What I've Learned Homeschooling in a Pandemic

If you'd asked me before March 12th what I'd rather avoid, homeschooling might have topped living through a pandemic. At the very least, both ideas gave a similarly negative notion. From the beginning of my parenting journey, which is approaching a decade, I've felt passionate about our family being active members in the community, and teaching this value to our children early on, beginning with public education.

Before COVID-19, all three of our kids were in public schools in Montreal (to my European friends, this means free, government-funded); our girls were in grades one and four at our neighbourhood catchment school, and our son was in grade two at a "gifted" school a couple of neighbourhoods away. There we befriended the neighbourhood kids, teachers and parents. We invited teachers over for lunch, got to know dozens of families, and had friendships go from saying "bonjour!" at school drop off to crying together over the death of a parent or being the last ones in a restaraunt nearing midnight. 

Long story short, we love our local school! We love that our neighbours all send their children there, and that most of the teachers also live locally. We've spent hundreds of hours as classroom volunteers, field trip parents, and special guests in the classrooms of our kids and have placed a very high value on our own friendships with fellow school parents. These are our people and we love them and this is exactly the place where we see our children and our family. 

Had the pandemic not have forced our hand, we would not have homeschooled our children, but still, I'm grateful for the opportunity. I understand that homeschooling in a pandemic is different in many ways than regular homeschooling - the confinement being the largest aspect - but what I have learned during this season will stay with me as a parent and has informed future decisions. 

photo by @camdgenereux

We typically start homeschooling right after breakfast and I teach for one to two hours per child. Some days this can happen simultaneously, which makes our "school day" really short and sweet. Other days, it's a six hour day of running frantically from child to child constantly reorienting myself between subject matter and learning style. 

The learning curve was incredibly steep at first, I don't mind admitting. I love change and yet also have a knack for structure so I welcomed the new season of homeschooling and quickly formed a routine. That first week was exciting and fairly smooth with all of us enjoying it. The seamless bliss was not to last, however. The second week I began to doubt myself and felt a lot of anxiety with three different teachers (at two different schools) e-mailing countless documents of ideas, suggestions, and instructions. There were more resources available than we could ever get through or benefit from, and sifting through it all was a very unpleasant task. Here in Quebec, homeschooling has technically been called "optional" during the confinement, yet the teachers have been sending countless documents, websites, apps, and new platforms for learning almost daily. I had to decipher what was necessary (numbers, words, and in our case, the French language) between what was optional (class Zoom meetings, interactive projects and activities) and then choose what I would prioritize for my three students. It was overwhelming.

On week three, I think I hit my groove, at least for a while (remember Brad and I's parenting motto? Nothing is too good, or too bad, for too long!) I'll share more specifics about our homeschooling days in another post, but briefly, I found a schedule that worked best for us (homeschooling from after breakfast until lunch, with the afternoon free for physical activities and reading) and narrowed in on what I wanted my kids to work on academically during this season. I bought some math workbooks online for the kids and have made up reading and writing projects for my older two, and focused on fluidity and ease in reading French with Chloe. 

What I've loved the most about homeschooling is the simplicity of schedule and quality time together. We are always intentional about our kids not being over-scheduled, and yet still life seems chaotic most days because of the school schedule. The girls leave the house at 8:10am for school, then I drive thirty minutes to Oli's school, drop him off, and drive 30 minutes home. In a few hours, the girls come home for lunch and an hour, then return. At 3:30pm I'm driving another thirty minutes to pick up Oli while the girls walk home to Brad. Oli and I are home at 4:30pm and then everyone does homework, most days until supper. Then it's the race to have time together, take showers and baths, and get to bed early enough so the early wake up isn't too painful. Educating them at home is so peaceful, so much less hurry and stress, and we're always together. 

Sounds glorious right? But that last bit about always being together can certainly fall into the category of challenges too. Having my three, who are so close in age, all home together means I'm not worried about "social interaction" one bit. It's not safe right now for them to play with their friends and none of them are really interested in Zoom calls, but the constant togetherness can pose challenges. I also find it hard to teach my kids things I'm not passionate about. All parents are teachers from day one, but the lessons and habits we instill in our children usually matter a great deal to us. We care about their character, their behaviour, and their worldviews. I also care a great deal about literature, so I love teaching them to read and helping them find books they'll love and characters they'll identify with. Am I passionate about science and math? Not so much. Thankfully Brad really loves those subjects, so when he's able to take a short break from work he'll often pop in and offer a lesson on electricity or fractions. But what if he weren't available, or neither of us were capable to teach those subjects well? Homeschooling is tricky in that respect. Thankfully at grades 1 and 4, and a gifted grade 2 (which is closer to grade 5), I can still handle their subjects and provide them with satisfactory teaching and help. Daily I think about how blessed we are to have kids in these fairly early grades during the Pandemic. They're old enough to learn independently (most of the time!) and young enough that if this semester doesn't go so well, they'll have plenty of time to bounce back from our mistakes! 

To close, I'll just add that I know it's a significant privilege that I've been able to be homeschooling my kids during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Though I do still take on some work from home, I've been able to be home with my kids and invest in their learning. We've had the money to buy extra school supplies and my mental health is strong enough to deal with the daily changing realities while teaching three grades. I know this is an enormous blessing and not one that every family has, and I'm thankful. I have made many mistakes, and most days I feel I've failed my kids in some way, but there have been more opportunities to invest in my kids' character and their relationships with one another than I ever could have dreamed. 

Back when I had a newborn, a two year old and a three year old, I was just surviving. We had two years of all three kids at home before Lily started Kindergarten at age five, and most of those years were a blur. These days homeschooling in a Pandemic have felt like a gift, and in some ways, like I'm getting back those years that felt lost, when we were all together but I was so dead tired I didn't enjoy them as much as I wish.  This season at home has been precious and I'm sure the sibling relationships of my kids are stronger for it, we're more connected as a family because of it, and I'm enjoying motherhood and homemaking more than ever as a direct result. The schools are set to open one week from today but remain optional as social distancing will be in full effect for the rest of the school year. We decided easily to keep them at home for the remainder of the school year, because though hard, it's been that lovely. I long for normalcy to return but I know I will grieve the end of this wild and unique season when it's over. 

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