Schools are closed, and you wouldn’t be blamed for feeling (more than a little) at sea. If you’ve never homeschool your child before, don’t fret …Here are the 11 essential tips for home schooling.
1/ Timetabling is key
Mapping out your time is essential. Consider making the timetable with your child – if they feel like they’ve had some input, they’ll be more likely to stick to it. And if colours and drawings make timetabling more fun, embrace this.
“Make a timetable with your children, asking them what makes them happy and what they enjoy. Plan one enjoyable thing a day from this list.”
“As a primary school teacher, I’d say that realistically you should try to read for 30 mins a day, plus maths for 30-60 mins a day, literacy for 30-60 minutes, and some daily spelling or handwriting practice for 15 mins. Do some nice creative activities in the afternoon – like a science experiment, an art project, DT, or cooking together.”
2/ As is routine
Routine is so important. As tempting as it is to stay in your pyjamas, having a shower and getting changed will make you feel a lot more productive, and a lot more prepared to face the day. The same, of course, goes for your child. It’s also essential for a healthy state of mind – nothing makes you feel more out of sorts than living in a timeless haze.
“As a teacher, my advice would be to keep to a routine. Have a specific getting-up and getting-dressed time, a specific lunchtime, and a rigid bedtime.”
“Agreements on getting up time, screen time, bedtime, and even when toys should come out, are really important.”
3/ Don’t try to replicate school
The idea of replicating your child’s normal school day (while possibly working from home yourself) might fill you with fear, but good news: you don’t have to do this. School time factors in assemblies, walking between lessons, the time it takes for a class to get their books out, and plenty of other formalities and diversions besides.
So don’t fret too much if your school day doesn’t run rigidly from 9am to 3pm. Equally, if your child learns something quickly, don’t feel guilty for allowing them to move on to another subject. Having a timetable and a routine is good, as mentioned, but the beauty of homeschooling is that you can work around your child’s unique needs and capabilities.
“Don’t try to replicate school. What they do in an hour at school can be done so much quicker one-to-one. For example, my Y2 child can do maths in 15-20 mins, and my older child can do it in 20-30 mins. Short, focused sessions are a lot more successful.”
“Don’t try to sit at a table from nine till three every day ‘doing school work’ – you will burn out very quickly.”
“Remember that home learning is one-to-one, and therefore doesn’t need to take up the whole day.”
“Don’t worry too much about worksheets. They’re useful in school because a teacher can’t possibly have the same conversation 30 times, and they allow for children to show what they’ve learned and for teachers to document it. At home, you know your child has understood or not because they’re talking to you. Not saying worksheets can’t play a part – many enjoy them – but don’t let them become a bone of contention.”
4/ Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
It’s crucial that you look after yourself and your mental health when home schooling children – both for your sake and theirs. Be kind to yourself – you’re probably not a trained teacher, and you might be working from home alongside home schooling.
So if it takes a little while to get into the swing of things, that’s fine. And if things aren’t going entirely to plan, don’t beat yourself up. This is all unprecedented, and you’re doing all you can.
“Don’t let the academic stuff drive you mad – you’ll go into shouty mode. Look up unschooling and think along those lines, at least while you settle in.”
“Try not to worry about children ‘falling behind’ during this time. Everyone’s in the same boat, and the most important thing right now is that we all stay healthy and sane. Academic success is not the be-all and end-all in life. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to spend quality time with our children, and to teach them some life skills.”
5/ Repeat, repeat, repeat
One of the biggest mistakes we make when learning is to read something, note it down, never come back to it, and then to imagine that we’ll retain this information. In order to get certain facts, dates or translations into one’s mind, repetition is key. Your child should remind themselves of key learnings little and often – be that in the form of quick, daily recaps, or post-it notes on the wall to be reviewed before bed.
“Setting up a short daily quiz on anything learned really helps information retention, and can bring warring siblings together with a common goal.”
6/ Recognise the power of reading
One basic home schooling tip for beginners: read with your child. Whether they’re six or 16, it’s brilliant at building up their vocabulary, grammar skills, and understanding of things like tone, structure, empathy and perspective. Reading aloud together is also fun, and – on top of that – will teach your child about intonation and rhythm. The beauty of home schooling is that your child can do this a lot more frequently than they could in a classroom setting, and you can watch their confidence grow day-by-day.
“Try to encourage them to branch out with their reading. Reading time is vital. Read anything. It doesn’t really matter what!”
“Read aloud with them – even if tweens (or even teens if amenable).”
“Read whenever you can. We tend not to read in our home school day, but we do it at bedtime, and mine can’t get enough. They read aloud to me and I read aloud to them, and so much learning goes on at that time.”
7/ Get the hard stuff out of the way first
Various studies suggest that our brains are at their biggest in the morning, so – tempting as it might be – don’t put your child’s toughest subject off until the afternoon. They’ll be most prepared to tackle it in the AM, so get the hardest stuff out of the way first. That way, they’ll be able to wind down with less taxing activities in the afternoon.
“Do the academic stuff in the morning, then leave afternoons for more informal activities like baking, gardening, art, crafts, exercise, podcasts, board games, etc etc.”
8/ Make sure to get in some exercise
Speaking of studies, there’s plenty of research to suggest that regular exercise improves memory, cognitive performance, and all-round mental wellbeing. Make sure both you and your children get at least 60 minutes per day.
“Make sure they run about or have a bounce if you have a trampoline. I try to get mine to do this in the morning before ‘lessons’, again at break-time, and then as much as they like in the afternoon. Exercise keeps us all sane and healthy.”
“Agree on a daily exercise routine and stick to it. For example, you/they could do some 10-15 minute high-energy exercise in the morning, and then yoga/pilates in the afternoon.”
9/ Lean on your community
Great news: as tough as home schooling children can be, you’re not alone in it. Talk to friends and family about how they’re home schooling their children – you could even set up a WhatsApp group to share concerns, insight and learning resources. You could also join a home schooling Facebook group, or head to our Home education Talk board.
“Join one of the excellent Facebook groups set up by home schoolers to share resources.”
“Consider doing a project on the same topic as friends, sharing where you and your children are up to.”
10/ Stay social
Being confined to the home can be tough on children (as well as you). In all likelihood, you’re all used to seeing far more people than you are at the moment, and the shift can be tricky. Encourage your child to stay in contact with friends and family how ever you can – be that via Skype, FaceTime or playing a Playstation/online game together.
“One thing to consider is that children who are now out of school have just lost their main social life. You could create a set time for lunch break, with a meet up on FaceTime to allow a bit of interaction.”
“When you have multiple children, projects that they can all be involved with (at a suitable level) are a good way of keeping everyone interacting, and – as a bonus – all engaged at once.”
11/ Stay positive
These are trying times, it can’t be denied. However, negative thinking will only make the task of home schooling even harder, so – where you can – try to focus on the positives. You and your children are spending a lot more time together, and will probably end up closer as a result. And, who knows, they might develop a whole load of skills they wouldn’t have gained at school.
“Remote learning is going to be a huge change for everyone. Let’s look at it as a window opening, rather than a door closing. This is a wonderful opportunity to try something new rather than do things the way we’ve always done them before.”
“Good luck everyone; this is going to be a very challenging time, but it could also create very special and treasured memories.”