There’s a timetable on the wall in our hallway. Marked with times, dates and names; and broken into activities to cover the hours between 9am and 5pm each weekday. It was written up in a fit of enthusiasm when I heard that my kids’ school was going to close a few weeks ago.
I’ll be honest, it’s peeling a bit at the corners and we haven’t looked at it yet.
It’s not that I don’t value education – I worked as a teacher for ten years and have seen the difference a good lesson can make. Kids enjoy challenge; need routine. I don’t want my five little ones to fall behind.
But a fortnight ago, we were all ill. It may have been coronavirus. Without testing, we can’t be sure. But the symptoms: unremitting fevers and hacking coughs, were enough to wipe us all out for over a week.
When my littlest boy was slumped on the sofa, coughing his heart out and looking at me with pleading eyes, I couldn’t have cared less about his reading ability or whether or not his handwriting was neat.
I just wanted him to be okay.
Now, as the fevers have receded and we’re left with terrible fatigue but nothing worse, I don’t feel in a hurry to get going on the timetable.
And it’s not just because I faced the fear of losing one of them (you can forget the reassuring stats; when you suspect your kid’s got Covid, trust me, you’re fearful). It’s because the experience has helped me to remember that education is important but it’s not everything. And that learning comes in many different forms.
A decade ago, I worked as a teacher in a secondary school. Even then, I felt kids were worked too hard. A day’s work, homework – tests looming on the horizon. The value of an activity was measured in its quantifiable outcome – and if it couldn’t be recorded on a spreadsheet, then it wasn’t valued.
And while we’re going to get around to some of the work provided by the kids’ teachers, I don’t want to turn the next few months – or however long it lasts – into a misery for all of us.
Plus, I might have been a teacher once, but we live in France and while my language isn’t terrible, it’s not always grammatically perfect. Put simply, I’m not going to be able to help them with their school work as much as I’d like. I’ll probably learn more than them if I sit in their sessions.
But I have lots of other things I can give them – yesterday I taught my eldest to make spag bol. Nothing much, you might say – but a life skill I hadn’t got around to passing on.
So cooking’s definitely going on the agenda. I also want to help my youngest to learn to ride his bike. We’ve dusted off a badminton set, and have great plans for swing tennis.
We’re going to paint, draw, make things out of clay. And read: English books, French books. Listen to audiobooks. Act out the stories. Make camps. Sing. Annoy the hell out of each other and learn to tolerate each other all at once. And do some of the homework.
Before you think that it sounds too idyllic, I’m also going to let my lot slump in front of the TV or screen. I’m going to get them to tidy up their rooms (or at least try). I’m going to lock myself in my office for a few hours each day so I can keep up with my work (don’t worry, dad’s ‘working from home’ too). We’re definitely going to have arguments. I mean, I’m not actually planning them. But believe me, they’re going to happen.
I’m also going to leave them to their own devices sometimes – keeping an ear out for screams and arguments. Being bored won’t hurt them – in fact, boredom can often breed resourcefulness and spark imagination. (Here’s hoping…).
What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that the last thing we need during these scary times is to feel like failures. To feel like we’re letting our kids down if we’re not recreating the perfect learning environment.
Nothing about this time is perfect. And you know what? Your kids will bounce back. They won’t be the only ones who’ve got a bit rusty at long-division by September.
So, as far as is possible, try to find the joy within the difficult situation. Give yourselves – and your kids – a break. Relax the rules, bond as a family and breathe.
These are weird, scary and exceptional times.
It’s okay to drop the ball.