Reflections from a homeschooling parent
As more parents are caring for and teaching their school age children at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we asked one parent who homeschools to share their experiences.
When we first decided to homeschool, a friend of ours made a comment to our daughter which became a mantra: “Try and go through a day without learning anything...”. Whilst this may seem counter-intuitive when education is the goal, we actually realised that it is pretty impossible to learn nothing in a whole day.
There are so many opportunities for learning in everything we do and every interaction we make. The challenge for us as homeschool parents is which bits to really focus on. Along the way though we have learned a lot as working parents, who are also trying to mentor and facilitate positive learning experiences for our child.
We did however make the decision to homeschool and therefore had adequate time to prepare the resources and approach we would take to make it possible. The coronavirus pandemic has forced this scenario on to parents and it’s important that we are kind to ourselves.
We discovered that it takes time to settle into a new routine and although some kind of plan is useful it’s not essential to plan every minute of the day. We sat down weekly, and sometimes daily, and talked with our daughter about what she was interested in, what she wanted to focus on for her learning and how we might go about supporting her learning.
We also listened to advice from other homeschool parents who said that a few focused hours in the day is better than a planned nine-to-five timetable. So, we made time to sit together and do more structured learning whilst also leaving plenty of time in the day for her to follow her own interests such as music, playing, drawing and social networking.
Literacy and numeracy
At the core of education is literacy and numeracy. There are some great websites out there to help with teaching grammar and maths but we also discovered that literacy and numeracy run through daily life.
Cooking together is a great opportunity to incorporate maths – from weighing and measuring, to ratios and budgeting if you include the shopping as well. We also encouraged our daughter to have a reading book on the go and to engage in research into subjects that interested her, all the while writing up notes of her findings to support her written word.
We’ve read many reports on how many children are sleep deprived, and many teenagers struggle with early mornings. So, we allowed our daughter to have an extra couple of hours in bed in the morning if she needed them. This helps her with her mental well-being but it also means she is more ready to tackle the day and focus on what she is doing. An added benefit is this provide us as parents with an extra couple of hours in the morning to work or pursue our own interests.
Time to play is sometimes shrunk out of the school day so time to just be, to get bored and to allow things to happen naturally is a real benefit of homeschooling. This might involve going out in the fresh air or just being more relaxed about mess in the home. Learning to respond positively to our children’s play, to allow them the freedom to do what they please and make a mess is crucial for their well-being. As we watch our children playing we also realise how much they are learning without us having to take the lead.
Talking is a very powerful learning tool at our disposal. Many projects or areas of interest have come up through questions that have arisen while doing other things – while playing, cooking, eating or out walking. Conversations can give us direction to help steer the way our children learn about the world at a pace that suits them rather than with a strict curriculum.
We have always sought opportunities for our children to socialise with their friends away from home and outside of formal schooling. With the current restrictions on movement this is about us finding ways for them to socialise remotely using the technology that we have available. It also means being a bit more relaxed about online gaming and social media which provides a valuable connection to their peers.
Be kind to ourselves
Being a homeschool parent is daunting, and it takes time to find a natural rhythm for your self and your child or children. When making time for your work or chores it’s especially important to develop some faith that our children will go on learning without lots of direction. Time to themselves or with distant supervision from us is also an opportunity for them to learn about things they haven’t learnt about yet in school, to develop interests in new things or pursue hobbies.
Be realistic about what you’ve been asked to do and take the time to maintain positive parent-child relationships – this is an interim measure and you won’t derail your child’s education by not covering the whole of the curriculum.
During the year we homeschooled our daughter, we focused on maintaining skills around numeracy and literacy fairly informally and then ensured there was plenty of time for personal interests, playing and relaxation with no detrimental effect on her overall academic performance once she returned to school.