FFS: It’s okay if your child isn’t engaged with school right now

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Did you see the viral letter from the Blacktown LGA principal’s office? It’s been doing the rounds for good reason. It’s a huge dose of common sense in the middle of what feels like the most nonsensical time ever. I think it resonated with so many parents because it was basically someone who ‘knows’ giving us all permission to breathe out. Just. let. it. go.

On the weekend I was lucky enough to catch up with a lovely friend. She’s a full-time working mother with a full-on corporate job and three full-of-life kids. All those demanding fulls in there will tell you all you need to know about how empty her own cup is right now.

Which is why she cried when she received an email from her Year 4 kid’s teacher telling her that her daughter wasn’t doing ‘enough’ work during lockdown.

This is a mother who has hired a tutor to come in for two hours a day to help keep her Kinder and Year 4-er on track with their school work (the high schooler is okay). Because she deeply cares about her children’s education and she knew she wasn’t able to support them ‘enough’ while they did online learning from home. She’s in back-to-back Zoom meetings from 9.30am until the end of day. She ‘starts late’ in the morning because she blocked off that time to settle her kids into school, but it’s not ‘enough’.

A vaccination against stress

Frankly, right now we all need to take a chill pill along with our vaccination.

Teachers are working around the clock trying to keep their classrooms together. Their classrooms being 27 different rooms in 27 different homes with 27 different schedules and 27 different temperaments. This is just as much of a shitshow for the teachers as it is for the kids.

That said, it’s fair to say that some of them have adapted to teaching via Zoom better than others. Just as some kids have adapted to remote learning better than others. 

Try though everyone might, most kids are bored out of their brains right now.

They’re stuck staring at a screen all day trying to keep up with their school work without any of the ‘good bits’ of school to nudge them along. No friends to share an eyeroll with, or breakout groups where you all sneakily discuss Tik Tok instead of fractions. None of the sneaky note passing. Or staring wistfully at a girl you like and she’s the only reason why you’re still in school. You don’t even get to pretend that you need to go to the toilet mid-lesson so you can randomly walk around the playground kicking stones.

It’s no fun rebelling in your bedroom.

It's okay if your child is struggling with online learning

Parents are struggling too

And you better believe that if the kids aren’t managing, parents aren’t either. Even before we get the ‘your child isn’t focused enough’ email from the school. Yes, we know our kids aren’t engaged in their schoolwork. See above for some of the reasons. Consult individual child for a million other reasons. Whether they’re usually ‘good students’ or not, online learning isn’t for everyone. In fact, it actually turns out it’s for very few.

As if the pandemic wasn’t stressful enough. It is so, so, so stressful when you think your child is ‘falling behind’. I think it strikes fear into every parent. We don’t want our child to struggle. No mater what grade they are in, the base fear is that they might never catch up. That they will always be behind and never reach their potential. It makes us feel sick. Especially the Maths. Please, please, please don’t let them fall behind on the Maths…

But, please, let’s just stop.

Let’s stop expecting things to be ‘normal’ for our kids when they are anything but. The stress of trying to keep up with all the things is surely worse for kids, teachers and parents than any gaps in their education right now. Teachers don’t have ‘eyes on’ kids at the moment (something that is deeply worrying for other reasons, but that’s a different story). They might not see the bigger picture. What else is going on at home. What else is occupying our child’s mind right now. So much so that there’s no room left in there for lessons.

Let’s hit pause

Here’s a thought: let’s agree to hit pause.

This is how I think it should work for teachers

The Department of Education agrees to give teachers more autonomy in their curriculum and reporting. What does your class need most right now and how can you deliver that? Don’t worry if your class isn’t hitting the expected academic KPIs – we are not going to measure them for the time being. Just go with the flow and keep kids engaged in wanting to learn and learning about learning. Look out for their mental health. Keep their spirits up. That’s the most important thing right now.

