We’ve been homeschooling for years. Here’s how we do it…
Last year I wrote an article for DaddiLife about why we decided to homeschool our two children. I said that it was an extremely difficult decision, and not one anyone should take lightly. Home schooling is anything but an easy option, even if we thought it was the right one for us.
And now, of course, everybody’s doing it! Coronavirus has made homeschooling obligatory. From this week, every child in the country will be homeschooled, which is to say that at the very least they’ll be hanging around at home when they’d usually be at school.
Given that, it might be useful to talk less about why we homeschool – as I did in the first piece – and more about how we homeschool.
- What does homeschooling entail?
- How are days structured?
- What does success look like?
The first point to make is that everybody homeschools differently, because all kids are different and parents have different abilities, interests and competencies. Despite that, I can offer a few general tips from our experience about what a typical homeschooling day might look like.
1. Your homeschooling will be different to mine
First of all, schools are likely to be sending work home by email, so your children should have projects and exercises to work through. That puts you one step ahead. The first thing many permanent homeschoolers have to do is work out what on earth to teach our children on any given day.
To make that easier in our house, we’ve created a routine around core subjects (I say ‘we’, but my wife does most of this stuff). It’s something you may want to follow. For us, the key point is to do things in small, regular chunks, to keep our children (ages 13 and 10) from getting bored and becoming disengaged.
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The “quarantine generation” is going to save us all. They will be bakers, they will be great home cooks, they will be gardeners, they will be conservative with and respectful of resources, and have amazing hygiene. They will be problem solvers, critical thinkers, creative as hell, and they will be more connected to the world and smarter than any generation before. A great hope is there. I am not a silver lining or bright side kind of person, I call things how I see them honestly and sometimes my outlook can be very grim, but this right here is an amazing opportunity to be frankly honest. If your children are stir crazy and unmanageable, yes, that’s normal and difficult. Put their hands to a task. Just like us, they want to be productive and useful too.
2. Create a homeschooling schedule
We do that by creating a daily task sheet, split into three phases. The first phase is compulsory every day, and involves a chunk of maths, a lesson of languages (our kids are learning Italian), an online spelling session and anything else that might seem crucial right now (like handwashing practice!). They also read at least one chapter of a book and may do an exercise from an English workbook.
We’ve learnt from experience that you can’t fit everything into every day, so we don’t try. Our children are at their most focused earlier in the day, so that’s when core learning happens.
Some of the lessons we use are online, but others are created and led by my wife, who is an English and literacy teacher. But you don’t have to be a teacher to join in with your kids’ learning. Be there to help when they need it and answer their questions, and as time goes on you might even want to create lessons yourself, to complement the assignments sent from school. There are plenty of resources to help you do this, listed below.
as time goes on you might even want to create lessons yourself to complement the assignments sent from school
3. Give them choices
After core subjects our children have a break before moving onto phase 2 of their daily tasks. These are subjects they choose for themselves. For our son that often means coding or computer science. For our daughter it is usually art or writing stories.
Later, phase 3, which doesn’t happen every day, is more about passive learning. They may watch educational science-based TED-Ed Talks one day, and Horrible Histories or nature programmes the next.
Why do we do it like this? We think the gradual change from subjects they have to do to ones they want to do helps them to learn. As the day flows on, tiredness creeps in and interest ebbs. So moving to more fun stuff later on – or subjects in which they have genuine interest – seems the most efficient way to structure the day.
4. Don’t forget exercise and socialising
When we first started homeschooling we struggled with building enough exercise into our children’s days, and that was when there were no limits on what you could do and where. Now, their usual classes are cancelled and even the local playground seems a risky choice. To compensate, we’ve set aside time for a daily walk (away from town and crowds) and an app-based exercise session.
Similarly, we are building in some time for them to Skype or Facetime friends. They can’t run around in the park together, but they can interact online.
5. Have a schedule – not a straightjacket
That’s a general view of a typical day, but I should stress that not every day is the same. For those forced into homeschooling by coronavirus, the one upside to all this is the extra time you get to spend with your children. And for once it’s not when they’re tired and craggy after a hard day at school.
So you might want to rip up the schedule one morning and play Monopoly (think of the maths!), or read a book together, or take an online yoga class. Why not cook or bake? Your schedule should be a guide, not a straightjacket. The more novelty you bring to the week, the more your kids will accept the more intensive periods of core learning.
Schools will have sent many children home with work, but if they need to do more – or need help in certain areas – there are loads of online (and book-based) resources to help. Here’s some that we find especially useful, but feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.
Note: some of these resources are paid for, but many are offering discounts and group bookings during the coronavirus outbreak.
- EducationQuizzes (all school ages). A series of fun, well judged quizzes on a range of national curriculum topics.
- BBC Bitesize (all school ages). Excellent free resources covering the national curriculum.
- SpellingCity (up to 11). Great, interactive spelling tool – you set the words, the app helps your children practice through online games.
- Jumpstart! Literacy and Jumpstart! Grammar (7 – 14). These books make literacy learning game-based and fun.
- ReadingEggs (2 – 13). Online reading games and activities.
- Twinkl (school age). A comprehensive resource for all key stage subjects.
- Nessy (reading and spelling 6 – 11, writing 7 – 14). Designed for children of all abilities but especially for those who learn differently, like those with dyslexia.
- TT Rockstar maths (up to 11). A great way to master times tables.
- ConquerMaths (all ages). Very well regarded online maths tutoring app, with videos and exercises.
- TED-Ed (Primary school to university). A great resource that has just got even better, TED-Ed now offers lessons specifically for new home learners.