Cork mums have mixed emotions as their children return to the classroom

We asked Cork mothers how they are feeling as they prepare their children for the return to the classroom
Cork mums have mixed emotions as their children return to the classroom

"I am trying to push the thoughts of the possibility that the kids may get this awful virus out of my head. I don’t want to stop them doing things or taking risks as they grow and learn — how else can they grow and learn?" says Clodagh King.

Clodagh King, Carrigaline, mum of two

This time last year, my first born was starting school. We were awash with emotions and pride looking at our handsome young man heading off on his next big adventure.

His next big adventure was, as everyone else’s was, cut short and in a matter of days we were all wondering if this pandemic was an indicator of the end of the world.

As it happens, it was. It was the end of the small beautiful world our little children had created.

In the first few months of starting school, Shay had worked so hard. He was doing well with his schoolwork and had made some really lovely friends. The things I had worried about at the start of the school year seemed infantile and were long forgotten — more or less — and now the uncertainty that ensued was not about how well he would do at school socially and ‘academically’, but in what way was I about to undo all the good work Miss O’Leary had done!

In my infinite wisdom, my little girl Daisy had moved pre-school to be better prepared for her adventure to big school too, and she hadn’t even had a chance to warm her seat before the confusion started.

Home-school — my worst nightmare. An extra way for me to permanently scar my children!

It was clear from the outset that this was not going to be my forte. I invested heavily in CBeebies magazines and Twinkle for ‘fun’ ways to teach my children. I subscribed to various YouTube channels and downloaded apps that I was going to use to make sure neither Shay nor Daisy would go ‘backwards’. I was adamant that I was going to ensure their educational wellbeing was firmly looked after and I was going to be a champion of home-schooling.

As I said, this was not my forte and while I thought I should persist purely because all the other parents appeared to be excelling — the proof was in the endless Facebook stories and Instagram posts — our hearts weren’t really in it.

Shay and Daisy Molloy, getting ready to go back to school.
Shay and Daisy Molloy, getting ready to go back to school.

We started off well. The kids brought school bags and lunches to the sitting room, we had our ‘sos beag’ and playtime, but the shine wore off pretty quickly.

While other parents were seemingly progressing through the assigned homework and not tearing their hair out, I felt I was beginning to fail miserably. My poor children were now going to become illiterate and wouldn’t be able to count beyond five because I can’t teach them their left from their right hand!

Here we are now, ‘a new dawn’ as they say, and we have renewed hope. Sort of. We are waiting until the last minute to buy uniforms and shoes, books are bought and covered, haircuts are scheduled and at the back of everyone’s mind are the questions: Are they really going back to school? How long will they be there for? How will we manage when the kids get their September snots?

We are in a lucky position in our house as I am a stay at home mum. We made this decision following some issues with childcare before Shay started school last year. This has saved us as a family immensely during the pandemic.

We didn’t have the same concerns as some of our friends who had to juggle working from home, home school, and trying to stay sane and for that I am grateful.

Now the start of the school year is in sight, I am selfishly thinking of the shine that was rubbed off for the Junior Infants of last year. There was no class photo, no sports day, no awards. Friendships that were being formed had been abandoned. We won’t get that back. Daisy, my little girl is starting in Junior Infants — there was no graduation from preschool, Teddy bears picnic, book day or induction morning for them. There’ll be no playing in the playground on her first day or walking her into class by the hand to her new school and classroom.

It is the same for all the other beautiful children starting out on their next big adventure. My heart is broken for them.

The build-up of excitement you normally get is more a deep sense of anxiety as to how things will go. How are the teachers to manage? How will the kids fair in this stranger place?

Because the children are resilient and know nothing else now, they will be fine. Of course they will. I fear for them though as our anxieties transfer and rob them of carefree school days.

I am paranoid my thermometer isn’t working properly instead of being concerned if we’ve enough stationary and if their school bags are nice enough. I am keenly ensuring they know how to apply hand sanitiser properly and when they should put it on, instead of making sure Daisy can zip up her coat for playing in the yard. Will they be playing in the yard?

Shay and Daisy Molloy, Carrigaline.
Shay and Daisy Molloy, Carrigaline.

We are cautioning them incessantly about keeping distance from people and their imaginary games now consist of a large red dinosaur called Coronasaurus, and the Sylvanian Families town they built is now desolate and destroyed as everyone stays in their houses and can’t leave for fear of being killed by this deadly dino!

I am excited for them to be going back to school. Not just because I want to meet and have coffee with the other mums, but because these children need to know and remember what life was like pre-Covid19.

There’s a large part of me trying not to rejoice at the prospect of having time to myself at last — I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. But the larger part of me is preparing for the fact that homeschool may be in our not so distant future.

I am trying to push the thoughts of the possibility that the kids may get this awful virus out of my head. I don’t want to stop them doing things or taking risks as they grow and learn — how else can they grow and learn?

I imagine us all exhaling just a little bit more as each day goes by. The parents will nod and smile at each other and say: ‘It’s awful, isn’t it?!’ for the first week and eventually we’ll start talking to each other in person rather than via WhatsApp. By mid-term, if we’re still on the long and windy road out of lockdown, there might even be a playdate or two.

