With the announcement this week that schools are unlikely to reopen in the immediate future, there will be many parents who will be tearing their hair out with the frustration of not only being cooped up but also having to continue with the new routine of children at home, having to cope with providing three meals a day as well as juggle their own work and deal with children’s school work on top of all of that!
As a tuition company, we often get calls from parents who ask for tuition for their homeschooled child.
Over the last few years, homeschooling has gained popularity. Research suggests that upwards up 60,000 children are now being homeschooled even under ‘normal’ conditions. This trend is a national trend. The data below is from 177 authorities, 164 of whom reported an increase in the number of children being homeschooled.
So what can we learn from the parents who already do this as a matter of course?
Homeschooling: the pros and cons
There are many reasons why children are taught at home. Reasons will include bullying, the threat of exclusion, parental concern for their child’s safety, wishing to provide a more rounded education, and many more.
Obviously, under current lockdown conditions, nobody has any other option.
That’s all well and good I hear you say, but I am struggling to juggle it all. I have my job to do and on top of all that, there are so many things I have to deal with. I am not a teacher!
Michaelangelo is famously quoted as saying: “if people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t be wonderful at all”.
Now I'm not suggesting that we all work every hour we have, but having a routine will ensure that some work gets done.
JFK said “every accomplishment starts with the decision to try”
This is where structure comes in. A loose routine is the key to easing lockdown frustrations. It will ensure that children know what is expected of them.
Below, we will give you some hints and tips regarding homeschooling.
Before that though let us look at some pros and cons of children learning at home.
The world is in a very unusual situation with so many of us being forced to stay at home. However, there are some positives in this:
1. Spend Time With Family
Life is usually hectic and busy, so lockdown presents parents with the unique opportunity to spend more time with family. Children need to spend time with their families in order to ensure that they have a well-rounded development.
Whilst at home, you have the ability to create a more flexible timetable.
For example, a parent that I know who has two children of different ages has created a timetable that plays to everyone’s strengths. She has allowed the children downtime during the hours when she must be in virtual meetings and extended her day so that she spends some time working with both children together and then individually. This will include exercise and reading as well as playing games with the children.
2. Set Your own Schedule
At school, every class has the same duration for the overall benefit of all students. Now that your child is studying at home, they can spend less time on the subjects in which they are excelling and more time focusing on the subjects that require their attention. It is the perfect time to catch up where children have gaps in knowledge.
This can be done using a timetable that suits your personal needs and fits around your families other activities. For example, your online maths and English classes can fit around your online piano lesson. Our timetable offers a weekday option and a weekday option for every core subject from ages 5 - 16.
3. Be in Control
This is a chance to use your time how you choose. Some people are able to be highly productive in this situation. Children, likewise, have the opportunity to develop other skills such as playing a musical instrument, sketching and painting, learning languages, meditating, and reading. It is the perfect time to delve deeper into your child’s interests, or simply explore and develop new ones.
4. Access the Digital World
In my online life, I have generally felt that I keep within my comfort zone. The same is true of most people. They watch similar YouTube channels, keep to the same websites, watch much the same type of programmes and do not make use of other online tools.
During the lockdown, is a great time to explore other areas of interest and other online tools. Explore the resources that are out there already and be open to new ideas.
5. Get Creative With Learning
Learning is constant. While it is important that children put pen to paper (yes, literally), this is not the only way to learn.
With primary school children, this will be the first time that children could be taught cross-curricularly, meaning several subjects in one activity. So let the children enjoy it.
For example, with younger children, take maths and science into the kitchen and bake a cake or some bread rolls. During this process look at things like measuring, the different units of measurement and ratios. Talk about why the ingredients you have chosen make sense for that recipe, for example, what is the purpose of letting dough rest or kneading or mixing?
With secondary school children, this will be the first time that children can learn without the pressure of an exam. So make the most of it.
With older children, perhaps keep a rota where they plan and prepare a meal from scratch or set them a research project based on what they have been learning or need to know or their interests, where they have to put together an argument for or against something. You could make this really interesting and ask them to prepare a video report on a topic with slides.
In both cases, the work is a mixture of writing and something much more creative, and let's face it, often very satisfying all round!
Cons (and solutions to them):
Last week The Sutton Trust produced a report that stated that an additional 4% of children are receiving private tuition and that only 23% of children are taking part in live online school lessons daily. It also stated that:
“The home learning environment is likely to play an even more crucial role as most learning is now done in the home. More than three-quarters of parents with a postgraduate degree and just over 60% of those with an undergraduate degree felt confident directing their child’s learning, compared to less than half of parents with A level or GCSE level qualifications.”
Source: The Sutton Trust-COVID-19-Impact-Brief-School-Shutdown
1. Mental health issues
Being cooped up in the house 24/7 with little access to friends, family and community as well as the added stress of worrying about elderly family members will no doubt affect our mental state. On top of all of this, we have the constant string of bad news being beamed into our homes.
One of the best ways to improve your mental state is exercise. Make sure you go out for a walk (or a run or a cycle). You can even workout at home on top of this. Give your child the time to play and exercise also. They will sleep better too!
