How Do We Do School at Home During the Closures?
The answer is, we don’t. As the schools prepare to close, and as many stay isolated at home already, many are turning to parents who home educate for advice. I was a teacher for twenty-two years. I have an Education degree and I have taught children from five to sixteen years old. None of it prepared me to home educate my own children when I decided that it was the best choice for us.
The problem was that I tried to do school at home. It didn’t work. Home education is not school at home, which is why in the UK we call it Elective Home Education, not Home Schooling. While the schools are closed, how can we keep our children’s education going and what can we learn from those who have been doing it at home for a long time?
Firstly, we don’t need to turn our homes into schools. School is set up to teach large numbers of children. There is movement, assemblies, registers, explanations, discipline, settling down and a whole lot of stuff that doesn’t happen at home. These things take up a lot of time. We will find schedules and suggestions on Facebook that have children doing ‘academic work’ for four hours a day! It’s totally unnecessary. A couple of hours, maybe three depending on how old they are, will be plenty. Give plenty of breaks and try to set time aside in the morning when children’s brains are at their best.
Secondly, routines are helpful. If your children know from the beginning that they will be expected to do some study and when they will be expected to do it, you will find it easier. Setting out this expectation from the very beginning will help. Rewarding them with things they like to do can help.
Third, not all learning happens at the table with a pencil in their hand. There are many learning opportunities in the home. From playing and construction to researching a favourite topic, not all learning needs to be written down. Mix up the type of activities: some formal, watch a documentary, online games, play a turn-taking game, build something, cook something, fix something. There is so much that can be learned through daily problem solving and play. No-one is going to expect a beautiful volume of written work by the end of the closure and if they do, they’ll be out of luck.
Finally, children are not the same. You’ll probably have a mixture of ages. One of mine needs music to concentrate, the other silence. Some can sit still, others can’t. Make sure that what you expect your children to do is in line with their age and needs. Younger children will be great early in the day, teenagers will need to sleep in until 10 am as they revert to their natural nocturnal state. One of mine likes to sit down at 8am, the other 11am. Suits me, reduces the arguing – and oh yes, they will argue lots.
Most teachers haven’t home educated and have a school-based idea of education. I did. They will probably give you things to do with your children, but they will not tell you how to fit it into your life in a way that suits you.
So, what do we do with our children and where can we find things? It depends on their age.
- Under 5s, let them play, join in their pretend with them and if the school give you some things to do with them, work it into the day in very small chunks.
- 5 – 7, the school will probably give you some things to do with them that will form the main part of their studies. Take their age and add 2. That is how long you can expect them to focus on one thing and remember it. So do one thing for a little while and then change it to something else (up to 10 minutes spellings and then 10 minutes counting and have a break). Small chunks are the key. Spellings, tables, simple maths, reading and online games will keep them going.
- 7 – 11, your children will be used to sitting and working for a little longer, but they also will only be able to fully concentrate on one thing for a short amount of time. That’s why lessons are divided into chunks in school. So, take the things that school gives and break it into 10 to 15 minute chunks and give them a change or a break. 15 minutes on a Maths sheet and then a video on the Amazon/Pandas/Black Holes etc. It takes a little planning, but home education takes work. Once older children have got the swing of it, they will start to organise themselves.
- High School children, especially teenagers, will be able to direct themselves to a certain extent. They will have work from school to plough through. Give them a time slot where you expect them to knuckle down and tackle it. Be with them and encourage them. They will still need to break it into smaller chunks and need regular breaks. The late morning will probably be their best time. Older brothers and sisters will be helpful with the younger ones, but they run at a different time to younger children and may get impatient. Divide and conquer always works for me. Don’t worry about letting teenagers sleep in. They will get back into the swing of early mornings quickly enough when school starts up again.
- Get them moving – practising their Taekwondo kicking, leg strengthening, ab training and pattern will keep them ready for their return. We will be sharing ways to do this in the coming days and weeks. Just make sure that before they do any exercise, they fully warm-up and stretch.
Enjoy being together, do that Harry Potter, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Peppa Pig marathon. Learn how to play Mario Kart without crashing all the time. Learn their Taekwondo 10 basic movements with them. Your children will remember this time. Children and young people don’t like change. None of us do. They may not sleep as well and be grouchy. They will pick up stress from us however careful we are. Be patient. Give them time to adjust and create memories. “Do you remember when school shut and we did ….. together?”, they will say if we get this right.
Where can I get other resources?
There are lots of free resources and companies that are providing a free month to help support parents through school closures. There are many Facebook groups, home educating families and isolating teachers offering help out there. We are not alone. If you are already isolating, you may find that school will email resources out. It’s worth asking them. They will be getting things ready to send home with the rest of the children. Here is a list of useful sites and resources to start us off. Use your own discretion. There are lots more but here’s a start: