Three NI mums talk to Stephanie Bell about how they juggle with home-schooling, creative ideas to keep their youngsters amused and making learning fun for them
The challenge of keeping young children amused during 10 weeks of lockdown has tested many parents across Northern Ireland to the limit.
And those who are already juggling working from home with schooling their children have also had to get creative to help their little ones use up their unspent energy.
Three working mums today share the ideas they have come up with to help keep boredom at bay during the long hours confined to home.
Gayle Alexander (42), a virtual assistant, lives in Donacloney with her husband, Mark (42), who works in corporate development, and their two sons, Hayden (7) and Finn (5).
Both Gayle and Mark have been working from home during lockdown.
Gayle's job is part time, which has helped free up some hours for home-schooling her boys and coming up with ways to keep them amused.
Both sport-loving kids, using up their energy each day has been among the biggest challenges.
Gayle explains: "Luckily, I am working part time, so I can fit my work around the boys.
"The home-schooling is quite full on as they do need a lot of attention and supervision and they are both at different levels.
"We have been starting the day with Joe Wicks at 9am to try and use up some of their energy as they can be a bit hyper first thing. However, lately it has only been me doing the exercises and the boys watching!
"School work starts at 9.30am and we try to work through until around 2pm, which is their normal school day."
Keeping the children's attention during lessons and then entertaining them for the rest of the afternoon has meant a steady stream of inventive new ideas from mum Gayle.
These have included setting up an obstacle course in the garden using household objects; putting a tent in the garden as an alternative school room/dining room and den; taking maths lessons into the street with chalk and painting rainbows on stones to leave for people in the village to find and keep.
Gail explains: "It has been a bit of a struggle, especially in the last week, trying to keep them entertained and using up their energy, as they are both very sporty and have lots of energy!
"I have taken maths outside with chalk, writing numbers on the road for the boys to jump on and learn odd and even numbers.
"We've some scorch marks in the garden from trying science experiments, which have been a bit hit and miss.
"We tried to create lava using baking soda, washing powder and food colouring.
"We've been baking together to pass the time and had picnic lunches in the tent. We do their reading lessons each night with a Zoom call to their grandparents.
"I've had to be inventive and it is hard. We had a lot of cardboard boxes, which the boys have used to make a space rocket, and we set up an obstacle course in the back garden with their little chairs and cones and washing baskets, which they had to pick up and carry on their backs like turtles."
This week's project has been painting stones with rainbows, which Gayle plans to get the boys to leave around their village for locals to find.
She adds: "It hasn't been easy juggling cleaning the house with cooking, home-schooling, working and keeping the boys active and entertained.
"Their school, Edenderry Primary, has been very supportive and I have been lucky that I only work part-time.
"The boys have coped really well.
"But they miss seeing their grandparents and we are all looking forward to when family can get back together again," she adds.
Belfast mum Aideen Sweeney, a qualified teacher, has made a career out of being creative.
Aideen (43) moved from her native Dublin eight years ago to live in Belfast with her partner, Declan Doherty (40), a software programmer.
Since moving here, she has set up a group called Creative Circles for Women and a children's nature club called Free to Be Me Kids.
Home-schooling her son, Ruairi (8), through creative projects has been her focus during lockdown.
Mum and son had a head start when they began home-schooling in September.
Aideen explains: "We've been home-schooling since September, so lockdown hasn't been a big change for Ruairi, other than he can't now see his friends.
"My son wanted to do it and I did have reservations, but at the time, my dad was ill and he lives in Co Clare and I wanted Ruairi to be able to see him and spend time with him.
"We started it as a short-term thing to see how it went and then lockdown happened and everyone now has to do it.
"It has worked really well and my son is very happy. He used to get sick at school a lot and hasn't got sick once since we started home-schooling.
"I started with quite a strict structure and it has developed into learning through project work.
"To me, it is about child-led learning, so if Ruairi asks a question, such as, 'What came first, the image or the word'?, we explore that or things like how the universe came into being, really rich things."
Creativity is a big part of learning and Ruairi is encouraged to use his love of Lego to recreate events from history lessons such as battlefields and castles.
Aideen believes nature is vital for health and emotional well-being, so unsurprisingly a lot of time is spent outdoors.
She and Ruairi have created a raised bed in their garden to plant a range of easy-to-grow vegetables.
She says: "Planting seeds and watering them covers so many school subjects. We've also created a nature mandala and we've been learning about plants, what are edible and what aren't.
"We have gone on tree hunts during our daily walks. There are some lovely resources online and we did one trying to identify trees from their bark and leaves."
Aideen spends her days teaching Ruairi, while her partner works. In the evenings, Declan gets to spend quality time with his son, allowing Aideen to focus on her own business, which she has been able to do online .
She adds: "I don't know what the future holds, but I won't be sending Ruairi back to school until I know it is safe and I will also take into account what he wants.
"I am lucky that my work is flexible and feel that I am in the fortunate position that I can home-school."
Belfast business owner Orla Keating runs a coffee shop which has been closed since lockdown started 10 weeks ago. She is at home alone with her seven-year-old son, Elliott.
As well as home-schooling Elliott and keeping him entertained, Orla (38) has been using her time during lockdown to launch a new business offering social media support to businesses and running her very successful diversity storytelling group, 'Still I Rise'.
Having been used to long hours running the Boden Coffee Company on Belfast's Ormeau Road, she says she has had a huge "awakening" since work stopped and she has been at home with her son 24-7.
She says: "For me, it has been a really good opportunity to reset and reassess and look at the way I had been living my life.
"I don't want to go back to the way I was living before lockdown, which was a mad rush and involved putting Elliott in childcare.
"I have never been a present parent because of work and now that I have been forced to be present with Elliott for 10 weeks, I don't want to go back to the way I was living before."
Like Gayle, Orla has found that a daily routine has been the best way through the long days of lockdown, with schooling scheduled from 9am until 2pm.
Coming up with ideas for keeping her son occupied after lessons has also been her biggest challenge and a garden obstacle course has served its purpose in her garden, too.
She says: "We used old planks and garden chairs to create an obstacle course which helps Elliott to burn up energy and he has really enjoyed it.
"I'm not keen on spending money to keep a child busy, but we did discover jumping clay, which Elliott absolutely loves and it keeps him focused every day for an hour.
"I'm not a natural cook or baker, but we have been baking together and that's been good for mental maths and keeping Elliott busy. We are now baking so much that we deliver what we make to neighbours, which also takes up about an hour.
"Elliott is half Belgian, so he has been learning French during lockdown. I put his tablet on French and we've watched DVDs in French and he has been doing a lot of video calls with family in Belgium."
Orla has also been devising treasure hunts in the garden, with clues for Elliott to find hidden treats.
Other outdoor activities to keep him occupied have including trying to find leaves from 10 different plants.
After spending her day with Elliott, she tries to find a couple of hours each evening to work on new projects which she hopes to develop further when lockdown is lifted.
Orla says: "My diversity story telling group, which I launched a few months ago, has really blown up and we are now doing two a week through Zoom and have people from England, Portugal and America, as well as local parents and kids taking part.
"I am also working on developing a social media support business as a social enterprise project, which I am really enjoying.
"I'm not sure after lockdown what the future will bring, but I do plan to ensure that whatever I do, I will have more time at home with Elliott rather than rushing out to work for long hours every day."