Stay Home is the universal message that continues to be communicated across the world during this unprecedented time. Stay Home takes on a particular meaning in a two-career household with both parents working from home and two children being home-schooled via virtual learning in a country still in lockdown (we aren’t hiking or biking or taking walks—we aren’t even permitted to walk around the block). At the end of this isolation, I hope to still have an apartment in one piece; my eldest wants to do gymnastics all day and the youngest is crazy about dance. I am trying to explain that the sofa is not a pirate ship and the living room is not an Olympic gymnasium. On this 23rd day of lockdown, we no longer know what to invent. This morning, we had already made two crostatas and pasta, and we were not even participating in a MasterChef episode.
For many families in Canada, this week will be the first where the element of home-school is now an added responsibility for parents. As any expert will tell you, routine is key to keeping a sense of normalcy as children’s lives are usually punctuated with school time, home time, mealtimes, and bedtime. Keeping a schedule of daily activities, including reading and math sessions, is recommended. While this will work for some, there is no daily schedule posted on our refrigerator. There is nothing normal about the circumstances we all find ourselves in, and while teachers and schools will have varying directives on their approach to virtual learning (scroll below for some great resources to keep your children educated and entertained) we are fooling ourselves in thinking virtual schooling is a way to keep things as much like regular school as possible.
My approach has been to stick with a fluid framework with studies in the morning and enrichment at all other times, but no particular task list of items to check off. There are good days and there are not so good days. My patience is tested. I have varying degrees of coping with emotions ranging from belly laughs (I cannot believe the creativity in these kids) to tears—I hold them for nighttime when the children are asleep (we will get through this, right?). On most days, I get up at 5h30 and make my cappuccino. Sitting on the still-dark balcony, I wait for the sun to rise, breathing in the air that has become notably cleaner these past few weeks and attempting to extract some sense from this strange new world we are living in. My husband is awake too, having never really gone to sleep, brain kept in constant agitation by endless streams of news coverage and thinking up virtual lessons (he is an elementary school teacher). In these early morning hours, I write and catch up with work. Around 9h00, our six- and eight-year-old will wake up, and once we have breakfast—partial to sweet, with Nutella on bread or biscotti dipped in warm milk—we then tag team, and each of us home-schools each of our daughters. At times, it’s a battle of who gets the iPad first.
There are good days and there are not so good days. My patience is tested. I have varying degrees of coping with emotions ranging from belly laughs to tears.
Virtual learning takes up time, and truth is, we continue on with it to fill the hours. After the first week of home-schooling was done, the headmaster of the school we send our children to in Florence communicated with parents with the following: “I feel that it is appropriate that we begin to reflect on what we can reasonably expect for the near future. As was to have been expected, our collective response, either as professionals, students, or families, has been uneven in its success despite all our best efforts. We are continually re-evaluating our approach, however, even at this early stage, I would encourage all of us to consider that in the current circumstances it might be wise to consider that ‘less is more’. There have been numerous reports of excessive screen time and information overload, neither of which is healthy, especially in a context where we are all coping with additional pressures depending on our varied circumstances.”
Fact is, there is no replicating the classroom; most importantly that human connection between teacher and students. (We continue to get a menu provision for learning with a range of activities and the choice handed to the families regarding what to complete.) Now, more than ever, your children look to you for clues on how to deal with a reality shifting so rapidly that banalities we took for granted just weeks ago now seem like vestiges from another lifetime. You can look over your shoulder all you want, but it’s you they are watching. So, create moments of magic in the midst of this bitter pill. I show my kids that sometimes we’re not sure how things will end, but we need to carve out a life of joy and meaning in uncertainty. Part of being a grown-up is knowing that life can turn on a dime, and we need to come to peace with that knowledge and be able to get out of bed each morning and greet the day.
Anyone who’s been on a plane knows the rule to place the oxygen mask over their own mouth and nose before assisting others. This is a good reminder for parenting as well—you can’t be there for your kids if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Choose the battles. Bend the rules.
Our kitchen has become one giant gratitude room with Post-it notes covering the free wall space, the children have made forts using every bedsheet and blanket in our apartment, we’ve made a life-sized board game, we pulley down cold beers to our neighbour once he completes his workouts (one time we counted 2,000 jump ropes), the girls have put on their roller skates to skate out the trash (no curbside garbage pickup in Italy), we’ve painted giant rainbows to hang out our balcony, we make tiramisu for our neighbours, we have dance parties that include dancing on tables, we teach the girls probability and stats with games of poker, we do plenty of arts and crafts. When one of my daughters told me she wouldn’t survive if she ate the pasta we made with the leftover salmon from the night before, I told her otherwise via Gloria Gaynor and pulled up the “I Will Survive” video; she watched it on repeat until she finished her dinner.
In the coming days and weeks, you will find a framework that works for you. In fact, the more our family of four spends together, the less bickering there is. Whenever I need to retreat to my makeshift desk to work, I use the TV and Netflix as my babysitter and feel no degree of guilt.
My husband, now an educator, was suspended from school for a variety of infractions during his schooling years (including dropping his pants to his ankles in front of the class when his teacher, a nun, asked him to tuck his shirt into his trousers), and he reminds me that missing a few weeks of school does not prevent one from getting on in life. We are living in restricted circumstances. My two young girls and my husband are annoying me at times. Apparently, but without evidence as far as I can see, I am annoying them. Perhaps we all need to use this moment to reflect that most, if not all, that we value in our lives lies right in front of us.
You’ve got this.
5 recommended resources to keep your child educated and entertained:
Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems! – Learners can draw, doodle, and explore new ways of drawing and writing by visiting Mo’s studio.
Khan Academy – A set of online tools that help educate students.
DIY milk/juice carton math machine – My Grade 4 teacher gave me this as an assignment as a kid and I use it with my own children.
Scholastic Lean at Home packs – Scholastic has been in the business of textbooks for decades, and the company has put together a range of free home learning packs.
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