It’s been a journey, but after eight whole weeks of helping my children to learn at home, I’ve come away with a few new skills myself. In summary, they can be described as:

  • Mulitasking is hard and I’m still not sure I can do it
  • Snacks are king and can be used to get results
  • You can get good at arithmetic, lose it, and get good at it again – even with a gap of 20 years

So in more detail, here are three things I couldn’t do in January that the last two months have taught me.


Answering two sets of questions at once


This was one of the things that gave me most stress the first time around. I can see why teachers stick so keenly to the “put your hand up if you want something” method, and I’ve only got two of them to manage. Have them both doing their Maths at the same time, and I run the risk of confusing myself and both of them too, by getting both answers wrong and delivered to the wrong child as well.


But this time, I’ve found a trick – get them to do different subjects at the same time. I find it much easier to flick my brain between the Year 5 and Year 2 level questions if they’re on different topics – so if one is doing English and needs help with finding new adjectives, I can do that, and still field a question about telling the time, which greatly lessens the risk of me giving a mixed fraction as an answer to the little one’s tally chart query – although I must confess this risk is still present!



How many reminders will this instruction need?


I can now accurately predict how many times I will need to tell the little one to do something before he will actually do it. The skill lies in assessing what he’s been asked to do, against how attractive it is to him to do it. If it’s “Find a pencil, please” we will need the initial instruction, with at least two follow up reminders. On hearing the first request, he will walk in the general direction of the pencils, then stop to inspect something on the coffee table.


First reminder required: “The pencil?” and he will take a few more steps, stoop to stroke the dog and maybe even throw a toy for him.




“Oh yes, I forgot.” Resignedly takes the final few steps to the table, picks up a pencil and promptly drops it.


But if it’s “Go and get yourself a snack”, the beeline to the kitchen couldn’t be straighter and clearer – so I will admit that I have started using the promise of biscuits as a reward.



Mental Arithmetic


This happened once before, so I don’t trust it to be a permanent skill, but after weeks of having sums fired at me while the older one works through his problems has given me arithmetic agility that I haven’t enjoyed since I was a student, watching Countdown most afternoons and becoming pleasingly adept at the 75 times table. This wore off when my graduate writing job ran inconveniently over Channel 4’s teatime schedule, and I soon fell out of practice – until now. I bet my Mum could even shoot me some of my trickiest times table sums – those ones that just wouldn’t stick when I was a child – and I would even get them right. 8×7? No problem – 56 (I think, so it’s probably lucky that I carry a calculator around in my phone).



I have a feeling that without practice, the sharpness of these skills will dull – and perhaps I don’t really need them any more (although the mental arithmetic is one I’d quite like to retain this time!). But it’s great to know that my brain can still learn and adapt when it needs to – even if it does take eight weeks to do it these days.

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