Home school help: Is ‘home-schooling’ a misnomer?

In the context of the current coronavirus crisis, I think the term ‘home-schooling’ is a bit of a misnomer. No one should expect parents to ‘school’ their children in the sense of following the national curriculum.

‘Purposeful home study’ may be more appropriate. Or perhaps simply ‘responsible parenting’.

And even then, we’ve got to be realistic about what we can achieve in the short-term and about our children’s – and our own – capacity to focus on complex curriculum content during these unusual and anxious times. Many of us are combining ‘home-schooling’ with working from home and that’s a tricky balance to strike.

Even schools which continue to open their doors for the children of key workers and for the most vulnerable children in our society will not be teaching in the traditional sense. To underline this point, the government is bringing forward legislation to suspend the requirement for schools to teach the national curriculum.

So, don’t put undue pressure on yourself or your children to follow a normal school day and to achieve as much as they would normally do. And don’t punish yourself because you don’t feel up to the challenge of teaching all the subjects on the national curriculum. You are not a superhero; you are human and therefore fallible and that’s what makes you the person you are. And you are amazing.

In short: be kind to yourself and your children; don’t set you – or them – up to fail.

With this in mind, I’d suggest that the priority right now should be to try help your children stay physically and mentally healthy. All else will follow, in time.

In terms of keeping physically healthy, try aim for some daily exercise. There are plenty of online workout videos for children to follow (my 9 year old did one today which, if measured in sweat, was very successful), and you could take a daily walk if you are able to avoid close contact with other people, staying at least two metres distant as per the government guidance. If social distancing is likely to prove difficult, and you have a garden or outdoor space, try ball games instead.

In terms of keeping mentally healthy, try to manage the information you share with your children with regards the coronavirus, and – though I don’t wish to sound patronising – consider your own access, too. Avoid rolling 24-hour news and, instead, plan to watch one or two TV news bulletins a day, maybe at the start and end of the day to help control your anxiety and ensure you can think of other things. The coronavirus can become all-consuming if we are not careful to manage our access to information.

Avoid an over-reliance on social media, too, because this may spread fear and fake news, and – if nothing else – will be full of well-intentioned but often unhelpful advice from other parents/carers who we may think, by comparison, are the kings and queens of home-schooling (and yes, I am aware of the irony).

Remember your children are likely to miss their friends so, if possible, find ways of maintaining contact with their friendship group – for example, via a closed Facebook group, Office 365, or similar.

Establish a routine including what time your children get up, dressed and have breakfast. Don’t allow them to laze in bed even if that provides us with some breathing space – get them up and engaged in something quiet and fun such as BBC Bitesize or ‘PE with Joe’ whilst we start our day. Stick to this routine through the week, don’t be tempted to treat it as a long holiday.

Write a timetable if this will help – but be flexible and don’t beat yourself up if it slips or proves unworkable after a day or two. I would advise we provide our children with a list of tasks to be completed by the end of the day rather than time-stamped ‘lessons’ such as ‘9am English, 10am Maths, etc.’, because those timings may become a millstone round our necks.

A ‘to-do’ list approach will also allow our children some control over what they do and when, and that element of choice will help to motivate them. If they get bored of their maths worksheet, they can stop and play some educational games or follow an exercise video and come back to the maths later in the day.

Don’t expect too much to begin with. Allow plenty of free time for games and practical, creative activities. If we can combine this with educating them about household tasks, all the better. For example, my daughter helps cook meals with me and has some cleaning duties. She helps with the washing and so on.

Have film nights with popcorn. Sit and read together and talk about your books.

Open a ‘tuck shop’ with a list of snack items that are available for the day or week and assign a budget. This not only limits what our children will eat and prevents them from nagging, ‘Can I have something to eat?’ all day, it also teaches them basic addition and educates them about home economics. When they’ve spent their budget, there’s no more tuck! (We have to be strict and enforce this.)

Make use of BBC iPlayer’s educational programming (which, they promise, will increase significantly in the coming weeks as they work with the DfE on content) including Newsround, and of BBC Bitesize and other online learning platforms, many of which are offering free access for a short period.

Your children’s schools may have provided access to other interactive online services such as TTRockstars, Mathletics, and so on. Don’t be put off if your children are playing games, they are educational and provide some respite from other activities such as working through learning packs. If nothing else, you’ll be providing variety and staving off boredom and demotivation. And, as I’ve discovered, you’ll get much more work done whilst your children are online as these services provide self-directed learning.

If we do nothing else, we should at least aim to provide our younger children with spelling lists which they can practice every day and be tested on weekly. Likewise, we should ask them to practice their times tables every day and test them regularly and repeatedly.

Older children should have access to plenty of study notes (perhaps in their exercise books and folders) and these can be used to create revision materials such as flashcards (there are some free online services to help children create flashcards), quizzes and knowledge organisers. Retrieval practice activities are always helpful and will stand your children in good stead when they return to school.

Don’t be afraid to ask older children to read, practice their spellings and times tables either, by the way. These are the foundations on which more complex learning is built.

Older children can also use online learning platforms such as BBC Bitesize and many exam boards have materials for students to access on their websites.

On Monday, my first day of ‘home-schooling’ my 9-year-old daughter, she started the day with half hour of reading, after which she completed her reading log to record a chapter summary and her reflections on the book so far.

After breakfast, we had a half hour walk (well away from anyone else) then she completed some maths questions and some literacy activities in the learning pack sent home by her school. I marked these with her, but only after she’d finished two pages of each, and we discussed her answers. For any question she’d got wrong, we talked about why she’d got it wrong, and then she attempted the question again. I didn’t give her the right answers.

She then had a break and played with the dog in the garden. She watched some TV and then we had lunch.

After lunch, she practised her spellings and her times tables in silence. The latter she did on TT Rockstars.

She then read another chapter of her book in the sunshine and added to her reading log, before we had another half hour walk, this time she went on her scooter (please note, this was before the lockdown).

When we returned, she had a snack and did some work on BBC Bitesize.

I was able to continue working most of the day because I managed the times when I would be available to help her and when she had to work on her own.

She was kept occupied and upbeat because she knew each task was chunked into small blocks and there were plenty of breaks and time to move from the dining room table to the garden and so on. And she knew she was largely in control of what she did, when, so long as she completed her ‘to-do’ list before dinner.

Time will tell if this is a pattern we can stick to or if she – or I – will grow bored or frustrated. But if it doesn’t work tomorrow, we shan’t beat ourselves up about it.

Life is hard at the moment and we all need to be kind to ourselves and each other.

If you think I can be of any help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Take care
Matt

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