This is how I think it should work for primary school kids

If a parent is worried about how well their kid is coping with school right now, they can let their teacher know. Six hours of school a day isn’t feasible for my child via online learning. Instead, can the teacher suggest the best times for your child to log on in the morning and again in the afternoon. Can we also agree how much work my child can submit each day. The current schedule is too much for our family to cope with.

Hit pause on education for a while

This is how I think it should work for high school kids

It’s basically the way our local high school is operating. Our school has so far held a ‘wellbeing’ day most weeks since online learning began. This week, the kids have three wellbeing days. They are days that allows the student to catch up on any work they are behind in (they can contact their teacher for help). There’s also a full program of ‘choose your own adventure’ wellbeing activities they can select from to do. They need to get a certain number of points and also log a wellbeing reflection at the end of each day.

Sure, some kids probably spend the whole day gaming instead of learning. But whatever. They can do that. Most kids will participate in the activities set by the school and learn a bit about relaxation, taking care of their nutrition, exercise, sleep, mindfulness and good habits along the way.

Try this: 10 wellbeing podcasts that will help you feel better

I know this is not possible for Year 12 students and my heart goes out to them – this is so tough! I especially feel so sad for them because last year when Year 12 went though the stress of lockdowns, they probably thought “at least it’s not me”. And now it is very much them. Only worse. For Year 12 parents and students, my only advice is to take your foot off the accelerator and hit cruise mode. Keep talking to your teachers, keep talking to your mates, just keep talking. Whatever happens, there are always other paths to follow to get where you want to go.

Kids are learning so many other important things right now

I hope your school is taking care of your family’s wellbeing as closely as our school is. From all of the discussions I’ve had with parents from other schools, I realise how lucky we are. Regardless of how your school is approaching things, here are a few critical things that our children are all learning right now. These are all lessons that will develop their character, increase their resilience and hone their fortitude.

Adaptability

Life is change and we need to learn to change with it. Adaptability is a key life skill and right now our kids are getting a properly schooled in it. Why is this so hard right now? What can we do to make the best of the situation we’ve found ourselves in? What can I do to make things okay? What can I learn from this?

Stoicism

I’m a huge fan of stoicism – or the act of endurance. You don’t have to like how things are. Or even understand why or how things are. Just simply let them happen without complaint. In other words, you weather the storm. Mindfulness and meditation practise can really help children learn to be more stoic. Try some of these techniques: Helping our kids slow down and do nothing. And you can find out more about the philosophy of stoicism here.

Learning stoicism is a gift from lockdown

Acceptance

The serenity prayer says it all (I’ve removed the ‘God’ at the beginning, but you can put it back if you’re a believer):

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Right now our kids are very much in an overall ‘cannot change’ situation and learning to accept that will help them feel better about being away from school. Talk to them about what they are still in control of: their attitude, their daily routine, their ability to communicate online, the time they have each day. How can they make the best of each day? What can they substitute for the things they are missing the most? Again, practising mindfulness is useful for developing acceptance. Noting three good things each day is also a good strategy.

Resourcefulness

Online learning is a much more student-led style of learning. As I mentioned above, this suits some kids more than others. However, all kids are learning to be more resourceful right now. That might simply be in learning more clever ways to cover up the fact that you’re not paying attention in class (ahem). But, generally, most kids are needing to think more for themselves, come up with new ways of occupying themselves and learn how to structure their days. These are all good things.

None of us know when the Great Unlocking is going to happen. All we can do right now is the best we can, with what we have, where we are. Which is the same place we’ve been for weeks and weeks. At home, with our family. That’s the most important thing right now, not school. Let’s make the most of that.

Feature image by by Maria Lysenko; boy at computer by Thomas Park; swing by Annie Spratt; stoicism by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič

Written by Bron Maxabella

Bron is the founder of Mumlyfe and is so happy to welcome you here. Bron has been writing in the Australian parenting space as Maxabella for more than seven years and is mum to three mostly happy kids and wife to one mostly happy husband. Mostly happy is a win, right?

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