Reflections on Home Learning

Never forget what home learning has taught us

Class dismissed. Where’s my beer?

As we stick Alice Cooper on the turntable – you can look up both those things, Gef readers under the age of 40 – parents and carers are breathing a sigh of relief at the news that schools re-open fully on Monday.

It has been hard. Very hard.

The war analogies in terms of fighting the pandemic wore thin very quickly but it has been a year of battles on the home learning front.

The battle between AmongUs and advanced mathematics.

The battle between ItsLearning and internet speeds.

The battle between stealth boasting and self-righteous complaining – fought between parents on the increasingly dangerous fields of social media.

The battle between common sense and anyone who believed the answer was a one-size-fits-all approach of sticking every child in front of a computer screen all day long while teachers talked to increasingly face-free screens.

In most battles there were no winners. Apart from the internet kicking ItsLearning’s butt. Even then, the winner was really the fibre rollout programme.

I live in a street where every household has signed up, after months of frustration.

We now have a fibre cable attached to the outside of our house, and a box inside it. With the end of lockdown, we’re looking forward to a nice person from Manx Telecom coming along to introduce them to each other. This will happen when the daytime device usage in our house has dropped from five to one, so I expect to receive an internet speeding ticket very soon.

Cast your mind back to last February. Just like on a rollercoaster, it started with a slow drag to the start of the actual ride and full fear factor.

The creeping realisation that Covid-19 was not going to pause on its journey to the Isle of Man.

The wait for the inevitable announcement that schools were to close.

Remember the growing fear, the diminishing pupil numbers in that final week as children were kept away or sent home?

Teachers fighting to hide their own unease while fearing what every classroom cough may bring?

It was a dark time. Really dark.

Those first few weeks, as well as coping with the difficulties of instilling a home learning regime,  parents and carers had to convince children they were safe.

We switched off the news because our youngest would burst into tears at the sight of a coronavirus graphic.

We assured them they would see loved ones again, even when we were not sure ourselves.

We hugged them because we feared there might be a time when we would be told we couldn’t.

We tried to distract them – and ourselves.

We dug up the garden. We used toy soldiers to solve maths puzzles. We had staged dress up days.

We put it all on Facebook.

We did it to show the world how well we were coping.

But were we really coping? A better description might be surviving.

The tensions, in particular of those first few weeks, were there for us all to see – if we looked closely.

For every social media post that said ,‘look at this brilliant castle we made out of toilet rolls and banana bread’, there was one moaning there were not enough ‘live’ lessons from the school.

In the home, we were so busy trying not to stress about the thousands of people losing their lives that we forgot to not lose our temper over stupid things such as whether to watch Teen Titans or Horrible Histories.

The realisation that the most important thing was to make your children feel safe and to get them through this helped.

Also, that fronted adverbials are really just subordinate clauses in a different hat – and that sentences are frequently better off without them.

There were upsides, of course. The opportunity as a family to enjoy what the Isle of Man has to offer, as the restrictions lifted, was wonderful.

The fact that, due to weeks of being cooped up in the home, children were quite happy to go out for a long walk in the countryside with their parents – without moaning that they were at a crucial stage of Minecraft – certainly helped.

It helped us feel better.

But it also helped us to ignore or overlook the underlying impact of the pandemic and the lockdown. It was neither deliberate nor conscious. We felt happy and we felt safe. We were all grateful for that.

But the signs were there before Christmas that many children were still struggling underneath (and probably so were we).

We put it down to emotional tiredness and excitement in the run-up to festive season.

But issues of anxiety, social difficulties and school pressures were bubbling under.

And for many they broke through the surface in the January lockdown. They aren’t going to disappear on Monday.

The kids aren’t alright. Nor are we.

Not yet.

There needs to be a huge investment in nurture and mental health support in schools – give the teachers the resources they need. Make it a key question in the upcoming election campaign.

Education chiefs ditched teacher-lead nurture classrooms nearly a decade ago.

There is a different regime in the Education Department and now is the time to demand a firm commitment to bring those nurture classrooms back and increased mental health support – in every school setting.

Don’t just ask about commitments from the Education Department. We need the commitment from Treasury to fund it.

No excuses. If the next government fails to do so, it will be failing all our children.

As parents we should not imagine we are not going to feel fixed as soon as Monday arrives. There’s no shame in talking about how hard you still find things. 

A year of on/off home learning has taught us plenty. Especially how much our children need us.

A small exchange is always in my mind.

It followed an argument resulting in angry words from the child. I cannot even remember what the row was about, but I’ll never forget how it was resolved.

I said: ‘I’m not sure I want to talk to you when you’re like this.’

The reply: ‘But then I won’t have anyone to talk to.’

We must always talk to our children. And listen to them.

Forget the political point scoring and arguments over whether we should have school league tables. It means nothing.

Our children mean everything.

** Earlier in his career, Paul was an education correspondent in the Isle of Man. His parents are retired teachers, his wife is a teacher. He serves on his local school association.**

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