Many people’s lives are being turned upside down during lockdown, the last thing you need to be worrying about is whether your child is ‘getting behind’ in their home learning.
I had some lovely comments after my last post Surviving Homeschooling During Lockdown. Some parents have really thrown themselves into educating their children, but it seems many are finding it a real struggle to squeeze education into all of the other things that are happening in their lives just now. And it is not just the parents who have found it a hard transition. Our little people are also finding the change in routine, the lack of time with friends and the lack of structure really tough.
I can’t help you make your homeschooling Pinterest-worthy, but I might just have a few ideas that will help your days run a bit smoother. After more than five years of educating my children at home I have come across many obstacles and I have tried many different things to make it work for us as a family. It might be that some of those tweaks resonate with your situation and help you get through another day with your sanity intact.
There is no ‘Behind’ outside the classroom
The first thing you need to let go of is the idea that there is a ‘behind’ when you are learning at home. Every single person learns at a different speed, and in a slightly different way. If we compare each person in our family, and the skills that they have, each one will be ‘ahead’ and each will be ‘behind’ in something. Learning is non-linear and depends on so many variables.
For example, I just asked my family to think of one skill and one area of knowledge that they are better at than anyone else in the family. We all found it surprisingly easy to name something. My youngest is better than the rest of the family at horse-riding and aesthetics (her understanding of how colours work together, fashion, design and what is pleasing to the eye is excellent). The eldest has far superior skills in all things Circus and her knowledge of animals and nature is better than everyone else’s. My husband smashes mental arithmetic and karate, whereas I am better at spelling and art. So who is behind and who is ahead? Obviously the answer is none of us.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. There are skills we will pick up quickly and others we may always struggle with (I still don’t know my times tables by rote, and probably never will, but I have an A Level in maths and it has never held me back!)
So, for now forget about comparing your child to anyone else. Appreciate their unique skill set and help them work on areas that they are struggling with, but meet them where they are actually at, not where they are ‘supposed’ to be.
Check Your Energy
You will know by now that our children feed off our energy and mood. Nothing can crash the energy in a household like a grumpy parent! This is not to say that you need to be on top form every minute of every day. That is just not possible. But if you are aware of your energy you are less likely to experience ‘banging your head against a brick wall’ home learning moments.
If your energy is high, and you are in a playful mood, your children are likely to pick up on that and be more easily engaged in some fun physical activity, or a silly word game or even a little quick-fire mental maths quiz. If your mood is more contemplative, maybe suggest you watch a documentary together or do a little collaborative art. When you are tired, a cuddle and a story might work well. If you are feeling irritable maybe let your children take you out for a walk, let them decide the route, count rainbow pictures, try and name trees or flowers, have silly races between lampposts.
What I would strongly advise against is trying to do anything that resembles ‘teaching’ if you are short of time, distracted, feeling upset or angry or any other strong emotion. The chances are that it will all go to pot and you will all end up feeling even worse.
Fake it ’til you make it
So what if you are really struggling to get motivated to do anything at all with your children? Sometimes, I really don’t fancy engaging in anything. On days like this I have two choices. I can either admit defeat and we can all have a hibernation day (perfectly acceptable!). Or I can ‘Fake it until I make it’. I can pretend to be ‘that’ mum. The one you see on social media. The one who happily jumps in on the kids’ water fight; let’s the children loose in the kitchen to bake whatever they like; gets all the blankets and sheets out to build a fort. My heart might not be in it, but sometimes if I just start, I find my enthusiasm returns and I actually have fun. (Until I have to tidy up again!)
But how much school work should we be doing?
Honestly, I can not answer this one for you. This is something you have to decide as a family, together. I know a lot of home educating families that like to do a little bit of Literacy and Numeracy work each day to keep everyone ticking over. But how you do this will depend on the age of your child, how they learn best, and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. If your child enjoys apps or online learning tools, let them use those. If they prefer practical learning activities there are plenty of ways they can practise their reading and maths skills without a worksheet. Following recipes, reading game instructions, building bird or bug houses, DIY projects etc are all excellent ways to learn differently.
