Have you found the first week back to homeschooling after Easter has been tough? Are you wondering how you can sustain momentum with your children’s learning during lockdown? You are not alone.
I have been busy, this past week, finding out about blogging from the very colourful and charismatic Maddy Shine of ‘Making Your Business Shine‘. One of our tasks was to think about all of the questions we regularly get asked of our businesses. My list was full of questions that people ask me as a Family Photographer. I had questions about outfits, locations, poses and prices. But when I woke up this morning it occurred to me that actually the question I have been asked the most these past four weeks has been ‘How do you home school your kids and stay sane?’
How we started with homeschooling
I have been homeschooling my daughters for over five years now. (Although we tend to call it home education because, unlike at the moment, most of their learning actually occurs outside the home in classes or workshops, at museums or in nature).
We made the decision not to send our children to school for lots of reasons. The main one being that I used to be a Primary Teacher and I had grown out of love with our current education system. I became frustrated with its ever greater push towards targets, assessments and a one-size-fits-all education. We weren’t feeling sure that our children would thrive in that environment and we wanted to give them the chance to learn at a pace they were comfortable with. We also wanted to allow them to follow their own interests and develop skills that gave them pleasure. Anyway, that’s how we started, and we haven’t really looked back.
Homeschooling in lockdown is haaaarrrd!
What I can tell you is that your experience of homeschooling right now is very different to what we do usually. Lockdown homeschooling is a ridiculously hard, in-at-the-deep-end introduction to the world of educating children. You have had to hit the ground running with little warning, and in a time of great uncertainty. Your normal rhythms and routines have been smashed to smithereens. Many of you will still be trying to work full time while keeping the house clean, everyone fed, pets exercised and relatives checked in on. And then you are expected to oversee the education of possibly multiple children at different stages of development or academic ability. I really do get how hard that has been for you.
Fortunately I don’t work anywhere near full time; most of my photography work takes place at weekends. So it is mainly the editing, paperwork and marketing stuff that needs to fit around home education. My husband however, works very long hours, and is often away during the week or at weekends, which means that the girls and I spend A LOT of time together. We are 24/7 companions. I am their taxi driver, cheerleader, social planner, cleaner, cook, appointment maker and, oh yes, educator.
How can I help you?
Well, I am starting to see people struggling with the homeschooling expectations being put on them. The amount of work given, the resources provided and the pressure to get things completed seems to vary hugely between schools, and sometimes even between teachers in the same school.
Many of your children started off homeschooling enthusiastically. They were happy to sit at the dining room table and complete worksheets, paint rainbows, create amazing Lego models, plant seeds, and embark on long daily walks. But many parents are noticing that this enthusiasm has waned considerably as lockdown has gone on, yet the work keeps pouring in.
I am able to observe what is happening from a few different angles. As an ex-teacher I can see the good intentions behind the veritable tsunami of resources being sent to some families. Teachers will be aware that in some households all the main carers are still working full time. Schools will know that not all families will have shelves full of games, books or craft supplies to keep small minds occupied. It will feel to them that, the more they can send home, the more there will be available to keep their pupils busy, and the more helpful that will be to families.
But I also see what this can look like for the Parents. The more work that tumbles into their inbox, the more links to zoom calls and online learning sites that get sent, the more pressure the parent feels to ‘get it done’.
So what should you do?
If you are feeling overwhelmed, the first thing to do is… breathe. These are NOT normal times. However much your social media feeds are filled with smiling children taking part in wonderfully elaborate, educational activities, remember that those parents are probably struggling too. Maybe not today, but yesterday may have been terrible and tomorrow their children might spend 14 hours on YouTube!
Do what gets you through the day. By that I don’t mean start on the gin before lunch, or lock the kids in the garden. But try to focus ONLY on what works for your family, not what everyone else ‘seems’ to be doing. It is really important at this time to be both reflective and flexible. So on the good days, try to really think about what went well, why was everyone in a good mood? And on the bad days, don’t just keep plodding along with the plan you had. If everyone is miserable, change it up, let some things go, be forgiving of yourself and everyone else in your family.
Talk. Have conversations with your children. THE greatest educational tool you have is conversation. Children always have questions bubbling away under the surface, if they feel someone is truly listening, those questions will come out and they will often guide us onto a cool learning path that might not be on the curriculum or be the focus of a worksheet, but that will be a real learning opportunity. Take those questions and run with them; google stuff, look things up on Youtube, create play opportunities around them.
Remember that mental health is more important than completed worksheets. Start each day with a few simple questions for each family member…
‘How are you feeling?’
‘What one/two/three things would you really like to do today?’
‘How can we all get those things achieved?’
Then work from there.
But they have to do their work, don’t they?
All parents have a responsibility to ensure that their child receives an education that is suitable for their age, aptitude and ability. When a child goes to school the parents outsource that role to the educational establishment, whereas home educators continue to be in charge of how that responsibility is carried out. During lockdown, schools remain responsible for ensuring that children on their roll receive an education, but at the moment they are having to rely on parents to deliver that education.
Some schools will have very strict guidelines for what each child should be doing and when, whereas other schools are happy to leave that up to each family. Exactly how much ‘work’ your child should be doing depends greatly on the three A’s i mentioned before: Age, Ability and Aptitude. A child half way through their reception year should be mainly learning through play based activities, whereas a child working towards their GSCEs will need to have a very different routine. Some children will respond really well to a focussed session of learning activities at the same time every day, whereas others will learn much better with activities that engage them physically or creatively.
The best thing to do is to collaborate with the child that you have in front of you. Talk to them about what the school is suggesting that they do. Ask them how they feel about that and how they would like to cover the topics or themes set. Try different routines, learning at different times of the day. Change up where the learning happens. Be creative about how you cover the basics.
Be reflective and flexible.
Don’t forget to record this moment in time
The photographer in me can’t help but to ask you to preserve these memories. This is such an unusual situation we all find ourselves in and we will look back on it as a really pivotal time in our lives. So don’t forget to record it for when your children are grown up and ask ‘What did we do during lockdown?’ Everyday, try and take a few photos of what everyone is up to. Try and seek out the little moments of learning that are happening in the everyday moments. It will help you to see what your child is drawn to and to get a picture of how they learn best. And maybe you will be surprised at how much you are actually doing that is supporting your child’s continued education.
If you have any questions at all about either homeschooling during lockdown, or how to record this moment in your family’s history, please do get in touch.