Parent, worker, educator: surviving the new normal

As the announcement came that schools were to close in a matter of days, the enormity of the situation dawned on parents across the country. Along with the tidal wave of new terms forcing their way into our everyday vocabulary – pandemic, Covid-19, social distancing, self-isolation, suppressing the peak – came another terrifying term, ‘home-schooling’.

Much has been documented about the trials of this new venture for parents over recent weeks, so instead of dwelling on the pitfalls, I will attempt to capture some of the positives to arise from the new normal we find ourselves in.

Reconnecting with family

Looking beyond the daily scraps over who sits where/who gets the orange plate/who chooses which film to watch, I am grateful that we are all safe, healthy and under one roof. Realising, in mid-March, that schools may be closed until September, I was reminded of how sad and a bit lost I felt when my two first started school; perhaps I should look at this as a ‘second chance’ to cherish our time at home before the education system gobbles them up again? An opportunity to reconnect and retune into my children’s inner workings again.

Time together is a precious commodity and, with all the after-school clubs, sports matches and homework commitments, it is often scarce during a usual school week. This prolonged period of isolation is a good opportunity for slowing down and rediscovering each other again – be it through sharing a book, going for a daily walk/run/bike ride or taking time to cook a meal together. Being required to step off the hamster wheel we find ourselves continuously treading can only be beneficial for our mental health.

Getting dressed is optional!

One of the best perks of schools being shut has to be not taking part in the ‘school run’. The daily rush of gathering sports kits, lunch boxes, musical instruments, etc., getting everyone dressed, last-

minute homework, remembering to check your own face in a mirror (usually gets forgotten), before the final sprint to the playground ahead of the dreaded bell. Not having to wade through that daily performance for the foreseeable future must surely be applauded. Getting dressed has become somewhat optional; although encouraged by lunchtime in our house, it’s no longer essential in these strange times. School uniform has been firmly pushed to the back of the drawers and ironing is definitely a thing of the past (OK so I never did any anyway!).

Discovering new pastimes

The dawn of self-isolation and home-schooling brought with it a stream and then a deluge of online

activities aimed at keeping children/parents/the public sane. The timetable of keep fit, dance, reading, music and history activities to try on a daily basis, although at first slightly overwhelming, has now become a lifeline to mitigate the dreaded declarations of ‘I’m bored’. The will of individuals/companies/education hubs to provide all of these resources for free at such short notice must be commended.

Home-schooling and isolation from others for us has meant trying out new activities and focusing on the arts to keep us distracted. I’m a science editor by day and creativity is not my strong point; however, picking up on a tired vibe from my two the other day, we ditched the Maths and opted instead for a whole day of Art. This was a huge success (see one of our Bristol creations in the photo; thanks to Jenny Urquhart for the ‘how to’ video guide) and resulted in two relaxed, happy children – highlighting the benefit of being able to set your own timetable at home. Interestingly, the subjects being encouraged for looking after our children’s mental health during this home-schooling period (quite rightly) include a focus on Arts and Sports; this begs the question of why these subjects are not a more integral part of our children’s timetables in their regular education setting? Perhaps one of many topics for discussion once we’re through this epidemic.

Home-schooling aside, I know many people have taken up new or rekindled old hobbies to keep them occupied at this time. Gardens around the country are looking immaculate, DIY projects booming, and some are returning to knitting, colouring or writing to fill their days. Unleashing the nation’s creativity – perhaps a silver lining to this unwanted upheaval.

Appreciating the heart of our society

This global pandemic has certainly brought out the best in the people of Bristol and around Britain. Numerous Facebook groups, leaflets through letterboxes and online resources have sprung to life in recent weeks, all from people wanting to help others in less fortunate circumstances. Not to mention those who are turning their expertise to helping the NHS – be it through sewing gowns, headbands or 3D-printing protective visors. This deep-rooted altruism is brought to the heart of our community at times like this, and I’m grateful to live in a society where helping others is at the forefront of the agenda.

Already an admirer of anyone who works in the education sector, I now feel better equipped than ever to offload mountains of praise onto teachers everywhere – this is not an easy job. And I have 2 – not 30 – children to ‘educate’ at once. Admittedly, schools are much better resourced to teach our beloved offspring than us humble parents, but the amount of planning that goes into lessons, the explaining, the correcting, the marking – it’s exhausting! Teachers and their assistants at our school have been brilliant at keeping us going with online resources, weekly activities and even by sending the children Headteacher award postcards and Easter cards – such a lovely touch.

Changing attitudes for the future

All being well, we’ll all come out of this with a greater sense of what’s truly important in our lives. Perhaps we’ll know our neighbours a bit better. Perhaps we’ll stop to take in the sound of birdsong or the sight blossom on the trees. Certainly, we’ll be grateful for our lives.

A huge thank you goes to key workers around the country. Hopefully when we’re out of the woods with this epidemic, both society and government’s appreciation for these valuable members of our communities will be cemented in hearts and minds.

Rebecca Ramsden

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