We’re All Homeschoolers Now: How lockdown Has Affected HE Learning
It has been a question many have been asking, ‘how has the parenting world taken to homeschooling?’, but no one seems to be asking, ‘how have home educators taken to lockdown learning?’
Very few would choose to home educate in a lockdown style, so it should come as no surprise that lockdown has meant changes for home educators as much as their school-going counterparts.
The general assumption is that it has been work as normal, just keeping our heads down and carrying on with what we always do. That might be true if we were a family of agoraphobes who have no friends, but given that we don’t even ‘homeschool’ (I’m a dedicated home educator), it’s quite a leap to think that the world that school-choosing parents are currently experiencing has anything to do with how we live our lives, or how our children usually learn.
Lockdown has meant a huge shift in how we approach learning. If you were going to class our family’s HE style, I would say we usually adopt the Madonna approach: nick a bit from everything and then claim it as our own. We take elements of all styles, but are true to none. We do workbooks for maths and occasionally English, we get tutors in for music and English over 13yrs, we join groups with a tutor/instructors for Latin, choir, dance, drama and 1,001 sports activities (all of which seem to involve me standing in a field being miserable for hours on end – I don’t recommend it), and we do informal HE co-op groups for everything else. Come exam age, we throw textbooks at them, leave them to teach themselves and then fill in any blanks two months before the exams. The rest of the time we do as many school trips as we can, discuss current affairs all the time, read whatever we can and generally follow whatever my underlings are interested in at the time. However, since March, 90% of this has proved impossible. We have switched to Zoom for a few co-op groups and FaceTime for music, but the rest has had to go, which just leaves us with workbooks, reading and the occasional online ‘courtesy of COVID’ lecture.
Despite what one might think, lockdown hasn’t gifted me huge amounts of extra time to facilitate some fantastic HE project, as with extra people in the house all the time, I’m more split than ever about who gets my attention and when. Not to mention the added weight of constantly planning meals, tracking down online delivery services, and chasing up everyone to check they have actually bothered to do their teeth today. Outside of that, in case it had escaped anyone’s attention, the world is crumbling around us. Friends and family are not all in a comfy bubble right now, they need our support and time too. I’m not complaining, it is far better to be in a position where you can help someone, rather than standing on the outside looking in, but it does mean the HE dream and creative learning is having to be pushed further down the priority list, and consequently, what learning is left is completely functional. In short, we have had to learn to ‘homeschool’, the same as everybody else and, to be frank, it sucks.
Don’t get me wrong. We are incredibly lucky. We live in the middle-class Cambridge vacuum, where the world is beautiful, everyone is educated, and crimes are what happen to other people. We have miles and miles of fantastic countryside to romp around in, as well as our own garden and Mr TCHE’s job is perfect for remote working. But despite all this loveliness, lockdown hasn’t been all suns and smiles. It’s not been ‘bad’, far from it, I’m particularly loving the online Shakespeare, virtual museum tours and not having to run from one activity to the next without even time for a pee, but we’re not moving forwards in life either. We are living our lives like those little, black bits suspended in pork pie aspic… work with me here. No one eats the aspic (for any non-pork eating person out there, it’s disgusting, not too dissimilar to my own personal hygiene standards at present), so it is safe, and a fantastic cushion against the usual knocks of everyday life, but at the same time you’re not free to carve out your own fate as a little, black bit, joining up with all the other little, black bits to make something new and exciting. Ok, lots of little, black bits just make one big, black bit, but it is the potential, the dream that has value, and without it, life is just a bit, well, ’heavy’.
I keep thinking back to all those lovely little ‘count your blessings’ clips that were doing the rounds on social media in March, that celebrate this ‘special time’ where we can come together as a family. They are so very truly wasted on us. Partly because we read the papers and are well aware of the rise in domestic violence and abuse, which always puts a dampener on the ‘we’re all in it together’ message, but mainly because, as home educators, we already had that special family time in abundance. Apart from the odd trip to hospital, and a little stint where we tried out school, I have spent nearly every day of the last 18 years of my life with my children all around me. I already know full well that every moment is precious, that is part of the reason I love HEing so much, but being stuck in a house not HEing (as I know it), isn’t making that any more real for me. For us, this is just time where we are waiting for the world to start ticking again, treading water in our aspic jelly world.
We have had one or two minor COVID knocks – exams have had to be postponed (we had no way of proving predicted grades), college child has begrudgingly had to return to the family nest (college may still be technically educating them, but ultimately they are taking up more of our time, money and energy filling in the educational blanks than when they were HEed, not to mention the added grumping around the house), the long-awaited pay rise that was but months away from coming has been put on hold for an indefinite length of time, and I still can’t get any damned flour, weeks after running out due to all these ‘homeschooling’ bakers – but on the whole we are still in one middle-class piece.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the HEing story across the board. We might like it when people flatter us as ‘super parents’, ‘jet-fuelled parents’, ’parents but more than…’, ‘educating machines’, I could go on, (and yes, I did just make up all those names) but you get the picture, however, in reality we are all too aware that we are as vulnerable as every other parent, only the impact of our vulnerabilities can be 100 times more devastating, due to the reliance our lifestyle has on us being ‘super’. Job losses and health problems are major issues for many HEors right now, even in the South Cambridgeshire vacuum. They are going to have a long-term impact on how parents HE and even whether they will be able to carry on HEing after lockdown. As the outside world decides if HE might be their family’s new way forward, committed, long-term HEors are having to make the terrible decision as to whether HE remains a viable option for them at all.
Thankfully, most of our HEing friends (but, sadly, by no means all) are living in bubbles very similar to our own. It has been challenging at times, but on the whole they’ve shifted their finances and education to suit the new environment we have found ourselves in, and are biding their time until life goes back to some kind of normal.
Despite all the mainstream articles declaring how many school-going families are now learning to love homeschooling, I’m yet to be convinced it is a good idea. I’ve tried it for the last 10 weeks and quite frankly, we are all as bored as hell.
Give me home education any day.