Sometimes cartoons ARE the answer: navigating parenthood in a time of remote learning
In the time it has taken me to write this sentence I have been asked to watch a dance, make a sandwich, find a pencil case, log in to an online learning task, but ‘not that one’ *insert exasperated sound here* locate actual learning task, draw two stars and remove a hair clip that found itself wedged in the throat of a toy dog.
Basically that sentence is the product of a morning’s work. I know I am not alone, some variation of this is playing out in homes around the world as parents and caregivers navigate new ways of working and schooling from home with small (or not-so-small) children.
It goes without saying that the past few months have been an enormous time of adaptation for all of us, but undoubtedly one of the biggest pivots has come from schools as they reimagine what learning can look like and how it can be delivered. As a result, the role of parents and carers in a young person’s schooling has been in the spotlight and at the forefront of much discussion.
Depending on our own lived experience of education, for many parents and carers, our view of what education should look and feel like may be at odds with what the young people in our lives are being asked to do or what we feel capable to support. More importantly, what exactly is it that we’re being asked to do? As far as I’m concerned, my role hasn’t changed, my role is still ‘parent’.
The way I see it, the incredible work that teachers have done putting together remote learning programs doesn’t suddenly throw me into the role of the teacher, it changes the level of involvement I have in the formal learning tasks my children undertake. Does framing it like this make providing that support or juggling working from home and parenting any easier? No. But it allows me to think about the role I am going to play alongside the teacher and my children.
More than ever we need to think about this as a team effort. Rather than trying to allocate the responsibility of learning to one or the other, parents, teachers and young people each have a role to play and this desire to label parents as teachers is not particularly helpful. If we view each member of this team as vital, it broadens our consideration of what is required to support and foster learning (not to mention challenges the idea that learning is something that only occurs in a formal school setting).
Even though I am an educator myself, I have limited knowledge of primary education and absolutely no idea what a seven year old should be learning, so the skills and expertise of the teachers at my daughter’s school to curate and deliver content and provide some structure is invaluable.
Some days my daughter is fully engaged in the school learning at home, others not so much, just as some days I am able to support that engagement more than others. As a result, I have gained insight into my child as a learner that I may never have been privy to otherwise.
Just the other morning my daughter was doing school work (or so I thought) when I realised that I could hear the distinct voices of everyone’s favourite animated underwater rescue squad, The Octonauts (if you don’t know them, trust me, they are your no.1 pick in any precarious sea-related incident). When I asked what she was doing, she told me she was watching the episode and writing down facts. At the end my daughter proudly came and read to me a report of all that she’d learned about the Everglades and showed me pictures she’d drawn of each of the animals that can be found there. This was not a school activity, it was certainly not set by me and it was definitely initiated by my daughter as an excuse to watch TV, however it made me realise that values that we regard highly, curiosity and an enthusiasm for learning, were on fine display. And it struck me that my role as a parent in this education puzzle is to foster that curiosity and that I have an opportunity to support my children to experience more autonomy in their learning during this time.
In adapting to new ways of doing things, there is a lot of trial and error. It is certainly the case in our remote learning journey. Just as the teachers at my daughter’s school are continuously trying new approaches and improving their remote learning model, parents and carers are on the same journey as we learn what kind of learners the young people in our lives are and the role they need us to play to best support them.
Sarah Fenton is an Education Consultant at the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA)