The current “great pause” that we are going through has challenged us in ways many of us could never have anticipated. For those of us that teach every day, our jobs have moved online and are confined to desktops in lounges and spare rooms. Those with children are left to manage their education from home, using every possible method and tool at their immediate disposal. This is a task. Not only because you may be working or living with several others but because children are, like every other human being, complex individuals with varying needs and desires. It is overwhelming and daunting and yet at the same time it is an exciting opportunity to spend meaningful time with your children.
Let’s be realistic, the schools will return and the role of teacher and student will be reinstated. Life will go on. That being said, this time has given us a few things to consider about the nature of schooling and the benefits of primary education in the home, the crucial role of parents in their child’s education and the need to slow down and accept what is happening. The new normal may not be as daunting as we think.
The first thing I will say is that homeschool and school are two different things and do not need to be the same. In school, we have routine and structure, a system that we try to tailor for each individual child. We have plans, assessments and expectations and we very regularly witness the outcomes of these first hand. One of the first things you learn as a teacher is to communicate your expected outcomes and to ensure that your learners know exactly what they are working towards. It enables us to keep learners motivated and to provide them with agency in their own learning. Communication is important at every turn. Thus, school days tend to run quite smoothly..in most cases!
So, why not take this time to make homeschool different and to encourage your child to take independence in their own learning or to treat it differently to school whilst still discovering and experimenting.
I’ve detailed a few simple suggestions for helping those who are struggling or need a few new ideas to help things run smoothly.
Create a homeschool contract
At the beginning of every year, sometimes every term, I sit down with my class and we make a class contract. We create this as a collective group and on the first day of school, coming up with rules that we think are important for our classroom. These can range from ‘We listen when someone is talking’ to ‘We lift people up when they are down’. We use positive reinforcement language and ensure that don’ts come into play as sometimes that is all children hear. It’s better to keep it as positive as possible and make it an enjoyable experience, using plenty of colour and if they want to, they can write it up. We can correct spellings later. We make it as a team, showing that everyone is agreeing to these guidelines. It’s best to get as many suggestions as possible from your child and remind them that it’s for everyone in homeschool, you included. Since this is a different environment to school, it would be useful to include recognising the space and its uses, that homeschool time is a time to do our best work and to listen etc. It is written up nice and big and always displayed in a noticeable place in the classroom where both myself and the students can refer to it, keeping all of us accountable for our behaviour. Have fun with it!
Maintain a routine
Of course in school this is much easier but it can be as simple as facilitating homeschool at the same time every day with times for lunch, snacks, busy breaks etc. Depending on the individual needs of your child, some may need a stricter routine than others. For example, a child with an ADHD or ASD diagnosis will work much better in small, structured time slots with reward and snack breaks in between. If possible, try to use different rewards to those you may usually use at home so as to segregate the two experiences. Even if it varies between a toy and a video, this will show that home time and homeschool time do differ. For children with additional needs, homeschooling is an exceptionally difficult task so do not worry about keeping up with coursework or being too strict as this is often beyond anyone's scope of ability.
Choice is a great thing because it enables young learners to develop their personality, likes and dislikes. Alas, sometimes the only choice is the ipad but this can be avoided with the use of the class contract, for example ‘We use technology at set times only’. Aside from choosing rewards and breaks, choice can be used to give a child agency in their own learning. This time is a unique opportunity for us to be able to let learners do what they want! All elements of the curriculum are important, not just Maths and Literacy. There really is no such thing as ‘falling behind’ anymore as schools with teachers worth their salt know that each and every child has their own, individual needs and we tailor the curriculum and activities for this. If your child has a love of the arts, use this time to develop new skills and build their independence in this field. Really, no child is too young for this, independent play at all ages is essential in enabling children to be resilient and make their own decisions.The development of skills such as problem solving and critical thinking as well as personal development from this will be far more beneficial than trying to fill out their workbook.
Busy breaks, Busy breaks, Busy breaks
This is an incredible opportunity to be as active as possible from home, to find new ways of being active that differ from the regular sports and clubs and to encourage the use of the home space for more than watching TV. From online yoga to PE classes or simply sticking on some music and moving. Incorporate your kids into your own workouts and have them experience something completely new, do workouts as a family and make it part of a new routine. Don’t be afraid to get outside and to see green which will boost your mood and take you away from the same four walls. Whether you are in a small or large living space, getting outside for cycles, scoots and walks should be an essential part of your day. Maybe you could do it before you start work in the morning or during your lunch break. Saturday morning walks could become part of every week after this!
It’s not school: Embrace the different
This is all very new to us and it’s okay that this is not school, it’s not supposed to be! No one is judging your parenting except yourself. As long as you are loving and supporting your child during this time, you are doing enough. For many of us,including children, this could be one of the only times in our lives that we aren’t constantly busy, rushing from one place to the next. Don’t be afraid to slow down.Take down that roll of old wallpaper and paint it! Bring the chalk out to the front drive and make an activity out of it. How often do we get this time with our families without the many distractions of life?
When it comes down to it, this time will be but a blip in our lifetimes and if we treat it with a positive outlook and enthusiasm, our children will look at it as a time of fun and collaboration at home.
Jennifer is a Froebelian trained primary school teacher based in Dublin,Ireland. Her teaching ethos is based on the outdoors, active learning and play.