9 lessons from homeschooling my sisters

The day was Sunday the 15th of March; while I dropped my sister, the boarder, back to school the president announced the closure of all schools on account of COVID-19. We picked her books and returned home shooketh to the core. This is also the day I had planned to leave for South Africa to say my proper goodbye to Jozi and plan graduation. There was no more denying the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Normal was gone!

What followed was three weeks of fire baptism into the world of virtual learning. Being the only adult who was not earning my keep in the house 😂, I gladly took up the role of assisting my sisters with the transition. Actually gladly is an understatement! I dressed up every day, had assembly and asked them to call me Principal Odogwu (Odogwu because Burna is the O.G and is the Co-Founder of my imaginary chain of schools☺️). And if you are asking principal of what, don’t be disrespectful. Here’s an excerpt of our prospectus:

KT Home School is where your child should be. We have three students so far (stop laughing 🤪 and refer to all the proverbs and methalis about starting small) one in year 11, one in Grade 6 and the other in Grade 4. We embrace online teaching and have only the best teachers teaching your children. We use platforms such as Zoom, google classroom, MathWhizz, Education City and Edmodo to engage your children in 21st century learning😂.We just reopened for the last term of the academic year but we are admitting new students ‘cuz we bad like dat. Also we want the money and 🎶 your pikin sef e gass go school ooh! Signed, Wetin man go do, oh pardon, Principal Odogwu.

Anyway, through the process of helping my sisters, I have learnt/tested a few lessons that I will share below. Most of them apply to the grade 4 and 6 ones; the grade 11 one is too old for my antics😂. No, she just requires little supervision plus her IGCSE equivalent online assessments await her. Let’s get to it!

1. This is uncharted territory so it is okay to not be okay.

Neither my sisters nor I have experienced a pandemic before. Some days I cannot make it to assembly or the grade 4 has a headache all day or the the grade 6 has a million questions that have nothing to do with school AND IT IS OKAY! At first my productivity-centred self did not understand why we could not just get things done as per usual (insert all the tips on doing a million productive things with this season) and would beat myself or them over it. Then I remembered we are in a flipping pandemic. So sometimes we have assembly in bed and I let the youngin nap through her study session and assure the other one through all her questions. We also started talking about our feelings more, I even stuck up mosaic.eye’s feelings wheel on the notice board to help us with that. Other wellness practices we embraced (more than usual) include: praying, family bible study, playing, baking and yoga (via their P.E lessons).

2. We learn differently, rigidity won’t do.

I tended to teach the way I was taught and learnt especially in primary school. However, I soon realised that my experiences in class 4 and 6 were different from theirs. First of all, 8.4.4 and IGCSE are such different systems. Second of all, I thrive(d) in such rigid academic ways of learning. Yes, I was that kid in class asking the teacher to cancel P.E so that we can have an extra Math lesson😂. Lastly, different personalities and generations. All this factors meant I had to be more open to incorporating movement, play, games, experimentation and visuals in the way I taught in order to keep their interest and focus.

3. Routine is essential.

I believe that on weekdays they need: 10 hours of sleep, to shower and dress up for “school”, 20 minutes of assembly/meditation/focus before school, an hour of lunch and play, an hour and a half of play, an hour 15 minutes of tv/screen entertainment and 30 minutes of devotional or leisure reading. Weekends are flexible as long as there are two hours of study and the same 10 hours of sleep. They think I am harsh because of this but the mothers approve so nye nye nye nye🙃. I know there are ways this point might contradict the previous one but I think I am right, lol. But also back to lesson 1, it is not the end of the world if the structure is not followed. Protip: The second time I did the quarantine schedule I did it with them and discussed our reasonings, the result was more ownership. Now I don’t even have to remind anyone what they should be doing at the time.

