Home-schooling during lockdown felt like I had many hats on. As an ex-primary school teacher and a play-based, child-led childminder I felt strongly that my two boys, 9 and 7 years old, would educationally thrive without completing every single piece of academic school work given to us by the children’s school.
Our school provided suggested activities for the children to complete but didn’t put pressure on us to complete any or all of it.
I was confident I could provide opportunities to learn as they played and by following their interests, and weave in learning both knowledge and transferable skills.
Except, initially, after the stress and anxiety leading up to lockdown, I had no energy or creativity to provide stimulating activities. I found the thought of it exhausting unless the children drove it completely and I felt overwhelmed by the thought of being forced to have the children all day, every day.
The best I could do some days was pull out a box of toys they hadn’t played with for a while.
With my Hand in Hand instructor hat on, I knew my bigger focus was on the emotional baggage that we had all packed away during the month leading up to the lockdown.
Both boys had shown us that they were aware and struggling with the uncertainty and fear that seemed to be flying around Lancaster, the city we live in. It seemed to be all everyone was talking about. From friends and friends parents to teachers and grandparents, all were serious and concerned. The boys picked up on that energy and information and asked questions around it, but their off-track behaviour showed us that they needed extra help at the beginning of lockdown.
“I wanted our day to allow for the emotional work to be done.”
I wanted to process that baggage, and to be safe and considerate of others’ safety, whilst manoeuvring through the pandemic and dealing with the lack of normal connections, the anxieties and fears, and the resentments and frustrations lockdown created.
I wanted our day to allow for the emotional work to be done, which I knew would then leave our brains free to engage more naturally with learning.
So, for the first few weeks, we did 20-30 minutes of Special Time first thing in the morning and lots of Playlistening games all together. Using these two tools allowed plenty of opportunity for Staylistening when feelings came up.
At that time, I didn’t try to achieve anything other than keeping the family fed and vaguely clean!
I knew that getting plenty of Listening Time for me was also going to be crucial because my own anxieties had been evident. Caring for other families’ young children can be a big responsibility, and one I feel under normal circumstances. In such uncertain times, it began to affect my health, unfortunately giving me the very symptoms of COVID, with a tightness in my chest and shortness of breath. During my Listening Time, I worked on my anxieties around responsibilities, about my fear for my family’s health, and around my resentments for being put in a position I’d never wanted and never planned for. I was working through feelings around my helplessness and powerlessness.
Over the first few weeks of lockdown, we tried many different routines, focuses, and structures. Some worked well, some left us at loggerheads, and some worked one day but could not be replicated again. Some days the resistance from the children felt neverending, only for the following day to result in co-operation and productivity!
What I did notice after a couple of weeks was that we were mucking along in a much lighter, more collaborative way. I think the Special Times, Staylistening, and Playlistening along with gentle Setting Limits had enabled us all to offload some of that baggage we came to lockdown with.
For more on setting limits read: 4 Types of Limits That Children Need
Our Schedule Looked Something Like This
After those initial weeks, our lockdown days grew to look something like this;
We’d start the day with some connection time. Some cuddles, silliness and laughter (and sometimes tears) in the big parents’ bed. We experimented with plenty to get a few giggles going; making a tent by sticking dad’s leg in the air under the covers; by squishing and squashing each other as we all changed places in the bed to have a cuddle with another member of the family; playing “he’s mine!” where both parents playfully have a tug of war over a child. (My boys giggle uncontrollably at this game.)
As a family, we tend to get breakfast, dress and wash at our own pace, with the expectation that we will all be ready by a certain time, and as the usual time constraints disappeared, I was able to use this time to set limits around how much the children helped out with household chores; tidying breakfast things away; unloading and loading the dishwasher; putting a load of clothes washing on; straightening their bedrooms; putting food shopping away etc.
There was often a mix of playfully Setting Limits and Staylistening as feelings came up around those expectations of joining in with family responsibilities and getting dressed and ready for the day. We always try to do those chores together with an adult, in a playful and as light atmosphere as possible.
Outdoor exercise. We tried to mix it up, but we found that once we got out of the house and had some physical exercise and fresh air, we all felt more able to be light and connected.
I tried to be as child-led as possible, without expectations for what we might “achieve,” and I aimed to load the children up with connection, giving them the same delighted attention I give in Special Time, and letting them lead, or saying “Yes” to what they wanted, wherever possible. (With both boys, this wasn’t Special Time exactly, but close). Scrambling up nearby woodland slopes was one of the boys’ favourites, as was playing hide and seek in the woods, and football training and circuit training on the local green spaces, where we all enjoyed making up games and exercises. We also scooted and biked to unexplored neighbourhoods nearby.
After being outdoors the boys were keener to sit down and do some maths or English that had been set for them by their teachers. We usually took a drink and snack break between maths and English. I’d use the break times to do more connection, give cuddles, and do some quick Playlistening games to get some giggling going. Although the boys needed me around during school time, it was more for moral support and encouragement, which allowed me to have a cup of coffee, un-load dishwashers, washing machines, and prepare lunch at the same time.
We’d sit down for lunch with their dad and enjoy catching up with what we’d been doing in the morning. I usually needed some adult time by now, so the boys’ Dad and I would take a hot drink into our bedroom and give free time to the boys.
Our afternoons were much more flexible. We would have some Special Time and do other activities together. If school sent inspiring activities we might try them together, or otherwise we’d think up our own activities, cook or bake together, or try out a new hobby or project. How on-track we were all feeling would determine the order and structure of our afternoon. Sometimes we’d do doing Special Time first, and on other days we’d wait until later.
If one of the children had a Zoom calls with friends, where they could chat, play games, and laugh together, I had time with the other child one-on-one. I used this time for Special Time or sometimes to do individual music or language practice.
The children chose what they did for the hour before dinner, including screen time. This gave me a much-needed hour to be by myself, either to quietly get dinner ready, finish chores, or just have a quiet brew and chat with a friend.
We would all have dinner together and then begin bedtime which usually started off with some Playlistening games and silliness, before showers, and storytime. As with in the morning, this gave an opportunity for playful or gentle Setting Limits and Staylistening to help clear anything that had come up during the day and helped the children feel connected enough to fall asleep peacefully. I also scheduled my Listening Time on Monday and Wednesday evenings.
My boys are set to go back to school full-time sometime in September, and I will be childminding as usual three days a week during the school term. The boys have loved being at home, and I anticipate some rough patches as they move back into school life.
We’ll up the amount of Special Time before school restarts, and I’ll focus on Playlistening at school pick-up as well as some family play before bed. I’ll use my Listening Time to work on the probable anger that will explode from my youngest as he struggles with his anxieties around new teachers, new situations and his resentment around needing to sit at tables rather than climbing trees!
If we have to go back into lockdown again, I’ll try to remember what’s important to us, slowing down so that I can hold on to connection as the important thing, and clean clothes as less so!
Katy Linsley is a Certified Hand in Hand Instructor, from Lancaster, UK. You can follow her at www.heartsandmindparenting.com, and sign up for her talks and classes.
Inspire Your Child’s Curiosity and Love of Learning
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Read the other posts in this series: