WSA Home School Diaries: The Sequel

Back in the first few weeks of lockdown last year, our Senior Editor, Jenny Mollon wrote a weekly diary of her experiences of home schooling. Like many parents, recent weeks have seen her children’s school close again, so we asked Jenny to dust off her journal and see how she and the Mollon family have fared with online learning, second time around.
WSA Home School Diaries: The Sequel
By Jenny Mollon
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Most, if not all, UAE parents and students will have experienced a second (or, sadly, more) round of online learning. In an update to her ‘home school diaries’ of last year, here, our Senior Editor, Jenny writes about a return to online learning in her home.

School has been back since September and, until almost the end of January, my children were incredibly fortunate to be in school every single day. Despite the masks, social distancing, bubbles and the rest, they’ve absolutely thrived and had a great few months of learning and fun with their friends.

Of course, the current situation is unpredictable and, towards the end of January, my youngest son’s class closed for 10 days. Wilfred is 6, and in Year 1 (British Curriculum), and if I am honest, he was an absolute nightmare… ahem, I mean distinct challenge when it came to online learning last time around. Being honest again, around 6 weeks before the end of the summer term, we dropped all notion of home schooling him and simply focussed on reading, crafts and keeping him active. If you noticed that my series of home school diaries tailed off around this time, it’s because the intensity of online learning with a child who absolutely did not want to do ANY online learning was beginning to cause cracks in our relationship, and that I did not want. (And frankly, what would I write?! “Today, we ignored all the lessons once again but he can now polish a pair of shoes and make an acceptable tuna sandwich”. That would have been about it!).

Once we had relieved ourselves of the burden of ‘school’, life went back to feeling happy, which (if I look back at my week one home school diary) was always our priority.

With this is mind, you can imagine that I felt decidedly nervous at the prospect of ten days more of trying (and, in my mind, likely failing) to tackle supporting his learning, especially as at this point my older son, Finn, was still going in to school… something that was incredibly frustrating for little Wilf. But, if this period in time has reminded me of anything, it’s that children will, never, ever fail to surprise you! This time around, things have been so much better, it’s just incredible. Let’s have a look at why I think this is.

Six Months is a VERY LONG TIME when you are 6

In terms of maturity and independence, Year 1 Wilfred is a very, very long way ahead of FS2 Wilfred. He’s developed a real love of Maths (in fact, he describes himself as a “maths-meister” (a phrase that I have simply no idea where he got it from, but which I just LOVE) and it pleased him no end that his daily schedule began with Maths each morning. He’s been delighted to show me how much he can do, and how independent he can be.

Wilfred can Read!

I distinctly remember with my older son that Year 1 is (for many children) the year when children go from being able to read a bit, to being readers…and this has, again, added a whole new layer of independence. He can (mostly) decode the tasks by himself and as a fiercely independent second child, with a strong desire to show his older brother that he’s absolutely keeping up, this has been a game changer.

Teachers are now Experts in Online Learning

First time around, back in the dark days of the lockdown in 2020, we all know that teachers worked miracles to create online schools, almost overnight. Over the past few months, it’s very obvious that they have gone on to create not ‘just’ an online school, but an online school that is slick, effective and easy to use.

Every link, and item for printing is easy to hand. Every lesson is clearly purposed and it’s easy for me as a parent to see the progression from one lesson, one week to the next. For Year 1, pre-recorded lessons are around 10 minutes long (I find this is the perfect length), with accompanying tasks to extend and challenge.

There’s a live daily morning registration, which is sociable and fun (we particularly enjoy Bingo and Where’s Wally? sessions!) despite the fact that Wilfred is not keen to have his camera on! Phonics is delivered live in small groups, which makes this all-important lesson much more effective. This week I have marvelled as I watched Wilf sit and read from an ipad, whilst connected on Google Meets on my laptop to his class TA, who meets every child in the class for weekly one-on-one reading sessions. Isn’t technology amazing? We even have a ‘bring your pet to online school’ day, which gave Wilfred a chance to show off his most loved family member, our dog, Happy (yes, I know where I sit in terms of priority here...somewhere after the dog).

We’re no Longer trying to Achieve ‘Play Based Learning’, at Home

Of course, moving from FS2 (where children learn via the EYFS curriculum) to Year 1 (where children now follow the English National Curriculum) is a big change. Last time around, we as a family found that despite the best efforts of the class teachers, achieving ‘play based’ learning at home was really, really hard. If you’re at home, trying to do that…hats off to you. Children simply need the spark of other children around them to make playful learning work. I’m simply not that much fun and Wilfred knew it. This time, focussing on more ‘academic’ subjects, in a more traditional way, feels much more achievable at home. Thank goodness.

With all that positivity said, we’ve still had tough days too. A few days after Wilfred’s class closed, the whole school was forced to close due to a rise in Covid cases in staff and students. We now have my older son at home too. Somehow, the feeling of us all trying to juggle everything at home again brought home to both boys things that they’ve missed or lost over the past year. For Wilfred, all the online lessons and Zoom calls reminded him of his two best friends of last year, both of whom have now had to leave to Dubai. He misses them very much, still.

For Finn, who is now 10, and understands so much of the world already, the fact that he is now online learning all over again after so long has created some understandable anxiety. Why isn’t this over yet? Will we see our family this summer? How long will this go on for? I don’t know the answers, but I am very glad that I’ve now lost the fear of online learning. If we have to do it again, we will. We won’t love it, perhaps, but we’ll muddle through.

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