After a disastrous start in nursery with my then 3-year old daughter struggling to sit still and listen; we decided to give homeschooling a try. You know, just while she matured a little. Just for a term or two.
Then we blinked. She's now 18 and loving studying A Levels at College. She was homeschooled through to 16y; as was her younger sister. Her brother still is. We were never anti-school at all; it's just that homeschooling worked for us and the years slipped by so quickly.
For what it's worth, as many parents find themselves homeschooling involuntarily at this time, this is what I learned along the way.
1. Don't try to replicate school at home
It was great fun setting up a corner of our living room as 'school'. With a little table and chairs, their paintings on the wall and a plethora of pens, crayons and paints. We used the 'school' area for doing messy things and a little bit of writing each day. But we soon realised that children don't
respond to parents at home the way they respond to teachers in school. At home, for us, it was much better to take learning opportunities when they came rather than to prescribe that a certain amount of the day was to be spent in 'school'.
When a child's motivation is high because they're suddenly in a teachable moment; it becomes easy. My daughter hand wrote her longest letter as a 6 year old to the Post Office because she was concerned that rubber bands were being dropped by our Postie on the pavement and someone could slip. Even though her hand ached, she persevered to get the letter written. Whereas usually, getting her to write even 3 or 4 words would have been a battle. Writing to Royalty was exciting too, and they always respond with a photo and thank you note which caused squeals of excitement. We still have the Queen's polite and kind letter declining to come to tea with Becca.
2. Use their motivation
Similar to above, we learned to spot those teachable moments and extract as much as we could while the moment was there. We got so much mileage from reading a book together about a Teddy who went to the moon in a cardboard box rocket. We acted it out in an impromptu way with props from round the house (drama), read it together so many times (literacy plus letter and word recognition) and investigated how you really get to the moon (science). We were able to go to the Science Museum to do this but online videos will have to suffice in these lockdown days!
3. Decide what your aims are
It's important to be specific, I think. Not wanting them to fall behind on school work, for example, is a bit vague and could lead to a lot of stress on your part to get an unwilling child to knuckle down and do the work sent from school in double quick time; none of us needs any extra stress at the moment! Trying to be more specific could help.
With our babes, if we wanted to improve, say, their vocabulary; we'd think 'What can we do that we'd both like?....Reading together?... Listening to an audiobook while they paint and we do some paperwork?'. If we wanted to help them improve their maths skills, we often turned to baking as there's a suprising amount of maths you can draw out of that in terms of weighing and counting out ingredients. Or we would listen to timestables songs while dancing (maths and P.E. in one go!).
Ask your children what their aims are too, they might suprise you! If their aim is to have fun, ask them - what does that look like? What would you do? Then revisit it with them to see if they're managing it. If they're not, what needs to change? This is helping them to live in an intentional way and to learn that they do have some control over their lives. Also, if its their goal that they set, they may be more willing to do it!
4. Have a gentle rhythm or routine to your day
With all of you together most of the time, life must slow down. As the African saying goes: 'If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together'. When we started our Home Ed journey, we soon realised we needed to slow right down. We learned to accept that we couldn't achieve a huge amount in one day - on any front - but over time, we were able to achieve a lot. Our needs as parents counted too. In a home schooling situation, I believe that parent's and children's needs have to intertwine around each other's. Sometimes they have to wait while we do something; sometimes we have to wait for them. It's not a bad lesson to learn for children - and us. In that same vein, sometimes they have to help get the everyday stuff like the laundry done. When they have homes of their own
they'll be thankful to have these skills.
Our gentle family rhythm included a window for each day when we would try to be up and dressed and cleared up from breakfast. In the mornings we used to try to do a bit of maths, reading and writing and then in the afternoon tackle one other subject. Of course, we had the luxury of joining Home Ed social groups for playtime, swimming lessons, drama classes, museum visits and so on. Not having those outlets during isolation will be tough on everyone.
So a sample day might have been to bake cookies after breakfast (maths);
listen to an audiobook while they draw (art & literacy for them; admin time for us); write their name on a birthday card and trace some lines in a handwriting book (writing); and then in the afternoon watch an age appropriate documentary like horrible histories - if they're a bit older and not easily scared! (history). We also took walks locally and we would try to point out things of interest like the progress of a building, or a 3-legged dog, or the Spring buds coming out (all science). We played board games (so many skills to be learned, depending on the game, often maths).
And then, of course, there was lots of free time to dress up, dance, build
blanket forts and hide. Children learn through play - it's vital for their education!
Being prepared to ditch our loose plans was important too, along with accepting that some days it felt like nothing got done. However, looking back, I don't believe there was one moment when they weren't learning. It's not something you can stop!
5. Don't overfill their day
I think it's a good life skill for kids to be able to find things to do by themselves. It can be overstimulating to have every moment planned out and can prevent them being inventive. A certain amount of boredom is part of life, so I always felt that giving them the space to work out some strategies for themselves was good learning too.
Equally, no plan at all could sometimes result in chaos, rows and no clean
clothes! When those chaotic days happened, I would write them off, model to the children how to apologise to each other and start again the next day! I really believe that children are like plants - they grow slowly and organically over time. With fallow seasons and flowering seasons. Learning to trust the process was hard but essential for our sanity.
6. Ditch the term 'screen time'
It's as helpful as the term 'paper time'. What on earth is 'paper time'? Reading classic literature? Reading a trashy novel? Origami? Doodling? Fine art sketching? Printing? Admin? It's the same for the term 'screen time'. Instead, consider working out what is
your child doing on the screen that they're using? Socialising with friends? Enjoying TV with family? Watching an educational documentary? Teaching themselves to play an instrument on YouTube? Multi tasking on a complex strategy game? Developing fine motor skills and hand/eye coordination? Using an interactive education website/programme? Though they may have more 'screen time' than you'd like, at this time; are they achieving something that we can't easily see and having a variety of experiences through the day?
7. Focus on creating memories
Spotting memory moments is a great gift for our kids. The current situation is history in the making. Could you all make a scrapbook together of what you did and what you were thinking at this time? This could then incorporate writing, drawing, cutting
and sticking. Imagine their great grandchildren looking at that scrapbook? It's also more simple things. Noticing that all the family are close together and yelling 'family hug!' as you all bundle on to each other for a moment. Maybe it's creating cinema at home for everyone on the sofa each afternoon with popcorn - even if it is Peppa Pig on repeat. Maybe you all sleep downstairs for a night's 'camping'. In some ways I dreaded those nights for the mess it made and the uncomfortable night on the floor I would have. But it was worth it to see their huge levels of wonder and excitement as the bedding was dragged downstairs. My kids still talk about these 'family nights'. These are precious moments and the ones that will stick with children forever. Make this time a wonderful memory for them; and not a scary one.