Thousands of parents, grandparents and caregivers across the country have had to take a crash course in homeschooling in recent weeks.
James and Chiyoko Parrett of Eureka have had their two children in their kitchen when they used to be down the road at Eureka Public School, a campus of 30 students from kinder to year 6.
Majority of students accessing online education
School Principal Bill Dempster says that the majority of the students are accessing online education in one form or another. Through online platforms such as Google Classroom, Go Formative and Zoom, students are able to connect to online learning easily. For the few that are not able to, Bill says materials are sent home and teachers are making daily phone calls to continue learning.
In the Parrett household Haruki is 10 and currently in grade 5 and Ikumi is 7 and in grade 2 – Jame and Chiyoko say there are definitely challenges but they are enjoying it.
It’s not perfect by any stretch but we all still like each other, and I feel like we have all learnt about each other
‘I think generally homeschooling has been going pretty well for us,’ said James. ‘Chiyoko and I have been lucky that we have been able to find the time to home school. It’s Not perfect by any stretch but we all still like each other, and I feel like we have all learnt about each other.
James says one of the positive aspects has been seeing the kids learn and how they go about it as individuals. ‘There have been some days where it all goes bad but we have tried to be kind to everyone in those situations and maybe taken a break, or we’ve done something different. That doesn’t always work though.
Zoom a social meeting place
‘The kids have been dealing with it ok. Haruki has been able to interact with the other students via zoom and is more mature so has been able to adjust well. She is pretty motivated at school work (except the things she really doesn’t want to do) so that has all been ok.
We have been as honest as possible about what’s been going on in the world
‘Ikumi hasn’t had as many opportunities to interact with other students so he has found it harder. You can see the ups and downs in him. I think everyone has had ups and downs during this strange time. We have been as honest as possible about what’s been going on in the world.’
James says they have been trying to have a homeschooling day look like a regular day at school time-wise. The school has supplied a daily planner which has helped organise the day.
James feels that as the situation has been a new and demanding for everyone, especially teachers and the support staff at school, there have been no guidelines as to what is expected in the way of support from the school. ‘Every family may well feel different because of their personal situation but we feel that the support has been good.
Planning the day helps
‘The daily plan has really helped me as I like to have a reference point. All the school work has been getting to us either via the internet or been posted to us. Everyone is learning as to what works and what doesn’t. We are lucky that our kids go to a small school because the teachers have been able to try and communicate with everybody on a personal level.’
Jame says they have been receiving telephone calls every one to two days so the teachers can quickly catch up with the kids and the senior class have been having zoom meetings for group activities and to explain some things. ‘From a parents point of view, every time we have had a question or problem it has been responded to quickly. Again another plus for going to a small school. The school has also been pretty quick to inform us of any changes to policies and other things.
Every family has a different idea of how much screen time is too much but we are looking forward to having the kids back at school where there can be more of a mixture of activities away from the screen
Parents who like to limit screen time have also found the use of computer a large part of classes. ‘I feel that computers have been used a lot. The school has said that most of the work can be done on paper and sent in, but in our house, most of it has been done on the computer or iPad. Every family has a different idea of how much screen time is too much but we are looking forward to having the kids back at school where there can be more of a mixture of activities away from the screen.
The senior class has been having zoom meetings but the junior class hasn’t. ‘We did once and it was pretty chaotic.’
Harder for young students
James says young Ikumi gets distracted easily and also doesn’t like being taught by his parents. ‘I have seen the way he acts in class as opposed to homeschooling and he is much more focused at school,’ he said. ‘Haruki said to me last night “no offence but I’m really excited about going back to school”.’
Learning how to use and deliver lessons clearly and effectively online through a number of new platforms became a priority
Principal Dempster says that like most schools, the initial challenge for the school was to ensure they could transition classroom programs online in a manner that was easily understood by both students and parents. ‘Learning how to use and deliver lessons clearly and effectively online through a number of new platforms became a priority.
‘The staff at Eureka Public School have worked hard during this time to deliver learning that caters for a range of students needs from those that are only capable of small amounts of the work each day to others who require more independent complex tasks. When a student runs into difficulty or becomes stuck it feedback from a parent or a teacher at school might not be instant, which has been a challenge for some of our students.
