Anna Dusseau | 26th March 2020
Boy, this week has been tough! I wish I could say otherwise. In spite of the glorious sunshine, I would describe yesterday in particular as one gigantic clusterfuck with tiny moments of magic along the way. A metaphor for life, you say? Oh, come on now; surely you’re not out of pasta already? But it is certainly true that families are all under abnormal strain right now; confined to our homes, some of us nursing sick people, not to mention the fallout of this crisis in terms of job stability and finances. I get you and I’m with you in this struggle. So I thought I’d help you out today with a post about timetabling – or lack of it – and how, in my professional experience and personal opinion, flexibility is the key. Yesterday went like this.
04:30 My Contract Work
Yep, we are all working from home and it requires a dose of creativity, doesn’t it? Because I can’t think with the kids climbing my back, I set my alarm super early and get contract jobs (and my lovely blog!) out of the way before the day even begins. Well, that’s the idea. But this particular morning I couldn’t think straight and was stuck on the last 40 lines of Oedipus Rex for an Enotes study guide that I was working on. Made coffee. Lost what line I was on. Gave up. Posted on the blog. Tried again. Heard the baby kicking off. Ate banana with the baby. Snapped the laptop shut.
Only by this point, it was more like 08:30 and rather than our usual relaxed breakfast listening to France Inter, newspaper propped against the marmalade for a better view of the political cartoon, today was less civilised. Middle son had taken matters into his own hands and was serving cereal on the floor before I’d even started the toast and the diva claimed she wasn’t hungry as she sprawled on the sofa with her nose an inch from page 26 of Warrior Cats. Ended up putting on a TED talk to cheer myself up; sat on the floor with the boys and ate cereal by the fridge. A super handy location to access the oatmilk. And even tiny Mariah joined us in the end, feeling her way across the room with one hand outstretched while the adventures of Thunderclan remained clamped to her face like a baby octopus. Added ‘optician’ to my to do list.
09:00 The Body Coach Live
Everyone’s been joining in these live sessions which Joe Wickes has promised to live stream every morning of the national school closure, so I thought ‘why not?’ Let’s get involved. Everyone was reluctant – to put it mildly – so I informed them this was what I would be doing for the next 30 minutes in any case. How wrong I was. Over the noise of the baby howling for attention, middle son’s remote control car whizzing round and the sarcastic starlet loudly complaining that she couldn’t concentrate on her book, I ended up sitting on the floor (again!) feeding the baby while the workout continued without me. Felt exhausted just watching. Middle son ended up doing most of it from an upside down position on the sofa. Daughter finished the chapter of her book. Felt pretty proud of them both.
09:30 Geography Project
My kids are recently into learning about the coral reef (the big ones; baby is into boobs and bashing things) and we had watched a documentary earlier this week which inspired an outpouring of ‘Save the Coral Reef’ posters, filling the kitchen and covering most of the available wall space in an eco-warrior-meets-The-Shining kind of way. Thought we’d develop on this topic and had eagerly located the encyclopedia. But nope. The petrol head was back to making an assault course for his RC quad bike and mini Mariah flounced away telling me that she’s going to be a writer and doesn’t want to be disturbed. Ate another banana with the baby and tried to teach him to locate his nose.
A friend had recommended making a teddy bear zipline as a fun outdoor activity, so I rounded them all up before lunch and informed them that this is what we would be doing. Daughter, draped in oversize black hoodie, dragged herself outside and flopped in the hammock where she continued to write her bestseller. She’s six. The boys were on board though and the fact that the bigger one was more interested in seeing the teddy faceplant into the fence than consider the gradient and materials necessary for optimal glide, was beside the point. It was fun. Until baby bam-bam found the molehill and threw several handfuls of earth inside the house. And smashed a plant pot. And tripped over the molehill in an oddly satisfying twist of cosmic karma. Bathed the filthy baby.
12:00 Music Video
We have these arty, musically talented homeschool friends from London who we share ideas with and I had just received a brilliant video clip of their boys playing the harmonica in a mini performance they’d composed themselves. Back on the floor again, we all watched in awe and the kids decided to respond with their own musical offering. I was all over this. ‘Hey, would you guys like to use the piano?’ ‘Shall I get the recorders out?’ Nnnnnnope. It was upturned saucepans and Bombastic by Shaggy on full blast while they all gyrated round the kitchen wearing sunglasses. Poured another coffee. Burnt the rice. And actually, later, found them in the living room doing a really chilled acoustic version of the song which would have been worthy of the live lounge. Lesson learned.
