Coroni Village. That’s what my 5 year old granddaughter calls the world outside her family’s Sydney apartment, where they have been confined since the COVID-19 shutdown started.
I have no idea how she came up with that expression. No doubt it has to do with the number of times she has heard about Coronavirus. Both she and her older sister are doing school-at-home. So are their two cousins.
“School-at-home” is a better description than “home schooling” for the situation most students are in now, with their schools shut or their parents deciding to keep them at home. That’s because “home schooling” is a deliberate choice by parents who take on the role of teachers. The “school-at-home” parents did not make that choice.
The vast majority of parents managing “school-at-home” are not teachers. They have no teaching expertise and are feeling uncomfortable being thrust into this role, even with the best remote learning support and resources from their kids’ schools. Plus, many parents are doing their regular work at home as well.
That sounds pretty tough – for the parents and the kids.
I thought it would be interesting to look at the “school-at-home” experience of my four grandchildren and their parents. Could this small sample provide a glimpse into what some millions of children and adults are going through around the world during the COVID-19 crisis?
I haven't been able to personally observe my four grandkids doing school at home, because like many around the world I’m confined to my house and can’t visit them. But I've kept a track of how it's been going for them and their parents by the usual digital communications - Zoom, FaceTime, phone, and text messages.
The main observation so far after two and a half weeks of school-at-home is that it's different for each child. Their experience depends on their age, their year level at school, their personalities, the support and interaction provided by their schools and how their parents are interacting with them.
Granddaughter M* age 5, first year of primary school
M* was enjoying the start of her first year at school, after she got over the usual anxiety of separating from her mother each morning. She seems to have adapted easily to school-at-home, engaging well in the learning tasks sent by her teacher. As expected, her mum needs to be heavily involved helping M do what is expected.
Granddaughter S* age 7, year 2 in primary school
S* loves school, was highly engaged in learning and this has continued with school-at-home. Her mother also has to help her with school work as she is not able to do all the work independently. S* is a highly social child and her parents were concerned she would find social isolation difficult. But she is managing surprisingly well and is interacting with her school friends via Facetime and the HouseParty App.
Her mum is planning to have S* do a 6-week online, 30 minutes a day program at home next term designed to boost her learning skills.
Granddaughter C* age 11, year 6 in primary school
C* is doing pretty well. She's quite self-sufficient. Her school is running a timetable and she has to be on a Zoom meeting for two hours each day. That’s only for year 6 (last year of primary) in her school. Children in the earlier years aren’t being given the same level of structure.
She is using some of her free time at home to boost her reading fluency and comprehension with an online reading-aloud program. It gives her a virtual reading coach to help whenever she needs it.
C* loves that she doesn't have to wear a uniform. She's still connected to her friends on FaceTime and she sees everybody in the class on Zoom each day.
Grandson D* age 13. Year 8 in secondary school
D* is very comfortable with technology and despite also being a highly sociable kid has adapted well to doing his lessons at home via the internet. His school was very well organised to deliver distance learning and D* seems to have moved fairly seamlessly from lessons at school to lessons at home.
He has been helped by the school keeping to the same lesson timetable for home that he was used to at school. He has to answer a roll call each morning!
His parents say one of the challenges is keeping him motivated to engage with the work on his least favourite subjects, such as visual arts (he prefers maths and science).
D* says one of the best things about school-at-home is that he has more time in the mornings and does not have to worry about missing the school bus.
Comments by the mother of M* & S*
“The transition to school-at-home for us has been not too bad. It takes up a lot of time getting through the coursework, but that's also dependent on how much you want to do of it and to what level you want to do the work.
I feel I'm probably luckier than some because my two children are not so difficult to teach. I'm grateful for that. I've got a kid in Kindy and a kid in year two, so they're both at quite different learning stages. And they both can’t do the online work on their own.
My year two girl can do some things on her own. Even when the work is set up for her she still has questions and is learning her way around how to upload things on her own and work around the technology. Whereas my Kindy kid pretty much can't do most things independently. She loves doing the learning, but you've got to be there with her most of the time.
Their school is giving them a fair bit of work. But you can choose how much to do. I guess one of the things that’s different is how much explicit teaching they're getting right now as opposed to just kind of going over stuff they've already learnt.
We have our moments. I just take it as it comes and just keep reminding myself that it is what it is and if it looks like it's all getting a bit too hard, just don't force it because we're in for the long haul here”.
Comments by the parents of D* & C*
“Our main job has been keeping D* & C* motivated, rather than getting involved with their lessons and assignments.
Their schools have been good with daily structure of lessons. D’s School Principal phoned parents and is sending out a survey for feedback to help them make any improvements needed. One of our suggestions is to have the teachers turn the webcams on during lessons to help get more student engagement.
D* had a science experiment which was optional, thank goodness, because it was dissecting a kidney. So that didn’t happen in my kitchen!!
Another part of our role is responding to the kids’ needs for the social interactions they are missing by not being at school. They are coming to us a lot more than normal.
For example, we are called on to watch D* ride his bike or scooter in the breaks between lessons, something he would not have asked before school-at-home started.
We are now preparing for the school holidays which are starting this weekend. Because we can’t go anywhere, we're going to try and bring in a few more board games and do some family monopoly and so on”.
*full names not used for privacy reasons
Here are two learning and reading booster programs for School-at-Home (little parent supervision needed).