Regular contact between staff and families helps
Mr Dempster says that early on the school decided it would contact all students on a daily basis through phone calls or Zoom video sessions. ‘This has helped us keep a close eye on all of our students to help with questions about the work that has been set.
‘After initial conversations with all families, it was important that parents and teachers adjusted their expectations of what students were able to achieve at home on a case by case basis and that adding to the pressure of what was happening around us would be counter-intuitive. Once the new expectations were in place we found the online learning ran a lot smoother.
There are some benefits to focusing on specific areas for student learning however nothing compares to face to face teaching
‘There are some benefits to focusing on specific areas for student learning however nothing compares to face to face teaching. Not being able to be there to motivate and guide our students has been a challenge but we have been impressed with how well they have adjusted to working from home and believe they will all have developed their independent work habits as a result of all of this.
Initially students enjoyed the novelty
Mr Dempster says that initially students really enjoyed the novelty of what was happening. ‘Many in the senior classroom have experience with the platforms we are using and so were confident working in the online space already.
‘The students in my class have enjoyed the opportunity to make a number of videos to demonstrate their learning at home, we have had a number of fun challenges such as create a famous artwork from old clothes to designing an earthquake-proof structure using jelly, toothpicks and marshmallows.
‘We have held a class meeting on Friday mornings as a way to catch up but I think most would like to have an opportunity to socialise with their friends face to face if they could.’
Some have thrived in this environment having more freedom and flexibility to complete tasks and this has given parents the opportunity to become more involved in their child’s learning. Others have found motivating their children to complete work a challenge
Mr Dempster says that all in all, families are coping very well considering. ‘Some have thrived in this environment having more freedom and flexibility to complete tasks and this has given parents the opportunity to become more involved in their child’s learning. Others have found motivating their children to complete work a challenge.
‘We know that some families have lost work and have had to scramble to bring money into their household which, understandably has taken priority above all else.
‘Having set time during the day to engage in online learning seems to be common in most households as well as completing the more time-intensive work such as literacy and numeracy in the morning before completing other work in the afternoon.
Focus on literacy and numeracy
Mr Dempster says the younger students at the school and their parents have appreciated the flexibility of working with the printed hard copy lessons as well as being able to work in the online environment. ‘Most families have focused mainly on literacy and numeracy tasks which has been great to see and have dipped in and out of other creative activities when possible.
In terms of the work set, all of our younger students have needed a lot of parent supervision and guidance which we have been very grateful for
‘We have had good feedback from parents and students who have been keen to share work through Google classroom. In terms of the work set, all of our younger students have needed a lot of parent supervision and guidance which we have been very grateful for.
Mr Dempster says it is very important that everyone acknowledges the hard work and dedication the school community that has put in over this time. ‘There have been a lot of extra hours put in from cleaners at school, teachers learning new ways to deliver lessons and from parents who have had to juggle work commitment with learning at home.
‘It is amazing to see people coming together in difficult circumstances and I think in the long run we will be much appreciative from having done so.’
It can be frustrating
James says he has leant that he’s not the most patient person in the world and has felt frustrated at times. ‘Chiyoko is a lot more relaxed than me so maybe as a team we work well together. Again we are very lucky that we haven’t had lots of other pressures on our family during this time. It’s a bad situation for everybody in the world and we are really lucky to be living where we live. In saying that, neither of us will be changing our occupations to teaching anytime soon. And we love our kids, but we might do a little dance when they go back to school.
It’s a bad situation for everybody in the world and we are really lucky to be living where we live. In saying that, neither of us will be changing our occupations to teaching anytime soon
James says by far the worst part of homeschooling is the kids missing their friends. ‘The social interaction at school is one of the most important things about education.
‘Nothing beats being able to run around with your friends. The only small plus is Haruki and Ikumi have gotten along a little better and depended on each other more.’
Teachers should be respected more
And the couple’s opinion of teachers? James says being able to listen to two-plus kids at the same time, set them all tasks and remain calm during all that is a skill. ‘Our teachers are the best and we love them and the hard work they do. Teachers should be respected more’.
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