It’s estimated that 10 million households, with school aged children, have had the responsibility for the child’s education suddenly thrust upon them, albeit for a temporary, unspecified duration.
Almost as suddenly, a host of resources, tips and advice have sprung up as Government, schools and businesses rush to support. Never has there been such a wealth of support, nor the lime-lighting of homeschool life.
Homeschooling is not new. In fact, HM the Queen was herself homeschooled by private tutors, her offspring being the first in the Royal line to attend school. Jane Austen, the famous English novelist, was home educated. In her day, formal education was the prerogative of male children, and female children were largely taught at home, if at all, with special ‘finishing schools’ available for older girls, providing the skills and knowledge deemed to be requirements of successful home-making.
But this pandemic, and the temporary homeschooling that the nation has been thrust into, is not that. And so, I’d like to find the common threads from the various routes into homeschooling, in order to share some tips.
A Homeschooling Expert
Is there such a thing? What about a parenting expert? From the time that our children are gifted to us, we are presented with an array of experts, each promoting the ‘best advice’. In the end, it comes down to our personal value systems as well as the child’s temperament, challenges and needs. Home education is no different in this respect. The type of education that a parent provides to their home educated child, will be based upon the philosophy and values of that parent and the needs and challenges of the child.
Which Homeschool Philosophy?
The home educating community uses terms such as ‘unschooling’ to describe the transition from formal education into a more research-led, child-led education that involves discovery, self-learning and exploration.
Some home educators take their hands off the wheel (in an act of extreme courage) and allow their child to self-learn. The argument here is that children are inherently hungry to learn and left to their devices, will discover, test and learn. My personal philosophy places high value on academic learning, but with a strong element of discovery and research and a shift away from rote learning that lacks real-life context.
For parents whose children are on the GCSE path, it is understandable that you would not want to stray too far from the curriculum at this stage. You may be receiving some online support from your child’s school. There are also many online resources that can provide additional support that is aligned to the national curriculum.
My son is a visuospatial learner, as an example, so video is the perfect way for him to learn and retain information. If he can see it, he’ll remember it – for years, it seems. So, for us, YouTube is a fantastic resource. There is a plethora of free channels that deep-dive into GCSE topics, which can help to bring to life your child’s GCSE study and revision.
For those that are homeschooling temporarily throughout the lockdown, here are some questions you can ask yourself;
- What stage is my child at?
- What do I place most value upon educationally?
- What does my child place most value upon educationally and love doing the most?
- How much online teaching is being provided by the school?
- Am I happy with the quantity/quality of communication my child is receiving, or could I supplement with additional resources?
- What subjects/activities most excite my child? (This is a great time to indulge those).
- What subjects/activities does my child struggle with? (This is a great time to explore alternative teaching resources to see whether you can find the key that unlocks your child’s interest. Almost any subject can become fascinating if it is presented and brought to life in a mind-blowingly, interesting way).
- What opportunities does lockdown present to me and my child? Would you like to take this opportunity to allow your child to learn in new ways, new things?
Homeschool Is Not School In A Home
I hope by now that you’re getting a sense of the sheer number of resources that are out there and are hopefully feeling empowered to make some decisions about what your child’s education will look like during lockdown.
It’s important not to try hard to replicate the institution of school in your home. When your child is sick, you don’t try to replicate the regime and order of a hospital, with timed rounds and scheduled care do you? You respond instinctively where the need arises, taking advice and delivering the care that your child needs to get well. Remember those terrifying fevers that we nursed our children through at home when they were tiny? We provided the right care in the right way, on our own terms for the good of the child.
Your homeschooling effort, during the lockdown, could borrow some of that resolve, confidence and commitment too. There is no need to sit your child down for hours each day, with a few breaks, limiting freedom of movement. Working for two to four hours per day is adequate for many children, with additional time for their own interests and play.
I once taught a violin class to six children on a hot afternoon, whilst sitting on my son’s 12ft trampoline. This was high risk for the instruments of course, and I had to carefully manage the children on and off, but it was such a memorable and engaging lesson which included gentle, collective bouncing as we explored rhythm together, and one example of how, with a bit of creativity and imagination, we can set ourselves free from the standard model of child-at-desk style of learning.
