Feel like you suffered flashbacks after Boris’ news of more homeschooling and a third national lockdown? You’re not the only one.
If you’d told me last March that the following year I would still be scrambling around for ink cartridges to print out multi-coloured Twinkl worksheets in a desperate bid to homeschool my three children and bribing them with Percy Pigs to complete 10 spellings featuring the phonic ‘wh’, I'd have cried.
As the new, more transmissible strain of Covid 19 spreads around the country forcing Boris to make a last minute U-turn on school closures until February half-term (at least), google searches for ‘homeschooling tips’ reach internet-breaking point. The nation’s parents are back in panic mode. Mums swig the gin and swear as the burden of homeschooling largely rests on their shoulders once again.
While the school WhatsApp group is clocking record-breaking alerts, and my email pings as the lesson plans drop in my Inbox with various spurious, elongated hyper links, I feel like I haven’t had chance to sharpen my pencil. This homeschooling lark is no walk in the park. Far from it. Especially if you’re trying to hold down a job at the same time. (And let’s not forget the cleaning/washing/cooking/walking the dog/tidying the lego/binning the felt pens with no lids etc.)
But seeings as we’re signed up to a term of homeschooling, we’re going to have to find our way. Here’s some homeschooling tips to help you wing your way through these wild times.
Homeschooling - where to start?
Remember, this is no ordinary time that we’re living in. Dr Emma Hepburn, aka @thepsychologymum, says, ‘We are in survival mode not normal family life and you need to shift your expectations.’ Please do not try to replicate school in your home (or attempt to take on the persona of their teacher). Homeschooling is nothing like their classroom - there’s far more distractions. So your main challenge is keeping your child engaged with their remote learning. Firstly, create a quiet working station in your home with all the kit they need at arms reach.
In an ideal world, you’d keep to the national curriculum, but the reality is, this situation is far from ideal. Laura House, Education Lead at tineysays, ‘Find a daily rhythm or a predictable pattern that works for you. This provides stability but also allows for flexibility.’
If your child isn’t responding to the online lesson links, it’s totally understandable. Just like we have Zoom-fatigue, the kids can feel the same about screens. Anne Morris, the founder Yipiyap, a peer tutoring company, says we shouldn’t underestimate a blank piece of paper and a pencil. She says, ‘Keep their creative juices flowing. Practical, real-life experiences such as following recipes, learning about nature are all great for younger learners.’
Should I stick to a homeschooling schedule or am I setting myself up for failure?
The general advice from educators is to have a daily plan but don’t make it too rigid. Personally, I’m happy to roll with this as I rarely tick all the day’s boxes.
Richard Daniel Curtis, author and family wellbeing and behaviour expert, www.thekidcalmer.com says, ‘Don't overburden yourself, be realistic. For younger children 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon is enough on academic tasks.
‘Your school is not expecting back-to-back work all day,’ adds Daniel. ‘Be realistic from the start, under 7s will probably do most activities for 10-15 minutes, 8-11 year olds will comfortably do 30-40 minutes, so spread the activities out across a day. Completing tasks 1:1 at home will be quicker as there’s not the classroom distractions.’
If you’re wfh, try slotting in an online activity with headphones to occupy your child while you have a meeting, or plan things which you know your child is interested in so they’ll need minimal supervision. Or maybe granny could read a story on the phone?
Dr Emma also suggests making sure there are gaps in the timetable for you. ‘Research from the first lockdown showed that planning small pockets of time for parents to be alone helped them cope,’ she says.
Is there a homeschooling timetable template I can use to help remote learning?
The internet is awash with timetable templates, but it has to suit your family and your needs. Sophie Pickles, a qualified Early Years teacher andmum blogger, says ‘Building your children’s interests and opinions into your homeschool timetable will make them feel empowered, respected and a whole lot more likely to actually sit down and do some of the work.’
Sophie suggests this printable timetableto get you started.
Daniel, the Kid Calmer adds, ‘5-10 minutes of child-led focussed time without your phone is vital. It can meet their attachment or attention needs for a while to allow you to get some work done.’
Help! Where can I find the best homeschooling resources?
The main difference homeschooling this time round is that schools are more prepared. The chances are, your child’s school has sent you a ‘lesson plan’ for their class with various links to videos and worksheets. You might even have a recorded video from your teacher (which my kids like to respond to as if on FaceTime). But if you’re looking further a field for some homeschooling tips, then give these tried and tested platforms a whirl.
HOMESCHOOLING RESOURCES FOR SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN
Free online help for children to learn their phonics at home, including free eBooks and other learning materials to help with reading, spelling and handwriting. You can print things out so your child is not stuck to a screen learning all day.
Log on to daily lessons from 9am covering maths, English and topics for primary age upwards. It encourages activities and tests. Content is also suitable for Special Educational Needs children.
Get a 14-day trial with kids yoga expert Jaimie. She tells kid’s favourite stories like Frozen and Harry Potter through yoga moves and mindfulness. Suitable for 3y+. You might even get a break!
Not just for book worms, but creative kids too. As well as a wealth of reading inspo, there’s illustration classes, book-based recipe ideas, quizzes and creative writing workshops.
A learning platform used by schools and parents. Try a two-day free trial, or subscribe each month for around £10 depending on your price plan. Lots of structured maths learning, plus games.
There’s also the Oak National Academy which has nearly 10,000 free lessons and resources. Mix up the learning with ‘Edutubers' or ‘Edutokers’ on Youtube and TikTok, just pick carefully. Rob Biddulph and Olaf Falafal are brilliant for art lessons. Tik Tok’s maths teacher Miss Chang is also popular. Podcasts are also great for slightly older kids. Homeschool History by Horrible Histories’ Greg Jenner is a winner.
Are there any good homeschooling books to get me through the next few months?
Not exactly a homeschooling guide, but useful advice on supporting your child through these difficult times and also tips on how to be more present in their lives.
A book written by a home educator during the pandemic, dealing with the new challenges of parenting.
Coping strategies by the popular NHS clinical psychologist, aka @thepsychologymum on Insta. Because we all need coping strategies.
Useful if you have a younger one (age 1-5) at home who needs entertaining. Written by a former teacher’s assistant who has young kids. Check out her blog too.
An eco-friendly adventure pack for 2-7yos to do outdoors (ie. a break from screens). Subscribe each month.
Is it worth me buying a laptop to homeschool?
The current remote learning plans depend on you having a device at home and broadband. But there is definitely a digital divide among families. The DfE say they’ve increased the number of laptops they’re delivering to schools for homeschooling during the pandemic this year and also aim to provide internet access.
Those who are eligible for a laptop through the Get Help With Technology service include disadvantaged children in years 3 to 11 who do not have access to a device and whose face-to-face education is disrupted, who are shielding at home, or attending a hospital school. To apply, you must contact your school, educational trusts and local councils.
Homeschooling your child on a smartphone with pay-as-you-go 4G data can become very costly for some, so keep an eye on usage. According to an Ofcom survey released a week before Christmas, one in five households were struggling to pay for the price of data while we work and learn from home.
Let’s try and eek out some positivity here - this latest homeschooling stint is only temporary now we have a vaccine. And no one is doing this alone (although admittedly, it sometimes feels this way). If you are feeling the pressure, then reach out to your school for support. Dr Emma says, ‘Guilt tends to come with the territory of parenting. It's okay to have some extra screen time, and it's okay sit down for a break. Being compassionate to yourself can help get you through. Perfection is impossible.’