Oftentimes stress manifests from internal pressures, the pressure we place on ourselves to achieve things exactly as we believe they should be; a spotless house when we invite guests into our home (you know, when we are allowed to do so), an extremely competent child when it comes to home-schooling – Wait, did I say ‘home-schooling’?

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Victoria was one of the first states to take to ‘online learning;’ hence the terminology used by schools, teachers, politicians. Initially, the term ‘online learning’ felt like a spin-off from the actual reality – just as Scomo insists on reporters not using the ‘L’ word, the mere utterance of the word ‘Lockdown’ akin to saying ‘Voldemort’ in a Harry Potter film; utterly unthinkable.

Though it feels like a lockdown (especially bunkered down with 3 kids), looks like a lockdown (bare streets, quiet roads), sounds like a lockdown (excepting, of course, the few reasons we’re permitted to venture out); it’s definitely not a lockdown – Did I say ‘lockdown,’ I meant ‘that word’ as Scomo refers to it.

The term ‘online-learning’ feels equally tenuous. Our children are learning from home, accessing resources from home, establishing their workspace at home; BUT, this is not home-schooling. 

Unconvinced, I used the term ‘home-schooling’ during a Zoom chat with friends. Though learning from home seemed inevitable, this was before any official announcement was made, when most of us were still drifting somewhere between panic and denial.

‘I’m just trying to get my head around whether or not I’ll be home-schooling,’ I said, when asked how I was going. 

‘It’s not home-schooling,’ my friend corrected me, one of those extremely competent secondary school teachers who had been working tirelessly to prepare for the likely event of learning from home.

‘Right…’ I replied.

Having never made the decision to take a child out of main-stream education for the purpose of learning at home, and despite, being a teacher myself – I should have known better, given that I, personally, was not in the throes of designing curriculum or setting up online classrooms for my child – still, I was convinced that what we were about to embark could only be described as ‘home-schooling.’ But here’s why this is dangerous thinking.

I said at the beginning of this piece that a key driver of stress comes from our own set of unrealistic expectations. In the case of our children, sometimes our own undoing comes from the failure to recognise that, despite, perhaps, displaying similar character traits or physical attributes to us, they are, in fact, separate, living, breathing individuals who are working to make their own individual mark on the world.

Hovering over my grade-oner, intently watching videos posted by his teachers, pressing all the buttons on his device, later pointing out all of his spelling errors – while the other two young ones ran around the dining table squealing, yelling, crying – I was clearly was far too involved in the whole affair.

A common frustration among parents is the difficulty in getting children to listen. ‘If I have to tell you one more time…!’ we cry out of sheer frustration. But sometimes, especially when it comes to our own children, parents are the ones who need to be told.

At the end of a well-considered, encouraging message from our School Principal was the final statement, intended as a lingering thought to register with parents, ‘…you are not HOMESCHOOLING your children…you are not responsible for ‘delivering’ our curriculum!’ – A friendly communication, albeit with the capitalisation and exclamation mark deemed necessary.

Then came another reminder from my son, in between mother and son both apologising for expressing our frustrations at one another; ‘I can do this, Mum!’ my school-boy insisted as I begrudgingly released my hold over his device.

And then finally, came the diplomatic words from my son’s teacher said over video conference, I don’t remember the exact wording, only that they were the words I needed. I believe it was something about the necessity of assessing an authentic piece of work – You mean, you’re not assessing me?!

With my three-year-old hammering his half-empty yoghurt tub on the back door, imprinting yoghurt stamps along the glass, my one-year old bawling at my feet every time I attempted to put her down; finally, the message began to sink in. With my school-boy set up by the window (where I could still observe him from afar), ready to write his narrative, I gathered the two little ones as if conducting a necessary evacuation (which, in a way, it was) and set outside to play on the swings. It was there, I achieved the trifecta I was after; two, playful happy children, one focused, very mature little school-boy writing freely at his designated workspace.

Though it came as an epiphany to me; out of all the stakeholders invested in my child’s education, it turns out the only one who thought term 2 was to be conducted as ‘home-schooling’ was me.


