10 home learning strategies from an experienced home educator
When schools closed their doors to the vast majority of pupils in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, almost every parent in the UK had to swap the daily school run for sitting at the kitchen table, supervising work and trying to understand the school curriculum.
During this time, some parents embraced home learning and have now decided to deregister their children from school and electively home educate them going forward.
Others have sent their children back to school, but are facing the likelihood of further disruption as the pandemic moves into the next phase. It's possible that for the foreseeable future, children's learning will be affected by local or nationwide lockdowns, or having to quarantine if they have Covid-19 symptoms, meaning that we may be thrust back into homeschooling.
Whichever camp you fall into, educating our children at home will have its ups and downs, but we can all benefit from the experiences of parents who have been juggling their kids' education, their own work and their home life for years. Home educator Hazel Davis, mum of two primary-age girls, suggests these 10 steps to building your confidence.
1. Don’t try to replicate school
Homeschooling isn’t the same as mainstream schooling, and shouldn’t try to be. Both have things the other can’t offer. You can't always do what teachers do in a classroom at the kitchen table, and vice versa.
Work within your resources and abilities, and prepare to be flexible, whether you're in charge of creating a home education strategy for your child or are helping them with work set by their school.
2. Establish a timetable that suits you and not someone else
If you're home educating or homeschooling, there are no rules about when you do it. You don't have to have a set timetable, or stick to school hours, days or terms, so you're in charge of setting a schedule that works for you and your child.
A timetable can be useful and, for some, necessary but it must work for you and your family. Do your children learn best early in the morning? Then do academic work then and focus on learning through play or being outside later, or vice versa if they prefer a bit of a lie-in and get their brains in gear later in the day.
Alternatively, you may decide to go with the flow, abandon fixed timetables and let each day be different. Some days, you might have your own work to do at certain times and need your child to be focused and learning at the same time; other days, you may have time for nature walks and board games rather than pencil-and-paper work.
Try not to be swayed by what other parents are doing. Just because your sister-in-law has posted a colourful timetable detailing the Latin verbs her children will be learning before breakfast, it doesn’t mean this will work for you.
3. Set the ground rules early on
If the Covid-19 situation seems to be changing week by week, with periods of homeschooling interspersed with actual school, it might be tempting to let your child hunker down and watch films all day, in the knowledge that this is a short-term issue.
Likewise, if you've chosen to home educate, you might want to do things completely differently from school and throw the rule book out entirely.
Taking it easy may feel necessary for a bit. But even if you're taking a relaxed approach to homeschooling, it's important to set some ground rules early on, otherwise it’s going to be difficult to get back into a groove further down the line.
Start doing at least some work from the word go, even if your child is largely dictating the pace, and your authority will be easier to maintain.
4. Balance online time with offline time
You don’t need to be online all day to get a good education. Yes, there are some fantastic resources online (including TheSchoolRun's, of course) and the internet can be a lifesaver if you're trying to work while homeschooling or are unsure about the subjects and concepts your child is learning about, but try to balance the online work with good old-fashioned books and practical, hands-on challenges - especially if your child's likely to be distracted by YouTube and Netflix!
If you don’t have a good supply of pens and paper, now’s very much the time to get some in, and don't forget there's lots to be learned from puzzle books, board games, gardening, shopping and cooking (teaching fractions by cutting a cake: yes please!).
5. Get outside
Spend as much time outside as you can. Not just for your sanity, but for general good health - for you and your child.
If you have a garden, take your learning out there. Go for nature walks or bike rides (try early evenings if you're working office hours). Try to fit in a run-about in the park once or twice a week: depending on the current social distancing rules, you might be able to meet your child's friends there to help them keep in touch.
You can also take advantage of learning opportunities at National Trust, Woodland Trust, English Heritage and RSPB locations (if they're open): many have nature trails and other outdoor learning activities for kids.
6. Make the most of the one-to-one attention
You might not have time to spend eight hours a day teaching your children but, here’s the thing: you don’t have to as long as they’re getting some one-to-one time.
One of the great advantages of home education is that the one-to-one time can be really concentrated and really beneficial.
Enjoy the fact that you can spend some time explaining that particularly difficult maths concept to them in a way there might not have been time for at school (and don't forget you can consult TheSchoolRun's primary maths glossary, literacy glossary, science glossary and computing glossary for free if you need to brush up on your knowledge of the long division method or the rules of direct speech!).
7. Have confidence in yourself
Teachers do a wonderful job and they’re experienced. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot to offer, too.
You might well have acquired teaching skills in your work without realising, for example by explaining protocols and procedures to your colleagues. Moreover, you know your children better than anyone else. Chances are you already know what motivates them and what excites them. Use this to your advantage and tailor your approach accordingly.
8. Speak to teachers
Many teachers are delighted to offer their skills and insights on social media, so ask them questions, share your concerns and take advantage of their knowledge and experience. Whether you're coping with school disruptions or have chosen to home educate, they want to help us through.
If your child is still registered with school, don't forget you can get in touch with their teacher if you need support with any aspect of their learning. Additionally, if your child has to be off school due to lockdowns, quarantine or self-isolation, teachers should still provide home learning as they did while schools were closed (although bear in mind that if they're also teaching classes, this may be slower to materialise and less in depth than it was).
9. Buddy up with other parents
Join forces with other parent friends to share any online learning discoveries you make. Start WhatsApp groups to discuss schoolwork questions and concerns, or, if you've decided to continue with home education, check out home ed groups online or in your local area. They can be a great source of information, provide learning and socialisation ideas for kids, and even share resources and equipment to support your new venture.
These are strange times indeed, and while life is beginning to feel more normal, our children's education has changed in many ways. None of us are experts, so don't worry about your child missing out or falling behind if you're muddling through, full of questions and doubts.
If it all gets too much, curl up on the settee and read a book together. Tomorrow is always a new day, and whether you've chosen to home educate or been forced into it, the most important thing is that you and your child are happy.