During this time, video calling is king. We run our tuition sessions over video calls, and I am actually about to have an online workout with a trainer through video calling. As I’m sure you know by now, there are plenty of options available (Facetime, Whatsapp, Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, Facebook Messenger etc). You can use these to speak to friends and family face to face, even as a group.
Finally, restrict the amount of time spent watching the news!
2. Socialising Restricted
Ultimately, online-learning limits our range of social interaction and behaviour. However, we can still keep connected with other people. Talking on the phone or video calling allows you to exhibit a greater range of behaviour than texts alone. Therefore, they tend to be a better substitute for face-to-face interaction.
As a family, we have set up a weekly video chat. In my case, it has the advantage that we can include loved ones who are overseas in that same chat with much more ease and as a matter of course.
3. Softer Skills Will Suffer
Softer skills encompass a wide range of expertise including adaptability, attitude, communication, creative thinking, work ethic, teamwork, networking, decision-making, positivity, time management, motivation, flexibility, problem-solving, critical thinking, and conflict resolution.
Some of these such as networking will be less-practised during a lockdown period. However, I think there is scope to work on skills that can be practised within a family setting. For instance, teamwork and problem-solving can be practised within games.
Adapting to the lockdown is also technically building adaptability to a change in the environment and economy.
4. Team Sports not Possible
Students being unable to participate in team sports is probably one of the most significant losses in this situation. Ultimately, everyone will need to focus more on their individual training rather than working with others. However, I have heard that people who attend yoga, gym, and dance classes, getting together in mass to practise daily sessions virtually. This somewhat mitigates the issue.
5. Unstructured and Unmotivated Learning
Among our students, secondary students especially have struggled with the transition to online learning as they have had to experience being in control of how they approach their homework.
While this may be valuable, as they need to master concepts independently, some students are not as motivated to learn. GCSE and A-Level students in their exam years are particularly unmotivated as they no longer are working towards the common goal of the exam. Furthermore, even if students are motivated and enjoy learning, they may not be skilled at structuring their own learning.
This is a challenge: parents should not force students to learn — the desire to learn should come from the student. Yet, students generally understand that exams are the main end-goal of education.
Making your child focus on their future can sometimes help them stay motivated. Ideally, the learning process needs to be understandable and enjoyable.
If you need help structuring your child’s learning, then contact us and we will be able to provide services to help you.
Ten Top Tips
Always establish a routine
Be flexible and open-minded about changing activities
Give children responsibilities around the house
Keep children reading both fiction and non-fiction
Use online resources both free and paid
Supervise some of their work
Offer some incentives but never too many
Guide them to discover facts rather than simply provide them
Think about your child’s learning style and use more than one learning style.
Five Top Tips for Teaching Younger Students
Use puzzles and colours to make learning fun (one we have been using is Power Lines)
Get children to learn while doing everyday activities with the family
Allow children to play in their downtime
Introduce new words when talking to them and encourage them to also use them
Collaborate with other parents through online aids and take it in turn to teach
Five Top Tips for Teaching Older Students
Download and understand their syllabus/exam specifications.
Talk to them about their future plans and encourage them to explore future options by researching
Talk to them like adults
Encourage additional interests such as a new language or hobby that is creative in their downtime
Older children need to be praised too - think about using access to social media, for example, as a reward.
Specific Advice for Lockdown on helping GCSE and A-Level students
It is natural for parents to experience anxiety about helping their children with GCSEs and A-levels. It has probably been a long time since they have undertaken academic study, and curriculums develop over time.
Most students seem aware that their parents would not be able to actively teach their children at GCSE level. Certainly, when I was doing my A-Levels, my parents were unable to teach me the content, and I often would not bother asking them. However, the one thing that they did that really helped me understand content more was to open dialogues with me about things that I was studying.
For instance, when I mentioned that I was doing an essay on Alfred the Great, my dad started to engage and asked me questions about him. This helped me articulate my ideas and also prompted me to research more about Alfred’s role in the construction of the Navy. It also likely helped my dad understand how I was approaching my education. Opening these dialogues with children, allows them to become more confident in expressing their ideas and could even lead them to think more critically.
I have also talked with students about how their parents have helped them with GCSE revision, and some parents have got involved in the rote learning process by assisting them with flashcard activities.
The key is for parents not to let their own educational records determine the level of support they give their children. My grandmother could not even speak English, yet she encouraged my mother and her siblings to become high-level English speakers. I have also talked to many parents who have confided in me about how they struggled in school at GCSEs and A-Levels, yet they are always willing to help their children reach their potential.
Educational support is not merely about instruction, but about forming strong bonds with students that enable them to flourish.
Our experienced tutors are subject specialists and will be more than happy to discuss your needs.
Routine is Everything
For those parents who have been forced to homeschool, this change in lifestyle is a major shift but also comes with some intangible benefits. In a family where both parents work full time, this time with children at home will often bring families closer together emotionally.
Most of all - enjoy this time with your children - it is a rare opportunity we have been given that despite all of the issues of lockdown, we have the additional hour or two which would normally be travelling time which can be used much more productively - for example exercising, or meditating or singing with your children and creating those memories that will make this whole lockdown that little bit more bearable.