In the time of Shut Schools, What I’ve learned as an ex teacher from 3 years home educating.

I know, it’s scary, it’s frustrating. But we can get through it.

Schools have shutdown across the world and millions of parents are suddenly becoming their child’s teacher never expecting to find themselves in this situation and many are feeling worried, out of their depth and frustrated that it’s not going as well as expected.

Parents may feel they are struggling to keep up, some with their own expectations, some with over zealous demands from the school or finding their Children are cheeky, challenging approaches and avoiding work altogether and it’s just not fun especially if the school is going all guns blazing trying to show they are keeping things as normal or ‘on track’ as possible.

But, this isn’t a normal situation, it can’t be normal and quite frankly for many people when this is over will never quite be the same normal again for good, for worse, for obvious and for imperceptible. Not to put a downer on things, but these really are ‘interesting times’ in the curse sense of the phrase.

I’ve been a bit nervous about wading my feet in, I’ve had this post written for a week but been scared to post. You see, I don’t usually advertise the fact I’m a home educator by choice as in times before it evoked a certain set of reactions and most of them were not exactly positive, but I think I have something valuable to say.

We are all in this together whether we started educating at home or otherwise.

First of all I’m not going to evangelise Home Education and bash school. There are so many awesome, dedicated and hardworking teachers out there who are inspirational, doing everything they can every day, and more so now. 💜

I was a teacher, I loved being a teacher and I know that for many many children, school is absolutely the best place for them, for the routine, the rigour, the positive role models, wider community experiences and pastoral support that schools offer.

But yet I chose to home educate my daughter. Ours is partially a philosophical reason, and partially a best fit for the family situation and the frequent disruption that has occurred due to the girls’ health investigations. And for us, home education works, although its been a major adjustment for my concept of teaching, and we picked it!

I feel the best approach for those struggling is to: Think home learning not homeschool– especially now

Adjustment is necessary

Home isn’t school, it isn’t supposed to be like a school with uniforms, bells, lining up and shirts tucked in silence; it’s your home, your shelter, your safe place- we need to find a way to bring together our learning selves and our home selves reframed in a positive way.

We’ve always home educated yet, I’ll be completely honest even our approach has gone wobbly because these are NOT normal circumstances and I fully expect children beginning to homeschool are going to be even more wobbly, if not floored by the situation. They are just as scared as we are (however much you’ve exposed or sheltered them with the news), missing their friends, missing the solidity & comfort of predictable routine even if they hated school, they likely are feeling lost too and brace of maths questions at the kitchen table are not going to quell those fears.

Be gentle with them, give their feelings time and validation. 

There is a reason why many home edders who leave school go through a period of deschooling. Reframing the mind to prepare for home education outside of the parameters of school.

BUT the children who are home now are not by choice or philosophy, but by necessity and schools will reopen when safe to do so. Therefore you cannot do away with ALL the ideas of what school education is…. but you may need to establish a new middle ground for them in the meantime. 

Reframing 

First of all, this is a mindset change that is not to be underestimated. I STRUGGLED with exactly the same ideas that parents have been doing so. 

Nearly all of us parents and caregivers went to a traditional day school environment, where the concept of school was sit down, open book, pick up pen and that learning is a passive act you are receive from the teacher or textbook then you write it down and answer some questions. 

It is engraved in our minds that learning = sitting down with a workbook, sheet or similar and ‘doing’ work that has a visible result at the end of a set period of time, be it a piece of writing, a page of sums or a completed worksheet etc, even though we know there are skills and knowledge that can’t quite be captured on paper or in a photo.

And it doesn’t always work like that in the home. A list of extraction questions that would take 30 mins to complete in class may be done in under ten at home for various behavioural management and engagement reasons, classroom/friendship political reasons and so forth. Plus they may now have more one on one attention than they ever have in one go in the classroom unless they have support.

Try to imagine the difference between learning at home and at school in this really over simplistic way: it’s the difference between spraying perfume whilst in a tiny room and a classroom.

In a classroom if you give one spray of perfume it takes a good while to disperse around the room so everyone can smell it, and you may need to give another spritz or so to help top up. (please note this analogy doesn’t apply to Lynx- Axe for Americans- aka Napalm for nostrils) This is like learning in a classroom, the ability as as a teacher to facilitate individual learning is somewhat diluted BUT you get there.

However, if you spray perfume on yourself in a tiny space you and your child can immediately smell it and if you keep spraying periodically both of you will soon get overwhelmed and it be too much.

This can be the same with learning at home, the intensity of the one on one or small group setting over too long or concentrated a period can be overwhelming like sensory overload.

Many home educators in the UK agree that homeschooling is the worst word to use because it implies recreating a school environment in the home when we should be taking the opportunity to work on the best for the individual in front of us rather than the best fit for the group.