Tofu and blackened rice, anyone? Tried to give the less charred bits to the kids. Knocked over a full glass of oatmilk with my own elbow due to excessive scraping of burnt rice. Felt like a winner.
14:30 Ear Snacks Podcast
For once, the big ones were agreed on an activity and pouring over the National Geographic kids’ magazine (‘Ooh! Anything in there about coral reefs?’ Their expressions were like: ‘Fuck. Off.’) while I washed up listening to Ear Snacks which is one of the few kids’ podcasts I actually enjoy myself. Blue skies outside and carbonised rice coming off nicely. Then – smash – in comes the baby hysterically screaming and covered in coffee. Now, I should point out that we drink coffee from the Nespresso machine, so it’s hot but far from boiling. Also, I feel the need to state that this is the first time this has ever happened to any one of my children. But number 3 is nothing if not determined and seems to have found a way of putting one book on top of the other to create a platform high enough to grab my husband’s coffee from the office desk. Smart baby, I’m thinking. And as we all sat on the floor and I alternated shouting insults and instructions at the Frenchman, I looked at my big ones playing peekabo and fake falling to distract the baby and thought to myself, they’re good kids really.
15:00 Hour of Exercise
We took a walk in the fields at the back of our house to calm down after burning the rice and the baby. I am a perfectionist so was close to tears most of the time, snapping at everyone and consumed with guilt about the coffee incident and, if I’m honest, the fact that my free spirit kids haven’t once looked at a page of Maths all week. I know, I know. Home schooled children always turn out well, but like a decent Yorkshire pudding (or souffle, in our house) the trick is to not keep opening the oven and prodding them about. Trust the process. Uh-huh. But actually, as I walked along in the slanting sunlight, watching their long shadows ripple over the grass ahead, I noticed that after an initial spat over who was going to have the biggest stick, they were actually asking each other Maths questions. Pretty tricky ones, too. I hugged the baby and felt warm in the sun. Trust the process, girl..
16:30 TV Time
Did I mention I’m strict on screen time? During the week, at least. But tonight we were all wrung out and the kids had been going on about watching Disney’s Fantasia for ages, so we put it on. Even bam-bam was mesmerised. How I managed to burn the kids’ pizza as well, I really can’t tell you. It must be a skill.
19:00 Bedtime, Surely?
The plan was meant to be: bath, pyjamas and everyone in the living room for at least one book each before bedtime. In reality, the baby threw his book at the TV and passed out in a boob coma 10 minutes later. Middle son wanted to play the piano at this point and I am so heavily invested in the idea that the kids will release a number one single at some point so that we can sell the house and go travelling, that I readily agreed. Mariah and I curled up on the sofa and read the last 20 or so pages through to the end of her current Potter book. The baby snored loudly on my shoulder. Even the elbow-bashing maestro eventually gave the piano a break, came in to listen to the story, and fell asleep on my lap. And I felt myself, as I always do at the end of a very good book, rather choked up on the final line.
20:00 OMG Seriously..Just Hit Send!
Back in the kitchen, sat cross-legged on the sofa, I glared at the screen. Come on, Oedipus! Just dig your eyes out and be done with it. Eventually hit send and poured a glass of wine. Teenwolf made dinner and managed not to burn it. Baby woke up and we sat in the kitchen chatting away, boob back out, awkwardly eating a bowl of quinoa one-handed, like any normal family.
Now, I know what’s on your mind. ‘Anna,’ you are thinking. ‘The whole concept of timetabling your day isn’t very homeschool.’ And you’d be right. But I guess that’s the message of today’s post; we are all human and we do what we can to make things work. Most of the homeschooling parents I know prefer to keep a journal and retrospectively note down the activities that happened during the day, rather than planning them in advance. I think I will have to trial this approach at some point. But however you plan – or don’t plan – your homeschooling, I hope this gives you the confidence to take the rough with the smooth, find the learning opportunity in every situation, and for fuck’s sake, let’s all stop prodding the pudding before it’s done!
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