“This is a stressful time for parents,” says Danielle Iku Smith, who lives in Cambridge, N.S. “There is fear, so much unknown, and anxiety, and I don’t want my little ones to pick up on that.”
With five kids ranging in age from 17 months to age 12, Smith is taking life day-by-day.
This seems to be the common theme for parents across Atlantic Canada who are trying to figure out a new normal for their families. In Nova Scotia, schools are closed until May 1; Prince Edward Island until May 11; and classes at Newfoundland and Labrador schools have been suspended indefinitely.
“I honestly have no idea where to start,” says Michelle Robar, also of Cambridge, N.S. “Honestly, I am still working 40-plus hours a week. How am I supposed to monitor my children and give them what they need?”
Heather Redmond, who lives in Kingston, N.S., agrees. She and her husband are both still working shift work. She’s worried about the clash of personalities with her daughter if they try homeschooling and fears she doesn’t have the patience to make it work.
“I am terrified about this whole situation,” says Redmond.
Atlantic Canadian parents are taking different approaches towards what to do with their children at home. Some parents, like Kentville’s Gillian Yorke, have decided not to homeschool.
“The kids have had their worlds turned upside down, and so have we,” says Yorke, who feels it’s not worth the stress of trying to teach her early elementary-aged children anything new. “We're reinforcing positive learning attitudes and working on staying mentally well first.”
Taylor Boylan, of Berwick, N.S., has a similar attitude, saying she doesn’t want to add any more confusion into the lives of her three children. Instead, she’s choosing to focus on family.
“Academics are important, and I have a great deal of respect for my children's teachers, but I am not that teacher,” says Boylan.
Other parents, like Katherine Eye, of Charlottetown, P.E.I., is focusing on providing a consistent schedule. As a full-time stay-at-home mother to a Grade 2 son and twin two-year-old boys, Eye says the change wasn’t substantial and felt more like the start of summer, when everyone was home.
“I do have a general timeline for the day that we follow that includes what time we get up, play, go outside, tidy up, have snacks, etc.,” she explains. “I think it's important for kids to feel a sense of normality right now and me pretending to be his teacher and forcing my son to sit at the table for five hours a day isn't normal.”
Lexie Burgess Misner structures the day for her young children with activities for each chunk of time. Not everything necessarily gets done but there are things to do to stay focused.
“Each day, we find time to do some sort of activity focusing on typical school subjects, but it’s not strictly scheduled,” the Kentville woman says.
Bedford’s Sarah Birch is doing more formalized homeschooling. For her Grade 3 daughter Amelia, Birch has created a fluid schedule that results in about one to two hours of structured learning each day, including reading to her four-year-old brother, Ewan.
For Birch, homeschooling is a necessity. Before Christmas, Amelia missed a lot of school time due to pneumonia, and regularly missed class time for speech therapy. Amelia was falling behind, and Birch had even spoken to a private school just before March Break to see if that might better meet Amelia’s needs. Birch sees this as the perfect time to help Amelia get caught up.
Learning life skills
East Margaretsville, N.S., resident Heather Davis, a teacher herself, has taken a different approach for her 12-year-old-daughter Lyndsi Jessome: focusing on life skills.
“Life is busy for all of us, and many days there is so much focus on just getting everybody to the end of their day in one piece that we don’t make the time for other things that are important, like basic conversation, or homework, or learning basic life skills,” explains Davis.
Every day, Lyndsi finishes her chores, has outdoor time and reads. Then it’s time to learn a new life skill from a list that’s been added to a white board on their fridge. Once learned, they are checked off, and new skills are added to a permanent list.
So far, Lyndsi has learned to make a proper military bed, bake apple crisp, assemble furniture from a box by reading the directions and putting it together, recognize 20 flags from around the world, say "hello" and "thank you" in six new languages, cook supper for the family and make a drawstring bag using a sewing machine.
When asked how Lyndsi responds to learning these new skills, Davis says that like most kids, there is a bit of complaining at first, but she enjoys it once she gets going.
Kari Saunders, of Somerset, N.S., is also teaching life skills to her kids.
“My children are learning how to do laundry and clean the bathroom, how to care for our pets and tidy their rooms. We feed the birds and pick up garbage on our road. They are learning how to be kind to others. Lots of learning can happen without needing to do sheets and homeschool.”
Those parents who have done traditional homeschooling for years caution others about what they are calling homeschooling.
Natalie Mollins says that what a lot of people are doing isn’t typical homeschooling. Unfortunately, says the Nictaux, N.S., woman, there is a lot of misunderstanding and stigmas around homeschooling.
“Yes, kids are learning from home, but regular homeschooling has a lot more freedom,” she explains. “We aren’t stuck in the house. We have weekly group get togethers, co-ops, expos, library dates, group events, and lots of interaction with friends.”
And because these interactions and excursions are now cancelled, many homeschoolers are also opting to forgo traditional learning, says Ashley Cowie-Sanford of Waterville, N.S., who regularly homeschools her six children.
“We have trees to be pruned, gardens to be plowed, relationships to be strengthened, babies needing to be held, closets to empty and a new season to usher in. We’re going deep into strengthening our character through simply working and playing together,” she says.
No matter what strategy people are using with their kids, says Dawn Wilson, don’t worry about children falling behind.
“All kids will be in the same boat, and when school eventually resumes, teachers will likely have a game plan in place to accommodate the time missed,” says the Kingston, N.S., woman.
“Don't put all kinds of extra pressure on yourself in a time like this to be super mom or super dad. Don't pretend you're a homeschool teacher when you're not. Put your phones down, give your kids extra love and set aside real one-on-one time each day to listen to them, read with them, play with them.”