The challenges experienced by families during the coronavirus crisis have been many and varied, not least for parents juggling their children’s home learning with real-time work commitments. As the memes correlating parenting stamina with alcohol intake proliferate alongside the new lockdown lingo peppering our daily conversations, it seems life as we know it has changed beyond recognition.
At Pajes, we have seen, first-hand, schools’ Herculean determination to maintain quality educational provision across a range of remote platforms and to adapt and innovate in a constantly changing situation — and I have witnessed this as a parent, too. So as the locus of learning has shifted to the home environment, what has this meant for families?
Early on, many parents may have optimistically envisaged a structured home-learning schedule slotting in beside existing commitments. But with time has come the realisation that this situation — not unlike the coronavirus itself — is novel and the familiar boundaries separating home, school and work have blurred.
As a mum working part-time with four school-aged children, it has required both practical and mental adjustments, with (dare I say it) some positives alongside the challenges.
Practical adjustments have involved rethinking our space and time. Our dining room has become the main school and work area. My husband and I alternate use of the home office for meetings and focused work time. I have shifted my working hours to free up mornings for home learning.
But, inevitably, there will be instances of overlap and many of us will have experienced a "Robert Kelly" moment in some form (whose children famously gatecrashed his BBC interview). The entire Pajes staff were treated to a display of my four-year-old’s artistic prowess at last week’s team meeting.
And, in tenser moments, we parents collectively bless the Zoom mute button, enabler of animated mid-meeting negotiations with our offspring about anything from snacks to screen time, with (almost) no one the wiser.
We have also had to undergo a mental shift by re-evaluating our roles and setting realistic expectations. Are we “home-schoolers” or are we supporting home learning delivered by school? At times, it has felt as if we are playing the roles of teachers, parents and colleagues all at once.
We have needed to acknowledge our limits and step back and see the bigger picture, balancing our vision of how things should be with the sanity of all concerned. I’ve found myself many a time cheerily coaxing one of my kids to a given task, having allocated that time for it, quickly realising that my enthusiasm is not shared.
Similarly, my shift in working hours was pre-empted by an honest reflection on how our daily routine was (or wasn’t) working. The mantra has had to be balance, openness and flexibility. This is helped in no small measure when schools and employers echo this message and I am grateful that for us this has been the case.
Looking back at this time as a family, we have worked, played and spent countless hours together. Our children have learnt in many varied ways, both formal and informal (as the shelves of Lego models will testify) ; we have navigated challenge and uncertainty. Yet perhaps the biggest takeaway from this strange and surreal period has been an acknowledgment of our own and one another’s humanity — as families, schools and communities. At a time like this, that’s exactly what will get us through.
Lizzie Caplan is Pajes primary Jewish studies adviser for Northern UK schools