Two months on from school closing, and I am a very different parent to the one who did the last school run before it closed. It’s come as a bit of a surprise to me to be honest. I personally loved school, loved learning and loved the structure and routine. And, as a parent, I’ve (mostly) tried to instil the same in all my children.
Those who know the struggles I had with my older 2 at school, will agree that I absolutely failed on achieving that. But I was making decent headway with the younger 2. And assumed that I’d be able to keep up the positive momentum at home whilst school was closed.
I don’t know why I thought that.
I did my homeschool preparation shortly before school closed. Off I went to Hobbycraft, and bought a load of equipment, paper and pens for all the fun activities we were going to do together… even though I said I wouldn’t. I made sure the dining table was clear and set up ready for all the home learning we were going to do. One end of the table was set up for Emily and the other set up for Ruby. I was to sit in the middle so I could give them both my equal attention. (And, lets be honest, to form a barrier between them to prevent them wacking each other with their ‘light sabre’ rulers).
Two months on and I’m sitting here laughing to myself that I ever thought things were going to go to plan. I’ve never once been able to stick to a plan in my life. So I don’t know why I thought this was going to be any different. Some would say it’s because I have a positive outlook on life. I would say it’s because I never learn from my mistakes.
The first few days of home learning were easy enough. Both girls were still in school mode, and were excited to use Google Classroom. It didn’t take long for that excitement to wear off, or for me to have a meltdown about our internet connection. Much to their amusement. And much to my dismay, both laptop chargers have vanished into thin air, and I cant get a replacement from Amazon for weeks. I suspect that the chargers have been hidden somewhere by sneaky young girls. But, if I’m brutally honest, I don’t really care.
Two months on
Two months on and we’ve gone from wanting to stay on top of school work to not waking up until after 10am. By the time everyone’s fed, watered, washed and dressed, it’s near enough lunch time. Then I have to get on with various chores, and before I know it, it’s coming up for dinner time and we’ve done fuck all school work. Again.
This really stressed me out for the first couple of weeks. I felt increasingly guilty that they weren’t learning anything, and were probably falling behind their peers. I stopped scrolling through social media, because all the proper parents dutifully home schooling and flooding my timeline with their picture-perfect lessons, were making me feel sick with shame and like a total failure. Which then made me feel like an absolutely shit Mum, dooming my children to a lifetime of playing catch-up and struggling at exam time.
As if that wasn’t enough, I started wondering how much they would blame me or hate me when they’re older for not forcing them to engage in home learning. And before I knew it, I was standing at the edge of a massive depressive spiral, only able to look down in despair. That is a scary place to be at the best of times. Certainly not a place I wanted to be when we can’t go anywhere or distract ourselves with a visit to friends or family.
Funnily enough, the thing that changed my outlook was nothing that was in my control. It wasn’t anything that I did any differently, or any decision that I made. I was putting away washing, when I heard peals of laughter coming from the girls’ bedroom. Usually that means they’re up to something that they shouldn’t be. But they weren’t. They were playing Fortnite on their Xbox, together. (Thank you for releasing the split screen update!) But not only were they playing together, they’d set up a group video chat with 2 of their cousins who were also playing.
Listening to the 4 of them working together, helping each other and talking mostly in memes was so lovely. The faces my nephews pull when they’re playing and not concentrating on the group chat, was what was causing all the laughter.
The 4 of them were in their own little virtual world. Not thinking about any of the bad things happening in the world. Not thinking about all the things they’ve had to give up to stay home to protect the NHS. None of them were worrying about anything other than getting that all-important Victory Royale, or getting the next ‘skin’. And none of them were worrying about sitting GCSEs in a time far far away. Two months on from seeing each other in person, and they’re still as close as ever. Maybe more close actually.
Famous Five Vibes
The way they were chatting about any and everything, reminded me so much of the relationship between the cousins in the Famous Five books. OK so these guys aren’t off physically exploring Kirrin Island together, but they were exploring the Fortnite Island together. They were looking out for each other in their virtual world, helping with supplies, or finding a route out of a tricky situation. I stood at their bedroom door and listened to them for ages. Not eavesdropping. Just listening to them laughing, making weird noises, shouting over each other excitedly and working together. My oldest nephew was clearly in charge. He’s 13 and my girls ADORE him. They really look up to their slightly older and infinitely hysterical cousin. He knows it all when it comes to Fortnite. And I love that they were learning from him. Not just about gaming, but about working together to defeat enemies, or find ways out of difficult situations, or talking about things logically and making plans together.
I’m more than happy to hold my hands up and say that I just don’t get gaming. It holds no appeal to me whatsoever. Although, I do have some top tips for online gaming which you can read here.
I’ve resigned myself to being an age where I can just about work out my TV remote without having to ask a child for help. But these kids are playing games and gaining skills at a rate I could never keep up with. Or comprehend for that matter.
We’re living in a world where technology is Lord King Mayor of everything. So maybe it’s not so bad if they spend a lot of time improving their technological skills. Maybe it’s not so bad that two months on, they’re spending the majority of their days ‘with’ their cousins, laughing joking and having a great time. I don’t know. I don’t have the answers to anything. But there’s almost zero stress in our household, and that’s got to be a good thing right?
I never for one moment thought I’d become the kind of parent who encourages gaming over and above school work. But, two months later, I am.
I still have the odd internal battle with myself that I should be more rigid about doing the home learning tasks. But every time we’ve attempted it, it’s caused stress and arguments. I don’t want my children to look back at their time during the pandemic and associate it with stress . I want them to look back fondly as the time they stayed in PJs until lunch, spent all day talking to their favourite people and were allowed to just be.
They have their whole lives ahead of them to learn. But this is a period of time that (hopefully) won’t be repeated and protecting their mental health is the priority for me. I don’t want them to grow up associating learning or schooling with stress, anxiety and arguments. I don’t want this time to become a trigger point for things in the future. But I do want them to maintain their social skills and closeness with their cousins and friends. It’s hard enough for adults to maintain social relationships whilst being socially distant, so any way that the kids can maintain theirs is a winner for me.
This isn’t just a time of staying home to save lives and protect the NHS. It’s a time to stay home, protect our children’s physical health and their mental health, to get through this time as best as we can.
And that’s why two months on, you’ll find my children doing a lot more gaming than home learning.