I have never been the type of mum to become absorbed in crafts, not at the expense of getting in a mess. In our home, we do not have home-made shakers – plastic bottles filled with rice, or sensory stations – stacked tubs filled with sand, macaroni, sea shells or other wonderful sensory play. Save some Lego and a trainset, our toys are not housed according to theme or purpose. I haven’t the patience for sorting little tiny parts into corresponding plastic tubs. No child could possibly follow this system – not when one of the most frequently asked questions by my Year Seven students in their first term at high school was always which colour pen do I use?? 

So, while I admire those mums who provide an in-home kinder program, continually engaging their children in painting and water play and pipe-cleaners – those mums who encourage an inquiring mind, who do their best not to hurry along their child where a learning opportunity exists – allowing their pooch a good sniff before moving on to the next lamp post – for me, fun may come in many forms and it need not be messy. 

Thanks to the outsourcing of messy play at play group and play dates, it has always been easy to let myself off the hook. Neat, eh? Indeed, it was very neat. But now that the structures in which my children largely engaged in messy play are no longer permitted, I am adapting to a ‘new normal.’ 

Building a bank of activities, like a teacher’s toolbox (always a necessity for a Casual Relief Teacher), I’m screen-shotting children’s craft ideas for later use: home-made playdough, scavenger-hunts, obstacle courses, forts out of sheets. Not only am I engaging in messy play, I am actively seeking it out. 

What I didn’t realise, before COVID-19 – before my daily existence included frequent updates of the rising death toll, and the associated worrying of what this virus might mean for my family, society, and well… all of humanity – was that in limiting messy activities I was also limiting the ways in which I engage with my children more broadly; my imagination restricted by the bounds of neatness. 

I am aware that this sense of optimism I am now projecting may be fleeting, and is probably just a happy holiday from the fear and anxiety that most of us have been experiencing. And that still in school holiday mode, I am not yet feeling the pressure to ‘home-school.’ For me, these early days are simply about enjoying my children.

And so, things I did little of, I now do a lot. Outside, I push the two youngest ones on the swings, singing nursery rhymes and ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt.’ On the trampoline, all three little ones lie quietly, while I sing to them; a song we learnt at play group after which they all jump up full of life, ready to do it all again. I’m playing board games I haven’t played in forever, teaching my eldest son Monopoly whilst attempting to model how to lose gracefully – something I need a little more practice at, especially when losing to a six-year old. At the P.M.’s suggestion, I’m even giving puzzles a crack.

Now, more than ever, I am acutely aware of the need to embrace life’s distractions from the confusing mess of a world in which we now live; From my obsession in checking news media in an attempt to know more in a time when so much is unknown – our six-year-old groaning each time Scomo delivers yet another press release, ‘is Scott Morrison finished yet?’

But amongst all the noise in the bombardment of media, in all its various forms, there is one message that resonates for me. And that is, for our children’s generation, COVID-19 will be their defining moment in history; how we, as parents, chose to react will directly feed into how our children remember this time, forever. Though children are often more adaptable than most adults, it’s often surprising how much they take in.


I overheard my husband tucking in our boys, who both have a habit of using bedtime to engage in long-winded discussions, not uncommonly stringing out bedtime by asking life’s big questions. Tonight’s topic: COVID-19.

‘Will it go on forever? …Will it go on till I die?’ our six-year-old asked as a parting goodnight.

‘No,’ Daddy responded. ‘But it will feel like a really long time.’

Then our three-year-old, who is often in-tune with the thinking of mummy and daddy, gave his analysis of the situation. 

‘We can’t go to coffee-shops, or movies, or out to dinner…’ he said, reeling off the list. ‘No fun.’

 ‘That’s right, no going out for carrot cake…’ Daddy agreed, relaying his own favourite weekend activity, now relegated to a pastime.

But that, of course, is our silver-lining. That in this new draconian way of life where we are urged to stay at home for the very real and scarily fragile purpose of saving lives, we adapt. And in adapting we reconnect with the things that matter most; the playful, messy and surprisingly articulate little people that largely comprise our household.