Are you trying to homeschool again during the new lockdown? One thing many people new to homeschooling worry about is how to get their children to do the homeschooling, especially when they have several children. Now it’s half-term, you might be able to take a few minutes to up your homeschooling game.
Part of the problem for why homeschooling is so chaotic right now is that teachers are used to only having one age group in their classroom, so even though they might be using different work for different groups, those groups are still learning the same topic. There will always be times when the whole class do things together, regardless of their abilities.
At home, unless you have twins or triplets, they are unlikely to be doing the same lesson, so you need to organise your home learning differently to how it’s done in the classroom.
The following is adapted from my new book Homeschooling 101: How to Homeschool in the UK available here on Amazon and free with Kindle Unlimited, which I co-wrote with the amazing Dr. Jason Szulc from Scientifica Now, who really knows his academic stuff!
First of all, don’t try to do everything all at once. Let’s say you have three children you want to work with. A teacher in a classroom can’t teach three lessons at the same time and neither can you. It’s not possible. So give two of the children a task that doesn’t require any direct teaching, such as colouring or a home exercise YouTube video, and get the third child on task.
My personal preference is to start explaining the work to the child who will need the least help, and move through your children to the one who will need the most help, so you can spend as much time as you need sitting with them and getting them on-task with their learning.
Another option is to get the middle children on-task first, then get the one who needs the least help to help you with the child who needs the most help getting started. This approach works when all your children are close in age and when the child needing the least help is older and more academically able than the others. It won’t work so well if the child who needs the least help is five and the one who needs the most help is twelve.
Sometimes the hardest part can be getting the children to sit down and listen to you. Patterns of behavior based on years and years of the way parents and children live together will make it hard to use the sort of behavior management that works in a teaching environment.
It makes sense that the parent-child relationship is very different from the teacher-child relationship. You are there when your child wakes up in the night with a nightmare. You’ve sat through fevers with them. Taken them to the doctors and held their hand.
Your bond with your child is completely different to the way your child relates to their teachers. And that’s how it should be. But it means that what works in a classroom won’t necessarily work at home to get the children to sit down and do their work. Especially given that home is where all their toys and games are. So cut yourself some slack, you’re asking things of your children that aren’t part of your usual parent-child relationship, and this can cause conflict or outright refusal.
Another issue with the current situation is that most teachers have never actually homeschooled their own children and don’t know how it is different. Naively, some teachers (and head teachers) seem to expect children to do exactly what they would do at school… but at home. This is unrealistic.
Homeschooling lessons should be shorter and more productive, because the children don’t have to wait for all the classroom crowd-control. Many homeschooling parents have said that their child gets through very little content at school compared to at home.
What some teachers don’t understand is that the children should be spending less time learning at home to achieve the same outcomes. Mass video calls with a whole class of children are very unproductive, yet this is what many have fallen back on. This is because they don’t know what else to do.
Many normally-homeschooling parents (parents whose children aren’t registered at a school) only do 2-3 hours of table learning (learning at a desk) a day! These are parents of children who go on to take exams and then get into university. The rest of the day is often learning things like cooking, gardening, going on bug hunts or drawing/painting.
Here are some tips to help you get your children into a learning head space:
- Make space: Have a dedicated part of the house such as the dining room where you can do homeschooling. This helps your children know that when they are here, they do learning. This area ideally needs a table and chairs, which is why a dining area or dining room will work well.
- Zero distractions: Eliminate as many distractions as possible. Turn off the TV. Switch off the Wi-Fi if you’re doing a learning task that doesn’t require it. Ask everyone to put their phones in the middle of the table or in another special place and only allow them at designated breaks (once everyone is in the habit of doing their schoolwork, you can allow them to use their phones to do research).
- Make a plan: Studies have shown that children who have a clear idea of what to expect from the day are more productive. Think about it. If you know what someone wants you to do, it’s easier to organise yourself. Using a piece of paper or a planner pad, write down times for each task (don’t forget breaks) and leave this sheet where your child can see it. If they can’t tell the time yet, just write down the order of the day, e.g. “Maths, break, English, break, P.E., lunch…”
- Take a break: Research shows children’s brains can pay attention to a task for about forty minutes before they lose focus. Plan ten- to fifteen-minute breaks for the children every forty minutes. During breaks, children should have the option of snacking/drinking as this helps concentration.
- Make noises: Some children work best with music. Others work best in silence. If your children are struggling to focus, try either putting music on or turning it off. Typically, what works for one child won’t work for another. In that case, earphones are the way forward. You can even put white noise on YouTube and play that through earphones if it helps!
- Experiment: If your children are struggling with this kind of setup, change it up! You are free to do anything with your homeschooling, so you could sit outside to work (in coats and hats in winter), or even completely change the type of learning you’re doing with your kids, there are ideas in my book for ways you can homeschool with an outdoor classroom environment.
Some children will thrive working in the same room as their brothers and sisters. Others will struggle. Some schools during the current lockdown are saying that children need to be working alone, but this is unrealistic (and not what happens at school). Other schools are saying children need to be wearing school uniform (what absolute nonsense). Schools have clearly gotten notions this time around.
If you are really stuck for things to do with your children, do check out my free printables which you can find on the resources page and my article on ideas for things your children can do with Lego.
Don’t be afraid to hire a tutor, either. The advantages of a tutor are that someone is with the child, checking they are working for set times in the day, as well as being there to answer questions. A tutor is an investment, so don’t go for the cheapest, go for one who has good reviews, their qualifications are verified, and most importantly, who works well with your child. If the first one you try isn’t the best fit, let them know ASAP (so they can update their schedule for their other clients), and get a different tutor!
It is far better to get through this new lockdown with your mental health and family relationships in tact than to do every single thing sent home from school. If you follow these tips, you will soon be homeschooling like a boss!
If you have any questions let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer them.