You need to work, to pay the bills. House chores are mounting up. And now you have to help your child with homeschooling too. How can you possibly fit it all in?
The necessary closure of all England’s schools (except to vulnerable or key-worker children) is no fun for kids, who won’t get to see their friends for weeks, possibly months. It’s disruptive to their education and to their well-being. But it’s also taking a toll on us parents.
We asked the Kidadl Facebook group for tips on coping with all the demands, and how best to settle into home-schooling. The advice they gave was exceptional.
Don’t Compare Your Situation With That Of Others
“Just do what you can and don't beat yourself up about it,” says Kidadlr Lara. Other parents on the Facebook group agreed. Everyone’s situation is slightly different. Some families may have more free hours to spare, access to childcare for younger siblings, flexible working options, hassle-free technology, a background in education or other advantages that you may not. So don’t get into a game of comparisons about how much their classmates are able to accomplish.
Screens Are Not Evil, And Will Buy You Time
We’ve been conditioned to believe that time in front of the TV, computer or tablet is A Bad Thing and that we should focus on ‘real world’ interactions. Well, not so fast. These are strange times. We are all stretched in uncomfortable ways, and received wisdom may not always be helpful. There’s no shame in giving the kids more screen time if you need the break to get some work done, to sort out the laundry, or even just to give you a bit of a break from everything.
This needn’t be wasted time for the kids either. Streaming services have plenty of educational programmes for all ages, especially youngsters. “Sit them in front of Numberblocks and Alphablocks [available in the UK on iPlayer]”, says Kidadlr Julia. “My teacher friend says they align well with the way kids are taught maths and phonics in school, and my sons learnt so much from watching them.” Kidadlrs also recommended some online resources, including the YouTube channels Furry Phonics and Geraldine the Giraffe (also phonics work), the PhonicsPlay website and the Reading Eggs app. We’ve also put together a guide to homeschooling apps.
Be Open With Your Work Colleagues
Most businesses should, by now, realise that parents need to be fluid in their available work hours. If you feel apprehensive about holding meetings with kids in the background, or catching up with delayed work in the evening, then you’re in the same boat as millions of other parents. We have to suspend long-held beliefs about not blurring home and work life, because that just isn’t possible at the moment. Manage the expectations of your colleagues, and be open and honest about when you might have to dash away to supervise the kids.
Explore Further Options With Your Work
If you simply can’t fit in the demands of homeschooling with your salaried job, then there are other options. You could take holiday, ask for unpaid leave, or temporarily move to reduced hours, in the hope that the restrictions will only last six weeks or so. But you can also request to be put on furlough for the period. The Government’s scheme will accommodate parents and carers who need time off work to homeschool children, and will pay 80% of wages. Employers are not obliged to grant the request, however.
Learning “Off Piste”
Younger children in particular find it hard to concentrate for more than a few minutes on serious educational tasks. Turning the everyday world (strange though it is right now) into a lesson is one way to make it more interesting. “Have fun and get the kids to help you with everyday chores,” suggests Lara. “[They] can learn maths, spellings, vocab, basically anything with food or shopping.” In other words, fit the education in around things that are happening anyway, rather than trying to carve out more time.
Home With Mummy/Daddy Is Not The Same As School With Teacher
Kidadlr Julia reminds us that home and school are very different environments, and we should take that into account for home-schooling. “Don't forget that kids behave WAY better for teaching staff than they do for parents,” she says. “If they really don't want to do something, don't force them, or it might risk putting them off for a long time.”
School is also a much more regimented place, with strict timetables and lesson blocks. You’re unlikely to be able to recreate that at home, but do try to build some kind of structure into the day. For older children, with plenty of computer-based work to get through, it helps to agree break and meal times in advance, and perhaps a preset ‘home time’ when they can down tools for the day. With younger kids, you might want to pick three or four slots a day when you’d like to sit down with them for something a bit more educational than Spongebob. Structures like this will help you to better fit in your workload, and also give the kids some punctuation and rhythm to the day.
Read To Them
This is the simplest of all tips for parents of younger children, and perhaps the most effective. Juggling worksheets, phonics and observational games can be a bit of a mental strain when you’ve got so much else going on. Instead, slow things down by choosing a good book and simply read to your kids. You can make it more interactive by asking questions as you go along. “What do you think is going to happen next?”, “Why is that character angry?” etc.
Set Up A Study Area
With some kids, it can help to compartmentalise the home so that you have a dedicated space for doing school work. It helps if this is a desk or spare room, though not everyone is lucky enough to have the space. For younger children, you could construct a ‘learning den’ by draping some sheets over chairs.
Get Out And About
Lockdown restrictions allow us to leave the house once a day for exercise, and it’s vital that we do. Sitting around the house for days on end is bad for both physical and mental wellbeing. With work, school and other demands on our time piling up, it’s tempting to skip the daily exercise. But you’ll feel better for it, every time.
Try A “Random Lesson Generator”
And finally… Here’s one I’ve been trying with my five-year-old daughter to inject a bit of fun into learning (and teaching!). We wrote down 40 topics on bits of paper -- stuff like “dinosaurs”, “solar system”, “money”, “Africa”. We then placed them in a tombola (which happens to be a paper mortarboard from when she ‘graduated’ from nursery). Each day, we’ll be drawing one of the lessons out of the hat. We then go on a bit of a free-form exploration of the topic around the house, on the iPad, or by whatever means seem best to learn about the topic. I might also ask followers on Twitter for ‘fun facts’ on the topic. We’ll see how it goes.
For more tips on homeschooling for beginners, see our guide.
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