Anna Dusseau | 13th March 2020
Parents, brace yourselves. Because it’s looking increasingly likely that UK schools will soon be following Europe by closing their doors in an international effort to contain – or at least delay – the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Perhaps as you are reading this, you have just received the news that your son or daughter’s school are sending children home. And with over 126,000 confirmed cases across the world and the death toll rising toward 5,000, you can hardly blame them. It is officially a pandemic, according to the World Health Organisation, and it rightly calls for decisive action. What you may well be wondering, though, as you attempt to work remotely from the battered laptop you reclaimed from the kids’ bedroom, is how on earth are you going to make this quarantine work? Your boss is stressing about spreadsheets, the kids have wrangled the dog into a pair of pajamas, and your parenting bestie with the amazing family are smugly self-isolating after visiting Lake Como at the start of March. Should you all just grab a sharp-looking fork and fight it out right now, like the final scene of Battle Royale? Well, thankfully, not yet. Because I’m here to help. I am the founder of Homeschool Guru; a former school teacher, examiner and now full-time homeschooling mum of 3. Step this way, if you’re willing to put down the surgical mask and establish a calm, positive vibe in your (temporarily) homeschooled family.
Create a timetable. Not all homeschool mamas believe in this, but especially if your children are used to a school routine, I think it is helpful and important. Blank timetables are easily accessed from google images, or simply drawn up by hand at home. Whatever the age of your children, I suggest that they should be involved in your weekly timetable planning which, in my opinion, should run Monday-Friday, in keeping with schools and the working week. Be realistic with what you want your children to achieve while at home with you. You cannot expect them to adapt instantly to a new routine that has been thrust upon them, nor can you expect children of any age to study at home for the same hours as a school day. I find that with my family and the homeschool families that I have worked with, a daily routine involving some academic coverage in the morning, a period of free time before lunch, and a creative, outdoors or sporting focus for the afternoon, tends to work well. My belief here is that the yin-yang of the working week followed by a chilled out – or simply ‘different’ – weekend vibe is essential to our well-being and benefits us both in terms of our focus and motivation, as well as our ability to relax and enjoy down time.
Don’t bother with the National Curriculum. Especially as this is a temporary situation, I really do not recommend looking up Key Stage learning goals from the national curriculum or elsewhere. If your children are going to school, they will be moving toward NC goals every day in their subject lessons and taking a small break from this to explore other approaches to learning (yes, the National Curriculum is just one approach and is only obligatory for state-funded schools) isn’t such a bad thing. If your son loves his English lessons, why not set aside time for him to just immerse himself in books, without anyone stopping him, ringing a bell, or telling him it’s time for PE? Or if your daughter loves to dance and – surprise, surprise – this is something she gets to enjoy only once a week on a Saturday morning, why not change it up and play music every day for at least half an hour or more, to allow her to move freely and find her dance style away from the ballet bar? Kids spend so much time sitting down in school! The point is that all forms of learning – including Visual, Auditory, and Kinaesthetic styles (VAK) – are valid and essential to your child’s development (and yours!) For budding scientists, now is the time to try out that Okido magazine order, or subscribe to Curiosity Box for a regular dose of fabulous hand-on science in your living room.
Get plenty of fresh air. Let me tell you a secret. My homeschool kids do actual ‘work’ (Reading, Writing, Maths, Piano, History, French, and so forth) for less than 2 hours a day. And that’s quite a lot, actually! Because, quite obviously, what you can achieve in terms of concentration and focus with two children sat at the dining table and Skala radio murmuring in the background, is on another level compared to being in, for example, a noisy secondary school queuing for assembly, or waiting for the usual suspects to quiet down before the teacher can even address the class. What I’m trying to say is, don’t worry too much about the academic rigour of your temporary homeschool situation and instead, use this as an opportunity to take long walks, enjoy bike rides and even take up gardening (that’s right guys, spring is on the way, and your pot plants are rejoicing along with the NHS!) It’s not like you have much choice, in any case. The cinema is out, as are soft plays and trampoline parks.; at least if you’re following the official guidelines. So grit your teeth, pull on your wellies and join the Marianne Dashwood school of parenting (how did I know you’re an Austen fan, too?) where the only weather condition which would prevent a dose of fresh air would be – perhaps – a tornado.
