In a house in Hamilton New Zealand, it’s not a bell or the sound of a drum that lets children know that it’s the start of the school day.
Erin Mitchell and her girls Georgie, Ava and Alexis set their own agenda.
One of the best things about being stuck in lockdown in New Zealand for Georgie, Ava and Alexis is being able to go into their makeshift classroom in their PJs.
For their mum, it means she gets to teach in her pyjamas too.
The Mitchells are making the most out of the positives rather than the negatives – like just being together.
There are plenty of things the girls miss about being home in Rarotonga: dad Xavier, their pets and the beach.
Social interaction and hanging out with their friends and teachers at Apii Te Uki Ou is an issue that has resulted in Erin and her husband discussing whether they should enrol the girls in school while they are still stranded.
“I am quite comfortable with the schooling side of things from home but feel that it’s important for them to have friends outside of home and opportunities outside of home,” Erin says.
“Our decision will be based on what level 2 looks like in New Zealand and when we can possibly get back to Rarotonga.”
But what’s it like being stuck in another country, with no real confirmation of when you can return to your school and home?
Erin and her husband Xavier accepted it was inevitable that they were going to have to stay in New Zealand longer than anticipated due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
What’s made it easier is the extra effort their daughters’ school Apii Te Uki Ou has gone to, ensuring that set learning plans are sent each week.
“The learning plans are sent through every Sunday via email or Google Drive by their amazing teachers and contain enough work to keep the girls on task for the week – sometimes enough for two weeks!”
“Each day the girls are expected to work through their tasks. We make sure at the end of each day (or sometimes the end of the week) we send the completed work through to the teachers via Facebook Messenger.”
The Mitchell girls have also really enjoyed “real-life” learning.
They have a swan plant and have been tracking the progress of how a caterpillar turns into a chrysalis and then into a monarch with six-year-old Alexis.
“Alexis absolutely loves it and we venture out every morning to our backyard to discover the progress. She documents this with photos and stories and shares these with her class back in Raro,” Erin says.
Eldest Georgie has been enjoying baking (learning to measure correctly, reading recipes, making up her own recipes) and has also spent many hours undertaking science experiments with various safe household ingredients.
Ava loves to be active so has enjoyed outdoor walks where they explore nature together and do regular exercise sessions.
Erin has tried to turn every day experiences into learning experiences whenever she can so that she and the kids don’t necessarily feel like they are at school all the time.
It needs to be fun and it needs to suit their needs. The reality is there are not always “happy days”, Erin says.
“There are days where the current situation we are living in – coronavirus, being in lockdown/now level three can all get a bit too much and we tend to not apply too much pressure on ourselves and instead concentrate of having fun and just enjoying each other’s company.”
Teachers in Rarotonga are doing all they can to keep the minds of school students stuck in New Zealand occupied until they are able to return.
Covid-19 has disrupted the 2020 school calendar, however it has also provided opportunities for different teaching and learning methods to be explored.
Tereora College principal Tania Morgan says the school has seven students who went to New Zealand prior to the borders closing and that country going into Level 4 lockdown. They are stranded there.
Regular online meetings between the student and their anau teacher have been taking place to ensure they have online access to the work and resources they need.
It is especially important for students who are sitting NCEA levels 1, 2 and 3 to be able to complete assessments remotely to continue gaining credits.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure they have what they need and we eagerly await their return,” she says.
At Titikaveka College, four students are stranded in New Zealand.
Principal Vae Enuka says he hoped they would be returning as part of the two cohorts of returning Cook Islanders who are in supervised quarantine and will be accommodated at the Edgewater when they get back to Rarotonga.
He was concerned his students’ learning had been disrupted.
About three hours north of the Mitchells’ temporary home-school, Gina Tavioni-Bamber and her five-year-old daughter Eden are learning to count in Maori.
Seven-year-old Tiana is eagerly researching about humpback whales for a school project, at the friends’ home where they are staying in Titirangi, Auckland.
Brother Cole, 10, has access to Apii Te Uki Ou’s school Gmail account and keeps in touch with his teachers regularly. He admits he doesn’t like home school as much as the real thing and rates the whole experience a seven out of 10.
Little Eden likes home school, but she loves playing with her Lego as well.
Gina doesn’t proclaim to be a teacher by any stretch of the imagination and says she admires all parents who have found themselves having to step into the role.
She is trying to make learning as flexible as possible to ensure she can spend time with each of her children individually.
“Some days are great, some not so much, but we just do what we can and keep it interesting,” she says.
Gina echoes the sentiments of Erin Mitchell when it comes to the amazing support from their school teachers back in Raro.
“Their teachers have all been supportive making regular contact with me, sending school work and lesson plans through regularly,” she says.
“Our eldest is able to work independently on his assigned work so it gives me a chance to help my daughters.”
Cole is a huge help to his mum and assists whenever he can with his little sisters’ learning too.
“He will break off with one of them to do some reading or maths while I am with the other if needed,” Gina says.
Gina and her husband Shaun would consider enrolling their kids in school in New Zealand if they did get stuck there for longer, but ultimately their health and safety are the number one priority.
“Unless Covid-19 is no longer a possible threat I'll keep home schooling them until we return to Rarotonga,” she says.
“I am just glad we are safe. I don't mind how long the home schooling lasts but I can't wait for them to get back to school as soon as it is safe for us to go home to Rarotonga.”