The world has changed so quickly in these past weeks and suddenly, those of us who are homeschooling our children are no longer in the minority! The current world Coronavirus pandemic has forced most of the world into isolation in their homes which means millions of people are now homeschooling their children.
Many mums and dads seem to be feeling quite anxious about the situation and I’ve had more than one request for some advice and tips! While I want to be very clear about the fact that I most definitely don’t have all the answers, (and every family is unique in their characteristics and needs) I thought I’d share some tidbits that have helped us over the past 14 years of homeschooling. Hoping it might be a help to someone!
First, if you’ve been thrust into homeschooling, I recommend that you stop and take a deep breath. Give yourself permission to find this challenging (even us veterans have really difficult days!). Homeschooling is just one of the many changes our families are experiencing at the moment and it’s a lot to face all at once. Be very patient and gracious with yourself and your children. Pay attention to their emotions and also your own. Give yourself and them time to adapt to the changes, including the fact that they will be learning at home. Let them know you understand the changes are not easy. There is no rush to find the perfect rhythm! In fact, it doesn’t exist! One of the things I find constant as a homeschooling mum is the continual need to adjust – our schedules and routines, curriculum and everything! Flexibility is so important. Under ordinary circumstances, when families begin homeschooling, they often take a period of time called “de-schooling” (which is just a time for the children to get used to being at home and a brand new way of doing things) before actually starting back into formal academics. Feel free to take a period of time like this if you need it. – guilt free (for whatever reason!)
Second, don’t expect homeschooling to look or feel like normal school. It will take time to find a good routine, but try to create one based on YOUR family’s needs and don’t try to replicate the look or feel of a classroom! I do believe children thrive with a (flexible) routine but make it your own personal family routine with your own style. Don’t try to force a 9am-3pm timetable (think about how much school time is spent in things like moving from activity to activity, classroom management, etc). I really think that children 7 and under realistically only need a maximum of an hour of formal schooling a day (ie the amount of time they actually sit down at a table and do work). Having said that, all of the rest of their day can be extremely educational!! Board and card games, arts and crafts, cooking, gardening, taking care of pets, stories being read aloud, the list could go on! And of course free play is extremely good for children in so many ways – lego, playmobil (our personal family favourite for fostering creativity!), dressing up and creating imaginary games are so wonderful for their development!
(NOTE: The availability of screens will most definitely squeeze out these creative and highly beneficial activities! If children have a choice, they will always choose the screen. This isn’t the place to write about the immense damage to the brains of children being done by screens and the addictive nature of them but I’m confident you won’t ever regret limiting the access your children have to them! Remember, there might be an adjustment period while your children are getting used to being at home all the time. If screens are not a constant option, their creativity will eventually blossom and you will find that their “boredom” motivates them to try all kinds of new and creative play. If you resist the temptation to use a screen as a babysitter, it will temporarily mean less “free” time for you as a parent. But in the end it will pay off! And the brain and heart of your children will be protected.)
Thoughts on routine:
- Children are usually much more able to concentrate in the morning. So try to do the subjects first thing that they most need their brain power for (ie maths and English and for older children, science, etc). Afternoons can be free for things like reading, read-alouds, crafts, outdoor play (if possible under the current rules!), cooking, lego, music practice, projects, etc.
- If you have multiple children of different ages, I have found it helpful to work with the youngest children first. They will be more fresh first thing in the day, and will benefit having your attention (it fills their love tanks!) before you get involved in helping the older kids. I find my little ones have always been much happier to go off and play by themselves if they’ve had time with mummy first. If they are not school aged, you can read them stories, play a game or with toys with them – try letting them pick what they would like to do with you! It will make them feel special and show them that you have time just for them.
- When a child is about 6 or 7 years old, I have found that making a daily list of school work for them really helps them to learn responsibility and self-motivation. They can tick off the items themselves and it stops you having to constantly be telling them what to do. (Of course they should know they can come to you for help if they need it!). Older children can have a weekly list, rather than daily, which teaches them to manage their time and decide what needs to be done each day.
- Having a routine is so helpful but don’t become a slave to your routine. Give yourself permission to throw the math lesson out the window once in awhile and make play dough or cook something together or whatever. Embrace joy!
- Include in your routine a time in the day where everyone goes to their own little corner and does something quietly alone (screen free if you can!). With everyone being together in the same space for long periods of time, it’s super healthy to get a break from each other! It’s also very helpful for you as a mum or dad to take some time to rest, nap, read or call a friend. We all need time to rest and recharge our batteries!
- Another essential part of a homeschooling routine is a regular time or times for tidying up. More people in the house for more time means more mess! Choose regular times where everyone in the house participates in bringing some order back to your home. We have a time before we eat dinner where everyone has a job to do. And we have after meal clean-up jobs too. And then deeper cleaning jobs on the weekends. In one sense we have an advantage in that we have a big family and therefore more hands to help (but more people in the house means it gets messier more quickly too!) Doing chores (or contributions as we call them) is absolutely part of education for children too and teaches love, kindness, responsibility and working as a team. It takes effort for a parent to organise the jobs, teach them and make sure they are getting done. But your children will grow up with invaluable skills and hopefully some wonderful character traits!
Remember, your family is unique and wonderful! Some families like to do a lot of art and craft, others love music and dance, and still others love science and nature. Maybe you love them all or something else entirely! But please, please try not to compare yourself to other families. They are not you and you are not them. Go with the interests of your children and remember you don’t have to imitate other families or live up to anyone else’s expectations. Keep things simple and remember that your family relationships are vastly more important than academic success. You are teaching precious little people, not school subjects. Value them as people – mind, heart and body.
This has gotten very long and I still have quite a lot more to say! So I will come back with part 2 (and maybe 3) in the next few days. I hope to write a bit more about the “how to” of homeschooling and the things I believe are truly important to prioritise as we are educating our children. As well as resource ideas. Stay tuned! And do let me know if you have any specific questions you want me to address.