Cook from scratch. I mean, have you seen the supermarket shelves recently? Yikes! People are really going nuts and, I can only assume, stockpiling pots of guacamole behind their front door, ready to lob at the postie if he (or she) dares to approach with your electricity bill wearing anything less than a lead-lined radiation suit and mask. What this means is you might have to forget that pepperoni pizza you promised the kids on Friday night, because anxious Angela bought them all last week. And your usual Saturday morning granola? Looks like that’s gone, too (seriously, what is Angela’s problem?) So this means you’re gong to need to get creative, which is no bad thing. More than this, you’re going to need to get cooking and I strongly recommend you get your children fully involved in this, from chopping up vegetables to loading the dish washer. We cook almost all our meals from scratch, not because we are pigtail-wearing hippies, but because it’s enjoyable and cathartic, an important life skill for children of all ages, puts cheap and healthy food on the table, and affords either me or my husband a couple of hours every day to work from home, which is how we like to live. Okay, okay! Slightly hippie, but definitely not a pigtail in sight.
Reduce screen time. I promise you, I’m not being preachy here. Let me explain. Before I began homeschooling, I relied on the TV or iPad quite a lot, too. Life was moving at 100mph and screen time was honestly a very useful tool in helping me to get all 3 children out the house on time, or assisting with the transition from the long school day to being home for dinner, homework and showers. I totally get it. But, if your family are potentially forced into a short-term homeschooling situation thanks to COVID-19, you are going to find the pace of your life slowing down. Like, a lot. And what worked before simply isn’t going to work in this new situation, where you are trying to temporarily normalise having your children with you full-time as participants in your daily work and admin routine – as well as their own learning journey – rather than just planning for special weekend and holiday time with them. As an educator and a mum who’s tried both systems of learning, I can guarantee that by simply removing the option of screens through to about 4pm when an hour or so of a good TV show or movie is a nice way to unwind, you will find your children more focused, easier to talk to, and more on board with what you are doing as a family. Remember that they’re not sat all day at school playing on phones! You’ll meet resistance for 24 hours or so and then, honestly, you’ll come downstairs one morning and find your 11 year old FIFA addict sat at the kitchen table reading the newspaper.
And what if your child has exams this summer? Yep, this is the one causing all the problems and I totally understand. Public examinations are definitely important and, if your child is in Year 11 or Sixth Form, this interruption at a crucial stage before study leave kicks in, might seem worrying. Again, your first step here is to sit down with a blank timetable and help your child to plan out their day. If your child is used to getting good grades at school, now is the time to remind them to take a deep breath and calm themselves down. This isn’t school. You are temporarily home-learning now and it’s a totally different thing. If you take an average 6 hour school day and deduct all the time wasted in lining up, waiting for silence, assembly, drifting off during dull PowerPoints, doing the register and notices, dealing with behaviour issues – to name just a few – your child is, on a good day, probably actually learning for about 2 hours. Some experts say barely 40 minutes. Use this information to help prevent your teenager from burning out and creating a homeschool study routine that is unmanageable. Do plan subjects into 45 minute slots, in order to cover a range of topics every morning before lunch and equally, do insist that the afternoon is for fresh air, friends and family, reading a book or enjoying a funny show on the radio. For resources, you should either have a study pack to work through from school, or alternatively all key information for every subject – syllabus, topics, past papers – will be able from your exam board website (OCR, AQA, Edexcel) via the parent or student login.
You might still be feeling more than a little nervous about having the entire family thrust upon you in the middle of term, plus the expectation for you (and possibly your partner) to be working remotely. That’s totally normal, so don’t feel bad if you do. When I withdrew my children from school due – initially – to management issues, I felt like we were stepping off the edge of a cliff. I mean, I am a qualified teacher and I was terrified! But guess what? A week later, we were so astonished by the amazing experience of homeschooling, that we decided not to bother with school again (still no pigtails, people!) My point is simply that if I could transform that uncertainty into a radically different way of living and educating for my family, you can certainly create a bit of structure in your weekday routine and get through the next couple of weeks before life will return to normal. And you know what? The next time you wave them off at the school gate, you might even have ditched the winter school-run puffa and have a slight skip in your stride, knowing that it’s very nearly summer uniform time, so no more wrestling spaghetti legs into regulation tights which somehow always come out of the wash with the flexibility of compression socks. I mean, don’t they? Or is that what people use fabric softener for? Still. No. Pigtails.
For further guidance on homeschooling visit www.homeschoolguru.org or contact Anna Dusseau directly to book a consultation for your family’s educational management. firstname.lastname@example.org
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