Don’t forgot that learning does not have to happen at 9am whilst sat at a table. Change things up. Take the books outside, go for a nature walk after dark, try some science experiments in the bathroom. If you feel like you haven’t ‘done enough’ that day, crack out the snacks and the board games and have a games night. Or bring all the duvets and pillows down before bed to watch a nature programme or some Horrible Histories together. Learning at home can happen at any time, in many ways. And it does not need to involve pencils and paper!
Learning at Home from Others
Don’t forget that, although you are currently overseeing your child’s education, there is nothing stopping you from outsourcing some of it. Make the most of technology to give yourself a little break. This list of Free Educational Resources was compiled by a group of fellow home educators at the start of this crisis and has some amazing learning ideas for all ages.
Use video chats with family and friends creatively. If you have people in your family who are home alone, you could ask them to help you out. See if Granny would do a video art class for your children. Get the kids to do their reading aloud with Auntie over the phone. Maybe Grandad could do a little nature walk/ scavenger hunt around the garden?
There are also hundreds of small businesses who are running zoom classes to keep them afloat just now. Art, Martial Arts, Yoga, Circus Skills, what is your child really into? Maybe a local business is offering a class for it.
Surviving the other stuff
I think one of the hardest things about having our children learning at home is the mess. I call it ‘The Drift’. And I have no idea how they manage it. You can go to bed at night with the house looking half way decent. The kitchen is clean. Things are pretty much where they belong. You wake up, have a coffee, have a quick scroll on social media. You look up and…. BAM! The child-made destruction has begun. But rather than it ending again with the school run, it continues, all day. Why are there cheerios in the pot plants? Why do I have crumbs, a hair bobble and a Lego piece in my bed? What is Barbie doing in the kitchen sink? How do such small humans create so much mess?!
Get Everyone Involved
There is no easy fix for this I’m afraid. But when you are all at home together, it does help if everyone does a little bit to keep the house habitable. I am not really one for setting chores. I hate the way it turns me into a nag. But I do ask for help from whoever is about when I need a job done.
Most younger children seem to quite enjoy helping out if you do it together and make it a bit of fun. And older ones generally respond better to a call for help in the moment, than a list of jobs to complete. So i try to be all “Oh honey, if you are heading up stairs, would you mind taking the laundry up and putting it into piles on the bed? That would be amazing!” Rather than ” You have to sort your laundry out before you get your phone.” OK, it doesn’t work every time, but what part of parenting does?
Doing the boring stuff together does seem to work quite well for us. And I try to change up what we do and how we do it. So, for example, a sudden shout up the stairs announcing a ‘dish amnesty’ – anyone who takes part and can find me some dirty glasses, plates, bowls, mugs etc gets ice cream! Timed tidy-ups still work quite well for my tweens and can get us all moving a bit faster to get things done in the time we set. “How clean can we get this bathroom in 10 minutes?”… That sort of thing.
‘Not My Stuff’
Another little thing that has helped me to deal with the ‘random stuff’ that gets drifted around the house every, single day, is to have a ‘Not My Stuff’ box in each room or area. Each morning or last thing at night I scoop up all the ‘Not My Stuff’ bits and bobs that have been left all over the place and dump them in the box. I get the pleasure of a little bit of tidiness without having to traipse room to room putting bits away. Then every few days or so I’ll ask someone to sort out one of the boxes, or ask everyone to claim their own items from the boxes.
Ask for Help
Finally, if you are really struggling, please ask for help. Don’t sit there thinking that everyone else has got this home learning thing sussed… because they really haven’t. Speak up. You’ll be surprised at how many others are in the same boat. Find families with similar issues, with children who learn in similar ways. Share ideas that work, and commiserate when things don’t.
Oh, and just a little reminder…
Like I said in my last post, don’t forget to record what you have been up to. Get into the habit of making a note of what you have done or taking a photo. Then at the end of the week, look back and search for every little bit of learning. Notice every time your child had to read or write something, used numbers, was creative, used their bodies, cooperated with someone else etc etc. You will probably be surprised at how much there was!