Juggling life

The new reality of everyone learning and working from home

By: Maria Beider

There is an astute meme about homeschooling that has been doing the rounds on social media recently with a picture of Mary Poppins and Miss Hannigan side by side. On day one of homeschooling we exemplified the kind, virtuous, calm image of Mary Poppins. By now many of us have become the frazzled, impatient Miss Hannigan. How have we as parents risen to the challenge of distance learning in 2020? What a novel position we all find ourselves in as we juggle work, our personal lives, and family responsibilities, while simultaneously managing our kids’ learning too?

The discussion is fraught with differing opinions on the matter and brings up many issues which are relevant for us during these Corona times. Is the home environment conducive to learning? Can children at a certain age be relied upon to be responsible and educate themselves? Is there a heightened sense of anxiety over accomplishing school work? Do the advantages of home schooling outweigh the many pitfalls?

Over the past few weeks during the global lockdown, I have spoken to various friends and family members and received a variety of responses and attitudes regarding children being educated from home.

Reactions of parents vary dramatically from, “Do you know my Johnny? He won’t open a book if I leave it up to him!” to the contrary response, “My Jane is so responsible that she has made a schedule for herself and is learning far more efficiently from home, not having to make the journey to and from school every day.” While this new arrangement may be good for some teens, others lack the necessary motivation to do the work and, if left alone, it may not happen and their studies may start to slip.

Some ‘helicopter’ type parents may have the temptation to do the work for their kids or to aid them in learning how to study effectively. Younger children need far more hands-on help tackling their school work, art projects, printing worksheets, and handing in homework (which may need to be uploaded digitally). This may be causing added anxiety for parents (myself included).

On several occasions I have heard positive feedback from parents of children with specific learning issues (such as ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia), which make sitting in a traditional classroom setting challenging. Their children are thriving in lockdown since they are enjoying being at home and specifically learning at their own pace. They find it easier to concentrate on their own and they receive more individual attention. There are arguably less distractions to contend with and they find there is less competition too. All of the above can have a positive domino effect of building healthier levels of self-esteem.

Learning can take place much more effectively when the nervous system is relaxed and not in a tense setting. These children may be succeeding for the first time in their academic careers. If this method is working so well then why not continue this style of teaching long term? Could it be that for some children it may be beneficial for schools to be more flexible and creative in their schedules in the future? I wonder whether it will prompt a discussion about hybrid ‘distance and regular frontal classroom’ learning. Perhaps there will be new educational styles which develop due to this pandemic?

On the other hand, many parents and kids are tearing their hair out and counting down the days until school reopens. It is often easier to delegate the pedagogy of one’s children to someone less connected emotionally than we are to our kids. Children may also feel less pressurised if a teacher is instructing them, rather than a parent. Parents have their own battles to fight without adding teaching into the mix. There is also a risk that children could become needy or overly dependent. Ultimately, a lot depends on the parent-child relationship.

Many children have been experiencing anxiety during lockdown due to the change in the structure of the day and lack of routine. Some find zoom classes strange or intimidating. They miss the safe, mundane schedule that school provides, as well as their peers.

I believe that schools have been, or will be, propelled to reopen due to the fundamental need for socialisation. All humans are hardwired for connection and generally thrive well in social groups. In adolescence, social interaction becomes increasingly important. This is due to the ‘leaving the nest’ phenomenon which is natural in the animal kingdom and reflected in the human world too. The natural phenomenon of pushing away from parents in adolescence usually means increased amount of time spent with peers. Furthermore, there is safety in numbers, hence the pack mentality, which is why teens often hang out in groups. Basically, social engagement is vital for our kids’ survival.

However, preparing to ‘leave the nest’ and push away from parents can also leave teens feeling lonely and disconnected from others. Without a community, teenagers can feel extremely isolated and lost.

Now, with no school or opportunity to socialise, the isolation can be devastating. The importance of socialisation during lockdown is a serious concern for less confident teens, who are not necessarily good at getting in touch with other peers through social media and who are used to being the ‘hanger on’ to more popular kids in real time. This may be an extremely painful time if they feel isolated from peers and cut off. Teenage boys are especially vulnerable since they often hang out in packs and don’t know how to connect emotionally as well as girls. Parents must watch out for withdrawn behaviour and encourage some form of social interaction whether it means kicking a football around outdoors or going for a walk with a small group of friends.

Finally, there is a worry that very young children will forget what the normal world looks like and may become ‘Stockholmed’ and afraid to venture out. Another possible issue is separation anxiety, since these children are spending hours with their parents and, when the time comes to return to school, they may be fearful, clingy, and anxious too. It is important to get them out of the house as soon as possible to prevent this happening, even if it means to a nearby park, to buy a slush, or for a short walk.

I have also heard of children being afraid of contracting the virus too. We must be careful not to impart to our children any negative messages about the world being a dangerous place. We may need to teach them new social etiquettes in terms of keeping a physical distance and hand washing while somehow retaining the ability to be carefree and fun-loving. Our children must be able to grow up with the same spontaneous child play that we did. This sounds like a tall order given the current climate. Nevertheless, children are so flexible and resilient and will adapt easily to the new status quo, especially if we model these new social norms. We must be attentive to any changes in our children’s behaviour and, for now, although much remains to be seen, I am confident that just as we responded to the new reality of lockdown we will rise to meet these new challenges too.

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