Shinta Simon speaks with parents who have children of different ages to find out their opinions on homeschooling, parenting and how they are easing their own lockdown impacted lives.

With schools closing country-wide, and ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’ being the only right thing to do, families are finding themselves thrust into the deep end of managing both working from home and home-schooling for the foreseeable future. For families that thrive on routine – upsetting a carefully organised schedule can get overwhelming and frustrating, both for parents and children.

With home-schooling being the new normal, how do parents establish a new schedule? There are plenty of remote learning options available online, most of them offered for free. Should we, as parents, cut ourselves some slack and ease up on the rules of screen-time? How do working parents not get overwhelmed with the demands of double-duty? We try to address some questions that are top-of-mind for parents in these uncertain circumstances.

Should parents try and replicate a school schedule?

Establishing a daily and weekly routine and structure gives children a sense of security and rhythm. It is, however, impossible to replicate the exact school schedule of your child at your home. Parents need to set realistic expectations, or they could be setting themselves up for failure. A colour-coded schedule or daily tasks and routines planned out on a whiteboard can work for some families, but not for others. Parents are also faced with the dilemma of motivating children – some children tend to be self-motivated and discipline comes easily to them, others may need more coaching and personal attention.

Since the implementation of the lockdown, on March 13 2020, teachers in several Swiss cantons have been sending learning material to children with the expectation that children complete their assignments, and work for a specified amount of time each day. In most cases, teachers are available for consultation during weekdays – parents can call the teacher and engage with them. Schools and teachers are also figuring out this new normal, so let’s not expect the school to hand us a template schedule that works for everyone.

We asked a few Switzerland-based parents for their strategies on coping with home-schooling.

Manisha Dadlani, an English teacher and a mother of two teenage boys, says that a school or kindergarten environment need not be replicated either physically or mentally. “Let’s not get too stressed about creating the ideal setting to home school our kids. A well-thought out schedule, routine and room for creativity should allow one to see some incredible productivity from our little loved ones.” She recommends giving children some autonomy in deciding how, and to some degree, when they would like to work and play.

Nayana Bhattacharya, an English teacher and mother of a pre-schooler and a primary schooler, suggests a healthy mix of academics with activities and breaks. “Academic units can be broken up by activities that are important to you and your family. For example, with art, or storytelling or music practice, YouTube tutorials, safe walks, Skyping with class friends, kitchen disco…There are many options! At home-school, you’re also serving as your child’s friend…School is as much about socialization as it is about academics.” she says.

Rose Wettstein, mother of three and a teacher herself, stresses on the difference between homeschooling kindergartners and older kids. “The youngest years of education focus on a child’s social and emotional growth. The younger the child, the more relaxed, I believe, parents can be towards their academic goals during this time. However, the older the child is, the more important it is for parents to try to adhere to school norms and expectations.

Connie Washington, a Switzerland-based English teacher and a mother of 4, advocates a sense of routine for kids while home-schooling, “That means getting up in the morning at about the same time every day, setting a block of time aside where they will be doing quiet work/schoolwork, trying to include some movement during their day, some creative activities and sometime where they can be free to choose their own play. Mealtimes and bedtime should also be fairly regular.”

Illustration indicating homeschooling during the pandemic


Give yourself time to settle into a routine

For many families, the first weeks of lockdown were spent figuring out a routine that works for the family. Be relaxed about your schedule, check in every few days or so, figure out what works and what does not, and tweak your schedule accordingly.

Rose tells us about how her schedule has evolved almost every day of the lockdown. “At the very beginning I was trying to make the schedule closer to the school environment and now I have stepped away a bit…..I do find it important that there is structure and routine, so, for example, they’re being woken up at the same time each day and we have the same educational blocks each day. But sometimes sport happens in the morning because that feels right that day and other times math happens first because that feels right. As time goes on, I’m getting increasingly flexible about when things happens, while maintaining expectations about what happens.”

