As parents limp across the home-schooling finishing line, most will rejoice that the summer holidays are finally within sight. But for all those who've worried that their kids might have missed out on all the academic benefits of the last part of the school year, there's also the dawning realisation that in fact, many of our children have acquired new skills in lockdown that they might never have otherwise learnt. Skills that will be with them for life.
Life in the slower lockdown lane saw 10-year-old Lucy Tilson from Dublin's Clontarf find a passion for baking she never knew she had. It came as a shock to her mum Lynn, who says she doesn't even buy pastries and cakes, never mind bake them. But when she bought her daughter a hand-held whisk in the middle of lockdown, Lynn says it was as if Santa came early and Lucy couldn't have been happier.
While her mum says her eldest daughter's new hobby literally "came out of nowhere", the family isn't complaining about her talent for treats.
"It all started when she watched a show called Sugar Rush on Netflix - it's like a bake-off. Then she bought some readymade cake mix but soon she found a recipe on a website that she prepared herself. She found the shop-bought icing wasn't good enough for her cakes so she started making her own buttercream icing in different colours," says Lynn.
Before long Lucy was baking for family members' birthdays and being mindful of social distancing, dropping goodies in the gardens of loved-ones. She even graduated on to making green meringues for Father's Day figuring out how to use the food colouring to good effect.
"It really is her own interest - I'm no baker," says Lynn, a HR director who is also mum to Oliver (6) and Charlotte (3). "She's so into it and she's actually really good at it. She's just figured it all out. We got her an electric whisk three or four weeks ago and it's her most prized possession. She also has a baking box that she carries around," says Lynn.
"I think it's really helped her through lockdown. I struggled and the kids struggled being away from their friends. She's enjoyed researching the recipes and she took the time to learn. She wasn't sitting around in front of the TV. It might take her three or four hours - first she'd work out what she was going to make and then she'd put the recipe together. We need to take out shares in Kerrygold at this stage," Lynn jokes.
Lucy, who goes to Scoil Mhuire Lakelands in Sandymount, says she's loving the experimentation and the simplicity of making things. "With flour, sugar, eggs and butter - I mixed them all together, put them in the oven and I had a cake. I cut everyone a slice and we noticed it was really good so I tried it again. I just really enjoyed it. It's like I get lost in the moment of what I'm doing. I'm going to keep going," she says.
For mum-of-two Sharyn O'Hagan from Naas in Co Kildare, lockdown revealed her eldest son's hidden passion for video editing. Sharyn, who runs online boutique Your Style, Your Story, found herself in a fix with lockdown: she needed to keep her customers up-to-date with her wares but her usual photographer was unable to work with her due to the social distancing rules.
She drafted in her eldest son Lee (11) to take some photos of her trying on the clothes. Before long Lee was using his mum's iPad to shoot cool videos of Sharyn trying on everything from dresses to blazers, editing the videos together seamlessly and launching them on YouTube for her.
"He started showing me what he could do and it was all very organic. He edits the videos and put on digital effects and he's really good. It was brilliant for me and the reaction on social media was incredible. It's like he made the clothes come to life," says Sharyn, who is also mum to Dean (9).
She says the whole process has meant they had time together without her feeling guilty about having to work in lockdown. It's also given Lee a sense of satisfaction and a whole new passion for video editing and even entrepreneurship, says Sharyn.
According to Lee, the whole process of working with his mum was fun while learning a new skill. "I've learned a lot of things I didn't know before and I'm getting better all the time. If I didn't understand something I found out about it - it was trial and error," he says.
At the Dunne home in Ardclough, Co Kildare, lockdown provided a chance to observe the comings and goings in the garden and has turned Elaine Dunne's three children Oisín (4), Sadhbh (7) and Caoimhe (9) into avid gardeners, bird watchers and nature lovers.
Elaine says that while her three children like the outdoors, the opportunity to step off the treadmill of school and extra-curricular activities led to an explosion in their learning about the comings and goings in the natural world.
At the start of lockdown as the buds were coming out on the trees, Elaine and her children paid attention to what was going on. Week after week they observed the simple changes in the garden, learning the names of the plants and flowers, watching the birds build their nests and gradually learning their names too.
The children helped their mother plant broccoli and courgettes, taking time to avoid harsh chemicals and learn about simple things like using garlic spray and crushed eggshells to keep the bugs and slugs at bay.
"The kids loved getting their hands dirty and going barefoot as well. They'd kick off their shoes and run around. We sowed plants and seeds that we knew were good for the bees like lupins and borage," says Elaine."I'm delighted that they're the age they are when this lockdown happened - they're like sponges. They might have learned these things but not as much in such a short space of time. Despite everything that's happened we're blessed to have had this time to sit and observe. Now as soon as they have breakfast, they're outside. They're pointing to the robin outside the door or the chaffinch," she says.
Even rainy days haven't dampened her children's enthusiasm for the garden and spending time tending plants and doing what they can to help nature. Since making a rockery, frogs have come to live in the garden, adding another layer of interest for her children.
During lockdown the family experimented by leaving half their garden lawn go to a meadow and watched with interest what grew. They added a few native bulbs and Elaine wrote down all the names of the plants they could see using the English and Irish names.
The most recent project they undertook was to pick elderflower to make cordial, something all the children could do, before presenting their bottled handiwork to friends and family.
While Caroline Brady's 12-year-old daughter Beth had always loved fashion and design, her hobby reached a whole new level in lockdown. Beth, a 6th class pupil at St Patrick's National School in Trim, has been making the most of her time making clothes for herself and her two sisters Holly (13) and Ruby (6).
Her interest in design was stoked when she did a Project Fashion summer camp run by Dublin-based designer Paul Alexander. But her hobby moved centre stage in lockdown as Beth grappled to deal with missing so much of her last year in primary school, according to her mum.
Caroline, a nurse at Our Lady's Hospital in Navan, explains that Beth's sewing machine is now living underneath the kitchen table at the family home in Athboy, Co Meath. It comes out every afternoon and Beth has been busy making dungarees, culottes and even a bomber jacket.
"It's been a great distraction for Beth. She has been very good at doing her school work in the morning and then she might do some Zoom classes with Project Fashion. She's been busy sketching designs. It makes her very happy," says Caroline.
"I love making dresses and I just love using the machine," says Beth. Her ambition, she says, is to become a top fashion designer. Lockdown just may have helped pave the way for her dreams.
THE swallows arrived early this year. They swooped and dipped into our garden in a frenzy of enthusiasm bringing much needed joy to our lockdown and reminding us that when so much of life has paused, nature is celebrating.