My friend Francesca is a mum of six, two of whom are home educated. She was a primary school teacher for twelve years. When I heard about Britain’s Coronavirus lockdown, who better to ask for the best way to approach this new lifestyle than her? I think you’ll agree she has passed on some fantastic tips and resources. I sincerely hope they can help us all over the coming weeks.
As a former teacher and a home educating mum, I’ve had a lot of texts and messages (many of them starting with ‘HELP!’) as schools are now closed and the educational responsibility of their child now lies in their lap for the first time since they started in reception.
I reply with two words to begin with, ‘Don’t panic!’
You are not home educating, you are crisis schooling. There is a huge difference. Home education looks nothing like this lockdown situation, so I’m having to adapt to having the whole family at home whilst still juggling work commitments. Here are some of my thoughts about ways to get through the next weeks with your sanity intact.
Bring Easter Forward
I don’t mean crack open the chocolate eggs just yet but Easter holidays can fall this early in the year and the break in learning will give time for yourself and the children to let all the chaos and upheaval settle, to take stock and make plans. These are strange and surreal times, and I think it’s important to not look too far ahead and to not try to overthink the situation. My own children know more about the virus than I thought and I’m very conscious of their mental health. I hope spending time as a family for these next few days might help assuage their worries a little.
Check Learning Packs from Schools
Many schools sent home learning packs before they closed. These might comprise just a few worksheets or mini-lessons involving videos and PowerPoint presentations. Teachers have had little time to prepare these though so there might not be as much as you expected. If this is the case and your children respond well to sit-down formal work invest in some workbooks suitable for their age range.
Join a Group
There are several new groups on Facebook for those finding themselves temporarily homeschooling their children. Not only will you likely find sound advice and useful ideas but it’s great to have a place to reach out to others in the same position – a virtual shoulder to cry on, maybe, or somewhere to share your successes. Maybe set up a group for parents whose children attend the same school as yours? This might be especially useful if you can’t figure out what school expects from parts of the learning package they’ve sent home.
Look for Freebies
So many of the large educational companies with online content are offering free subscriptions at the moment – the choice is quite overwhelming. Here are some we’ve used:
Educational Fun Websites
Twinkl is used by many schools and its top package is free at the moment using the code ZAFTWINKLHELPS. For lesson advice and printables, most parents will find Twinkl covers everything they’ll need – and more. It’s vast.
My boys love the videos at Mystery Science and I must admit I do too. Answering all those important life questions like, ‘Can animals laugh?’ and ‘Why do we cry tears?’ many an hour can be spent finding out.
We use Duolingo (app) for languages. Learning is done in 10 or so minutes a day which the boys respond really well to. They’re learning Spanish in readiness for our annual holiday to Spain in May. Oh, wait…..
Skoolbo is something they enjoyed when they were younger – it’s an all-round learning package for up to ten year olds, and they have a temporary offer on right now for the year. Brainpop is another all-rounder, my boys love it.
For Maths they loved the TT Rock Stars app, which was really inexpensive and Prodigy, which is a game-based Maths program and free! They’re currently a little further on in their curriculum so use Khan Academy, which is free, and is great for so many other subjects too, such as coding, and has an amazing unit on animation in collaboration with Pixar. You can set up a program of work for your children and get regular email updates on their progress or view scores, etc. from the ‘teacher’ dashboard.
As the boys have hit KS3 age now they’ve recently been enjoying Seneca Learning, which is mainly free and is used by lots of high schools for revision. You can set up assignments for your children with Seneca Learning, too, again with the ability to look at their progress for each subject and topic. It takes the form of videos and quizzes.
Try BBC Sport Supermovers for learning through activity. It is great fun.
If we can’t get to the library we use their Borrowbox scheme to borrow e-books. Strangely sometimes the e-books are ‘out on loan’ and we have to wait for them but there are lots to choose from.
My best advice is to go and explore – try things out and see what your children enjoy.
Don’t Try to Recreate School at Home
Many children respond well to some sort of structure and it can be reassuring for parents to be able to tick things off as completed, but if you try to work in a structured way on a series of subjects daily between 9am and 3pm you WILL fail at some point! It will suck the life out of you. You’ll be stressed out by all the toilet, drink and snack breaks, the broken pencil leads and the daydreaming and will be counting down the hours until bedtime.
For both you and the children this kind of routine will be unsustainable. Be kind to yourself. You might have work commitments to juggle as well as other things needing your attention. Remember you aren’t educating a classroom full of children. Formal learning might only need take up a couple of hours a day as it’s so efficient. I taught my boys to tell the time, including the 24 hour clock, in one morning. Goodness knows how many hours are devoted to the same goal in school. That’s not to criticise schools, at all – it’s just that 1-1 or in my case 1-2 is so much more efficient.
Helping Out at Home – Life Skills
The biggest thing home education has taught me is that we are all learning from life, all the time, without realising it. Why not involve your children in the chores and house routines and build up life skills whilst enjoying the extra time together?
