Big life lessons in a small space

Holly ThompsonSound Telegraph
Seven-year-old Maia works from home.
Camera IconSeven-year-old Maia works from home. Credit: Supplied

Many families will be spending a lot more time together over the coming weeks as children start homeschooling.

But for one Rockingham family of five, the new COVID-19 normal is set to be a particularly tight squeeze in the caravan they call home.

Joanne and Simon Benson have three children who attended Rockingham Montessori School but all are now working at home.

“We have three girls Zoe, 12, Hannah, 11 and Maia, 7, as well as our four-year-old Labrador named Scooter, living in a 19-foot caravan,” she said. “I homeschooled the girls for over two years while my husband worked on and off during our travelling.

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“In January, Simon, who works as a shutdown planner, got a job at the BP refinery. We made the decision to settle for a while on the WA coast and put the kids in school.

“We researched the schools south of Fremantle and were excited when we discovered the Rockingham Montessori School, as it suited our style of schooling well.”

Seven-year-old Maia and father Simon work together at the table.
Camera IconSeven-year-old Maia and father Simon work together at the table. Credit: Supplied

Mrs Benson said the girls were at school for only seven weeks before social distancing began,and had been doing a blend of homeschooling and online learning with the school for about three weeks.

“There are definite challenges to educating three kids while living in a caravan, a big issue is space,” she said.

“It’s impossible to set up permanent work areas for three kids and an adult (Simon) that is working from home in a 19-foot van.

“Before COVID-19 we would homeschool outside on picnic rugs and park benches, spreading out as much as we want or drive to museums, libraries and beaches making use of all their resources and facilities but we need to stay confined now in such a tiny little space.”

She said in the mornings before school, the girls got out their schoolbooks, headphones and iPads and set up a small space in the van.

“They generally work in the same space most of the day, only moving around to get better internet connection for their meetings with their teachers or to move away from a sister who is being too loud,” Mrs Benson said.

“Simon is required to be on a meeting twice a day so when that happens everyone needs to be very quiet or leave the van completely which can be very disruptive to their workflow.

“Every afternoon, everything is packed away including Simon’s work equipment that takes up our whole table so we can use it for dinner. Everything is packed up in school bags and boxes ready to do it all again the next morning.”

Seven-year-old Maia works from home.
Camera IconSeven-year-old Maia works from home. Credit: Supplied

Another issue was internet connection, as the family did not have a plan with unlimited data.

“Usually it’s not an issue but at the moment... the only way we can make it work is to hot spot off our two mobile devices,” she said.

“Apart from the huge costs, it’s just not working well as calls keep dropping out and frustrations are running high.”

“The kids have been pretty awesome through this whole situation but you can tell it is starting to wear them down a bit. The girls are beginning to feel annoyed by their lack of freedom and feeling of confinement, their emotions are heightened and understandably everyone is getting easily frustrated with each other.”

Mrs Benson said despite the challenges, there were benefits to having the girls home.

“A combination of online learning and home educating allows you to do some interest-based learning. Our kids are learning lots of random stuff like knitting, drawing skills and photography and also important life skills like cooking, washing and gardening,” she said.

“There’s also the fabulous benefit of extra family-bonding time: we’ve watched lots of movies, played a ton of UNO, Monopoly and Game of Life and made lots of cookies and muffins together.”

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