Homeschooling

‘The main thing I remember is guilt.’ Readers on homeschooling in lockdown

Written by Mamie M. Arndt

Everyone’s experience of lockdown has been different and rarely do we get a chance to speak about it outside of our close circle. 

So following the Government’s latest announcement regarding school closures, we asked you what your experience with homeschooling has been like and how you feel about facing the task once again over the coming weeks.

More than a quarter of the 242 parents who completed our survey since yesterday afternoon say that they won’t be homeschooling their children this time around. Some 57% of those parents have children in primary school, 11% have a child attending secondary and 26% have children at both levels.

When it comes to who will be playing teacher, the answer from our parents was overwhelmingly in favour of female leadership, with 43% saying that mum will be taking the role of home principal. 

Dad will assume the role in 4% of our respondents’ households and 30% will have a mix of both parents at the desk, while 2% of respondents will include their childminder in the education duties.

More than half of the parents said that they will not have time within their day to homeschool, with 13% saying they do not feel capable. 

Some described the task as “pure hell” or a “nightmare” and said that their homes have become “a battleground. Others reported a more positive experience of homeschooling during closures, with one reader saying the experience has been “fantastic so far”. 

“Immense pressure”

Many parents will ease up on homeschooling for this round of lockdown.
Many parents will ease up on homeschooling for this round of lockdown.

A common theme, however, seems to be parents looking to ease the pressure for this lockdown, focusing instead on areas like baking, reading, gardening, and artistic work instead of drilling down on academics with their kids.

One reader said that there was “immense pressure on everyone in the house”,  during last year’s initial lockdown. “We had to work full time, educate our kids and run the house. The time to prepare all the materials and get them ready on a Sunday night was a pressure cooker.” This time around, the family won’t be homeschooling, choosing instead to opt for “reading, playing LEGO, and doing art”. 

“We sort of drew a line under the year in March, where school was concerned,” another parent said. “Lockdown one was a mixed bag, we felt a bit negligent of their studies but also glad we got through it. The bonus for us is our two kids got on like a house on fire throughout, whereas in ‘normal’ life, there’s a lot of conflict between them. That made a massive difference to the family dynamic and we hope this might stand to their relationship longer-term. We tell ourselves that’s much more important than schoolwork.” 

A family who is moving homes at the moment similarly described shifting focus away from tough schoolwork this month. “Schoolwork will comprise of whatever they feel happy doing without too much fuss. Maybe if they enjoy this new lockdown it’ll be more positive for all of us,” the parent said.

Another said that their family “kept the expectations low around schoolwork” during last year’s closures. “We both work full-time so we couldn’t actually engage in true ‘homeschooling’. Instead, we kept it relaxed, and if the kids did some form of schoolwork, prescribed or otherwise, for an hour or two a day, that was a win.” 

“A scramble”

8% of parents say they don't have the adequate technology to homeschool on our poll.
8% of parents say they don’t have the adequate technology to homeschool on our poll.

Some parents said they would like to see classes recorded for children, as they were struggling to teach subjects such as Irish. A couple of respondents who were not originally from Ireland said that they were finding it particularly difficult to teach their children, especially if the child attends a Gaelscoil.

Others added stress due to poor internet connection or not having enough laptops in the house. Overall, 8% of our respondents said they don’t have the adequate technology available to homeschool. 

“We don’t have the capacity to provide remote education for all children or even for most. Large swathes of children will be disadvantaged if we continue to pretend we do,” said one parent.

A mother who just returned from maternity leave to work as a primary school teacher described preparing work for her students while teaching her own three kids as a “scramble” and said that she has been struggling to keep up with the different communication methods for her own children’s classes.

“It took ages to go through each platform to find out what was the plan for the week. By the end of it, one of the kids had given up on it and we didn’t push it.” 

Another teacher, who is on leave until the end of this month, said that while she has been enjoying homeschooling her own three children, she feels for those trying to tackle the task on top of working. “I felt I got to know my children so much better and use more concrete materials in their learning than books,” she said. 

“I can’t imagine the stress people are under trying to homeschool young children and work at the same time. I would just advise them to keep reading, keep them playing, and keep talking. It will work out eventually!” 

“What else can we do?”

Other parents described the pressure that came from comparing their experiences to others and trying to stick to timetables they found on social media, with one saying their biggest issue last April was “the fear that I wasn’t doing enough”.

The words “anxiety” and “guilt” were often floated throughout responses.

“From the first lockdown, the main thing I remember is guilt,” one father who homeschooled during last year’s lockdown said. “In the afternoons, I juggled Teams calls with keeping half an eye on the kids, feeling guilty about not being 100% present for either. I stuck them in front of Disney+ or Netflix while I worked, and that made the guilt even worse. ‘You should be embracing this time with your kids’ they said. That made it worse. What kind of dad was I that I couldn’t just enjoy being with them?” 

A single father of three was told his youngest son was on the autism spectrum one week before lockdown. “He simply went backwards, for all I was trying to keep him going and his sisters from killing each other while working and not going over the edge with my own Asperger’s. Just thinking about it again is already upsetting. I really don’t need this again and neither does he but what else can we do?”

About the author

Mamie M. Arndt