Learning and growing as a parent through home-schooling during lockdown – Sherry Salter
When I’m asked about schooling my young son at home during both lockdowns that occurred in Melbourne, I admit that it was challenging and very stressful – both for myself and for my prep year son! However, I now recognise that we have both learnt a lot, in different ways, and home-schooling has been a great learning experience that has led to growth and change – particularly for me!
During the first Melbourne lockdown in March this year when primary schools closed, on-line learning commenced and work was sent home for pupils to complete under the supervision of parents, I placed enormous pressure on my son to finish all of the tasks sent to us by his teacher to a very high standard. I didn’t let him work independently or at his own pace but instead, I hovered over him and checked constantly that everything he did was correct. I was militant and showed my frustration when he didn’t understand everything in his first attempt. It made both my son and I resentful of the whole situation. Thankfully, this lockdown ended four weeks before the end of Term 2 and my son was able to return to school, much to the relief of both of us.
On reflecting about this experience after my son returned to school, and through talking about it with others, particularly my husband, I came to the realisation that the reason I had adopted this approach to home-schooling was largely due to the attitudes and beliefs I had developed during my upbringing. My parents, like many immigrants to New Zealand from the Pacific Islands, believed that education was the key to a prosperous and fulfilling future for their children, as advanced schooling was not something readily available to them in their homeland. My parents expected their children to always achieve at a high standard in education and nothing less was tolerated. Things that my parents perceived would distract from time spent on school homework were not part of my youth, such as having long hair that would require grooming and boyfriends. The fear of my parents’ disapproval if I failed to meet their expectations did make me a diligent and conscientious student and prepared me for many years of future study which has now led me to a fulfilling career. As this approach appeared to have worked for me, I believed the same expectations should apply to my son. However, this experience of home-schooling proved otherwise and I discovered that I needed to change my thinking!
About this time, my husband and I participated in a parenting course which initiated us having a passionate conversation about the priorities in life that we wished for our children. I believed that gaining a University degree was the top educational goal for them – again a throw-back to my upbringing. My husband had a different perspective, even though he had spent over 20 years working as a University academic. I came to agree with him that what is important for children is that they achieve to the best of their ability and reach their full potential in whatever they do, irrespective of any qualification they gain. Although gaining a university qualification is a worthy achievement, I realise now that I have to accept my children may not head along the path of a University education if this is not God’s plan for them. In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his step. Proverbs 16:9 (NIV). While I appreciate and value my upbringing, I have learnt that I need to accept that there may be better ways of parenting and bringing out the best in my children.
Revelation 1: I cannot turn my children into what I want them to be by forcing my own preconceptions onto them but instead trust that God will work in their lives to make them what He wants them to be.
I had now changed my thinking and came to understand that my role in home-schooling during lockdown was not just about making sure the boxes were ticked for the teacher to show that all tasks have been completed. It was also not about trying to impress the teacher with the child’s capability through tasks that were not performed solo and depend on parent’s input, as I had done with my son. I realised that this does not provide the teacher with a true reflection of a child’s ability – despite my longing for my son to be the best. My husband stressed to me some of the important principles of instruction that I should be implementing when home-schooling our son: (i) daily, weekly and monthly review of material, (ii) ask questions and check for student understanding, (iii) present new material using small steps, give worked examples, and provide support for difficult tasks, and (iv) guide student practice through supervision and feedback and then allow independent, monitored practice. (While I was supervising one of my son’s home-schooling, he was responsible for my other son’s lessons!).
In yet another discussion, my husband and I agreed that the educational goal for our children is for them to develop the ability to transfer what they already know to new situations, and also the skills that will enable them to live healthy and meaningful lives. These skills include successful problem solving and decision making, critical thinking, and building self-control and resilience. Fostering creativity, interpersonal skills and a sense of social responsibility is also important for my children. From talking with my husband, I realised that relying on rote learning and memorisation without understanding, as I had often done, is not beneficial for pupils as memory does fail when retrieval cues are absent. As a consequence of having to supervise home-schooling of my son during this period, I have now changed my view about the purpose of education.
Revelation 2: I believe that the purpose of education is to promote the development of a range of capabilities and competencies that my children will need to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.
The second Melbourne lockdown started in July and with it, another period of supervising home-schooling. This time, I felt that I could meet this challenge much more successfully. I decided to take the pressure off my son by not forcing him to continue with schoolwork when he showed that he needed a break. I felt that if my son was able to complete the school tasks to the best of his ability, then I accepted his performance.
I thought I had my beliefs and values about education sorted. I WAS WRONG! At the beginning of this period of home-schooling, I went to my son’s school to pick up his allocated readers. It was there that I realised that my son was not in the highest reading group in his class as his readers were in a different box. I suddenly felt both disappointed and upset. As my son wasn’t in the top reading group in his class, I felt that I had failed as a parent because I still possessed the belief that my parenting ability was reflected in my child’s academic success. Yet another misplaced belief developed during my childhood!!! I had fallen into the trap in believing that you must be the best and at the top of the social ladder and that if you are not, then you are a failure – a view strongly promoted in today’s society. I realised I needed to change this belief and again had an exhaustive discussion with my husband. The outcome was to ask my son’s teacher if he was reading at the level expected for his age, which his teacher informed me he was. This made me feel relieved and grateful.
From the experience of this second home-schooling during lockdown, I realised that I still had unrealistic expectations about learning and instead I need to be more accepting of my son’s current level of development. It highlighted to me that I need to accept that my child is unique and learns at his own pace. I recognised that I needed to believe that God has already laid out the plans for my son and that my role is to help my son fulfil his God-given potential in all areas of his life – spiritual, physical, mental, social and emotional well-being. Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of the day, I had holy plans for you: A prophet to the nations-that’s what I had in mind for you. Jeremiah 1:5 (The Message).
Unlike today’s society, which places the emphasis on becoming ranked number one, God looks at the heart and not the success of a person. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV).
I recently read a passage from Christian psychologist Dr James Dobson that spoke to my heart – “When the birth of a first child is imminent, the parents pray that he will be normal – that is average. But from that moment on, average will not be good enough for them. Their child must excel. He must succeed. He must triumph. He must be the first of his age to walk or talk or ride a tricycle. He must earn a stunning report card and amaze his teachers with his wit and wisdom. He must play in the little league, and later be quarterback or senior class president. His sister must be the cheerleader or soloist or the homecoming queen. Throughout the formative years, some parents give their children the same message day after day. “We’re counting on you to do something fantastic. Don’t disappoint us”. Unfortunately, exceptional children are just that – exceptions. Seldom does a 5-year-old memorise the King James Bible or play chess blindfolded or compose symphonies. The vast majority of our children are not dazzlingly brilliant. They’re just plain kids, with an oversized need to be loved and accepted as they are. Most parents have average kids. To expect more sets the stage for considerable disappointment for parents and puts unrealistic pressure on the younger generation.”
Revelation 3: I should not adopt society’s way of valuing people but instead use God’s standards for my children.
These periods of home-schooling during Melbourne’s lockdown, while inconvenient and not easy, have provided a valuable learning experience not only for my children but also for me. It reemphasised to me that God constantly works in our lives to refine us for the better. For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13 (NIV).