Child centred means what fits your child

If you are in a tizz over getting your child to complete the work set by the school, know you aren’t alone. 

I’ve been there from both sides of the coalface dealing with school’s expectations of provision for long term absence and how that work gets done in my former students and trying to get my daughter to do a workbook she doesn’t want to do but I felt she had to do so I would feel we  had enough evidence of ‘work’ just in case.

You and I know the majority of school children don’t like doing homework, even the ones who do it diligently don’t think ooooh homework 😍 so why do we expect the concept of homeschooling be any different?

Whilst many teachers  and headteachers have thankfully shown on social media say let it go, let them enjoy different opportunities for learning, and some partially aware of the realities, there are still some who have been very prescriptive. 

It is obviously difficult if your child’s teacher/s have prescribed a blow by blow breakdown of tasks or worse hours they are expected to complete each day or to present themselves live online all school day, but I would consider negotiating this with the well meaning teacher and if not fruitful see if there is room to reimagine the tasks.

Thinking outside the box

So if you are on board to changing things up remember Learning is more than just pen to paper or fingers to keyboard/screen. There is such positive learning processes going on when your child builds lego or colours, or acts out stories with their dolls, plays with their siblings in the garden, or on the living room floor.

But if you or your child feel more confident with some directed learning ask yourself. How much more can your child learn from hands on practical or expressive activities that THEY enjoy based around a topic they are either interested in or expected to study at home?

Some of these admittedly require some equipment, others can be done with household items, pen paper and imagination. 

  • Board Games– ones that explore the skill? Creating your own whether it be an actual game or creating your own deck of subject specific questions used in trivial pursuit?
  • For D&D fans can they be Dungeon Master and create a campaign based on a topic of study to play over Skype with their friends/party.
  • Dioramas– For those going ??? These are like standup or wall poster displays that are more than a poster in explaining or detailing a topic or process.
  • Collage/Mood boards– For a period in time, book, topic in science, place in the world
  • Scrapbooks– do not estimate the power of a scrapbook to explore a topic.
  • Collating or creating statistics such as Nature watching in your garden
  • Writing plays for the family or toys to act out- perhaps even filming it?
  • Designing clothes?
  • Writing songs– filming a music video?
  • Creating movies- stop action film, or editing pictures/clips together
  • Coding a basic game exploring the topic
  • Writing stories or Poems
  • Planning a menu to suit the topic. Making it if you have the opportunity (I know the issues from stockpiling!)
  • Creating art, paintings, sculptures (clay/paper mache)

The more times a piece of information is processed into something new the more likely it is to transfer to long term memory. So if you can get them to make notes/answer questions then turn that into something further to do any of these activities it’s more powerful than just basic questions of note making.

What skills can they build without realising it? 

Maths & Science in the kitchen– measuring, doubling/halving recipes, states of matter, chemical reactions, making vegetable dyes & dying old fabric/ tshirts from peelings/ waste (avocado skins make a gorgeous dusky pink)

There are some fabulous books that expand on this too.

Don’t underestimate the value of just reading, colouring, playing, tinkering, building Lego, playing or working in a team with siblings whether that’s engineering an amazing den from a pile of sheets/blankets/towels and pegs indoors, designing a race course for toy cars, designing a boat from recyclables for Barbie, or creating an art project together (even if it’s just hands/toy car tracks in paint over big paper or a cheap Canvas)

There are many learning processes going on that we misunderstand because we can’t see them. 

Don’t be afraid of indulging in learning something off curriculum whilst they have the time to dedicate- gardening ( plenty of children’s books include urban no space & balcony gardening), sewing/cross-stitch/up cycling clothes, crochet/knitting/Pom Pom making, cooking whether bread making/baking, pickling/fermenting, introducing or mastering heritage/family recipes or how to be creative with limited supplies, paper-making, a different language than in school, learning yoga or Pilates.

You are installing a lifelong love of learning, life skills and resilience as their first attempts will be difficult and maybe come out rough but in time they will get better!

Books are always our first point of call and there are so many non-fiction gems with DK, Quarto and Nosy Crow publishing some of our enduring favourites, but books are not everyone’s bag.

Also it’s controversial but don’t be afraid of screen time, there are so many apps such as The Reading Realm, Primary Maths, Reading Eggs, Usborne Teach Your Monster to Read (really cracked the complicated vowels and different sounds for Littlefae) and more that can help.

There are websites such as Twinkl, TES, World Book Day, BBC Teach and Authorfy and so many more educational and home ed that can help with activities whether they be puzzles, projects or traditional worksheets.

