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Home schooling, WFH: Handling an ‘imperfect system’ a bit longer

08:28am October 01 2021

NSW has brought forward the staggered reopening of schools after a period of home learning during the recent COVID outbreak. (Getty)

The maths worksheet is late, and you can’t remember how to do long division, much less teach it. 

The year two’s homework remains stubbornly unread, while your work email inbox dings at you accusingly. 

Meanwhile, the meeting you’re supposed to be in started five minutes ago, and your youngest is trying to put lipstick on the cat.

Sound familiar? 

With the final term of the school year starting in some states next week, many parents are undoubtedly facing the return of home schooling with trepidation – and, often, unrealistic expectations about what’s possible, and what isn’t. 

While some good news arrived this week with the NSW government bringing forward the reopening of schools, that’s still at least a couple of weeks off after an already extended period of home-schooling since the COVID outbreaks in late June. 

“We are working in ways jobs were never designed for. It is an imperfect system. We have to expect disruption and more stress,” says Westpac’s chief mental health officer Dave Burroughs.

“Try to be realistic and clear about expectations. If you’re a great employee and you expect to be able to operate at the same level while you’re home schooling, you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s not necessary, or even possible, to operate at 100 per cent all the time.

“Know what you can and can’t control and try to structure your day as best as possible from the outset. What are your priority activities, where are you going to focus your attention, and what can you do to make your day more bearable?”  

The NSW government this week brought the staggered return to face-to-face learning by one week to Monday 18 October as it expects to exceed the 70 per cent fully vaccinated threshold earlier than expected, beginning with kindergarten, year one and year 12. From 25 October, year two, six and 11 will return, with the remaining years returning from 1 November. 

All on-site staff must be fully vaccinated. 

“It’s not just great for kids, it’s great for parents, it’s going to be great respite,” NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, a father of multiple children, said yesterday. 

“Balancing work and family life is tough at the best of times but to have kids running up the walls makes it that little bit more challenging.” 

Schools in areas of regional NSW where stay at home orders have already been lifted will continue face-to-face learning from the beginning of term four. 

The ACT and Victoria also have staggered return to school plans. 

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said schools in the state had been pushing for a staggered recommencement, “but at least all students…can look forward to returning to face to face learning a week ahead of schedule”. 

“Although children are extremely resilient, let us not underestimate the impact of being separated and isolated from their friends and from that school community has had and the quicker we can get them back into a routine, even if it’s a week, in a child’s life that will make a significant difference,” she said yesterday. 

In the meantime, Burroughs says parents should be alert to the risk of adding to their stress by fretting over the impact of home schooling on their child’s education. 

“I know it’s tough, but kids are often more adaptable than we give them credit for. I’m more than optimistic they’ll recover any lost progress,” he says.

Of course, the kids aren’t the only ones affected. In multiple-parent households, Burroughs says it’s important they support each other and recognise each other’s contributions, given the reality that there can be disproportionate workloads. 

“If your partner is doing most of the home schooling, look for opportunities to support them. Step in, or down tools and take the kids for a bike ride to give them a break,” he suggests. 

Children aren’t immune from worries about the state of the world right now, and Burroughs adds that practicing good digital hygiene can help your state of mind – which will in turn help kids.

“Start work first, then go online to get the information you’re looking for but don’t go down doom-scrolling rabbit holes. You know you’re in a negative cycle when you’re constantly scrolling,” he says.

“Kids reference off experience of parents, so if you’re optimistic, your kids will respond to that.”

Dave Burroughs’s tips for surviving home schooling:

• Set expectations – understand what’s possible and what isn’t

• Create structure and try to stick to a schedule – have clear start and finish times, and think about activities or rituals you can use to mark the start and end of the school day

• Have a dedicated learning area – whether it’s the kitchen table or the coffee table, try to designate one space for learning

• Rethink technology – look for engaging, educational podcasts or books your children can access on their devices.

Also, there are a range of services available if you need help, including Beyond Blue Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support – 1800 512 348, and Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800. 

Meg is a Sydney writer who has worked for the Daily Telegraph and 2UE, and more recently has written for The Guardian Australia and The Australian. She has published two solo ,and four co-authored, novels and co-edited an anthology. She is the editor of Westpac’s internal news channels.

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