Like many parents as the news of this virus spread and the knowledge of what has happened across the globe it dawned on me that the schools would, indeed, close.
History in the making.
Children will learn, in the future, what drastic measures had to be taken and how surprised we all were to be so inconvenienced in 'this day and age' by illness. People refused to stop getting their hair done, catching up with friends, working, socialising and just stay at home washing their hands.
I'm not sure what the future now holds but I am sure that I have to be prepared in order to get through such a long time at home with zero respite and a little Miss Allissa who cherishes her school time and routine so much. As with all challenges I face I chose to attack this one with all the positivity I can muster. I allowed myself a day to dread, feel fearful and angry but once that day was passed action and preparation was my chosen method to calm myself.
I absolutely adore all the notes going around the internet explaining that this is a stressful and uncertain time, spend the time playing with and loving your child, make them feel safe and secure and just chill. This is what I want to do with Freddie, however, that will be absolutely impossible with Allissa melting down 24/7 and the entire house will be in turmoil.
SO, for us, Home School it is!
Well for now anyway, if it doesn't work we will try something else but knowing my daughter and her desperate need for predictability I'm thinking this will make her feel safe and comfortable allowing the rest of us to stay sane and not beg to be infected with this horrific virus just to get a break from her intense behavior!
I'd like to make it extra clear - I don't believe this is the way everyone SHOULD be doing things, I don't even know if it will be worth my effort but it is the way I think might work for our family. I really don't want anyone to read this and think, 'Shit, I just bought my kids some lego and a new x box game and left the to it' or 'I just put them out in the garden' I am all for doing what ever the hell it takes to get through this shit. All kids are different all parents are different and that's exactly how it should be. So obviously we all need different things. Duvet days, time outdoors, face times, Nintendo switch, ipad, a puppy, WHATEVER WORKS FOR YOU IS GOOD! Now is not the time to put pressure on yourself or your kids.
What I did to prepare...
I spent the week before the schools closed preparing, information gathering, printing and laminating. I was hardly out of my PJs because I knew I had a long slog ahead of me. I ordered some stuff on amazon like paper, laminating pouches, paints, blue tack, couple of craft supplies and something that may seem OTT, A white board.
Its just a small one and its not for anything I really thought I'd need, but more to make the kitchen (not yet decorated and much hated by me) look more familiar and like a class room.
It worked a treat - as soon as the board was put up my daughter immediately beamed. She relaxed and she didn't display any anxious behaviors that I'd usually expect during a time of change. Her sleep went back to normal and we saw fewer tantrums. She knew I promised her school at home and seeing the board made her believe me. Totally worth the £16 on Amazon!
Besides making the kitchen look a bit like a class room what else did I do to prepare?
Well, Allissa uses a Boardmaker symbol daily timetable to reduce her anxiety already and has done for the last 4 years. So I thought I'd extend that to roughly cover our 'school day'.
Structure is the key to keep Allissa calm, she doesn't like change or surprises or any deviation from whats expected. So I had to come up with a rough time table.
I sat down and thought about how our day is likely to look over the next few weeks and what was realistically achievable. I won't really know this until we start but in my head I thought up the following.
7am Wake up wash and dress - this is wishful thinking because Madam rises at least an hour before this on a good day but this is the time I tell her is morning, as in we can get out of bed at 7am. In my house, pre 7am, Youtube is your parent.
I need to continue the routine of showering and dressing Allissa because if I don't she will refuse clothes and nappy changes all day. We often have to fight at a weekend for her to get dressed so unless I want her heading off to school in PJs once this is over I need to keep her usual routine.
8am - breakfast, teeth, medicine and glasses on.
9am - animal care, I want Freddie to take on the responsibility of feeding our dogs in the morning and for us all to go out and feed the chickens together then take the dogs for a walk. This is shit that needs to be done anyway and its good to get the kids out in the fresh air to start the day (we have waterproofs so weather doesn't matter) Caring for our animals is also a life skill that's good for them to learn AND there is an animal care beavers badge that I'm sure Freddie would love to earn (thinking ahead!)
10am - Literacy This will be my planned time to do something from the Glow website for each of the children, I have noticed that nothing is up yet so it will be something from the other printed resources I was able to get from Twinkl. My thinking behind this is everyone is calm, fed and ready to focus on a bit of work just to keep them on track. I doubt very much I'll be teaching them anything new but my hope is to occupy Allissa and keep Freddie's ability to read and write. He loves reading so that's no issue but HATES writing so if I don't keep on top of that he would happily go the whole time having not written a word.
11am - Snack
11.20 - Creative time, this will be painting, colouring, drawing, junk models, baking, lego, music bla bla bla what ever they are in the mood for.
12.15 pm - Lunch followed by a story
Not sure weather to try numeracy next or some light activity. Ill probably try both ways and see which is best. Again it will be some glow stuff or Learning city, if not some work books or Money games like a shop or something. Activity wise I'm thinking yoga inside if its not nice weather or a game in the garden with a ball, basket ball, time on the bikes or circuits maybe, we will see what works.
