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Take a full day’s work, homeschooling a number of children – simultaneously, preparing at least three meals a day, 20 lots of tidying up toys and all the housework. Now combine. And repeat.
This is the recipe for disaster facing most parents working from home each day amid the coronavirus lockdown. And it’s no surprise that many are at breaking point.
Some parents admitted to HuffPost UK they had even resorted to begging headteachers to see if they can send them back in, despite the coronavirus schools shutdown.
And those experiencing the strain of trying to ensure their children carry on with their education at home tearfully admitted to HuffPost UK that they are being made to feel inadequate by other parents posting on social media about all the activities they are doing with their kids.
Headteachers also spoke to HuffPost UK and warned that schools need to be careful not to set too high expectations on families as parents “are not trained teachers”.
“I have currently got my two-year-old playing in the sand pit, my six-year-old doing maths and I’m trying to get my 12-year-old to do some schoolwork,” Derby mum Amy Carroll says.
The 28-year-old, who has boys aged 12, six and two, says catering for the needs of different aged children is challenging.
“I cannot physically sit and do work with them all so I have to set tasks for each of them. Having them all off and having different needs when you are stuck in the house is difficult.”
“It is not like normal school holidays as you can’t take them to the park – you can only go for your daily walk.
“My six-year-old is bored out of his mind. It doesn’t matter what activities I do with him such as painting, he is getting restless being in the house so much.”
Amy says that teaching children at home is difficult, particularly when children want help having things explained. “Teaching methods have changed and the way we did it was different. I am only 28 and there are lots of parents who are older than me who are finding some of the teaching methods are completely different.”
She added: “There is also the issue that not all parents have the ability to teach their children.”
“A lot of the parents bragging on social media about how much they are doing with their children won’t be giving a true reflection of what is actually happening."”
Amy says some parents are feeling inadequate after seeing other adults “bragging” on social media about how much teaching they are doing with their children and by posting photographs of them doing a variety of activities.
But she warned people not to get too disheartened as “not everything on social media is real.”
“A lot of the parents bragging on social media about how much they are doing with their children won’t be giving a true reflection of what is actually happening.
“Some of it will just be a front and if they take pictures of every single task they do with their kids, it is as if they are trying to prove something.
“The reality is, this coronavirus lockdown is affecting everyone and all people can do is their best.”
For those parents attempting to juggle working from home while looking after young children and trying to help them with their schooling, life is proving very arduous.
One 36-year-old mum who lives in Leeds is working at home for her job in marketing while looking after her 11-year-old and five-year-old children.
She admitted life is very difficult and she has found herself bursting into tears at the pressure of meeting conflicting demands.
“I feel like a crap mum, that I’m rubbish at teaching my kids and failing at my job.””
“I’m trying to do so much that I feel I’m doing a terrible job at everything.” she told HuffPost UK.
“I feel like a crap mum, that I’m rubbish at teaching my kids and failing at my job.”
She described how she was trying to balance taking part in work video meetings with sitting down with her children and trying to teach them their schoolwork – all on top of making sure they were fed and trying to stop the house from turning into “an absolute pigsty.”
She admitted tempers and emotions were frayed and she and her children had been in tears from the pressures of being cooped up together.
“It’s not anything like when they are usually off school as then we would go for days out and meet up with friends and go away on holiday. But now we are all in the same house and I am trying to do my work and homeschool them.”
Language can be a barrier for some parents and if English is not their first language, they feel helpless when their children are stuck with their schoolwork.
One 32-year-old mum-of-three who lives in Blackburn, is originally from Pakistan and speaks and reads very little English.
Speaking in Urdu, she told HuffPost UK her husband works in the NHS so is at work all day as his role is important during the coronavirus pandemic. While she tries to get her children to sit down and do their schoolwork during the day, she says problems arise when they don’t understand something or want something explaining.
“I have to tell them to wait until their dad comes home but then they lose interest in their schoolwork and just want to play,” she said.
Dani Worthington, headteacher at Moorside Community Primary School in Ovenden, near Halifax, told HuffPost UK parents are beginning to feel the pressure of having their children off school and inside the house for long periods of time.
