Friday, 22 May 2020

Homeschooling is what keeps me going...

It’s been estimated that over 800 million children worldwide have been unable to attend school during the coronavirus pandemic. For them, the new normal has been a mixture of boredom, fear and, hopefully, some fun. But from June, our new, fairly relaxed routine could once again become the old 9am-3.30pm regime of registers and regimented learning.

Whatever the outcome of the debate over reopening schools, I’m not counting days the days until the school bell once again starts ringing. It's no surprise that four out of the five NHS recommendations for healthy mental health are covered by a daily dose of home schooling. Getting up and getting going every morning is what has kept me going... especially when the going got tough.

I began by thinking lockdown was a breeze: no school run in the morning, the kids at home with work set by the school that I could supervise and mark and then, maybe, some time to myself to work. At the time I was in the middle of writing a medical memoir on life with chronic, long-term pain caused by a condition that requires self-injecting disease modifying drugs up to twice a week. Even then, I didn't really begin worrying.

Then, the daily death toll started rising; more and more information started to appear about the virus, and my mood darkened. My next-door-neighbour’s friend and colleague, a nurse at the local hospital,  died of Covid-19; I was (belatedly) sent the dreaded shielding letter. And lockdown suddenly began to feel like a siege. There were sleepless nights where I was tormented by all sorts of real and imagined horrors. My lockdown dreams became frighteningly vivid. But come what may, next morning there were lessons to learn. My daughter and I went on a garden bug hunt; we researched the Bayeux Tapestry; we painted pictures and, when the sun shone, played. And then the next day, we did it all again. And again.

Far from feeling like Groundhog Day the daily routine felt good. My kids have been having some excellent online music lessons. And that meant I had to know what day of the week it was so we were ready with the laptop. And, of course, I had to force myself to get up. And get going.

The NHS's five steps to mental wellbeing are:

1. Connect with other people. Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing.
2. Be physically active. Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness.
3. Learn new skills.
4. Give to others.
5. Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness).

I'm connecting with my children, obviously, and for a more sustained period of time than is usually possible; I'm learning new skills, too, never having been a primary school teacher! Steps four and five are integral to our routine. I'm giving (time, attention, sometimes expertise and experience) and forced by the nature of an inquisitive nine-year-old's constant questions to be 'in the moment'. Add some regular physical activity on our daily family walks and we've got the whole lot covered.

So it's getting up and getting going every morning that has kept me going. Of that I'm certain. My book might be on hold but I've come through some pretty tough times stronger and happier. Every day is now a school day. But it's what the kids teach me that's been the most important lesson.

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