Homework battles and family games: Welcome to life under lockdown in Spain

Homework battles and family games: Welcome to life under lockdown in Spain
Home schooling during the coronavirus shutdown. Photo: G Keeley
With the schools closed and authorities advising 'social distancing', Graham Keeley, his partner and their three boys are cooped up together in an apartment outside Barcelona. It's only day one, but life is already proving a bit of a challenge.

As soon as word gets out that the schools are closing down, there is a mad rush to find old computers so our three boys can work at home.

The idea is that they can take part in lessons at home online. But how to keep them focused on maths instead of Minecraft?

Computer cables we threw away years ago suddenly seem like gold dust. Despite an increasingly frantic search, they cannot be found. This raises the dread prospect of computer sharing – but how will the adults ever get anything done?

Next is a dash to the very empty supermarket. But it seems we are too late. The shelves of meat and chicken have been stripped clear.


Photo of empty shelves at a supermarket in Spain this week. Photo: AFP

Welcome to life under lockdown in Spain. As I write this, the death toll has risen to 120 and over 4,000 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus. 

On the news, they are saying the government will announce a state of alert.

Back at home there is no shortage of domestic alarm going on as we try to explain how life is going to pan out for three boys who think coronavirus is a bit of a holiday.

Timetables for homework, breaks, free time and household chores are drawn up. Then begins the negotiation.

Our eldest has (thankfully) been given a timetable by his school for his day and has to log on at 9am to begin classes.

We are impressed but I become suspicious when I hear laughter coming from his room.

It turns out the class have set up their own chat room for when the (online) teacher is absent. I turn a blind eye. He is, at least conscientious, I say to myself. 

However, his twin brothers are another thing. As they are only ten-years-old, they are given homework but not much more. The battle comes when we try to explain that even if they have done all their homework, they should still try to do more for intellectual stimulation. Extra French verbs anyone? But how can French grammar compare with the joys of You Tube?

We are saved by a call from the school offering to lend us Google Chrome Book computers. It solves the battle to get online at home. However, a quick dash to the school reveals a lot.

The streets are deserted. As we drive down the motorway, there are only a few cars. But coming back, the beach seems busy. It seems people are reasoning it is safe to go for a stroll in the open away from others. A few beach bars, which have stayed open, seem quite full.

Paranoia is beginning to get to us. We arrive home and clean the computers with alcohol, according to the advice. Then ritually wash our hands.

Social life is suddenly reduced to nil. This is another difficult thing to explain to children. They hoped to see their friends. But it will be some time, I fear, before anyone really wants to meet up. So a birthday party is cancelled. Guitar lessons are suspended. But it does have some plus points – the unpopular piano lessons are put on hold.

Before the schools were closed, some parents I know had joked that we could put the children together and offer home teaching. I could do English classes, a boffin friend would teach physics and a Spanish mother would teach her own language. This seems a little far off just now.

For anyone with a chronic medical condition like me the coronavirus pandemic presents a problem.

Getting hold of the medicine I need for epilepsy means a trip to a pharmacy, which should not be hard. However, my regular chemist is in Barcelona city centre, a two-hour round trip away.

More importantly, it involves going into a busy city centre. So, to make things easier for me – and perhaps safer – I start a complicated series of telephone calls, to pick up the drugs from a pharmacy which is closer to home. Thankfully, it all comes off without a hitch but only because I am friendly with the pharmacist who is friends with another pharmacist. Enchufe, as they say in Spain.

Travelling has been put on hold which is a big shame. We had planned to go to see family in, of all places, Venice. It had been something we had cherished for a long time, but now looks like we will cancel. But how to get the money back from the hoteliers and the airline?

Quite how long this is going to go on, who knows. France has closed the schools indefinitely. Yikes!

Boredom is the mother of invention! Improvising games in the Keeley household. 

However, it has thrown up some pleasant surprises. Cooped up together, it has made us improvise. One of the boys devised a game which involved dressing up and eating chocolate. (The rules are too difficult to explain here dear reader) . Suffice to say, it was something of a throw back to those far off days when you used to dream up family games. Fancy that?


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