a gazillion toys in drawers and cupboards in the children’s bedrooms with no particular order or curation. Which means a lot of toys and games start to filter down to the bottom of the shelf or drawer and will never see the light of day again until it’s time for the school fair and I do a massive chuck out. But we might not have a school fair for a long old while so I’ve brought out some old toys and board games and the boys have genuinely enjoyed playing with them again.
8. Keep days very similar.
Kids love structure, apparently. And also, it’s way fekking easier than trying to come up with a million different things to do every day. Word.
9. Prioritise your own sanity.
Children are incredibly resilient and although they will miss their friends they are also probably relishing this enforced family time. Take some time out for yourself to go on your daily Boris-allowed run, read, listen to a podcast, or do a live streaming yoga class with yours truly.
10. And if all else fails just drink wine.
My thoughts and prayers to my South African friends. I hope you’ve stocked your cellars….