How to homeschool your children during lockdown 2.0

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!

Homeschooling 101 is available on Amazon or get a free sample packed full of tips when you sign up to my newsletter (unsubscribe at any time). Do also check out my free resources.

If you have any questions let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer them.

10 Homeschooling ideas for Lego or Mega Bloks Construx

When you are homeschooling, sometimes you just want to give your child something to do, that doesn’t involve a screen, and to know they are learning something.

Lego/Mega Bloks Construx/other building products are perfect for this. Just buy a big bucket of blocks and use these ideas to keep your child busy and learning without any input (or minimum input) from you.

Younger children are very easily attracted to Lego, but even older children will find a challenge with some of the tasks you can set them using blocks that push together.

For older children, using Lego to express extremely complex ideas from the maths and science curriculum can help compound their learning, or you can use it as a starter to introduce a new topic.

I have also made a printable which you can print out, which is a deck of 21 things to build with Lego, for when you need a quick draw activity to instantly engage your child. You can download the free printable here.

You can also use the printable cards as a reward, e.g. if they have finished the work on another task, let them choose a card, as inspiration for something to build with Lego or Mega Bloks Construx.

Set them a challenge like building the tallest tower that doesn’t fall down using only yoghurt pots, then when you come back ask them how many yoghurt pots made the tallest tower and what might make the tower stand up better, then giving them time to try other ways to get the tower to stay up (glue, making the base out of three yoghurt pots and building up, etc).

Here are 10 activities your child can do with construction blocks such as Lego or Mega Bloks Construx that you could turn into an investigation or lesson (and which will give you time to teach your other children or make yourself a drink):

  1. What is the tallest tower you can build? You could use this to teach younger children about how buildings stay upright and, for older children, centre of mass and balance for GCSE physics.
  2. Put twelve blocks together. How many different ways can they split it evenly (two groups of 6, three groups of 4, four groups of 3, etc)? You could use this to introduce factors for a maths lesson.
  3. Put twenty blocks together. How many times can they split it in half? You could use this to introduce fractions for a maths lesson.
  4. Make one row that is one block, the next row is one, the next is two, three, five… each time get them to add together the last two numbers in the sequence to find the size of the next row. You could use this to introduce the Fibonacci sequence, an important number sequence that can be found in nature.
  5. Can you make a circle out of Lego, if you have enough bricks?
  6. Design a car. It has to be different to the last one your child made. Ask them to make it out of a different type of brick, or with different size wheels, or similar. You can then use the Lego car to test out physics questions (especially if they can make a ramp) such as friction (how much do they need to tilt the ramp before gravity allows it to roll down).
  7. Older children could make a 2-D Lego model of a plant or animal cell (or both) to compare the features of the two.
  8. Make a scene out of Lego, complete with minifigures, and use it as a creative writing prompt for your child.
  9. Make a balance beam with a long piece of Lego. The child can attach bricks at different distances and find out when the beam tilts. For example, one block, six studs away, should be able to be balanced with two blocks on the other side that is three studs away. You can use this to teach children from age 11 upwards (even through A-level if they need the reminder) about forces and distances from a pivot point (these are called moments).
  10. Using minifigures, look at their faces. They often have different expressions. Your child needs to write down what emotion each character is expressing, and describe their face (such as “eyebrows are close together and diagonal”, for frowning). This is especially good for children who are struggling to interpret emotions of the people around them. You could take this further by asking (for example) “why might this figure be angry?” Once the child has thought of something that makes them angry, you could move onto, “What could you do to make them feel better?”

There are thousands more things you can do with Lego, these are just a selection of things that I think would link closely to the national curriculum. Lego can be far more of a learning tool than the boxes imply. The best Lego to get for education is a bucket with a good mixture of lots of different shapes and sizes of Lego.

If you are using Mega Bloks Construx, these are compatible with Lego, but some other types of construction block don’t stick to Lego due to being very slightly too big or small. In my experience, Mega Bloks Construx don’t stick as tightly to Lego as other pieces of Lego do, but if you’re on a budget, they are definitely worth considering.

