I think you’ll agree with me when I say that these are strange times we are facing at the moment! I’m a full-time home educating mum to two children, aged 7 and 3. We’ve been home educating for two years now, and only just starting with some Early Years activities for the youngest, so I’m by no means the most experienced home educating parent out there! However, I’d like to do my bit to try and help some of the families who are now faced with the daunting prospect of educating their children at home for the first time.
Quick disclaimer: the situation we are in now is not a true reflection of what home education is really like. Home education is a choice that our family has made, and we are lucky enough to have a setup which allows me to home educate the children while my husband works. Having that choice made for you with no time to prepare and, in many cases, being expected to continue with your own job whilst educating your children within the confines of your own home is not something I have experience of! Yes, we do lots of learning activities at home but never whilst I’m trying to work too! We usually attend lots of groups and go out and about to museums, nature reserves or social meet ups. Normally the world is our classroom and now we're all being told to stay at home. It’s a strange situation which will require some time to get used to. In the meantime, here are some things I’ve learnt on our home educating journey so far, which I hope will be helpful to you.
Don’t try to recreate school at home. It’s unrealistic. Your children won’t want to sit at the table from 9-3 and you won’t want to spend all that time nagging and negotiating with them to either! Take time to adjust to this new way of life. There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to home educating and it usually takes families a while to find what works for them. Try different routines. Sometimes timetables work wonders, other times they don't. If you've lovingly created a schedule for the day and find you're an hour behind because your children got absorbed in something else, don't beat yourself up! Learning doesn’t always have to look like sitting round a table with exercise books. Some kids love worksheets, others prefer learning through games or using apps. There are learning opportunities in almost everything! Bake cakes, make junk models, sing songs, build Lego, invent a new game. There are so many possibilities for engaging and enriching activities to do at home that don’t involve sitting down with a pen in hand. Now is a great opportunity to teach those real-life skills that get forgotten about at school and to let your children follow their own interests without restriction. Let them be creative, let them play in the mud in the garden, let them help with the cooking, learn how to sew on a button or load the washing machine. I don’t know what schools are expecting of families at this time, but if you get the opportunity for more autonomy with your children’s education then grab it with both hands! Let your children choose a few topics they are interested in and go from there; they will be much more engaged if it’s something they are genuinely interested in and have chosen themselves.
Make use of online resources. It can be hard to know where to start but here are some that we use regularly:
Twinkl is one of our favourites and subscription is free for the next month with the code CVDTWINKLHELPS. With it you have access to hundreds of curriculum-linked activities, games and printables on pretty much any topic you can imagine! (Dinosaur maths? Check. Pirate literacy? Yep. Easter crafts? Loads.)
Reading Eggs and Maths Seeds has been a good tool for us too, you can get a 30-day free trial at the moment. It’s an app which breaks down reading and maths into simple lessons matched to your child’s ability which they can follow independently.
Busy Things (7 day free trial then £1 for the first month) is brilliant. Loads of educational games which are actually fun, my son doesn't even realise he's learning when he's playing them! His favourite game is Miner Birds which is ace for mental maths.There are countless resources out there, from printable worksheets, online classes and virtual museum tours to live webcam streams from zoos around the world. Don’t forget about the hundreds of educational programmes available on Netflix and other streaming services too! It can be a bit overwhelming at first, especially with the corona virus-related influx of new resources being made available free of charge. My advice would be to pick a few and give them a go, don't try and do everything and if something doesn't work for your family then just switch it for something different!
Don't try and go it alone.Everyone is now in a very similar boat; if you're struggling then reach out for support. There are fantastic online groups for support and sharing ideas amongst home educators and I've seen already that new groups are being set up for those parents who are now home educating due to school closures. Check out Temporary Home Education Families on Facebook. Join, get involved if you want, or if not, just reading the posts is a great way to get inspiration and to reassure yourself that you're not alone!
Take time out. Being together all the time can be intense. I often find it hard to make time for myself, it's something I'm working on. But I've learnt that even 5 minutes with a cup of tea in another room while the children are watching TV can make a difference. Equally, the children need time out too and now, when there’s so much stress and uncertainty in the world, is a really important time to focus on their mental health. Let them become totally absorbed in their play, join in with them, take time to really connect and talk with them. Home education gives you that extra time to teach your kids how to look after their own emotional wellbeing. We use Cosmic Kids on YouTube to do yoga and meditation together at home. A brilliant kids mindfulness class we usually attend, Calm Cats, is currently setting up more of an online presence which we hope to get involved with. There are lots of tools out there and this is an important, lifelong skill for children to have, which often isn’t given the time it deserves in schools.
I would also advise trying to get outside every day (easier said than done in the current situation!), reading as much as possible (preferably snuggled under a blanket in a den you’ve just built together!) and letting some of the small things go. Your house will not be tidy while you are home educating. From experience, it’s much easier to embrace and accept it than try to keep on top of everything! There will be days where it seems like nothing gets done but there’ll also be days where you whizz through things and find yourself wondering what to do next. Go with it and try not to stress or feel guilty about those more relaxed days. Making sure your children feel comforted and safe during this uncertain time is ultimately more important than working on their academic skills – there will be plenty of time to catch up when this is all over.
Home educating, whilst seemingly daunting, provides families with the opportunity to reconnect and make memories together. It will hopefully allow your children to remember this strange time in a positive way. It's all going to be trial and error while you find your feet and get into a new routine with your family. You probably won't get it right first time, and that's ok. Try to give your children time and space to have fun, express themselves and explore their own interests and the rest should follow.