Advice from a Primary School Principal

We first published this article from a primary school principal on home schooling in April 2020 during the first lockdown. It is just as relevant now as it was back in April.

I’m seeing a lot of threads online around managing home-schooling while working from home and other topics on the same general theme, so I wanted to just given a schools perspective on it all and answer some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). A lot of parents are feeling stressed, overwhelmed and under pressure trying to juggle home-schooling and work. I hope this can help with that somewhat.


A few points to note first:

1) This is not home-schooling. This is an unprecedented emergency situation impacting the whole world. Let’s keep perspective. Home-schooling is a choice, where you considered, planned for it and you are your child’s school teacher in whatever form you choose. This current situation is, at best, distance learning. In reality, it’s everyone trying to separate their bums from their elbows because none of us know what we’re doing and what’s right and wrong here.

2) You are, and always have been, your child’s primary educator. If you decide that your child isn’t going to engage with anything sent home and is going to spend the entire period playing in the dirt, or baking, or watching TV, that is your choice. That is your right. There is nothing to stress or feel guilty about.

3) It is absolutely not possible to facilitate distance learning with a primary aged child and work from home at the same time. The very idea is nonsense. If you’re trying to do that, stop now. You can certainly have activities where your child learns, but your focus is your job, and survival. Again, unprecedented. Stop trying to be superheroes.


So, a few FAQs:

My school has sent home lots of physical work. Pages and pages, hours and hours. How am I supposed to get through it all?!

You’re not, don’t try. Your child’s teacher spent a couple of hours in utter panic gathering things to send home so they could say they did their best and there weren’t a lot if complaints that enough didn’t go home. It’s not a competition, or a race, it’s unlikely the teacher will even manage to look at it all.

My school keeps sending home links and emails with more work. How do I make it stop?

See above. These are suggestions and ideas because the school is worried it’ll be said they’re not offering enough. Use them if they suit you, don’t if they don’t. If you’re getting stressed, stop opening the emails. No one will know!

X in my child’s class has everything done and we’ve barely started. Will they fall behind?

Even if everything were equal in terms of support and time and number of kids etc (which it’s not) kids learn at different rates. In the class there’s a wide range of levels in all subjects, there’s different paces and there are many kids working on differentiated levels of work. It’s almost impossible for teachers to differentiate at the moment, so you have to do it.

Your child will not fall behind. This is all revision and reminder work. If kids could learn new concepts without specific teaching, we wouldn’t need teachers. They will cover all of this again, multiple times.

I’m not doing any work with my kids. All their doing is Lego, cooking and playing outside.

All of this is learning. Very valuable learning. Give yourself and them a break.

How can I get three different lots of work done with 3 different kids of different ages?

You can’t, stop trying. If they’re old enough, try to get them to do little bits independently. Otherwise try to do something they can all engage with, reading a story together, some free writing, baking etc.

So what’s the bare minimum you’d expect?

For me, survival mode. I won’t pretend that may be true of all teachers, but you know what, if they can’t have perspective in a time like this then I wouldn’t overly worry about it.

– My ideal for my kids in our school?

  • A bit of reading every day (independent, reading to them, or via audiobook etc).
  • Some free writing now and then. If they’ll keep a diary or something, great. If not, would they draw a comic?
  • Practical hands on maths. Be that via cooking, cleaning, outside, or some maths games physical or digital.
  • Some fine motor work. Lego, cutting, playdough, tidying up small toys.
  • Physical exercise everyday
  • Some art/music where possible through the week. Doesn’t need to be guided.
  • Stretch goal, if old enough getting them to independently work on a project is great for keeping brains ticking over. Get them researching in a book or online and putting together something to present to you or family.
  • If younger, lots of imaginative free play, the more independent the better.

You are doing enough. You are loving your kids and supporting them through a difficult time. Look after yourself. Minimising stress is absolutely vital in a time like this for mental health. Don’t let this be something that stresses you. Only you can control that by accepting it is in your circle of control, you are the primary educator and this is all your call.

Caitriona Golden is Principal of Ennis Education Together Primary School. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support organisations.