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"The mental load is huge." What it’s really like to home school a five-year-old.

As many parents around Australia juggle the demands of remote learning while working and running households, parents of the youngest school-age kids have a particularly heavy load.

In a recent article by Professors Rosalind Dixon and Richard Holden, the duo expressed the opinion that it should be kindergarten (prep or reception) aged kids, rather than year 12 students, that receive back-to-school priority from state governments.

The pair wrote that those early foundational skills of reading and writing are not only the building blocks for lifelong education, but incredibly time-consuming and difficult to teach for stressed out, locked-down parents.

Watch: The horoscopes home-schooling their kids. Post continues below.


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Mamamia spoke to three mums to find out what remote learning is really like with kindergarteners, as well as a primary school teacher, for her opinion on how parents can stay sane with the kids at home.

Sarah, mum-of-three and marketing manager from Melbourne.

Mother-of-three Sarah has been homeschooling her eldest son on and off all year, while working part-time and caring for her two younger children.

"I am constantly oscillating between all three kids and it’s pretty intense," Sarah said.

"My partner works out of the house from 5.30am until 5.30pm, so I’m very busy. Thankfully, my son Damien’s school has been providing a formal schedule each day, which helps," she added.

"Damien’s day usually starts at 9am with an online class meeting, then he might get put into a group to do reading and writing exercises. I have to sit with him the whole time so it can be madness as the other two kids need me too."

Sarah says that she takes all three children outside for an activity at least once a day and that she has to do most of her work as a marketing manager at night once the kids are in bed.

"Everyone is doing it tough right now and while I know we’ve been through it before, it’s not easy. Kids are resilient but I feel sorry for them with all the stopping and starting of their school learning," she said.

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"Damien’s teacher is great, and he’s working well at home, but he has a tendency towards shyness and I worry about how so much time away from his friends has affected him.

"I have to be positive and stay strong for them all. Someone has to be their constant safe place right now when there is so much uncertainty in their world."

Kristy, mum-of-two and business owner from Newcastle.

Mum-of-two Kristy has only recently started homeschooling her eldest son, five-year-old Archer, while caring for two-year-old Flynn and running her business.

"At the moment, we’re surviving," Kristy said.

"My husband Simon is an engineer and mostly works from home, so at least we can tag-team with the kids during the day. He works from 6am to 9.30am while I get the kids ready and then he takes over from 9.30am so I can have my morning team meeting. We juggle the afternoons and then both carry on working once the kids are in bed."

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Kristy believes her school is doing a great job in providing materials, but that it has involved up to six hours a day of school work.

"We get sent about 14 tasks for Archer to do each day, that includes him doing some focussed learning and then one of us photographing it for submission. While he seems to enjoy lockdown and the time he spends with us at home, I feel anxious trying to fit so many things into each day," she said.

"In the short term, we can handle it but I’m no teacher – so in the long term, maybe not?"

Emma, mum-of-three and part-time HR professional from Sydney.

Emma, a mum-of-three, is homeschooling her five-year-old son Tommy and his older brother Harvey, while caring for one-year-old Hugo and working three days per week.

"I am trying my best and I have asked the teachers what is the absolute minimum I can do," Emma said.

"Some days we go along great and the boys are good, and other days I can’t get them to do much at all. I worry most about Harvey who really misses his friends and all the social interaction. Some of the things he is learning are quite complex too and I worry I am teaching it wrong and that he isn’t understanding it," she continued.

"We focus mostly on the basics of reading, writing and maths and then we try to get outdoors twice each day for a scoot, or a bush walk which helps all of us."

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After almost eight weeks in lockdown and no end in sight, Emma has stopped watching the news and is wondering about how much longer she can manage.  

"My husband works in construction and his stress relates to being out in the community. My stress is about being at home. I wake up and wonder, how am I going to get through today?" she said.

"I am expected to be the kids' parent, teacher, friend and extended family member and I am constantly trying to meet their needs. The mental load that comes with that is huge."

Miss Crawford*, teacher from Newcastle

Miss Crawford knows that many parents are finding it tough right now. 

"I don’t have kids, but my teacher friends that do are really struggling with the juggle of being a class teacher, a parent, and trying to help their own children with online learning," she said.

"I say to parents that they just need to do what they can. Then take breaks when needed. For little kids, a couple of hours maximum each day is totally fine."

She says she spends a lot of time reassuring parents and in particular, mums, that they are doing okay.

"I tell them that at age five, kids' attention spans only last for about five minutes. Their brains have not developed to sit still for long periods of time and that is okay – in fact it is normal."

Miss Crawford believes that remote learning doesn’t need to be all worksheets and Zoom classes either.

"There is so much evidence now for play-based learning coming out of the UK and that means things like having fun with play-dough to help with developing fine motor skills," she said.

"I also advise incorporating learning and teaching into the activities you are already doing at home. For example, if you are having peas for dinner, maybe they can count the peas. If you are already reading a nightly story at bedtime, then that counts as some reading time.

"Parents are not teachers and the ongoing child/parent relationship is much more important than their role as a temporary teacher."

*While the teacher is known to Mamamia, her name has been changed for privacy reasons.

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Feature Image: Getty.