Family homes across Ireland have been transformed into makeshift schools, thanks to the coronavirus epidemic. Our own home school has three pupils on the roll, along with an enthusiastic toddler who joins in from time to time. Our daily routine involves having all pupils up and breakfasted by 8 in the morning. This allows them to start the day gently, with time spent lolling around, walking the dog or playing in the garden before learning starts in earnest.
As with many kids all around Ireland and the UK, they love to start the day with the live online Joe Wicks PE workout at 9 am sharp. Our toddler invariably joins in, adding an element of comedy to proceedings as she clumsily imitates the older kids and tumbles around the room. The kids relish this bit of exercise, and afterwards head to their rooms, enlivened and alert, to begin their schoolwork. I think it also help them feel connected to the millions of other kids who’re at home doing the same thing. They know that many pals from school are doing it, as are their cousins in Dublin and London. This gives them a sense of community amongst their peers, at a time when they have been cut off from contact with their friends for two and half months.
The two oldest children largely direct themselves when it comes to starting their day. They have their own laptops in their bedrooms and they login to see what tasks their teachers have set them. They set about these with some enthusiasm – not least as they know that the sooner they finish each task, the sooner they get a break.
Our junior infants aged girl needs a little more direction and encouragement to get going, naturally, but she flies through her tasks once she’s up and running. She is allowed longer breaks and her older sister also hugely enjoys playing the teacher and helping her with her learning later in the day. Since I work from home, this is a boon for me, as it means fewer interruptions.
Múinteoir Rae is also a godsend, since the RTÉ home school hub programme keeps them going for another hour or two each afternoon. Due to my work, I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to run lessons for the kids, but we’ve transformed a lot of daily tasks around the house into learning experiences. The kids have been involved in baking, cooking, carpentry, gardening and doing little science experiments.
A straw poll of our three home learners reveals that, while they enjoy school, they tend to prefer home schooling, although do they miss seeing their friends. My eldest is adamant that he learns far more at home, while the other two concede that they learn more in school. This may be because my eldest has the benefit of an online maths tutorial each day from my mother, who is a retired primary school teacher. Having already missed a lot of school earlier this year thanks to a bad head injury he received playing football, he had a lot of work to catch up on. She patiently took him through the entire year’s syllabus and now he’s completely up to speed, so the lockdown has been a boon for him, as without it such intensive revision would have been impossible.
They kids are allowed to take a 10 minute break between tasks, which often involves taking a run outside, kicking a ball around or maybe just relaxing on the grass for a while. Research suggests that regular breaks, and some exercise, can really help kids to learn – especially boys. Certainly, our kids seem to respond really well to this. Lessons ease away in the afternoon, and they often read books or help with the gardening.
We’ve also managed to source some amazing educational computer games and television programmes. For me, home schooling could never fully replace school, but it certainly could be complementary to it. Seeing how positively kids respond to a more relaxed learning environment is an eye-opener for many parents. When the kids do eventually return to school, I think they’ll be more independent, self-directed learner – better able to look things up themselves, motivate themselves and learn things in new ways, using technology. We parents will have had a crash course in teaching and will be better able to make everyday life educational in a fun way. The lockdown will have taught us all a thing or two.