Furthermore whilst I’ve seen that Sky and the BBC are going to step up with educational programming available on demand, Netflix & BBC iPlayer have excellent resources especially for 

  • science – Storybots (for EYFS & KS1) Messy goes to OKIDO (up to lower KS2) and Magic School Bus (both new and old series are simply brilliant) Brain Child, walking with dinosaurs, Apollo 11, Maddies’s Do you know?
  • Art- Bob Ross!!! Mister Maker, even Watching studio ghibli and comparing/contrast to Disney/cgi animation
  • Geography/Nature- planet Earth , Blue Planet, my world kitchen, where in the world, Frozen Planet, Our Planet, etc
  • History- Horrible histories, the who was show
  • Literature- read then watch & compare/discuss – the letter for the king, the worst witch, the demon headmaster, Arrietty (The Borrowers) Malory Towers,

And of course, just because I’ve said that there are other ways to learn it doesn’t mean that workbooks and sheets do not have their place. OH YES they have a place!! My Littlefae loves a workbook but can only concentrate for so long, to spend all day 9-3ish doing workbooks and worksheets would be frustrating when there is so Much more that can be done.

Breathe, you are doing great, these are unprecedented times and we all want to do our best by our children.

I’m not saying let your children do nothing whatsoever (although if they need downtime to process/grieve the circumstances then by all means!!!) but I’m saying don’t beat yourself up if the Home Learning doesn’t quite go the way it’s been suggested it should, but find a way to interest and work with your child/ren what they and you CAN achieve well and run with it.

And remember, children have school holidays throughout the year and whilst yes there is summer brain drain but children pick up remarkably out the other side of it, and so your child’s school will be ready and willing the other side of this to bring them together again.

This is just a blip, don’t let it become a blight by over worrying you CAN and will get through it.

Oh god! I hope I don’t sound a sanctimonious twit. I may delete this later 🙈

11 thoughts on “In the time of Shut Schools, What I’ve learned as an ex teacher from 3 years home educating.

  1. This is a bloody awesome post and you are bloody awesome for posting it!
    I know we talked briefly about this the other day and as I said then, I don’t pretend to have any experience of home ed BUT early years experience plus a positive view of home ed in general meant I was so sad for so many kids, parents and school staff this week. I really hope this is useful to some, it should be – there is so much to take away from it and apply to individual circumstances and it doesn’t sound sanctimonious at all, far from it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much 😭💜
      I’ve been so nervous but I’ve also seen so many breaking their hearts over homeschooling, I felt I had to throw my thoughts out there in the hope it helps someone.
      And thank you, you know I’m terribly shy about the home ed bit!!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I know, and I can absolutely understand why especially after you’ve experienced some rather negative opinions in the past but this is great – it’s open to pick and adapt and take what’s needed from, it’s honest, you don’t pretend to have all the answers and you share your failures too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a wonderful post Lily – I’m so glad you had the courage to post it. It’s really sensitively written and I have no doubt will help others – including us teachers who have a lot to learn too! I think it’s so important that educators accept that we can’t ‘teach’ in the same way as we would in class. I also think it’s important that we give a range of choices to parents who want ideas – more ‘traditional’ work and creative opportunities that take children away from technology as this is a steep curve for them too. I completely agree re opportunities to be gained from reading, playing, relaxing and connecting – and maybe even being bored sometimes – that used to lead to lots of creativity when I was young! I think it’s so important that teachers are there for families and support them, but put absolutely no pressure on children to complete the work we set. I love your ideas, and will definitely be trying to incorporate some into suggestions for parents after Easter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Mary, that means SO much to hear it from such a great and dedicated teacher as you. 💜
      These really are strange times & we have to wade through them, if I can throw a lifeline or a buoy from my knowledge I’m so happy it could be helpful 💜

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this lovely post Lily – very thoughtful and useful! As a teacher, I feel like I would run the risk of trying to be too regimented in homeschooling, and I really like your idea of calling it home learning instead, so you can embrace a wider range of activities rather than sticking to the traditional pencil and paper model. Thank you for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Christina! I fell EXACTLY into that trap as an ex teacher! I started out like a Tiger Mother!!
      It took time, some tears (hers and mine) to work out what worked and what could work in time and what was not going to work at all and so I have felt so much of what parents have gone through this week. this really is what I’ve learned at the coal face by trial and error- if it helps make someone feel a bit Better, gives them an idea or speeds up the coping for others then I feel I’ve done something to help.

      Like

  4. Right, I am following you now! This is brilliant and really nicely put to not upset school parents; well done! Love it. Like you, I’m a former teacher and all my children are homeschooled. My approach and writing on my blog probably is more evangelical, as you put it, but I think in the current climate that the tone you have struck here is absolutely perfect and the content is great, too. Hat off to you, lady.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I’m following in return!! Yes my purpose here was to help the panicking & frustrated cope not necessarily convert (though get me on the subject and I am passionate for those it will work for!) and it means a lot to hear support from our community too! 💜

      Like

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