Monday, 23 March 2020

Home Education During A Pandemic

What strange times we find ourselves living in now. Two weeks ago I was very much in the minority, and now I find myself just one of many parents educating their children at home.

Schools are closed to all but the children of key workers and those whose home lives are unsafe. And so thousands of parents are tasked with ensuring their children are occupied and learning at home.

We seasoned home educators are isolated now too. We’re not used to being forced to stay home. Many spend their days out and about, taking classes, visiting museums, meeting with friends and family. We’ve lost those experiences too, so please know that home education isn’t really what you’re experiencing now.

We’ve also never had so many awesome resources to draw from. The upside for us of so many being forced into home education is the number of companies offering free or reduced subscriptions; clubs and groups running classes online; and museums and zoos opening their virtual doors to us all. It has reignited my love for home education! But, again, know that this isn’t normal for home education. We usually have to buy our own resources, source classes that suit our children and their varied ages, and pay for educational trips out. There is no government support for the elective home educator.

But none of this means that you can’t get a taste of the freedom and joy of home education.

I know, from all the posts I’m seeing from friends, and strangers in various Facebook groups, that people are scared. They don’t know how to be teachers. They don’t know how to juggle the needs of different aged children. They don’t know how to do their own work at the same time as making sure their children learn something. They’re not going to be able to take their kids on trips out. I think they’re worried about messing up in a world that constantly tells them that they’re not good enough parents.

So I want to offer support and encouragement to you who are worried and scared.

You CAN do this.

Because you have to!

Perhaps, as some of the memes I’ve seen shared say, you might find that your child’s teacher was never a problem. But, equally, perhaps you will discover that your child was not the problem either. Perhaps you will discover that the regiment and routine of school was dampening your child’s desire or ability to learn. Perhaps you will find that your child has struggled to be seen or heard in a room full of other children and once they have your attention they can flourish. Perhaps you will light a fire in your child’s heart and they will find that they absolutely love learning when they are free to learn what and how they like. Perhaps you will remember all the exciting things you wanted to show your babies when they grew up, and now you will have the time and freedom to share with them. (Not the world travel, obviously!)

I know how hard it is! You have had this responsibility thrust upon you. We have chosen to home educate, but that doesn’t make it easy. It’s 24/7 exhaustion. We are parent and teacher. The buck stops with us.

Before I had children I was a teacher. I cared deeply for my students. Their well-being and their happiness, as well as their education. It was all massively important to me. But ultimately I was able to step away, switch off, and live my own life. When you’re the parent and the teacher you can’t do that. The emotional investment is so much greater. Everything is your responsibility, and there is nothing heavier - or more rewarding - than that.

As they say on aeroplanes, you need to put on your own oxygen mask before you help anyone else with theirs. Make sure you have taken some time for yourself before you launch into full on school at home. Listen to yourself. Take notice of how you’re feeling about this whole situation.

It’s ok to be scared, anxious, overwhelmed. This situation is frightening and overwhelming for all of us.

Give yourself a mental hug.

And then remember that your children will be having big feelings about all of this too. Allow them the time to come down from the adrenaline highs of fear and excitement. Ask them what they want to do in this uncertain time.

I’ve seen any number of brightly coloured, strict and rigid schedules shared by parents who are sure they’ve got this all sorted before it begins. They’re beautiful. I’m sorely tempted to use them too.

But I’d advise against doing that.

Don’t get me wrong - I’ve spent time creating various home ed schedules. I understand the need for order and routine. They give us the sense of control that makes us feel safe. But, for us, they have ended up being exhausting, difficult to maintain, and a source of conflict.

Home isn’t school. And home education isn’t about recreating school at home.

Most home educators take weeks, months, sometimes years, to find their rhythm, the way their children learn best. We’ve been doing this officially for 5 and a half years and I swear we change how we home ed every few weeks!

This is day one or week one. Or month one. We don’t know how long the schools will remain closed. Take it slowly and find what works for your family. You will make mistakes. You’ll throw your hands up in the air in despair and wonder how anyone has ever got your children to learn anything. You will want to hide in the toilet.

That’s normal!

You’re trying to parent and teach and keep your home clean and tidy and keep your family fed and do your usual job all at the same time as keeping an eye on the news, worrying about vulnerable relatives and friends, and wondering how to make your toilet roll last longer.

Cut yourself some slack!

All the children are out of school. No one is missing out on an education that others are getting. You’re all in the same boat. And when this ends and the schools open again those amazing teachers who you are in awe of will jump back in and do the fantastic job they were doing before. They will get everyone back up to speed. There’s no need to panic.

Or maybe you’ll discover that you and your children love learning at home together, and you won’t send them back to school!

I’ll leave you with the advice I gave a friend who was worrying about all of this.

Don’t do teaching.

Let them play.

Any work sent home from school won’t take anywhere near as long to complete at home as it would in a class of thirty.

Don’t worry about screen time limits. CBeebies and CBBC and Netflix and Prime all have loads of educational stuff and the kids don’t even realise they’re learning!

Put them out in the garden to play.

Do quiet activity/reading/looking at books time while Mummy/Daddy does what they have to do.

Use FaceTime/Skype/etc to have grandparents supervise for half an hour - they can read stories, play games, practise spellings, etc.

But most of all, try to enjoy this time with your children. It won’t be fun all the time, but it doesn’t have to be super stressful either. Bring calm to their chaos. And feel free to hide in the toilet as much as you need to. Just wash your hands afterwards!

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