We’re all teachers now. The closing of schools to most pupils has seen unprecedented numbers of parents don the metaphorical mortar board and take charge of their children’s homeschooling.
The challenge has been significant for everyone. Those with more than one child, or with both parents working full time jobs have particularly struggled to fit everything in. But some have also had positive moments, despite the upheaval. For this article, we asked members of the Kidadl Facebook group to share their own experiences, good and bad. What have we learned from weeks of homeschooling -- about the curriculum, about the skills of teaching, about our children, and about our own abilities to cope with change and pressure?
New Respect For Teachers
In some ways, homeschooling has given families more access to education. We have direct, daily contact with the class teacher in ways not possible before. We’ve also been given a window into how subjects are taught and lessons planned out. “[I] have loved being a fly on the wall in my daughter's reception class and watching her shine!,” says Kidadlr Sara, neatly summing up this positive side to homeschooling.
This greater fusion between home and school has also brought with it newfound respect for our teachers. “...Teachers must have infinite patience to teach the same thing over & over again and are amazing at engaging kids in learning with creative ideas,” reckons Katie. “Ultimately lockdown has made me realise, teachers are Gods,” says Fran.
Parents Learn Something, Too
Many parents have furthered their own education by dipping into their children’s classes. Some have been forced to recall long-forgotten facts, others are learning from scratch. To many of us, it seems the modern curriculum is years ahead of what we studied all those years ago. “The pace at which children are expected to learn is very fast with concepts far more advanced than I remember learning as a child (my kids are 7 and 11),” says Fran. “[It puts] lots of emphasis on the ‘formalities’ and correct terminology even early on, lots less time for ‘fun’ but maybe that’s just Zoom learning.”
Eleanor has found a similar focus: “I've been surprised that for my six year old there is so much emphasis on punctuation and time connectives. We seem to write a lot of sentences based on a story that lasts two week (same story but different task each day) and he's expected to use capitals, commas, full stops, time connectives (first, next, then, finally) and a big emphasis on adjectives. I don't remember anything like this from year one at school (80s child)”. And it’s not just English grammar. “I learned more from year 7 history than when I did A level history!,” reckons Kidadlr Vanessa.
This phenomenon of “I’m sure this is more involved than when I was at school” is even true even for parents of Reception year children. Working alongside my 5-year-old, I’ve (re)learned to tell the difference between dorsal and pectoral fins, discovered words like ‘numicon’, ‘digraph’ and, of course, ‘phonics’, and unlocked a whole, painful new world of yoga positions as part of ‘wellbeing Wednesday’.
All The World’s A Classroom
Lockdown has robbed children of education in ways that go beyond the classroom. Museums and galleries have closed for weeks, possibly months. Libraries, if open at all, are severely limited in their offering. We can’t even spend time watching wildlife, unless we’re exercising at the same time. Kidadlr Mandy is a homeschooler even in normal times. But lockdown has changed things even for her. “I’ve always believed that home is our sanctuary but I fully understand now that the world truly is our classroom. We miss it. We can’t wait to stop isolation schooling and get back to normality.” Her thoughts are echoed by Kathleen, another veteran of homeschooling: “Our kids continue to grow and thrive, but we miss museums, clubs, meetups, groups, events, etc.” Kathleen has been putting her experience to good use, helping other parents manage with the sudden change to the school day. “It has been interesting to see people who were previously derisive about home education change their minds as they've seen their kids grow and thrive even with everything else going on. Being open minded is good!”
And The Trickier Sides To Homeschooling
While many of us have had positive experiences with this more hands-on approach to schooling, we can’t ignore the massive downsides that go alongside. Just about every family will have struggled with the workload, trying to fit in hours of school work supervision alongside the day job and the house work. Jenni sums up the challenge pithily: “I have learnt that trying to teach improper fractions to [my] eight year year old while trying to meet a work deadline is a very bad thing to do.” (For those who’ve forgotten [myself included] an improper fraction is one in which the top number is higher than the lower -- 7/4, for example, or 3/2.)
Not everyone has found the content of their school work palatable. “The teaching at my son’s school is very traditional,” says Tamara. “Lots of time is spent copying out sentences. For a child who doesn’t like writing this creates battles where they aren’t necessary. I’ve now applied a different approach. We do the lesson on sheets, without pointless copying out sentences. We get through twice as much of the actual substance of the lessons. The lesson learnt is therefore to tailor the lesson to my child and keep focus on the actual value of the lesson.”
Even teachers have found that homeschooling their own kids is a very different proposition to class teaching. “I am an amazing teacher… when it’s not my own kids!” says Illy. “There is a reason why until now I have never taught my own!”. Michelle, meanwhile, has found that younger kids can be more demanding: “I teach secondary school children maths and my own two young children in primary school have been much harder to teach!”
Others have found that modern teaching methods are a put off, particularly when it comes to maths. “[I] just don't get any of the new methods,” admits Jenni. “It's resulted in tantrums as I don't know or have time to get my head round it. Looking forward to half term.”
Eleanor probably speaks for many parents when she concludes that “I've also learnt that home schooling is not for us long-term, he needs to be back in school seeing his friends and being motivated by being in the class!”
Providing Emotional Support
Helping our children with school work is, of course, just one of the challenges parents have faced over lockdown. These are truly exceptional times. Has there ever been a period in human history when children have been forbidden from seeing one another? Sport is banned, except in the household group. We’re not even supposed to drive out to the countryside, stop to enjoy nature, or even hug a grandparent. These are unprecedented limitations, causing emotional turmoil for children and parents alike. “Even though my children are very resilient, lockdown has impacted them,” says Fran. “They are more emotional, clingy with me and lonely -- they need their friends just like me.” Jenni concurs. “I have learnt how important playing with friends is to an eight year old,” she says.
Hayley has also found that supporting her children’s emotional needs is the priority. “I've learnt that supporting my kids emotionally is way more important than trying (and totally failing...!) to replicate what they learn at school,” she says. But she’s also been able to use the experience in a positive way. “I feel that, by getting to know each other over the last year, we've given ourselves a really good grounding for navigating any trickiness that might arise in the future.”
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.