When we first started home educating our eldest daughter, Charlotte, back in 2013, I used to spend hours meticulously creating timetables, planning inspiring lessons, and printing out resources. It soon became apparent, however, that whilst I’d been perfectly capable of teaching a detailed weekly timetable to a class of 30 children, when it came to teaching my six-year-old at home it was an entirely different matter!
Don’t fall into the trap
You see, I’d fallen into the trap of assuming that ‘home education’ meant replicating school at home. With a background in teaching, this was an obvious assumption to make and, in those early months, I used to beat myself up if we didn’t get through all (or any) of the ‘school’ work I’d planned for the day. But gradually, I let go of my preconceptions of what education ‘should’ look like and I started to relax. Rather than scheduling every waking moment of my daughter’s day and panicking if we hadn’t managed to squeeze in handwriting practice, equivalent fractions, a science experiment and some origami, I began to go with the flow. And I came to fully understand that’s the beauty of home education: there’s no need to stick to rigid timetables, nor to learn about specific topics. There’s no need to do exams at certain times (or even at all.) Instead, your child has the freedom to learn what they want, when they want, how they want…and this provides excellent preparation for life in the adult world.
We’re learning all the time
If you think about it, learning isn’t something humans naturally only do at certain times in specified blocks; we’re actually learning all the time, often without even realising it. As adults, when we want to learn something new, we take the steps needed to do so. And learning isn’t generally a regimented linear process. Often, my children will spend hours, or even days, absorbed in a particular project and their skills will develop in a short space of time. They may then lose interest and move onto the next thing, often circling back to it at a later date and picking up where they left off. Just like adults, children learn best when they’re interested in what they’re doing and the freedom to be able to follow their own passions and direct their own learning is what, for me, makes home education such a wonderfully empowering experience.
Going with the flow
Now, if you’re reading this and thinking that the current lockdown situation must be a walk in the park for us home educating families, then think again. Despite the title, many home educated children actually spend very little time learning at home. In a typical, pre-lockdown week, my daughters spend most of their days out and about, on trips, engaged in activities and learning in groups with other home educated children. Sadly, just like school, all of that has been cancelled for much of the past year and my children have been desperately missing their friends and the freedom and variety that home education usually brings.
So, like many of you, life for my husband and I, as busy working parents, has become even more of a juggle this past year. With activities cancelled, our children have been at home full-time and the responsibility for their education has been laid firmly at our feet. And it’s not been easy. Sometimes, in a desperate bid to impose some sort of order onto lives, I reach for the timetables again…but those are the days we end up with more friction and less joy…and they are very quickly consigned to the bin. It’s the days when we all relax into our stride and just go with the flow that are the best ones.
It’s a balancing act
I’m not saying that timetables and schedules don’t work. Some home educating families swear by them; and, in fact many do a more structured ‘school at home’ type of day than we do. But even those families usually only do structure for part of the day. And I don’t know of any home educating families whose children sit down in front of a screen and do a full day’s online learning such as that being demanded of many schooled students right now.
Consider screen time
It greatly concerns me that schools are expecting students to be online, completing and submitting schoolwork for so many hours each day. The pressure this is putting on children and parents, plus the potential health risks of so much screen time don’t appear to have been properly considered. If your child is genuinely engaged with their schoolwork in whatever way it’s being delivered, then that’s great – carry on as you are (but please make sure they get plenty of screen breaks).
On the other hand, like many parents right now, you are finding it an uphill battle; if your child is struggling to engage, feels demotivated, anxious, stressed or resentful, then my advice is to just STOP. Take a break, step away from the school timetable and give your child (and yourself) some time off. If possible, do something enjoyable together and let your child choose what that is. Get outside, play games, bake, sew, be creative, have fun…allow yourselves to just go with the flow.
If you’re worried about…
If you’re worried that your child will fall behind, ask yourself what’s more important: their mental and physical health or their ability to count in sevens and correctly identify a fronted adverbial. My opinion: it’s so much more important to prioritise well-being (yours and your child’s) and this will have a far bigger long term impact than the number of online lessons attended or worksheets they’ve completed.
If you’re worried how your child’s school will react if they don’t complete all the set work, arrange to speak to the teacher and explain that your child needs a break. Or ask if they could just aim to get one or two pieces of work completed each day and what the priorities should be. Most teachers will be supportive and understanding; if they’re not, then arrange to speak to the head teacher. If that doesn’t get you anywhere then seek further advice. The UsforThem Facebook group a good place to start:
For more tips and advice, visit Home Schooling Survival Tips for Parents on Facebook.