So, it turns out home-schooling is most definitely not fun.
I genuinely thought it might be. Maybe. For a second. In reality though, it takes a super-human amount of patience, and more energy and hard work than I ever realised, to coax a seven and an eight-year-old to sit down at a table and focus on a task for more than five minutes.
Despite some trepidation about how I could juggle work, I had every good intention when I started. I assured myself that, given the glowing reports my two girls have always received from school, the whole thing would be fine. How wrong I was.
Briefly, on the Sunday night before we started this little endeavour, I believed this might be an opportunity to bond with the girls. A time when I could help support their learning by teaching their times tables, introducing them to the wonders of nature on our many forest walks, baking all manner of treats while educating them about scientific processes and, of course, stimulating their creativity with drama and art projects.
As a bonus, I reckoned I could get fit too, shift a few pounds by doing Joe Wicks in harmony together every morning. This was going to be great, I told myself. No need to panic.
I must have been mad, delusional, arrogant or all three to imagine that, based on a first-person experience 30-odd years ago, I could adequately replicate a classroom as teacher instead of pupil. People need a degree for this job for a reason.
During the first week, I came to the pretty stark realisation that small people cannot be set a task and left to do it on their own. Who knew you had to be with them every minute?
On the evening of day three, as I wandered down the supermarket aisle (the only place to go to escape), I found myself wondering if I should invest in some Tena Lady – I mean, when on earth do teachers go to the toilet? I couldn’t even manage that without all hell breaking loose, arriving back to, at best, abandoned work and a kid-filled trampoline and at worst, the girls pulling each other’s hair and a headache-inducing she said/she said situation.
As for the actual learning, well that was a bloody joy. Teaching my seven-year-old her two times tables proved beyond me. We managed to count in twos with the hamma beads (me secretly congratulating myself on another parenting job well done) but once we moved on from the beads and she dropped the 13 bomb – again – I found myself morphing into Phoebe in that episode of Friends where she’s teaching Joey French, “Je bleu blah”. That class ended with Younger looking at me in horror as I screeched “Again, 13 is not IN THE TWO TIMES TABLE,” before we both burst into tears, while Older (totally ignoring the situation) whined about how hungry she was. In her defence, it was the first time she’d gone more than 18 seconds without a snack…
I would love to say things improved, but for the next few weeks, life went on pretty much mirroring the week one experience. When the school started suggesting more artistic activities for the kids to do, I thought it could prove my saving grace, but it turned out to be another landmine.
I painstakingly made a nature treasure hunt as the class activity suggested. Only my two found all ten items in approximately three minutes in our own garden, and then we still had to endure a nature walk. As it turns out, I know sweet FA about trees or, indeed, any form of nature, so I resorted to bribery. ‘Stop asking mum the questions on the sheet (I’d forgotten to take the supplied answers before leaving as I was too busy fighting to get their shoes on) and you can watch the new Aladdin and fill yourself with sweets when you get home.’ Thankfully, they were happy enough with that deal, but it’s safe to say my Google Classroom report back wasn’t entirely, 100 per cent accurate…
Baking is not something at which I excel. Shops do a fairly good selection of treats so I’ve never really seen the need unless you want to enter Bake Off, and I don’t actually understand science very well. So, trying to explain how baking a cake helps to explain whatever it’s meant to explain, well, that simply didn’t happen. Instead we ended up with a fight about who would add what and, given the creativity that followed, some pretty inedible cakes.
As for art, after deciding to embark on an origami farm (a mum on the bloody WhatsApp class group said it was a “fun-filled way to satisfy the art aspect of the curriculum!”) within 30 minutes, there was a tantrum – mine – as the girls abandoned their own “easy to fold” pigs and watched me instead. Keen to set an example, I did attempt to make three. But rather than pigs, I ended up with a collection of sad-looking little boats, as well as a blindly bad mood and more paper cuts than a Waterstones’ staffer.
Of course, all this was going on to the constant background noise of my work phone buzzing with incoming emails, WhatsApp messages and unanswered calls – all of which would have to be dealt with either once the kids had gone down that evening (fat chance) or early the following morning before they got up. Neither of which is ideal when you are not only exhausted by ‘home-schooling’ but also filled with stress and anxiety about the onset of the following Groundhog Day.
What about a helping husband or partner, I hear you ask? I’m lucky that my husband is a terrific dad, but unlucky that his job requires him to be pretty much glued to his computer from 9 to 5 each day, so his input to home-schooling has been, at best, minimal. He generally emerges from the box room upstairs around dinner time and takes over while I sit down and have a much-deserved gin or three – admittedly another reason why my out-of-office hours working hasn’t been hugely productive.
So, now that we are Day 1,675 (is that right?), how are we doing? Well, it depends how you look at it. We still tune into Joe Wicks every morning but now, rather than breathlessly attempting to force them into exercise, we all sit on the sofa munching cereal and answering his quizzes while he sweats on. We do a bit of schoolwork in the morning if the notion takes us, otherwise the kids play, read, argue and eat – all the stuff that kids should be doing when they are seven and eight really.
I now feel no guilt whatsoever in working alongside them if they are playing or watching TV – Steve Backshall’s Deadly 60 is a particular favourite and, given the animal facts, I can happily defend their binges as pseudo-educational. I decided after about week five that since home-schooling was making us all utterly miserable, I should focus on actually being with them rather than educating them. After all, I’m no expert, so their education is better left to those who are, even if it means they learn little, if anything, till August.
And you know what? That bonding time I believed home-schooling would allow to thrive only started when I gave up. I am finally its lucky recipient. And while some might view that as abject failure, in my mind, we are now achieving terrific success.