Suddenly Homeschooling

Remote schooling advice for parents – Catherine Hallissey Psychologist speaks to Patricia Messenger C103

Mentioned in the interview: ‘How to Homeschool without Losing your Mind’ online workshop for parents


A homeschooling divide is emerging across the country according to a survey conducted by the Irish independent, which showed that some online classes run just two times a week while other pupils are tackling a full timetable. Joining me with words of advice for parents who are homeschooling is Catherine Hallissey, child psychologist, from Kinsale. Good morning to you Catherine.

Good morning Patricia.

And you're welcome to the programme. Do some children take to remote learning like a duck to water while others simply just can't get it at all?

That's exactly it. There were so many factors at play as to whether your child will thrive or really struggle with this remote learning that we're all have been forced into right now.

You've got personal temperament. Some children are so extrovert and they need to learn in the group and other children are really introverted and just thrive with the silence and the self paced learning at home.

So there's some children actually benefiting from it?

There are definitely are. Many children that I was seeing in my clinic around school-related anxiety are actually thriving at home although I don't know what way it will be when it's time for them to go back to school. But lots of them are saying it's great. But to be honest, the vast majority of families that I'm speaking to are really, really struggling, parents and children alike.

Yeah, we've had one mother contact us already to say that her eight year old daughter is becoming, is going into herself is how she's described it – she's missing her teacher and she's missing her friends and being in the school environment.

Yeah. We all know that education, that the academic education, is only one part of what happens in school. We've got the hidden curriculum, how children interact with one another and play, and even the relationship that they have with staff, the school culture. So we're taking away this huge part of children's lives and then expecting them to just slot right into being able to work by themselves without their teacher explaining, being able to go to their teacher, to ask questions for clarification, and even getting that in the moment, corrective feedback that they get in school.

This is the second time for remote learning. Catherine, generally speaking, has it improved from the school point of view and what's coming to the children at home, has that improved over the first lockdown?

There's been a dramatic improvement. And I think it's really important that we all acknowledge the flexibility and the adaptability that still many schools and teachers have shown, the special education support teachers are just doing phenomenal work, the SNAs are doing phenomenal work. And so many of the class teachers have stepped up. And what that shows me is that even with all of that work that schools and teachers and SNAs are doing, that the children are still struggling and families are still struggling.

Yeah. And then I suppose there are, as I mentioned, that survey from the Irish independent, some schools are offering a lot online and that's obviously going to have an impact as well on the homeschooling, depending on how much you're getting from the school.

It is. And, you know, whenever I do pieces like this in the media, people often contact me afterwards in a panic worried that their children are going to fall behind compared to other schools. So for any parents listening now, I would ask you just to really, really hear what I was saying: these few months aren't going to make or break your child's education.

Yes, of course, some children do really well and they might be getting two live classes a day or more. And another child might only be getting one social class a week, but this is just where we are. And there are so many things that you can do to teach your child right now, outside of the books. So, you know, I suppose the most important thing is just really making sure that children are getting time outside and moving their bodies as much as possible. I'm always thinking about how to protect their overall wellbeing, their psychological, mental health and your health as a family. So time outside, time together as a family that's stress-free, making sure that the home learning doesn't take over the entire day. You want some connection time, you want some laughs. These are things that we know that are really protective for mental health. And even if you got your kids reading for a minimum of 20 minutes a day, that would be really, really good. So, if you do nothing else, do that!

Yeah. And Elizabeth, a mom of a 10 year old little boy, he was in tears last night, the amount of work that's coming from the school, she feels that he's really under pressure at the moment. Yesterday he was so upset, she just told him to stop and he didn't need to finish the work, and she's wondering now, was that the correct thing to do?

I think it's really important that we tune into what our children are showing us. So we've got to recognize we all have off-days. And then, so you can have an off-day and then think about what do I need to do tomorrow to set my child up for success?

This is exactly what I'm going to be covering in my workshop next week. I'm doing a workshop for parents, it's low cost. I've kept it really accessible, it's just €7. And talking about how to tune into whether your child is just trying it on and trying to get out of work or whether they actually really, really need a break.

