A month ago, when the government announced that the schools were to be closed, I listened with a strange mix of feelings. It was clearly necessary to keep everyone safe, but at the same time it was sad to think that it was likely to be a long time before my children and I could return to EKS. At the same time my thoughts went out to all the families in the country that would now have their children at home full time and had never factored such a thing into their plans. What would they do? What would be expected of them?
It did not take long for social media to be swarming with lesson plans, timetabling ideas and pressure to “home-school”. I saw these things and I felt awful for parents. Before joining the EKS community in January 2019, I home educated my four children for ten years, and have continued to do so in conjunction with EKS since then. As such I understand how difficult it can be at times to have full time responsibility for your children’s education, but I can’t imagine what it must be like to be thrust into that position overnight without choice or time to prepare. It must be incredibly overwhelming, and more than a little bit scary.
Yet at the same time, what is happening now is very different from home education in the sense that most home educating families would understand it. Not only was it an accident of circumstance rather than a choice, but it is far more restrictive than elective home education. Despite the name, home education does not predominantly happen at home for most families. It happens in cafes and museums and playgrounds and sports halls and many other places, and with other like-minded families that support one another along the way. What is happening now is not home education so much as “crisis education”, and home educators are finding the situation difficult too. But at the same time, I believe that those of us who have been educating outside of school for a long time do have a degree of expertise to offer to those who are feeling out of their depths right now.
Personally, my advice to any parents who feel they have been thrown in at the deep end would be to try and let go of your idea of what “home-schooling” is and how it should work. What most people have in their heads when they think of home-schooling is usually quite different from what it actually is in practice. Like many others I prefer the term “home educator” rather than “home-schooler”. This might sound a bit pedantic, but the reason is that home education is not “school” at home, and what it means and how it works is completely different from family to family, and even from child to child within any given home ed family. Most of us – or at least those of us who grew up in mainstream education – tend to go through a very similar process of having to “unlearn” a lot of what we thought education was in order to find the rhythm that suits our particular family. In its truest sense education is everything we learn in life, so if you supported your children to learn to talk, to eat with a spoon, to tie their shoelaces, congratulations, you’re a home educator.
In terms of making this work in practice, I have to confess that I and other home educators are still figuring it out to some extent. As I said, this is a completely new journey and set of dynamics for us too, but for what it’s worth I would like to say to parents, please don’t worry about academics. If your children’s school have given you a stack of work to get through and they are happy to work through it and they appreciate the sense of normality that it brings, great. If you want more resources there’s some amazing stuff out there – khan academy, twinkl, prodigy maths, reading eggs, bbc bitesize, tes to name just a few.
But if they are finding everything very stressful at the moment, they may well resist, and that’s ok too. We are living in unprecedented time and the two most important things you can do right now are to nurture you children’s mental well-being and to give them the peace and security that they need to get through this. If you are continually butting heads with them over unfinished schoolwork you just can’t do that. Remember everyone’s in the same position right now and there are children out there whose parents are sick, or they have to work at home full time, or they’re looking after vulnerable family members.
If your children don’t want to do schoolwork and you’re worried you’re going to show up at the school gates on the fist day back, and they are going to be the only ones that haven’t been doing lessons at home, you’re wrong. The schools will adapt to wherever the children are when they get back. Use this time to find out what they’re really passionate about and help them to follow their own interests. Bake cookies or spend all day watching dinosaur documentaries or drawing pictures. Most home educators spend years and often a small fortune on curriculums and lesson plans, only to come to the realisation that their children learn best when they are given the space to make their own decisions about what they want to learn. And if those children that spend their whole lives learning in this way can grow up to be happy and successful adults, which is generally the case, your children’s futures really aren’t going to be ruined from six months of this.
Take a deep breath. Let it out. And don’t put yourself or your family under any more unnecessary stress. There’s enough for us to deal with at the moment. You don’t have to become your children’s schoolteacher overnight. Just focus on being their parent. That really is enough.
If when the schools reopen all your children have learned in that time is resilience, a bit of compassion for others and some self-love and passion for the things they enjoy then know that you have done a great job, regardless of whether you managed to sit down and study maths together.
For more help with home education during the COVID-19 pandemic have a listen to our Lockdown Learning Podcast. The first episode features Rachel in conversation with another long term home educator giving tips on supporting your children to learn at home.
How Children Learn at Home by Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison is an excellent survey of the myriad ways in which home educating families support their children in their learning.
Education Otherwise provides support and guidance on home education.