Academics and Homeschooling: Initial Notes During COVID-19

I never thought I would have to think seriously about homeschooling. To me as an academic, feminist and parent with kids in the public-school system in Norway, that has always seemed very fringe and also enormously demanding. In any event, here we are, universities and schools in Norway are closed, and I am eating humble pie. I am in awe of anyone who can do this well! On top of that, household chores double when everyone is home and in addition two parents are supposed to work for 15 hours a day. While many academics work across many time zones and the absence of teaching and travelling might actually free up a bit of time, this is challenging.

Photo: Kristin Bergtora Sandvik

My partner and I have devised a well-meaning and comprehensive scheme to organize #1, 2 and 3, who are all primary-school age. So far, some things have worked and others not. I have quickly and deservedly been demoted from Headmaster to assistant TA (explained below). We (parents) are ambivalent about the merits of popular participation in deciding the daily schedule. I thought I would be a tad more progressive in that department. Conversations have been had with self about keeping own voice down. Kids miss their friends. Kids are amazing.

It is hard for everyone not to get anxious. Having humanitarian emergencies as my field of research, I am well aware that this is not one right here and right now. At the same time, this is uncharted territory. We don’t know how long this is going to last, and how our families will be impacted. What we do know is that this will go on for a couple of weeks, at least. Knowing that other countries are going to close schools in the coming days, here are my notes so far:

  1. In the morning: Stick to normal routines but have better breakfasts. Last week, we learnt that we as adults should get dressed, fix our hair and not work from our untidied beds. Kids also need to do the same. This involves arriving at a clean desk in the morning.
  2. Go for a walk! Even if it’s raining! While the overall enthusiasm for having to go for a walk at 7:30 AM might be low, they need to get some air and move about. So do you.
  3. Most schools will swiftly come up with digital routines. It’s important that daily life is tailored to these routines but also that you help out with ringing the bell. Literally (this is where I got demoted – after forgetting to formally close their English session because I was selfishly engrossed in writing a blog post). Provide proper breaks. Preferable outside. Remember snacks.
  4. You will and should play Lego. The kids play a lot at school. To help them spend that mental energy, engage. Quaint stuff from your childhood might merit revisiting: I have now parented for a decade-plus without ever playing with marbles. Intermittently, I have looked at the dusty bag with a guilty conscience. I used to be a marbles hoarder in primary school. Opportunity beckons.
  5. Responsibilize everyone for cleaning up their mess, from tidying beds to cleaning up their plates, and if they are older, vacuuming and taking out the trash and so forth. This is going to be hard. But if there is more to do, everyone needs to do more. Consider drawing from the capitalist toolbox and offer (more) incentives. Some four-year-olds will be better at folding towels than you – believe me.
  6. They – the kids – need to get physically exhausted. Set aside 90 minutes every afternoon to do something outside.
  7. Although I knew this, it turns out that screen time right before bed is still not a good idea. Audiobooks are a great combination with arts and crafts. I am now working towards Easter decorations (cute bunny, eggs, chickens, hens, the Easter bunny MONSTER, Easter bunny monster paper macheé pinata, funny trolldeig chicken), Easter being the new Halloween or Christmas.
  8. Have the kids call (older) relatives every day.
  9. Divide the workday with your partner and stick to that division. Ideally, the person on the first shift gets up earlier. Co-schedule your Zoom and Skype sessions. BUT: accept that nobody is going to work a full day. Settle for a couple of effective hours each and be grateful to each other for making it happen.
  10. Finally: be nice to yourself! In the academic department, make ridiculous lists of tasks that are VERY low-hanging fruit. I have cleaned most of my desk. With soap. I have also finally chucked out a bunch of articles I hoarded at the Harvard Law School copying center in the basement of HLS in 2004, articles I was going to read once I had finished my PhD work (2008). I am thinking the chucking represents some kind of positive act of self-awareness yet to be defined. I have made another list of outstanding peer reviews I will do next week (promise!).

Also, seriousness in the self-care department cannot be emphasized enough: Wiggle your toes. (Try. You might be surprised to discover you no longer can. Fix that.) Attempt yoga! I know that a lot of people adore Adriane – I like Erin Sampson for her no-nonsense style. However, now some amazing Norway-based yoga teachers are offering online courses. Oslo-based Lindsay Eisinger, AKA @yogaforquarantine on Instagram, is streaming live classes on weekdays, and the iYoga studio has started releasing classes in Norwegian.

All of this advice is given with the caveat that I am living in Norway, a country which has the preexisting infrastructure to make a COVID-19 lock-down feasible for most of its citizens, including economic support to parents. Additionally, I write from a two-parent household, and with extraordinary support from my employers at PRIO and the University of Oslo.

Still, I hope some of what I write here can be helpful to parents in Norway and beyond.

Stay well.

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