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Family Education in a Time of COVID-19

Fadoua Govaerts, PhD StudentDepartment of EducationUniversity of Bath

As a mum of 5, with over 10 years of experience in home educating my own children, I have been watching other parents putting up amazing pictures of their homeschooling days Covid-19 has brought upon them. Although the terms ‘home schooling’ and ‘home educating’ are frequently being used interchangeably, personally I see a clear distinction between the two. Home educating is when you take full control of all educational aspects of child development. Homeschooling, on the other hand, incorporates the curriculum, methods and activities of school, at home.

Within a week, educational subscription that I have been so far been paying for became free to the nation, and other brilliant ideas to keep the children busy at home were spreading fast. Various live streams, plays, story times, Lego challenges, inventors club activities and more, all flooded my social media and email inbox.  I subscribed to all of it, they are free after all. I had a list with the times, for PE, Yoga, Karate, live Zoo streams, celebrity story time, Les Miserables, music sessions, sign language and maths sessions. Also, I had requests from friends whose children do go to school for our children to video conference to keep in touch. I kept going for about one week. Then I felt inadequate, overwhelmed and at some moments even a failure. I managed home education just fine. Last year my 14 and 15-year-old sat GCSEs early, and then again this summer. My younger ones entertain themselves with toys, games, puzzles and stories and other set activities. My 3-year-old recognizes letters and numbers ahead of her age. She has the attitude and vocabulary of some 16-year-olds. So, I felt I did quite alright home educating my lot; UNTIL COVID. Within 7 days I gave up. I was not going to be dragged into this new form of COVID-homeschooling or parental expectation. Even as a home-educator, I felt the pressure and expectations put on parents suddenly became astronomical.

Parents are overwhelmed with school “work” sent by teachers in fear their children will fall behind. There has been no consideration of parents whether they have the resources to carry out this work. Many parents must deal with the consequences of taking turns when deciding who should use which laptop, tablet or desktop. Moreover, parents are also concerned their children’s social skills aren’t affected. Ideas have been shared on social media, like using Zoom baking afternoons or Roblox sessions, are activities they can do together. Then there are virtual birthday parties, yes, birthdays still happen during pandemics.  It seems that everything they used to do while in school, is expected to continue. Every hour was accounted for how to keep the children busy with educational activities! I personally admire these parents who can replicate their pre-COVID life online, or even adapt to the new homeschooling life, but I did not welcome that change.

One of the changes in my home educating family is that tutors have switched online. The hardest one for me is Piano. About 20 minutes before my children are due to do their online piano lesson I panic. Where is the iPad? Is it switched on? Where is the iPad-stand so that your teacher can see the keyboard with your fingers on it? Who is going first? Where is your book or music sheets? And then, finally, just on time, the right child is sat on the piano with the iPad, on Zoom, with the right link and password. It worked! Suddenly I hear my son shouting: “the iPad’s on 12%!”  I pray to God that it will be enough for one-hour of piano. It is exhausting, draining and stressful.

The reality of this COVID homeschooling and parental expectation is that it is enormously demanding, as if being JUST a parent is not enough! The responsibility for new homeschooling parents making sure their children do not fall behind academically as well as socially with their peers, is not one they expected. The simple reality is that they probably will fall behind academically, it would be naïve to think otherwise. The social dynamics will also probably change in the classroom once children go back to school.

I quite enjoy home educating my lot.  I really do. Despite the hard work and costs involved, we do work together as a family. My children are themselves without pressures from outside. They read what they want to read relatively speaking, and learn what interests them. I rarely plan anything for the day. We do chores together, eat together, learn together, without any pressure. So, for us nothing had to change, other than they cannot see their friends at home educating clubs as regularly as we wish. But we have each other. And that, in the current circumstances, is a blessing and enough.

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