Your lockdown homeschooling worries sorted
If you're finding homeschooling your child tough, you’re far from alone. Before schools closed, just 60,000 of the 11.5 million in the UK were being home educated; now almost all are.
It’s natural to be feeling anxious and unconfident as a homeschooler, but schools will be accepting of the fact that parents have been thrust into an unexpected and overwhelming situation.
‘It’s important to remember that National Curriculum expectations have been put on hold,’ says primary school assistant head Dena Shmuel.
‘We don’t know what will happen when schools return; all we know is that we want children to stay safe, happy and healthy.’
‘I’m not qualified to teach anything’
‘No one is expecting parents to turn into teachers: it’s not an easy job, and needs lots of training,’ Dena says.
‘My advice would be to take each day as it comes: look at the work set and give it a go. If it doesn't work, you haven't failed: you’ve tried, and that is all that can be asked of you at this point.’
Charlotte Badenoch, KS1 specialist and tutor with Bright Light Education, agrees.
‘Pride yourself on any progress, however small: you may not notice it every day, but if you do notice your child has learned something, congratulate yourself on helping them make that change,’ she says.
‘The work my child’s school is setting is too easy/difficult’
‘In the current situation, schools may be setting generic work across the class, which would usually be tailored to the level at which your child is working,’ says primary school teacher and tutor Jo Leggett of ABC Primary Tutoring Services.
‘If your child is struggling, break down questions and activities into more manageable chunks and complete these together, encouraging independence as they gain confidence.
‘If the work is too easy, challenge your child to write their own similar questions and test their understanding by explaining how they reached their answers.’
You can also get in touch with your child’s teacher if you have concerns about their schoolwork being pitched at the wrong level.
‘Use them for support when needed, but remember to allow them time to reply, and in the meantime use your time wisely with alternative work or activities,’ Dena suggests.
‘How can I help my child if I don’t understand the work they’re doing?’
‘Most parents are not teachers, so please don’t worry if there’s an aspect of the curriculum that you’re not sure of: simply offer your child reassurance that you’ll find out the answer together,’ says Jo.
‘A lot of schools have contact arrangements in place where you can email their teacher for further guidance, and the school’s website will often have details of the curriculum and specific methods taught.’
‘If you don’t understand something, listen to your child and let them explain it to you,’ advises Dani Okumura, KS2 specialist and tutor with Bright Light Education. ‘You can also outsource: there are so many resources out there to help with different subject areas as you work through them with your child, including worksheets, videos and PowerPoints.’
‘I don’t know how to structure our day’
‘Start the day with some exercise: it helps to trigger feel-good hormones called endorphins, and should also help with improving concentration,’ suggests Charlotte.
‘After that, tackle maths and English, ideally before lunch: children are more attentive in the morning, so that’s the best time to cover the core subjects.
‘Make sure there’s a break between the two lessons: let your child relax for 20 minutes, and if you can, get them outside for some fresh air.’
‘One of my biggest pieces of advice is to have structure and a timetable that works for your family and includes work time, meal and snack times, screen time and playtime – but remember this can be flexible when it needs to be,’ adds Dena.
‘Most importantly, make sure every day includes some reading: this is vital to children's learning.’
‘Does it matter if we don’t get through all the work set by school?’
No, say all four of our teacher contributors.
‘Homeschooling is not a choice that you’ve made, but a situation in which you’ve unexpectedly found yourself,’ says Jo. ‘You may also be working at home, and trying to help more than one child with their schoolwork.
‘When schools eventually reopen, teachers will not assume that children have made progress during the shutdown, and will be aware that some students may have slipped back during their time off.
‘They’ll work their magic when children are back in the classroom to fill in those gaps of learning and ensure your child continues to make progress.’
‘Teach what you can, and use the rest of the time to do things with your children that they wouldn’t necessarily do at school: build a den, bake, do some gardening, plant seeds and watch them grow, watch YouTube videos about amazing spiders in Africa, get the Lego out, and finally try to do a little bit of exercise each day,’ suggests Charlotte.
‘My child is refusing to do their schoolwork’
‘Start by showing your child the school’s website or email that has been sent outlining their work, and explain to them that it is not you who has set the work, but their teacher!’ Dani advises.
‘Set up a timetable with your child each morning so they can tick off each piece of work as they achieve it: children like to have a plan and know what is ahead.
‘If you’re happy to use rewards, this can help, too: for example, earning time on the iPad or television time.’
‘Maintaining a child’s morale and promoting mental health and wellbeing is more important than schoolwork, so if you can’t get them to sit down and work, please don’t panic,’ adds Jo.
‘I’m worried my child won’t keep up with their peers’
‘Everyone is in the same boat, and no one is measuring achievements at the moment,’ Dena says.
‘Primary school children won’t be graded on work done in lockdown, and it won’t count towards any assessments.
‘We teachers will pick up the work and reassess all children once we’re back at school and go from there, so please don’t worry about this right now.’
‘We recognise that the majority of parents are also trying to work from home, and trying to teach your children the entire summer term curriculum alongside is impossible, so don’t try to be a superhero: just get through each day at a time,’ Charlotte adds.
‘I’m struggling to juggle homeschooling and working from home’
‘Depending on the age of your child, encourage them to complete some work independently,’ suggests Dena.
‘I know this can be hard, but try giving them a task to complete and explain that they can only show you once it’s finished.
‘It's also important to tell your own work that you have a child at home, as they may not be aware.’
‘Try to get other family members or friends involved with the teaching,’ suggests Dani. ‘Get the grandparents online and ask them to teach a science, English or art lesson on different days throughout the week.
‘Above all, be aware of your mental health. If you don’t manage homeschooling one day, don’t worry.’
‘Homeschooling arguments are getting me down’
‘Arguments can flare up very quickly between parents, between siblings and of course between parents and their children,’ says Charlotte.
‘It can be easy to lose your temper when your child doesn’t do what you want them to do, and when you’re trying to multi-task with work or chores.
‘Try to identify the problem areas and see whether the daily routine can be changed in any way to help make life a little easier, but if your day doesn’t go to plan, put it behind you and start again the next day with a fresh outlook.’
Jo adds that you need to look after your own wellbeing as well as your child’s. ‘Everyone is finding the situation we are in very challenging for lots of different reasons,’ she says.
‘The most important thing is to be kind to yourself, ensure you have time to yourself when your child is in bed, and remember that you are doing the best that you can.’