4. Feedback is crucial and two-way.

Feedback both the constructive and positive or just consistent open communication is the foundation of successful homeschooling and big sistering. I caught myself ascribing to the disappointing (and root of many problems) belief that older means more right and superior. I was quick to disregard my younger sister’s opinions or thoughts. But when I stuck it out and began to listen more I realised most of the things they say actually make sense. Moreover some (maybe most) of their ideas are way better than mine *eats humble pie*. The truth is we have grown in different environments and generations and most times they have better solutions to their situations. I am learning as much from them as they are from me. And instead of feeling disrespected, I grow more and more proud of the kind of humans they are.

5. Disciplining is complex.

This is the part I confess (as requested by them) that I am a shouter, a smacker and a pincher especially when my often rigid structures ( read rules) are not followed. However, these ways of disciplining do not feel right. It could be my friend’s reasonable argument connecting domestic violence to instances of childhood physical punishment or the stories shared under #wedidnotturnoutokay. I also find myself having many internal debates when I am about to punish them for something as to why I might feel that my way is the right way. I think the tricky thing about discipline is that it involves enforcement of power and rank; there could be personal trauma there from my days as school cop (what we called captains). I think I need to journal more about this. But for now reducing entertainment time per wrongdoing is working although it is tedious. Also rewarding good behaviour with affirmations and chocolate works. Shouting still works faster though, eish! All you love over fear people- how do you do it? At the end of the day, all I want is for them to be responsible, respectful, loving and kind humans.

6. Setting a good example is an easy way to inspire behavioural change.

It is incredible how much faster my younger sisters learn from observation. I could tell them something a million times with no consequence but doing it myself works wonders. For example, I found that me sitting focused doing my own work has been more effective in helping them focus than reducing entertainment time. I am still working on this area especially because trying to be a good example to them also holds me accountable to many good habits that I want to take up. Habits such as reducing my screen time and consistently working on my reading and writing. I want to master this because issa win-win situation that is also easier said than done, hehe!

7. It is okay to cancel TikTok .

Even though you might get half a day of silent treatment, hehe! We had whole debates about how the grade 6 even though she turns 12 in 6 months must take down her TikTok account. We weighed the pros and cons. The pros being: the dances are fun and enjoyable; it is a way to keep in touch with their friends; it boosts creativity and learning ;and it helps them stay in touch with current trends and news. The cons being: takes too much time (almost addiction levels); no one can effectively supervise their engagement with the app in case of cyber bullying; most songs were vulgar and espoused bad values including sexism and violence; plus the age limit reinforced its unsuitability. In consultation with the mothers we decided that there shall be no posting on TikTok. I really felt woishe for them but it was also an exercise in letting go of all my people pleasing tendencies. I seek ways for them to keep contact with their friends though. Like I let them stay after their zoom calls end and their teachers leave so that they can chat with their classmates but maybe that isn’t enough. Suggestions are welcome.

8. Teamwork makes the dream work, recruit the household.

Somehow, I thought that as a principal I could do everything related to their learning – I don’t know why I was trying to be my own EoP. Even principals employ teachers! So I recruited everyone else in the house by suggesting different people that could help them when they asked me. The Grade 11 could help the Grade 6 with her computer science homework. The chef could help the grade 4 with her home economics assessment. The mother who loves to create could help with the art project and so on. And now that we are full house, my two university sisters were able to make it back home, we have more teachers – delightful!

9. Enjoy the bonding time.

This will be the memories! This is the time to strengthen the sisterhood bonds. All they seem to remember now is how harsh I am. However, I hope that in future they will remember how us figuring out improper fractions and repeating quizzes instilled a love for learning, confidence and excellence in them. I get to rub off all my positive values on them and they get to do the same. I know I will forever treasure these moments!

I hope you find my experience helpful in some way or another. Especially the elder siblings in the house who are also doubling as junior parents and homeschool teachers! Also welcoming all types of sharings and lessons from your experiences😊

Here’s the TikTok hand challenge to end it, courtesy of the grade 4: 👊🏻👍👎🖐🏻✌️🤞🏻👌🤙🏻🖖