Now, I would also suggest that you ask your teacher to give you an estimate of the amount of time the task should take, and then have that mentally in your head. And if your child is spending way more over and above that then it needs to be addressed. It could be that you look at how can you change the environment – educe distractions, increase concentration. It could be that you have a chat with the teacher and say, look, I've been tracking how long it takes, this is what's happening, what should we do?

Yeah. And teachers are, are, you know, playing a blinder. They really are. You know, they're interacting with parents and they will want to hear from you if your child is feeling under pressure.

That's so important. I was a primary teacher myself, many years ago. And you get into the profession because you have this passion for helping children and families. So, I can guarantee you, your teacher, your child's teacher will want to hear from you if there's a problem, especially if you approach it in the form of, okay, this is what's happening, what can I do? Because you're acknowledging the teacher's expertise. They're used to how they learn in class. And we also need to remember that when they're in the classroom, teachers differentiate the tasks. So some child might be very able and they're given more advanced work and some other child might have skills yet to develop and they might be working on core tasks. Whereas usually what's happening now, the information or the tasks that are coming out are set for the entire class. So you might need to negotiate that with your teacher. And really just keeping those lines of communication open rather than saying, actually we're not doing this at all.

Okay. Talk to me now and offer advice to parents who are working from home full time as well. That can be extremely difficult to try to keep an eye on the homeschooling and trying to do their job remotely.

Very much so it's the position I'm in myself. So, what I would suggest every family does is first thing, you've got to think about your priorities. So one of the most important things for the children is that you keep your job. So you've got to be able to do your job. You can't do everything. So think about what are the priority tasks. So this is where you talk to the teacher and say, look, I have this amount of time, what's the most important thing for me work to work on. And I would suggest for a primary school child, it's reading and maths, but you can talk to your child's teacher about that. And, we've really got to give ourselves a bit of grace about this.

The second thing is, see if you have any flexibility within your job. So, for example, I get up early and I do work ideally between 6:30am and 8am, and I get some work done then, and then I can devote time to getting kids ready and getting them set up with their learning and then getting back to my work. And, you know, I may do some in the evening if, if it's time sensitive.

Yeah. It's planning your day. And then somebody is asking about younger children, two younger, two children under two in the household, how do you stop the distractions?

Yeah. So setting up your home, I'll be covering that in depth on Tuesday. So what I suggest you do is go and do a walk through your home and see if where are there spaces that could be converted into distraction-free spaces. So for example, I have a little corner in my bedroom and I have a small table put in there. So I have one son who's 8, and he finds it very hard to do his maths with noise going on with five kids in the house here. So he comes and does his maths here. My young, my senior infant, she has a small table in my home office and hers takes so long, she can go in there between 8am and 9am in the morning and get her done there.

So, it's just thinking about timing, location, and then setting the younger children with activities as well to keep them busy, a busy bag or a busy box. And just really coming up with a list of things, this is where planning and advance will really help you. If you try and do it on the fly, there'll be tears and not just from the kids!

And as parents give yourself a break as well. You're not, you know, none of us are Superman or superwoman.

No, this is a crisis. So what I would suggest you do is if your best friend came to with this problem, what advice would you give them? You would probably say, look, you're doing the best you can, it's all you can do. This is going to pass. We will all get through it and it's not going to make or break their education. Whereas you do need to keep your job if at all possible. And you need to keep your own mental health intact and do your best around your children's overall well-being and not this sole focus on academics.

Well done. Well done. Great advice. And how can people log on to your workshop?

So I'm offering this to my email list first, just, there's been a huge number who have registered their interest. I'll also put the details on my Facebook page and I actually have a post up on my Facebook page saying ‘What do you want me to cover in the workshop?' So everyone's putting up their questions and then I'm putting them into the workshop

And good luck with it Catherine and thank you for taking time out of your very busy day to talk to us today. Really enjoyed that. That is Catherine Hallissey, who is a child psychologist from Kinsale. If you want to get involved in that workshop, it just might be the difference between you're panicking at the moment and the sense of mania and people thinking I can't do it all is to give yourself a break as well. I think that is so, so important.

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