At the back of everyone’s mind are the questions: Are they really going back to school? How long will they be there for? How will we manage when the kids get their September snots?

Cammy Harley from Bantry.Picture: David Keane
Cammy Harley from Bantry.Picture: David Keane

Cammy Harley, mum of four, West Cork

My son has just finished Leaving Cert and is waiting to hear about the very late CAO offers, I have a daughter going into 5th year, a daughter going into Junior Cert and my youngest daughter is starting first year.

I have mixed feelings about the kiddies going back to school this September. Usually, by the end of a summer, I find that there is a part of me which is looking forward to the re-introduction of some kind of routine. In our house, when the kids go back to school, there seems to be more structure to our weeks, as if our lives fit into more productive parameters. Bed times are more regular, meals are more planned, time is managed, and so much seems to get done in a day.

I have often used September (and the new academic year) as a time of re-invention for myself — with the children safely tucked away in their centres of education, I have found it’s a great time for starting a new course, or taking out a gym membership, eating healthier, or doing something totally different in those mornings that suddenly open up with lashings of child-free time.

But this year I feel different about it. And my hesitation is not necessarily Covid and infection related.

The children have not been to school since March and, with it, have come some interesting revelations. Although my teen daughters have missed the social aspect of school and meeting up with friends on a daily basis, they have not missed the rigidity of a school day, the heavy schoolbags, the relentless homework, the academic pressure to perform well for the school report.

While I am an avid supporter of education, having them learning from home during the early days of lockdown seemed to hold more benefits than going into the physical school building. The children were relaxed, at home and able to do their lesson plans in the comfort of their pyjamas at the kitchen table.

I was amazed by how easily the curriculum was adapted to Zoom and how quickly the kids picked up the baton and ran with it. I know that the main argument against home-schooling has always been the socialisation aspect of things but perhaps with a hybrid type of schooling system, where the children go in twice a week for practical experiments and class based activities, and the rest done at home ,would be more beneficial to all. Surely there would be a financial saving on running costs such as electricity, heating and school transport, etc, which could be dispersed amongst parents who need to make additional childcare arrangements. It would also give teachers themselves more time to be at home with their own children.

I have noticed a shift in expectation too for this September as my youngest prepares to enter first year. Usually, there would be a ripple of excitement in starting a new chapter, but I have found that all my children have a hesitancy to going back after being out for so long and I have questioned this.

In my own high school days, school was our social lifeline but today the internet has made it easy for friends to be in constant contact so the social aspect of school is not missed.

Another unexpected benefit of not having the kids at school has been the absence of what I have dubbed ‘third-party’ problems — issues such as so-and-so invited everyone else to her party but not me and such-and- such happened on the playground at break today.

Soon I won’t be able to further delay the buying of pencils, academic calculators and uniforms. I will hoover the beach sand from the car, tidy the house and fold away summer. The academic year will be an uncertain one for everyone this year — my heart goes out to those who have vulnerable people in their families as it must be heightened for them — which makes my whims of just not seeing the benefits of going through the motions, pale by comparison. On the bright side, though, we did wonder if the new social distancing restrictions will mean an extinction to nits and head lice who have thrived off head-to-head human interactions for centuries.

The return to school will be challenging... but necessary. Picture: Stock
The return to school will be challenging... but necessary. Picture: Stock

Bernie Crowley, mum of one, Watergrasshill

My daughter, Aoife, starts secondary school next week. It will be great to see all the ‘2020 Sixth Class’ children start their new schools as planned because they have missed out on so much this year.

It was sad to see them lose out on all the milestones that go with the last year of primary school — their last days with the friends they’ve known since they started school, their last school tour, their last school play, their last Sciath na Scol, their graduation ceremonies, and their Confirmation.

The return to school will be challenging, though, because not only do these children have to adapt to new rules and guidelines, they have to do so in a completely new environment — a new school, with new teachers, and with new classmates.

However, Aoife’s school has been providing weekly updates on their preparations for reopening so we know what to expect and that takes away so much of the uncertainty, for both the children and the parents.

But I have no big concerns about the children; they have shown through months of homeschooling that they can adapt to anything that comes their way. The children need, and deserve, to get their lives back now, and the rest of us need to do everything we can to make sure that it stays that way.

Maria Desmond, Douglas.Picture: Michael O'Sullivan/OSM PHOTO
Maria Desmond, Douglas.Picture: Michael O'Sullivan/OSM PHOTO

Maria Desmond, mum of three, 17, 15 and 12 years old, Douglas

My eldest daughter is going in to Leaving Cert. I don’t know what the year ahead is going to look like for her if we have another lockdown over the winter so I hope she learns as much as possible when school reopens — online just wasn’t the same.

My middle child completed 3rd Year so she missed out on Junior Cert but wasn’t too disappointed…

My youngest is going into sixth class in St Anthony’s, which is a large school, but I am confident that they will manage students’ safety well. Yes, I am guilty of allowing him play a bit too much on the Xbox but it’s hard to fill his day otherwise when I was locked away in another room working a full five day week.