3pm - Snack and SCREEN TIME I know this plan will be intense and probably exhausting for me. So I plan to have scheduled 'ME' time every day between 3pm and 4.30pm Freddie can either watch TV or play on his Ipad (we bought him a new one so Allissa could have his older Ipad mini) Allissa will be with my Dad and using her Ipad or maybe go for a drive in the car or out for a walk. I don't really care what they do during that time so long as its not near me.
After that it will be dinner, Pjs and bed as usual.
Now, I know this looks like quite a detailed schedule, the truth is I don't care if we don't manage to fit it all in. If an activity is going well and everyone is happy Ill let them keep at it for as long as they like. If something isn't going well I'm not going to force it, we will move on to something else.
Until we try out some of these things I wont know how long they will take to set up and do together. If Freddie really isn't in the mood to do school work I don't mind if he wants to play in the garden, face time a pal or play with his toys. I only want to make sure I don't run out of things for Allissa to do as she needs to feel that purpose and constant stream of directed activity as anyone who has worked with her will testify to. One thing is for sure I AM NOT playing 74 games of guess who or connect four in a row like we did over Christmas, for SIX MONTHS (possibly longer)!
We are so lucky to live in the country, we have a big garden and lots of outdoor space, we have pets and are surrounded by nature. Inspiration for creativity and learning is everywhere. This morning a family of deer stopped in our front garden Boris and I took Freddie out in his Pjs and no shoes to watch them, I hope that's a memory he will keep.
In my ideal scenario both of my children will enjoy the time they have at home and be able to forget about the worry of what's going on in the world. They will remember the memories we make and forget why we are in this position. I hope time away from school and their friends doesn't affect them too much and make them feel shy or scared when time comes to return but who knows what lies ahead. All I can do is my very best to hold their world together and make them feel safe and happy and if I can do that surely I will manage to stay sane in the process?
Speaking of feelings that's one thing I wanted to be sure to be aware of with both kids, we like to have frank discussions so I laminated a picture of each child and a set of board maker feelings. Each day they can tell me how they feel and if that changes throughout the day they can change their emotion and talk about it.
This worked beautifully on Friday both kids came home from school HIGHLY emotional. Freddie was 'Sad' and Allissa was 'Angry' I spent some time with them and we spoke about my plan for their time away from school, we spoke about the virus and I gave them some space and the new i pads which they were both very excited about. At bedtime Freddie walked into the kitchen and changed his symbol to 'calm' NO PROMPTING I SWEAR. He said he didn't think Allissa was angry any more either so went to check and she asked him to change hers to 'Happy'.
That's when I thought this whole thing might just turn out alright!
Allissa is so happy and excited. Freddie has some concerns but seems calm now. He wanted to remind me that he will have work from school and he doesn't want me to teach him my own things he wants to do what comes from his teacher, so I explained that is exactly my plan and if he runs out of work he can chose fun stuff to do like on line museum/zoo tours or go outside in the garden with Granda or do some sewing with Grandma or what ever he wants. I explained the schedule is more for Allissa to keep her calm so we can all feel relaxed. He suggested maybe he would like to help teach Allissa because 'You can learn a lot from teaching' What a perfect idea!
His other main concerns were that I would forget about weekends and the school holidays.
I showed him our 'Holiday' symbol and 'No School' symbol which we will put on on the board when its not a school day. Those days will be Computer, lego, Ipad, Quad and fun days.
He is definitely not keen on me teaching him, but I have reassured him that its not really teaching its just practicing together and I'll help him if he needs me to - he seems happy enough with that.
Allissa has no concerns, she is thrilled, hopefully that will continue and I wont be a huge let down!
I do also have a few 'back up' ideas. If its a crap day and things aren't working it will be out in the car for a car picnic, or everyone gets split up and gets to you tube for half an hour (with an Alarm set), I have 'challenge cards' with short fun activities to try or Ill get a game or some lego/duplo out.
I also bought each of the children a toy I knew they would LOVE from our local toy shop. They are hidden away and ready to be pulled out if we are in dire straights. Freddie gets a pokemon belt thing with balls that you throw and creatures come out or evolve I don't know these are all words he uses when he speaks insistently about pokemon, Allissa gets a large chunky 30 piece orchard toys puzzle that she hasn't done before.
Ive split the resources I have gathered into activities for Freddie, Allissa and ones I think they can do together.
I'll be sharing the positives and negatives over the following weeks while I work out what works for us and what doesn't.
I have a new facebook group called 'Madhouse laughing to stay sane' everyone is welcome and its great for gathering ideas for activities. Posts are tagged by topics so you can search for 'funny' when you need a laugh, 'home school ideas', 'resources' or 'online entertainment' not just my ideas, a collection of anything and everything seen advertised on the internet! If you join us feel free to post your ideas and we can all help each other!
We need each other more than ever right now even though we cant physically be together!