Nayana tells us that her family has now found their rhythm, “I find it hardest to engage my almost 4-year-old while the almost 9-year-old works on the material that has been sent from school.” Nayana incorporates craft activities, YouTube tutorials on art, ballet and yoga, as well as reading and writing for pleasure, into their daily routine. The family also watches TV together to unwind.

Connie’s routine for the first week of lockdown was mainly child-led – they had not yet received work from the school. “At the end of the first week, my three primary school-aged children were given a lot of worksheets and assignments by their teachers, while my older daughter, who is in the first year of middle school, was doing virtual learning on the computer.

We have a block of about 2 hours, incorporating little breaks, every morning where everyone works on their school work, more or less independently, depending on the child and the work needed to be done. Afternoons are set aside to be creative and do fun stuff.”

Technological aids for home-schooling

The last few weeks have seen a surge in the use of remote conferencing and collaboration tools such as Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts and even social networking apps such as HouseParty. This has allowed for unprecedented access to colleagues, classmates, teachers and online classes for parents and children stuck at home. Manisha says, “I’m amazed. Zoom, as a teaching and video tool, has opened the door to classes online.”

Amrita Ray, a mother of two and a preschool teacher herself, says “The homeschooling concept is very good, modern, resourceful and convenient, but only during the time of crisis”. She does caution that this concept is not ideal in the long-term. “Preschoolers and kindergarteners learn more when they are with their friends and in nature”.

During this upheaval of routine, it is natural that parents relax the rules and let children get more screen time. Connie says, “Don’t feel guilty if your children are getting more screen-time than usual. There are so many great learning games on the web and countless YouTube videos where they can explore so many different topics. I use YouTube with my kids when I need help explaining a difficult math concept or a grammar rule in German.”

Illustration indicating homeschooling during the pandemic


Best practices for using technology with kids

  1. Organise Virtual playdates: Let children meet with their friends online. Although online meetings are no substitute for an in-person meetup, children will benefit from seeing their peers and friends online.
  2. Monitor: Make sure you review all apps, games and online resources before downloading them. Double-check your privacy settings. These are times when screen time will inevitably grow exponentially and as parents, we need to be aware of the risks involved in letting our children use the internet.
  3. Planning apps: Planning and productivity apps such as Trello and Asana can keep a family track tasks from morning till night, especially for working parents with older kids.

How can parents avoid feeling overwhelmed?

Amrita Ray advises us to make the most of this situation, “Stay calm and believe in yourself. Spend quality time with kids and family which we usually miss out in the hustle-bustle of life. The Covid-19 crisis has taught us that time and relations are precious and life is very unpredictable.”

Manisha shares her tips on keeping calm and boosting morale, “Meditate. There are beautiful guided meditations on YouTube some as short as 5 minutes. Don’t over-stimulate your mind and build on fears by over-indulging in news viewing. …Feed your mind, body and soul. All those incredible classics you wanted to read, now is the time!”

Nayana recommends an ‘unschooling’ approach during these circumstances. “Filling up every bit of empty space with something educational or engaging is not necessary. Downtime is good. Allowing children to get bored is even better. That’s the negative space in which creativity is born.”, she says.

Connie quotes the Disney song “Let it Go”, and says “The schools are not expecting parents to take over the role of teacher during this time. Teachers are fully aware that when schools reopen there will be a need to catch up and fill whatever holes the students may have in their learning. Do what is possible without stressing yourself or your children.”

Resources for parents

Today, plenty of home-schooling and learning resources are available online. Try not to be overwhelmed by looking up multiple learning resources for your children, and do not compare your child’s progress with other children. Here are a few resources for parents that go beyond home-schooling. We hope you find them useful, and help you as a parent to navigate these extraordinary circumstances!

Resources for creating a schedule

Podcasts for parents

  • Life Kit: A podcast that shares tips on basic aspects of human life, such as how to sleep better, how to save money, as well as home-schooling and staying motivated.
  • The Mindful Podcast: Bite-sized podcasts for meditation and mindfulness.

Family activities during lockdown

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