Expert & parents share their homeschooling survival tips

The coronavirus has been referred to as novel” because it is new and has not been seen or dealt with before. It only makes sense then that our response and coping strategies will be novel too. The consequences will be novel, and what needs to be done in the face of this virus, will be novel. The roles of the teachers, parents and learners have been adjusted, and it is important to gain insight from those in the know on how we can best manage this novel situation we find ourselves in.

Schooling is continuing in some way or form for many of our learners, and our parents have therefore been assigned a second job (homeschool teacher), and our teachers have had to urgently learn and adapt their teaching methods to provide online education. Our older learners have been “attending” online classes and have had to take on the responsibility for their education, with some support from parents and guardians.

It is, however, impossible to expect foundation phase learners, and younger, to be homeschooled remotely. The responsibility now lies on the parents to assist with any areas of the curriculum that need to be covered. So what are they to do?

What are you hoping to gain from lockdown?

There is so much pressure on our country to “make something of this lockdown period”, and people are being questioned on the skills they’re learning, or what they’re doing to pass the time, leaving us feeling lazy if we just watch TV or read all day. In reality, the majority of our country is simply trying to survive what can be described as a collective trauma and to adapt on several levels. On the lighter side, many are making banana bread too – is it really a lockdown unless you’ve made banana bread?

Many parents who are working from home, and trying to keep themselves afloat financially and mentally, still need to assist their young learners – either with schoolwork or by simply keeping them busy and cared for during the day. There is a reason not everybody chose teaching and now our parents haven’t been given a choice in the matter.

Pietermaritzburg mother, Kirsty, mom of two daughters (7 and 8 years old) provided some insight into how she is managing the dual load and offers some tips for other parents in a similar position.

“… skills such as tying shoelaces, setting a table, making a meal and ball skills are easier to practise at home and are easier to consolidate when away from school.”

Maintain a routine

  • Wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast. Get ready for the day.
  • Do schoolwork in the morning, if they’re at the age (while parents work – although kids can still ask for help or guidance).
  • Read or listen to audiobooks (comedian David Walliams has very kindly shared some of his stories online).
  • Playtime (puzzles, Lego®)
  • Lunch
  • Afternoon activity (exercise/art/music)
  • Outside play (riding bikes in the driveway, jumping on the trampoline)
  • Bath and supper
  • Story and bedtime

Routine quote on desk with pen and coffee

Kirsty explains that her girls have been “baking up a storm” but have also been helping with chores such as vacuuming and loading and unpacking the dishwasher. She explains that her daughters’ school has been very supportive, and they have received notes from their teachers who have sent well wishes during this time.


What do the teachers have to say?

Genevieve Mayne-Carney, a Grade R teacher at Red Roots Pre-Primary in Pinelands, Cape Town, mentions that life skills and gross-motor development have been prioritised in their communication to parents. She explains that skills such as tying shoelaces, setting a table, making a meal and ball skills are easier to practise at home and are easier to consolidate when away from school. Reading has also been highlighted as a priority (although I’m always an advocate for reading – not only during lockdown!).

Genevieve is pleased to report that the parents of her learners are appreciative of the teachers’ efforts. “They love that we are connecting with the kids and making sure they are all okay,” she says. Genevieve meets with her Grade R class in groups of five or six via Zoom for 30 minutes a week. Here, the learners can connect with their friends and teacher, do show-and-tell and check in with others.

Another Grade 1 teacher from a Pietermaritzburg school said that the most important thing during lockdown is for parents to connect with their children. She says, “Don’t try to replace the teacher, just continue to connect with your children.”

Upset mom and daughter fighting over homeschooling

While she and other teachers are contactable via WhatsApp or email, she also acknowledges that this whole experience is new, and the waters are still being tested, so to speak. While some communication will be sent home with daily activities to reinforce basic concepts at a foundation phase level (sounds, colours, shapes, basic literacy and numeracy, “reading to your children, listening to them and discussing their day with them will still hold so much value for the little children.” Placing too much focus on the actual work content is not a priority for our teachers of younger learners, and this should be a relief for parents.

Communicate with other parents

Across discussions with parents and teachers of our young learners, there is a resounding appreciation for supportive groups in some way or form (WhatsApp being popular) with other parents. Teachers are availing themselves via WhatsApp for parent queries or concerns, and parents are creating groups with other parents to share ideas. Kirsty mentions that these groups have been amazing, “with fun ideas and daily support.”

Mom logging on to WhatsApp group for support

However, while liaising with other parents can prove useful, both Kirsty and Genevieve caution parents against comparing themselves with other parents. Each family needs to work with what they can do during this time. Across South Africa, we have a variety of family structures all trying to survive this. Genevieve says that parents need to “take the pressure off” themselves, and just do what they can.

Tips from other parents

We asked Kirsty, our teachers and some of our BabyYumYum readers for any tips that they might have for fellow parents:

  • Be kind to yourself and patient with your spouse and your kids.
  • Planning where possible is key – keep the same morning and evening routine as when your kids were at school, and then adjust what needs to be adjusted for lockdown.
  • Have a routine – as detailed as you need it to be to make things work for your family.
  • Try to work around your child’s routine.
  • Limit screen time where possible – promote exercise.
  • Share ideas with other parents.
  • Pray and spend spiritual time together.
  • Let your child phone/video call their friends or extended family.
  • Draw on extended family for support – ask Granny to read a story over the phone while you work.
  • Let some less important rules fall away if necessary – leave the makeshift tent in the lounge up for an extra day when it might usually need to be packed up.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other parents – do what works for you.
  • Share the load with your spouse – take turns to focus on your work while your spouse handles the kids and vice versa.
  • Let your child play by themselves – you don’t have to be supervising or facilitating their every move.
  • Do your work when your little ones nap – that leaves you available for them when they’re awake.
  • Keep your kids busy with educational activities.

“Each family needs to work with what they can do during this time. Across South Africa, we have a variety of family structures all trying to survive this.”

From a psychologist’s perspective

While many of our younger children may not appear to be anxious and might be embracing the time at home, we need to be cognizant of them and their well-being too. While we as adults are trying to adapt, our children are adjusting too, and their lives going forward have been altered. It is important to acknowledge what is going on in the world and explain to our children in as much detail as might be appropriate about what is going on.

We also need to be the adults in the situation and manage our anxiety to avoid affecting our little ones further, despite our own stress levels. It is also okay, as a parent, to feel everything. This is an unusual (and novel) situation that we find ourselves in, and there is no recipe for a perfect response. Our bodies are not programmed to know how to deal with what is going on, and it is perfectly acceptable to feel overwhelmed and not ok.

Asking for help during this time is advised and gaining guidance on how to cope is paramount – whether this is via professional channels or other families and friends, don’t be afraid to ask. Staying connected appears to be important across all age groups – we want to know we are not in this alone. Parents are encouraged to pursue support for themselves or their families – whether it be during the lockdown or in the aftermath when life returns to the new normal in our country.

Some useful resources

I am an HPCSA registered independent Educational Psychologist. I work at a school and in private practice. I offer short and long-term therapy for children, adolescents and young adults, as well as parental guidance. My method is primarily non-directive and psychodynamic but I will take the unique nature of every client into consideration when making a choice on how to proceed with therapy. I offer therapy for (among others) anxiety, anger, bereavement, depression, children struggling with divorce or parental conflict, adjustment and learning difficulties, self-esteem, eating disorders, self-injury and trauma.