Home Schooling, A WSA Mum's Diary, Week 1!

We did it parents of the UAE! We made it through week one of online learning. Supporting our children’s learning at home was never to going to be a walk in the park and like you our team have learnt a lot in just one week. Here, Jenny Mollon, our Senior Editor, reflects on what worked and what didn’t in her own home.
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

With another week of online learning confirmed and with many parents wondering if we might need to extend beyond that, parents across the UAE will be thinking about how to continue to make a success of home learning.

In this feature, one member of our Editorial team, Jenny, talks here about what worked in her home with her 5 and 9 year old boys.

Making ‘happy’ priority number 1

From the off, my husband and I agreed that come what may what matters most for our boys in these strange times is their emotional well-being. In those rosy days when life was normal, achieving this didn’t really need to be thought or talked about, but with us adults weathering our worries and own emotional storms, saying ‘let’s just make sure they are happy’ (over and over again, as needed!) has really helped. Looking back at week one, we think this approach (mostly!) worked and kept all our stress levels to a minimum.

Our boys Finn (age 9) and Wilfred (age 5) seemed to enjoy the week, missed their friends less that we thought they might and adapted well to a life confined to the four walls of our little house. Not words I ever thought I would write, but there you go.

We definitely had snappy moments where the boys drove us crazy (notable examples include my husband having an important conference call with his boss interrupted by a noisy nine year old with a Nerf gun and, for me, during a WSA team Zoom meeting, having to stop to rescue the five year old who had sneaked into the biscuit cupboard and got stuck. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose there! We also relinquished all notion of the house being tidy, despite the best efforts of our wonderful home help, Angela. She has enough on her own mind to really worry about everything being in order.

Essentially, every rule except ‘Be Kind’ and ‘Don’t Eat all Mummy’s biscuits’ has been relaxed, and as a household we’re all ok with that.

‘Happy’ as a simple priority has helped us to weather the challenges of becoming both teacher and parent to our kids overnight. It helped me to accept the moments when they flatly refused to work in a way I had never previously managed to accept with their homework refusal (oh doesn’t homework seem an easy, quaint notion now!). It kept our grown up emotions on a (reasonably) even keel, which in turn seemed to keep theirs steady, too. Funnily enough, by the end of the week, every lesson and task had been completed even if at times I thought it wouldn’t happen. Win, win.


Be there for them, but encouraging independence

Frankly this was far, far easier with Finn, our oldest son. As a tech savvy Year 4 student in a school that already uses Google classroom, he breezed into his first couple of days of lessons in a way that may have lulled us into leaving him to get on with it solo just a little too much.

This became apparent when, half way through the week I found him tearfully struggling to edit a document he was working on for his Moral Education lesson. Frankly, given my job involves writing and editing stuff, you would have thought he might have thought of me as a source of help… but I think I’d given him so much praise for being independent, I’d somewhat closed the door to him asking me for help. We chatted, I made it clear that he must ask for help whenever he needs it, and I even shared my secret biscuit stash with him. Next week, he’ll ask (let’s see).

Accept that teaching a five-year-old comes with chaos (and a lot of fun too)

As an experienced nursery teacher, with a good (if a little rusty) knowledge of educating young children, I had felt a little more confident of helping five-year-old Wilf through his school work. I knew he would need to play (A LOT!) and I knew that I would never escape to do some work if I didn’t first give him, some truly devoted attention.

I would be better prepared for this than helping the older one with fractions, I thought (naively). Turns out Wilf had been steeling himself to be at his most stubborn from the very off. In short, an intense power struggle ensued at 8am on day one. I’m still not entirely sure who won, but I can tell you that instead of starting with ‘writing three sentences with WOW words’, we made cakes and a den and read some Harry Potter.

By the end of the day the sentences were written (if not on the topic his teacher had suggested!) and many of the cakes had been eaten. My later, working hours were regularly interrupted by very competitive games of hide and seek. Luckily the super team at WSA were entertained by these antics. Again, win…win.

Relaxing the rules on communicating online (just a little)

I'm super conscious of how important it will be for my children to maintain their friendships during this time, so I have relaxed a couple of my rules around the use of online communication.

Usually, we’re a household without online gaming and the children can only speak to family members on video calls. This week, I have allowed Finn to use Google Hangouts on his Chromebook to chat to friends, whilst reminding him that as his Google Classroom is effectively his school right now, all the usual behaviour rules still apply. He’s not allowed to delete anything at all and I am checking the messages at the end of every day. So far there’s lots of talk of giant spiders and lizards… Yes, I’m grateful he is the age he is.

Finn has also been allowed to take my phone to a quiet corner for video chats with his friends, but frankly he has a nine-year-old boy's LOUD VOICE so I know everything that is said. It’s useful him being that loud at times. My point is, consider relaxing your rules but don’t lessen your supervision too far.

For five-year-old Wilfred, it’s a different story of course. We’ve created an email account for him, purely to transfer the numerous links his teachers sends to me onto the spare laptop he is using for apps and online learning. Of course, no one bar our family will ever know the address but he is enjoying sending his two Grandma’s gifs of Angry Birds and giant spiders (note the spider theme!).

We did try a whole class Zoom call, but all 16 of his class mates talked at once, for 10 long minutes… which was frankly pretty intense for the parents. Next week, we’ll try splitting the class into three small groups. Before arranging these calls, I referred to the schools’ safeguarding lead who shared some simple tips for making class video calls safe for all our children:

• Children need to be fully dressed and not wearing anything offensive. No swimwear etc
• Children should be in a central location at home, no webcams in bedrooms
• Behaviour expectations need to be the same as in the classroom. If a child is rude or disrespectful, they will be removed from the call immediately

What will I do differently next week? What will our household keep the same?

Despite having crafted a “Home School Timetable” to take us from wake up to bedtime, we didn’t really stick to it and if I am honest, I am glad I didn’t enforce it. This will of course work differently in different homes, with some children benefiting from a more rigidly organised day. For older children and young adults, especially those with access to Social Media, a day with structure can help them stay on track and not fall prey to distraction. For us, however, going with the flow really helped.

What I will be changing is how prepared I am in terms of having additional activities ready for Wilfred. His school have lots of clever ideas for him, but…let’s face it he’s five, and he gets his stubbornness from his Dad. So, for each day for the week ahead, I have come up with five extra playful activities that I can throw in to his day if we need to.  That, and a giant new paddling pool, courtesy of Amazon, should see us through.

Whatever happens, happiness and all our sanity will continue to win the day.

Read Week 2 here

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