Having had nice weather in the summer we got out as much as possible, I am grateful that we have access to such beautiful beaches and scenery in Cork and Kerry.

The best part of lockdown was going for family walks — it wasn’t uncool anymore for teens to be with their parents.

Mary Corcoran, mum of two, Barra, aged seven, and Cathal, who turns six this month

Like many others, we’ve been counting down the days until our two boys can put on their uniforms again and get back to some semblance of normality.

When the schools first closed their doors last March, our two boys were actually a little bit excited about the idea of ‘working from home’, but that initial excitement was short-lived.

It was after Easter when it became apparent that the boys were really starting to miss their friends and their routine.

The subsequent weeks were challenging and my husband and I found it difficult to balance homework and our own work.

The boys missed their grandparents terribly and longed for the usual visits to the playground.

There were lots of positives too though. Stabilisers were taken off bikes, dinosaur gardens were planted, and forgotten board games were pulled out from the back of cupboards.

As September 1 approaches, the boys are excited to be going back to school, and although I must admit I’m looking forward to working in a quiet house again, like everything else over the past few months, I’m sure it will take some adjusting to.

Dee Cleary, Crosshaven, mum of three

I am cautiously optimistic about our three children (aged nine, seven and five) returning to school. We’re hoping for the best — a full return to normality — whilst being braced for the worst: a return to home schooling or we, or someone we know, getting this awful virus.

I’m at home full time with the kids while my husband is a Guard. In the early weeks of the crisis we were very anxious about him catching the virus through his work but the anxiety subsided over time as we got used to the ‘new normal’.

I appreciate that I was fortunate to be able to concentrate on home schooling as I wasn’t trying to juggle it with work. The schools were quick to set up apps and send the children work.

We purchased our first ipad and got stuck in.. I concentrated on the three r’s...reading, writing and arithmetic. We attempted to learn one new capital city a day but spent very little time ‘as gaelige’. Know your limits!

We had good days and bad days but I hope that the children will look back on this time with very fond memories of the quality time we spent together... picnics, painting stones, baking, walking — there was no shortage of time to do all the things that are so easy to put off to ‘another day’.

Two of our children had birthdays during this time and we made these days extra special for them... kids don’t need expensive parties and simple things such as a trampoline filled with balloons can be very effective.

Our daughter missed her Communion but we had great fun as a family getting dressed up and celebrating what would have been her big day anyway...

Hopefully she will have her Communion in the coming months with her class.

Hope is something we are all holding onto at the moment... We are living in ‘interesting times’ and all we can do is take each day as it comes.

Vicki O’Callaghan.
Vicki O’Callaghan.

Vicki O’Callaghan, mum of one, Ballincollig

We’re approaching school with mixed feelings, Ruby is going into 1st class and is very excited to get back to normal and see all her friends.

I, on the other hand, am approaching it all with trepidation, will she really be in school for the full year, how often will I be getting a call to come and collect her because she has a sniffle or someone in her pod has a sniffle, will I be cursing my organisation skills in having her uniform all bought and ready to roll, or worse, cursing the school for not allowing some sort of generic uniform for this year if we’re going to be washing it so often?

I’m also conscious of parents not being allowed into the school and how that will work the first few mornings. Last year was tough going for the first few weeks, even when I could drop her into the class.

Overall, though, it will be nice to get back to some sort of normality, to not be home schooling which was a challenge — one we never want to repeat — and hopefully the trepidation will switch to feelings of relief and we’ll all settle in.

Sarah Horgan, mum of one, Carrigaline

A return to pre-school post-Covid was something we had hoped for but never took for granted.

During the initial phase of lockdown, my now three-year-old daughter Yasmin and I would stroll past her favourite place in the world — Generation Education pre-school in Glounthaune — during our daily 2km walks. Each day she would stare longingly through its windows at the world she had left behind. It was difficult to comprehend whether the last couple of months had happened at all. Then, we received a message from Generation Education owner Irene. The teachers asked if children could email copies of their artwork. They in turn sent us updates on their lives and how they were doing in lockdown. It kept us going.

I don’t think a day went by that Yasmin didn’t mention her teachers, Christine, Mark and Chloe, who she is so very fond of. They say you get two families in life — the one you are born with and the one you choose. Since the first time we walked through the gates of Generation pre-school last September, it was clear who Yasmin had chosen as her second family. Yasmin is so looking forward to being with her teachers and friends again in a place she is made to feel so safe and accepted.

Fiona Rawlinson, who is Marketing Manager of Clonakilty Food Company.

I’m really looking forward to my six-year-old getting back to school! She has really missed her classmates, teacher and school over the last few months. I’m not thrilled with the idea of bubbles and pods, but I realise it needs to happen. I’m just a little worried schools will shut again but we’ll live in the moment and embrace the return! I don’t typically enjoy the thought of uniforms and early morning scrambling, etc, but I’m excited for routine and getting back to some sense of normality.

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