Over the next few days (and weeks? months?) I’m going to offer some tips and advice about home educating, working from home, and maintaining positive mental health. In future posts, I’ll focus on more specific topics – to stick to the curriculum or not, educating children of different ages and/or abilities, good communication, home educating older children, etc. Today, I’m going to start with some general thoughts about home education, so that you keep these in mind when you’re planning what to do with your children at home in the days and weeks ahead.
Many home educators resist using the term ‘home schooling’, and for a very good reason. Home is not school. We are not teachers – apart from those of you who are teachers, but even then, you’re generally not your own children’s teachers. Teachers are an incredible bunch of dedicated, hardworking people, who do an amazing job of caring for, educating and socializing our children. However, they are educated and trained to teach children in specific situations, namely, large groups of children, in classrooms, for a specific number of hours each day. They have been trained to follow or adapt a curriculum, and they have been trained to work as part of a larger team of people with a shared vision and commitment to the institution of school (in the general sense) and to their own school institution (in the specific sense). Home is a very different environment, and the dynamic and relationship we have with our children is very different to that between our children and their teachers.
Forget about trying to turn your home into a school. It’s not going to work and you’re going to end up with frustration, anxiety and tears from everyone (and, believe me, no-one wants to see Daddy crying over the conjugation of French verbs).
Instead, create an environment in your home where children are self-motivated to learn and grow:
- Televisions, tablets and phones are the enemies of imagination and enthusiasm. Turn them all off – and that means you too, Mum and Dad. Set aside long periods of the day when no-one uses these devices. (In a future posts I’ll discuss how to effectively communicate this to children and how to maintain cyber silence while working from home)
- Be patient. This is new territory for everyone. If your children have always been in formal education, then this is a big change for them too. Reassuring them and caring for their emotional needs is far more important right now than making sure they know their periodic table.
- Limit the time you spend doing ‘sit-down’ classroom-style educating. My children’s teacher has set up a WhatsApp group and is now sending work for the children to do. In addition, on the last day of school, I asked my girls to bring home their geography, science and maths books, as those were the subjects I think need most work. However, rather than sitting at the kitchen table or wherever for hours on end, limit these sorts of activities to two 20-minute sessions a day. If there’s frustration after 10 minutes, don’t beat yourself up, or get mad at your child/children. Accept that it’s not going to be, and give it another shot later or tomorrow. And if, on the other hand, the 20 minutes turns into half an hour or an hour and the child is wildly enthusiastic – run with it. Because chances are, they won’t show that same enthusiasm tomorrow.
- Accept slowness. Standing over your child and expecting him or her to complete a task in a set period of time is going to end in frustration. Be present for your child, to help and assist, but accept that it may take the child a long time to complete an activity. We’ve all got extra time on our hands right now, so what does it matter? This doesn’t mean that your child dawdles and draws out 5 minutes of maths homework over two hours. Gently encourage and assist your child, but accept that just because you can write a sentence of five words in five seconds, or can solve 6 x 3 in the blink of an eye, that your child can too. Work at their speed.
- Accept that things probably won’t work out as you had planned. You know all those awful YouTube videos of people making crafts? You know all those nice cakes in children’s cook books? You know those photos your friends post on Facebook of the amazing things their children have made? Let’s get one thing clear. In 99.9% of cases, your activities with your children are not going to meet the vision you had for them before you started. And that’s perfectly ok. The education, the learning and the fun are to be found in the process, not in the finished product. If you imagine that by the end of a 20-minute history session, your child will know the names of all Henry VIII’s wives, accept that there’s a good chance they won’t. If you imagine that your child is going to build some spectacular castle out of cardboard boxes and toilet roll inserts, accept that it will probably be a spectacular mess and look nothing like the castle of your imagination.
- Change your expectations. It doesn’t matter that your child knows the names of all of Henry VIII’s wives. What matters is that you sat down together (or stood at the kitchen sink together, or kicked around a football in the back yard together) and talked about Henry VIII and his six wives, and why he had six wives in the first place, and what became of some of them. It doesn’t matter that your imagined castle is a pile of cardboard and PVA glue rubble. What matters is that you and your child planned and made something together, or that you left your child to his or her own devices to plan and make something.
- Finally, follow their lead. Listen to what they want to do. Find out what interests them. Use this time as an opportunity to learn about things they might not otherwise have time to learn about. Your child is curious about something? Dinosaurs? The First World War? How peanut butter is made? Do the research together and learn together. Many children are asking about the Corona virus right now. Well, there’s a biology lesson in virology right there. Forget about this particular virus, get out your actual or virtual dictionaries, reference books, resources of all kinds and find out what a virus is, how it works, what it does. Rather than being teacher and student, you are learning something new together.
I hope this provides some reassurance that you’re doing just fine. I’ll further unpack these ideas in future posts. Tomorrow I’m going to write about juggling working from home with home educating.