Guest post: 15 tips for parents of school children at home

25 March 2020 by Jennifer

I know there are a lot of people with kids at home now & worrying about their education. This came round from “an experienced Home Educator who wishes to remain anonymous”, and I thought it would be useful to reproduce it here for ease of sharing. (The writer has authorised copying, pasting, passing it around.)

This isn’t necessarily exactly the same advice as a home edder would give if you were looking to do non-school education long-term. It’s more like, what do we already know that’s going to help you if you’ve suddenly been thrown in the deep end with almost no notice.

Tips for PARENTS OF SCHOOL CHILDREN who might be spending a lot of time at home together in the near future, because 😷🦠. Hopefully these are some useful tips/thoughts/experience from a HOME EDUCATOR’S PERSPECTIVE on what can work at home. NB: this is what works for us, and all families are different, so take however much is useful to you and leave the rest.

Bear in mind, if your child is receiving work to do at home from school, that external factor may give quite a different dynamic to home ed, so your experiences may differ too. But I still hope some bits of this might be useful.

1. Replicating school at home doesn’t work. This is a truth almost universally acknowledged in home ed groups by parents who tried it, including qualified teachers. Naturally sometimes parents begin home ed in a school-like manner, perhaps after removing a child from school, thinking that’s the way to go. But it seems 9/10 times families quickly discover this is a route to frustration for children and parents. So if this happens to you, don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal, read on for alternatives. 🙂

2. It’s fine for children to be bored. Actually it’s good for children to be bored. Perhaps not all the time, but definitely sometimes. Boredom breeds creativity. Our minds cannot stay idle, so inevitably they find something to do, and often they find surprising and interesting things. Isaac Newton began his discovery of gravity at home when Cambridge University closed because of the plague. Shakespeare also wrote some of his best regarded plays while hiding in the countryside from the plague. Possibly if feeling bored is unusual for a child, they might find it uncomfortable at first, but rest assured it is good and valuable. Parents, we do not always have to “solve” boredom.

3. Schools spend less time on learning than you might think. There are several calculations by teachers-turned-home-educators that attempt to quantify actual learning time in schools. When the breaks, and moving around, and getting things out and putting things away, and controlling behaviour and setting expectations, and golden time, and school photos, and last day of term, and a million other things are taken into account, how much focused learning time is left on average per day? The calculations range from 45mins to 2hours. Consider scaling back your own expectations accordingly.

4. Learning doesn’t have to be at a table with a worksheet. Oodles can be learnt through cooking, gardening, household tasks*, reading stories to each other, board games, card games, toys and roleplay, sewing and knitting, art and crafts, DIY, servicing a car or bike, music, radio, discussing the news, magazines, documentaries… Some families find that things learnt in an active practical way can stick better than learning on paper.

(* Yes cleaning really can be educational – think of all the science involved in descaling a sink, enzymes in washing up liquid, microbes on surfaces, dissolving stains in solvents…)

5. You don’t have to already know everything your child needs/wants to learn. Welcome questions and try to find answers together if you don’t know. Actually you might want to search for answers together even if you do know, because how to find things out for yourself is a valuable skill for kids to develop. In periods when children’s questions aren’t forthcoming, try voicing your own questions out loud while you go about your tasks, or ask kids their opinion on something to start a discussion. For older kids (we aren’t there yet) it seems to be about helping them find resources (people, clubs, books, courses) that they can learn from. “Facilitator not teacher” is a phrase sometimes used.

6. Learning doesn’t have to happen in school hours. You probably have the children with you longer than they would be in school, so you have the option to pick times when they are more receptive, or that fit with family needs. Some families come to consider all-day every-day as learning time, by noticing and using learning possibilities in all of everyday life.

(7. Because I can’t not mention it after 4 and 6: home learning doesn’t have to happen at home. Unfortunately right now there may be No, or Very Limited, options to go out – follow the advice for your country. But rest assured that there are some (many) home educating families who usually go out a lot, and they may well be having similar challenges staying at home as school families do.)

8. Set expectations/ have a rhythm. This might be very individual, but what works for us, while not being too rigid, is to have a pattern of when we do activities together and when we don’t. Eg you might come together to do a joint activity in the morning after breakfast. And during meal prep and clear up might be independent play/activities that they choose themselves. I find I still need to remind frequently that I won’t be taking part in complicated parent-dependent activities when I’m in the middle of clearing up the lunch carnage! And reminding of the slots when we do those things together really helps.

9. Consider including quiet time/a break for everyone. Ours coincides with the toddler’s afternoon nap. But even before a younger sibling, we found it helpful to have a quiet break after lunch. This is when I get some quiet thinking/headtasks time (those things not being at all compatible with awake toddlers). The older one might have some screen time, and/or she usually has creative projects that she wants to work on. It took us some practice to get this going well.

10. Having a bad day? However crazy and distracting your household (younger siblings, pets, deliveries, illness, broken washing machines…) is it truly more crazy and distracting than 30 other kids? Or, if you feel like you didn’t give enough attention to your child today, was it really less than 1/30th of the attention of the teacher at school? Probably not. These can be helpful thoughts, especially on a bad day.

11. Minimise prep, or include the kids in preparing for future activities. Because, quite differently to a teacher, you have these kids with you *all the time*. If you can’t find a way to get it done together, it probably isn’t going to happen. I try not to use the quiet time/break for prepping because that isn’t a really a break and I wouldn’t emerge sufficiently refreshed for getting through the rest of the day.

12. Look for activities that you get something out of as well as the kids. This is how to stay sane. Do as many of these as possible.

13. Atmosphere. You can always subtly change how a situation feels by putting on music, changing lighting, opening a window,…

14. Lead by example. Do you wish your child would show an interest in something (more) wholesome (than what they’re doing right now)? What might happen if you gather some interesting objects on the table, and some paper and pencils, and begin drawing? Or put on some exercise clothes and get out your yoga mat and video? Make sure to just casually happen to have some spare pencils & paper/floorspace nearby ready for any requests to join in. Play it cool and don’t be obvious about hoping they’ll take an interest, and keep an open mind about what follows. This can work with so many activities. They might choose to join in, or they might not this time. But chances are they’ll have noticed, and you hopefully got to do something you enjoyed for a short time, and you’ve set a great example, and… sometimes interesting responses emerge much later. 😉

15. Don’t compare. Inevitably we tend to share the highlights where a child made something we’re proud of. We don’t share the moment when the floor can’t be seen, every opportunity provided for doing something wholesome has failed all morning, both the kids are screaming because you dared to use the loo, lunch is hours late, and the toddler has smeared poo on the coffee table. 🤦 But even with the highlights, just because a friend seems to do lots of X or Y, doesn’t mean we all should. Families are different, so focus on what works for yours. Including, ignoring all of the above advice if you think that’s best!

Good luck and enjoy! Feel free to copy&paste/share.

Thanks to the anonymous writer!

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