She revealed that some parents of vulnerable children or those with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, who were entitled to a place in school if they needed one but kept their children at home for safety against coronavirus, are now asking if they can send them into school.
“The advice is if children are safe to be at home, they should stay at home rather than be sent to school.
“But now some parents have been in touch to say their children’s behaviour at home is really deteriorating and a few are asking if they can send them back into school.”
Worthington says it is really difficult as while they don’t want to see parents suffer, they need to keep the numbers in school low and limit them to children of key workers and vulnerable children who are safer in school.
She told HuffPost UK the high poverty levels in the deprived area is making the situation even harder for some families.
“A lot of the houses don’t have gardens so the children are inside, often in limited space. The children are trapped in the house."”
“Parents are starting to feel the pressure of keeping their children inside. A lot of the houses don’t have gardens so the children are inside, often in limited space.
“The children are trapped in the house. The parents will have been used to them coming home from school, watching TV and going on their iPad for a bit.
“But suddenly, they are having to keep their children going all day and they can’t play out or meet up with their friends.
“Some parents are struggling for resources. One parent called me asking for paper and scissors so they could do work with their kids.”
The school is taking weekly food parcels to its most vulnerable families and Worthington says when one family called to say they had no bread or milk in the house, she went to buy some and dropped it round.
Worthington said: “We are having weekly telephone contact with all our parents and many of them are sharing that they are finding things tough.
“Having the pressures of their children at home all day is causing a lot of anxiety when people’s stress levels are already high.
“Many children and their parents are scared and worried about everything that is happening with the coronavirus outbreak.”
She added: “A lot of parents are telling us they have new respect for teachers for keeping their children busy and occupied for full school days as they are finding it really challenging at home.”
Craig Burgess, headteacher at Woolston Community Primary School in Warrington, says that although they are a mainstream school, they have two classes with up to eight children with autism in each class.
He said: “Most children like routine, but for a child with autism, they really need that routine and structure and it can be distressing for them to have a long term change of routine.
“Of the children with autism, we only have one in school at the moment whose parents are both key workers and have no other option.
“But I know that families with children with autism are finding it harder and we may look at a rota system to get them in from time-to-time to alleviate the pressure on parents.
“I think more parents will struggle and start taking the option of a school place for their child. But they will need to look at the potential health risk and offset it against the social and emotional impact on a child with autism.”
“Parents are not trained teachers or teaching assistants. Schools have to be careful about not setting too much work or expectations on families who might also be working from home or looking after a number of children."”
Burgess told HuffPost UK that schools need to be careful about not overloading parents with extra pressures at a time of great stress and make sure the work they set for children is manageable.”
“Parents are not trained teachers or teaching assistants,” he said. “Schools have to be careful about not setting too much work or expectations on families who might also be working from home or looking after a number of children.
“We set two hours of work a day that we want the children to do and then offer resources for any families who want to do more as a choice.”
Siobhan Collingwood, headteacher at Morecambe Bay Community Primary School in Lancashire, says when the current crisis is over, she hopes it makes schools focus on teaching what they know is important.
““What we need is a national pause for thought on what we are teaching our children and why we are putting pressure on our children to learn these things and we need to get our priorities right.”
She says the parents at her school have risen to the challenge of trying to maintain a routine with their children and have particularly enjoyed topic based challenges where they can learn together in a fun way.
She said: “We don’t want to put pressures on families so have told them to do what they can.
“They are not teachers, they are not in school and it is not an optimum learning environment. They should do what they are able to and wait until we get back and we will get everyone back to speed.
“My worries centre on what happens when people get back together.
“What we need is a national pause for thought on what we are teaching our children and why we are putting pressure on our children to learn these things and we need to get our priorities right.
“There are all sorts of pressures on our children and society and this crisis needs to make us as a nation think about getting our priorities right.
“There is going to be a massive deficit to make up when schools do go back. We need to prioritise what is important for children to learn.
“If we are going to make up for lost time once children return to school, things like a frontive adverbial and the subjunctive form are not going to be my top priorities.
“Our responsibility as a nation is to make sure we produce children who are kind, caring, compassionate and able to navigate their way through a crisis with a calm head.”