If you are fortunate to have access to any outside space during lockdown, consider having lessons outdoors, taking care, and following advice regarding sun exposure and using sunscreen where appropriate. Daily, permitted exercise walks are also a good opportunity not just for learning, but for revising. For example, you could take a walk with your GCSE student and pick a subject for that walk. Ask your child to talk/explain/revise aloud, or to explain certain concepts to you. Ask them questions. Test them. Ask them to teach you. These are all ways to cement existing knowledge and consolidate learning. For younger children, your daily walk can become a biology lesson as one example. If you live in a built-up area, your daily walk can become a lesson in engineering or architectural principles as you look at how buildings are constructed and stay upright. You could talk about how the wheels on cars are able to turn, and when you get home, you could follow up with an age-appropriate YouTube video that shows the inner workings of wheels/gears etc. This could then be broadened to look at other vehicles or other parts of the same vehicle. These are all highly engaging ways to continue your child’s education because you are marrying real-world learning with visuospatial learning, and if you choose to, written or theoretical learning.
The early years child (2-5-years-old), is perhaps the easiest age group to teach in my view, because so much of what we now consider every-day and mundane, still holds so much wonder and delight. So baking pizzas, planting flowers and painting are activities that bring them so much joy, while also allowing them to experience new skills.
How could I write a blog post on home education and not mention the one question that parents all over the world agonise over: “How much screen-time and on-line gaming should I allow my child to indulge in?”
There has been an explosion in online gaming and from CBeebies to Minecraft to the Nintendo 3DS to Pokémon, Splatoon, Fortnite and the new huge kid on the block; Valerant, the progression of gaming through each age group is clearly laid out.
Let’s first understand why kids love gaming so much. Games provide:
Decision making and autonomy/agency
Evidence of progress
Who doesn’t want these for themselves or their children? In my opinion, there is a growing rift between the world of technology that we live in and the way that children are educated. In the real world, children are exposed to the speed of technology and are primed to operate in audio-visual ways. The education system, largely unchanged for the past 300 years, delivers by comparison, an often non-visual experience whereby knowledge is taken in primarily via the written word. Upload is far slower than anywhere else outside of the school building. There are more and more ed-tech start-ups springing up that recognise this chasm and the visualisation/gamification of education is set to grow, and I imagine, become the new normal, to sit in parallel with more traditional forms of learning/educating.
So, how do I make good decisions about my child’s gaming activity? My first answer would be that I honestly don’t know. My second answer would be to list the pros and cons of each child’s online activity. We should, I believe, assess each child individually. I made a pros and cons chart for my own son and it has helped guide me in managing his online activity.
I would also add that my son has an autism diagnosis (what would formerly have been labelled as Asperger’s – but no-one was comfortable with a diagnosis being named after a Nazi, hence ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder). It is recognised that children of this population are statistically, more likely to be drawn to tech, gaming, software development, mathematics, engineering fields. Much of the tech, engineering and mathematical advancements have been made possible because of the minds of people on the autistic spectrum. There is a more troubling statistic, however, which is that the employment rate for adults on the autistic spectrum, overall, is 16%.
So, What Next?
It’s time to sit down with your child and discuss ideas, wishes, resources so that you can come up with a fun plan that is right for your family. This is where lesson-planning becomes invaluable. Being a systematiser, I love me some spreadsheets. I work from home normally, so it’s important to move us along at the same time. I’ve agreed with my son, the best time of day for us to learn, and whilst we’re flexible, I need to constantly try to ensure that it’s routine with some flexibility, not flexibility with a bit of occasional routine. Little, moderate and often is the key here, as is creativity when lesson-planning. With a little patience and creativity, you can help your child to learn and acquire new skills.
I wish you a happy homeschooling journey.
Karen is a home educating Mum and startup entrepreneur. She embarked upon a home educating journey with her son, who was unfulfilled at school. Karen claims to have borrowed some of the innovation and courage that working in the world of startups produces, in order to find a style of learning that most suits the neurological makeup of her son.