- Get them making or helping with meals and baking, using skills in measuring and ratio as they follow and adapt recipes;
- take them on a nature walk or geocaching (if you can maintain the social distance with others, of course!)
- start a diary or journal;
- do a scavenger hunt (for instance for things beginning with ‘s’) around the house and garden;
- do puzzles and jigsaws or play board games;
- download a fitness app and run around in the garden to rack up 10,000 steps a day;
- find an online yoga class or join in with Joe Wicks daily PE class;
- get the children involved with DIY and decorating;
- get creative with art and craft supplies, Lego or clay;
- write a letter to a self-isolating relative or to a school friend;
- teach them to clean the house and do the laundry if they’re old enough (they’ll thank you when their older!)… the list is endless.
- Even watching a documentary together on TV or reading aloud to your children can be good (no matter what their age this can be fun – just pick the right book).
- Clean out and reorganise your cupboards and fridges and look at food origins and ingredients as you go. My boys once reorganised my shopping trolley into countries of origin – the shopping took ages (my husband thought we’d got lost!) but it was really interesting for us all, and made me make better purchase choices by trying to by local where I could.
- Another thing you could do is research your family tree or learn a new skill together – British Sign Language is doing a ‘pay what you can afford’ scheme at the moment.
Remember that if you’re busy working during the day learning needn’t take place within school hours, so work it to suit your needs. Be flexible about your approach, too. Change whatever isn’t working. You’re in charge now, not school!
Don’t Try to be the Teacher
This part could be titled ‘look after yourself’. There is no need to try to add ‘teacher’ to your vast repertoire of roles right now. It is OK not to be amazing. Our lives have changed hugely all of a sudden. The ways we used to relax and de-stress might’ve been taken away from us and I’m not expert in these things but it is important to not try to be all-things to all people in this time of crisis so that you don’t burn out. Make each day whatever it needs to be. If you all want to just hunker down on the sofa watching movies all day that’s just as valid as something structured. Learning to look after ourselves is really important.
Help Them to Help Themselves
Depending on the age of your child you might find that you don’t need to ‘teach’ your children anything at all. Scary as it might seem, you might be pleasantly surprised at how little parental input your children need to learn. You’ll just be the facilitator, helping them organise their time and resources. And if you find you don’t know how to do something they need help with, remember the internet is your friend, especially YouTube. I found it a lifesaver last year when my daughter was doing her Maths GCSE. I’d forgotten so much!
Follow Your Child’s Lead
Don’t be afraid to follow your child’s lead and interests. When children are learning about something purely because it interests them it becomes memorable. They own the learning and can run with it, as far and wide as they like. Children who are home educated often have time to explore and think about things on their own, at their own pace. They aren’t governed by curriculum pressures. You might be reading this and thinking ‘all well and good, but my children are only interested in Roblox and Minecraft – that’s all they’ll do all day and night if I give them free rein!’ and that’s probably true of my own children, too, to some extent, but there are structured coding lessons online using both games, and there’s an education edition of Minecraft, so if that’s their obsession use it as a tool for learning.
Certainly don’t punish yourself if there are days that don’t at all go to plan educationally because life got in the way. Remember in school there are days like that too, like when the entire afternoon is devoted to an emergency school play rehearsal…. I’ve lived through a few of those!
Finally, Keep Calm.
With the virus situation and its implications changing on a daily basis it’s really important to keep everything in perspective. Try not to worry about whether the learning your children are doing is enough. No one will judge you. The most important things is staying safe and healthy.
If you’re feeling really anxious about the responsibility read anything written by home education guru Ross Mountney who has successfully steered her children through home ed into young adulthood, and John Holt who has written extensively about how children learn and home education. I find their work very reassuring and helps me feel confident about the unconventional educational path we’ve chosen.
Despite my qualifications and experience, and the fact that I’ve been home educating my two youngest children for three years now, these are strange times for us, too. For us, home education is as much about socialisation as it is anything else. We take part in home ed sports lessons, youth club, forest school sessions, yoga, educational trips to the zoo, re-enactments at castles, museum visits and workshops at our local university. The boys will miss their home-ed friends just as much as their brothers will miss their classmates, but we must find new ways to socialise and explore. None of us can visit a museum in person, for instance, but many museums and gallery have virtual online tours now, all for free.
The lockdown has forced us all to live and work differently and the distancing from friends and family can be very difficult, but I’m hoping the situation will bring some positives, too. I hope we can look to the future knowing we will be better equipped to adapt to whatever other curveballs life throws at us and there will undoubtedly be a greater appreciation for what we had before lockdown. This won’t be a time that we’ll ever forget, so make it whatever it needs to be for your family’s happiness and health.
Good luck! (You’ve got this!)
Photo credit – all found on Unsplash
All words by Francesca – thank you xx