We have some of the bigger baby-size Mega Bloks and our little one loves them, although they are not compatible with Duplo (the next size up of Mega Bloks is, though). The plastic on the baby-sized ones is softer and I think he likes them because they are very chewable, perfect for teething babies. The baby-size Mega Bloks also have the advantage of being suitable from age 1 whereas Duplo is age 2+. When it comes to the smaller bricks, however, they are largely identical to Lego (the Construx range by Mega Bloks is for ages 5+) and there’s a thriving world of Mega Bloks Construx out there which you can discover.

Need some Lego? Get a big box here on UK Amazon or here on US Amazon (neither ships to Ireland but this smaller box does).

Lego, Duplo, Mega Bloks and Mega Bloks Construx are registered trademarks of their respective companies.

DIY upcycled book caddy from a wine carrier

So I really wanted one of those gorgeous Ikea spice racks that Americans are transforming into book holders for children, but sadly, UK Ikea don’t sell the same spice racks. The ones in the US go for $6.99 and the nearest UK equivalent is £18.

That’s a pretty huge difference, when you consider that a British £1 is worth more than $1 USD. Like, they get the same thing for about £5 that we would have to pay £18 for.

Nope.

So I bought this wooden wine carrier from Hobbycraft. It was unfinished and I measured it. It’s the perfect size for the Gruffalo but about half a centimetre too small to fit any of the Charlie and Lola books in (boo). If Hobbycraft ever make these half a centimetre bigger, I’ll get another one and paint that instead.

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I painted the ends green and the middle red, using cheap acrylic paint from The Works (£2.99 for 6 different tubes of coloured paint) and cheap brushes, also from The Works.

They deliver.

I copied the frog picture from Jellyfish’s favourite bath sponge, a frog we have dubbed Mr. Ribbit. If you’re wondering, the frog sponge is here in a 2 pack.

It took two days to do the whole thing and I feel really proud because I am not very good at painting.

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I can see the frog could have been painted better (by someone other than me, with a steadier hand and better drawing ability) but overall I’m happy with how this turned out. The first thing Jellyfish did when he saw it was try to put it in his mouth so he definitely thinks it looks like his frog sponge.

I can’t wait to put books in it!

Have you made anything this week? Let me know in the comments.

How to hit the ground running with homeschooling

So I may have designed and published a free course on homeschooling for anyone with kids. I know people aren’t *technically* homeschooling because they’re doing work sent home from school, but there isn’t a single word for what millions of parents are currently doing around the world and this course is for that.

Do your kids have a big pile of school work to do before the schools re-open? Want to know how to get them to do it, and what to do when they ask you for help with a subject you know nothing about? Trying to juggle kids and work during the lockdown?

I made a quick and FREE course on how you can hit the ground running with homeschooling, especially for busy parents whose schools have sent work home! https://mama-adventure.teachable.com/p/hit-the-ground-running-with-homeschooling/

You’re welcome. xxxx

Changing things up

So I got up at 10am this morning, which was an achievement. The flipside is, my eyes have been trying to close since about 11:30am.

Baby Jellyfish is teething again, we found out last night. He already has his front lower two teeth, which came through at once. The dentist told me his top two front teeth would come next.

Nope. Not my jellyfish. He’s getting his pointy top teeth, they’re both just breaking through the gums right now, so he’s basically biting down on everything and in a day or two, I’m going to have adorable baby-sized fang indents everywhere where he’s bitten me. He bites me a lot.

Baby vampire do dooo do do do do…

I’ve decided to change my blog’s web address and title and so on. Longtime readers know I’ve been unhappy with my blog address for about five years but didn’t know what to change it to. I wanted MsAdventure, but by the time I actually got around to trying to buy a new domain, it was taken.

Mama Adventure works too. I bought it about a month ago but I’d forgotten how to change the domain in WordPress. There are more changes coming. Slowly, probably. I work at glacial speeds at the moment because I’m doing that thing where I run around in circles trying to do too many things, badly.

I’m trying to create an online learning course helping people know how to homeschool during this lockdown. It’s going to be free. But of course I need to get to grips with the software and so on.

At the same time, it’s been two days and I’m still sure that I want to be a midwife, so I need to flesh out the post thinking it all through properly, as well.