'Homeschooling' – the new buzzword among parents in 2020. Whether we like it or not, we've all been thrust into it. And we've got to make it work – somehow – for the forseeable future (there's a strong possibility we'll have to continue home-learning during the summer vacation as well). Yes, add the crates of wine to your Tesco order…
Now, I'm no expert at teaching, let alone homeschooling, and if you've read my post last week on how homeschooling has been going for us, you would know it's been tough, to say the least. Challenging. Frustrating. And I've been declared to be the "best mummy but the worst teacher…" Well, you win some, you lose some, whatever!
Anyways, point is, most of us are new to this homeschooling malarchy, and more importantly, aren't cut out for it. (I've always wondered how teachers manage to keep 30 six-year-olds in line, when I find it difficult to control just one! And since March 2020, I have even more respect for teachers.) But we've got to find ways to make it work, for our kids' educational benefit and our mental well-being. So, after six weeks of trial-and-error, failures and successes and more downs than ups, I've put together some tried-and-tested 'homeschooling' tips.
1. Find a middle ground
I learnt this the hard way. Yes, you're going to be met with a lot of opposition from your child/ren (because who wants to learn at home when I could be watching TV or playing Nintendo or be doing anything else more fun?!) but you've still got to get stuff done. Still got to send their work in to school. And still got to impart at least some knowledge during these months in quarantine. So find a middle ground. Give some, take some. Don't enforce things to the point your child hates it – it will only result in tears and flaring tempers (from both parties concerned). And you don't want your impressionable six-year-old to dread phonics for the rest of his (schooling) life! Be firm enough to not let things get completely out of your control but let your kid/s be on the driver's seat once in a while too.
2. Set a (flexible) time-table
I say flexible because, let's face it, this situation isn't normal. Routines and discipline are (somewhat) tossed away, mood swings are abundant (from bored/ restless kids, exhausted mums and working-from-home dads) and everyone's a bit tense and unsure. So you can't expect a 9 am start every morning nor can you predict the next tantrum. So, I plan out the day's work in the morning (or if I'm super efficient, the night before) and aim to finish at least 80 per cent of it (find the middle ground, remember?) If I don't, it's OK. If I do, I consider it a win. And if I finish all 100 per cent of it, I pour myself a (well-deserved) glass of wine that evening!
3. Get your child involved in decision-making a.k.a give them choices
The more choices your child has, the more he or she will feel in control (and kids love to be in charge). So involve them in the making of the time-table where possible. Ask them what they would like to do first – Math or English? Phonics or spellings? Science project on Monday or Tuesday? Your child will be more inclined to do the work knowing it's on their terms… and you can then put up a self-defence argument if they protest!
4. Plan ahead and prepare
If the school sends in a daily or weekly plan, make sure you read it before sitting down with your child, so you know what's on the agenda for the day/ week. Remember, kids have a short attention span and get distracted very, very easily, so you don't want them waiting while you scroll your inbox searching for THAT one email! Also, going through the work ahead of time helps you prepare – you'll be surprised how even primary level Maths can stump the smartest of us! You can attempt to find out answers to questions you know you'll be asked, so
a) you don't waste time doing that whilst your child gets distracted, yet again
b) you don't seem as dumb to your child
If any printouts need to be taken, it helps to do that beforehand too. Leave no spare moment for your child to feel bored/ hungry/ toilet-y or find any other reason to scoot off!
5. Get the boring/ difficult work out of the way first
Every child has a subject they detest or find boring or difficult. For some it's Maths; for others it could be writing. Whatever is your child's nemesis, get it out of the way first. Two advantages of doing so: children are most alert first thing in the morning and are more likely to concentrate on the matter at hand as opposed to later in the day, when boredom/ tiredness/ general irritation with homeschooling has set in. And once the big hurdle has been dealt with, you too can breathe a little easier and tackle the rest of the work.
I usually leave the online reading/ games or more fun tasks like Art and DT or science experiments for the afternoon and get done with Maths, English and Phonics earlier on in the day.
6. Keep it short and sweet; and know when to call it a day
Don't drag on the homeschooling session to the point where both of you'll are at boiling point. We need to remember that younger children's attention spans are not that great; besides, given the current situation, I don't blame them for thinking they are on a six-month vacation where rules don't apply. So if things aren't going as planned, or you are sensing too much resistance, just do the basics and let everyone take a break. Or just let it go for that day. It will do everyone good and your child won't be 'lagging behind' when he or she goes back to school. I agree with social experts and teachers when they say that children's emotional and mental well-being – especially at this time – is far more important than their academic performance.
7. Give lots of praise and incentives
Children LOVE to be applauded for their work. Even if it's just a sticker! Why do you think 'star stickers' and 'being on the rainbow' in class makes them so happy? Continue to give your child LOTS OF PRAISE at home too. I don't think I've said so many 'Well dones' as I have these past six weeks!
Giving incentives also works – promise them some TV time after half an hour of English. Or some online Maths games after two worksheets? Bribery and parenting often go hand-in-hand…
8. Change things around to make it interesting
Kids revel in role-play, so why not add some to your homeschooling schedule? On days when I know Little Man is not in the mood, or when I sense things are going to go downhill, I turn the tables around and we play 'school' where he gets to be the teacher and I, the student. He loves this game and enjoys imitating his teachers and replicating the classroom environment. Also, he's in charge (being the teacher). Little does he realise that even while he's 'teaching' me, he's doing a fair bit of learning and revising himself. And if that's the only homeschooling we do that day, so be it. Much better than having a meltdown…
I've realised that changing our 'home classroom' also helps. Our designated 'study area' was getting too monotonous. So we moved from desk to the cosy carpet facing the garden. Snuggled under a cosier blanket made the setting less formal and a little more fun. On days the sun is shining, we read or spell outside in the garden. The change of scene helps.
Do you have any homeschooling tips that work? Do share them in the comments! Meanwhile, here are some brilliant tips on homeschooling stress-free from seasoned homeschooling mum of 5 Jacqui who blogs at One Messy Mama.
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