The time the children didn’t go to school

Annabelle Hayes’ book The time the children didn’t go to school is a hilarious step by step memoir of the joys of homeschooling and working and dealing with pandemic twists and turns, a time which may not yet be over…

Tired woman pouring coffee


The impact of homeschooling while working on families – and particularly on mums – has been and will continue to be much researched, but a new book catalogues the monotony and stress of it in minute detail, providing a hilarious step by step guide to what it was really like.

The time the children didn’t go to school by Annabelle Hayes is a series of blogs which start in April 2020 with Joe Wicks Workouts and go all the way through to March 2021 when schools reopened. Hayes, who covered my maternity leave at with Moira Holden back in 2010, says: “I hope I have given families like my own comfort and hope that this unique and unprecedented period of our children’s lives and education hasn’t gone unnoticed or unrecorded.”

As we enter a period of more Covid uncertainty, with many parents dreading that there could be a return of homeschooling in some form, it is an appropriate moment to look back at how far we have come, and with a wry sense of humour – humour being the most vital of parental coping mechanisms.

Hayes, who continued to blog about family life on The Paroking Diaries, begins each blog with a summary of key things that were happening policy and news wise, which acts as an instant aide-memoire to the context of each phase of the Covid rollercoaster.

Homeschooling chaos

The book, which is punctuated by pictures from children of different ages expressing their take on pandemic life, begins with the kids and their parents trying to adapt to emergency homeschooling. One of Hayes’ three children’s schools begins by uploading information for the kids, lots of information. “The idea is that the parents spend half of their working day trying to work out how to login and then find the appropriate worksheets,” writes Hayes, detailing how much printing is involved. Oh yes, how well I remember the hours spent printing out worksheets and the country-wide ink shortage that ensued.

There are the struggles to get children off screens, doing or eating something wholesome, the everyday challenges of understanding and in some sense ‘guiding’ their work – and even doing it, of just getting them up [by May 2020 Hayes’ teenage son has perfected the sub-five-minute move from bed to computer], the pressure from parents doing amazing inventive things and the realisation as it all goes on that just getting through the day is enough.  At one point during the 2020 summer ‘holidays’, Hayes writes: “I have banned them from hanging out with children who read books because this will make us feel bad and they have been told they can only befriend children who also spend their time eating candy or watching YouTube videos of stunts…”

There are the various permutations of Covid drop-offs, once the schools go back, including the drive-by drop, the creative approaches to primary school graduation and other school events, trying to differentiate the holidays from ‘school’, the various attempts to keep children going [new pets…] and getting to grips with constantly changing contexts [and the impossibility of not mixing bubbles if you have more than one child and they do after-school activities]…and  then comes the January lockdown, just as Hayes has committed herself to dry January. The mounting pandemic weariness comes across so clearly in the everydayness of the chaos.

At the end, Hayes notes a comment shared on Whatsapp from a mum on a Family Lockdown Tips & Ideas Facebook group [Hayes had earlier left the group due to “the number of rainbows their children drew”]. The mum asks if anyone else feels they want to do home education full time after the Covid experience.  Hayes writes: “There are 1.2K comments but the one that stands out is: ‘I’d rather cover myself in honey and staple my t*ts to a beehive’. And to that I say, fair play my friend, fair play.”

The book ends with 8th March 2021 – “Miracles can happen”. “The children did go to..” writes Hayes and the word School occupies the whole of the rest of the page. Thank God for normality, or whatever passes for it…for now.

*The time the children didn’t go to school by Annabelle Hayes costs £7.99.

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