Shawn Quek, school engagement manager for Centre for Fathering, shares his primary two son’s first home-based learning experience while working from home and useful lessons he learned.

April 1st! It was an April Fool’s day like no other, because the first Home Based Learning (HBL) day was rolled out for all primary schools in Singapore. During the days before that, many parents were worried and stressed about how parents and children were going to cope and get through the day, which was perfectly understandable.

Raph’s alarm ran at 7 a.m. and he groggily rolled out of bed, washed up and ate his breakfast. While he was eating, I reminded him what was going to happen today. I had already gone the schedule with him the night before. This step is crucial as it mentally prepares both myself and him how the day would go to minimise surprises and disruptions.

After breakfast, Raph asked, “Daddy, is it I must really wear my school uniform?” I said yes, just the top is good enough. He changed and sheepishly came out in “half-U”. At around 7.40 a.m., he placed all his written work, handbook, stationery and tablet on the dining table.

At 7.45 a.m., we faced the window and sang the national anthem recited the pledge by following Youtube. Some of you may laugh and wonder, “What for? Isn’t it a bit much?” I was also in my work clothes as I wanted to show a good example to my son – even though I am working from home, being in the proper attire helps to set the tone and right approach for the day. This will encourage him to instill self- discipline and approach his work with the right attitude. I also took the opportunity for me to go through the lyrics of our national anthem, as I heard many wrong and mispronounced words, and wanted him to understand the importance and meaning behind those words and appreciate our National Anthem for what it represents.

We then sat at the dining table again, took one more look through his HBL timetable, and logged onto the Student Learning Space to complete the online assignments. When it was “recess” time, I role played with him – I was the stall owner selling him the food while he paid for his food and counted his change. This was yet again another teachable moment for both of us as I took the opportunity to teach him how to count money.

In addition to his online work, there was quite a fair amount of written work which had to be completed. It seemed like there was more work to be done during HBL than if he was at school. This made him fairly exhausted by the time school was done in the early afternoon.

The day wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. It is a challenge for parents who are working at home to be dealing with work and having to help their young children (especially those in lower primary), who were unfamiliar with the devices and navigating the website as well as struggling to focus on their work. I also sat beside him when he was going through his weaker subjects such as Chinese since there wasn’t a teacher to explain things. This made it difficult for me to focus on my work.

My younger daughter also wanted our attention since we were both at home. I had to think about how to engage her separately so that she would not distract her brother. In addition, there were also issues with the learning platforms given that HBL was just rolled out. Hopefully these will be sorted out in the near future.

What did I learn from the first HBL day? I learnt that working at home while guiding my child for HBL isn’t as straight forward and simple as I imagined. It requires coordination, a schedule and discipline to maintain a fine balance of work, play and study. It also takes patience and skills to manage my work along with my child’s needs. It will certainly take time to adjust, adapt and execute an approach that allows me to do my work from home well and for him to successfully complete his HBL. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves if things don’t go well initially.

We can seek our community of friends who are parents for their suggestions, or what has worked well and learn from them. I am also thankful for the Centre for Fathering who has offered my family support during this time by allowing me the time to walk besides my son as he embarks on longer-term HBL.

During this experience, I also observed many “patterns” my son exhibited during his learning and completing his school work. These were teachable moments to engage in conversations with him to know him better in the “school” context and gradually guide him to effectively overcome these issues.

As we embark on a longer period of working from home and HBL, I hope that we will be able to build a stronger father-child relationship!