“Help! I’m home-schooling, how did you do it?” asked my friend whose kids’ school has been shut down due to the current health crisis. I home-schooled for ten years, four kids at home together (the bonus baby was born when the older two were almost 16 and 18 and were at high school while I was still home-schooling our daughters). While I don’t want to sound like the grandma who talks about ‘walking to school five miles in the snow with bare feet’ and ‘there was no internet back in my day’ I couldn’t see any benefit in having television (lots of jokes about that being somehow related to us having five kids!). So, no technology.
I would not expect anyone to go back to the ‘good old days’ without technology, especially right now when it can be such a great way to stay connected when we are isolated in our homes. I am the first person to appreciate how fortunate many of us are to be able to work from home, to have access to work, information, learning and courses online.
The thing is, people expect that when families ‘home-school’ they have children bent over desks, working to a structured timetable and isolated socially. This is far from the truth – my own kids possibly had more interaction with different groups of people of varying ages than children in school. The community was their learning environment – from theatre performances, meeting up for activities with other home-schooling families (we had a weekly roller-skating group and an Arts Centre group and were involved with a local animal shelter), they joined neighbourhood teams and clubs with kids who went to school.
However, right now with various classes and events cancelled, venues closed, risks of travel, limits on visitors and meet-ups, home-schooling has new parameters. I’d like to reassure you though, you don’t need to sweat over setting up a strictly scheduled curriculum (although a gentle daily rhythm will avert confusion and chaos); you don’t need to fight over getting your kids to sit at a desk for hours; and you don’t need to worry that if you weren’t great at maths or any other subject, you won’t be able to teach your kids.
Some schools are organising on-line classes, and these will work well for older kids. If your children’s school isn’t doing this or their school isn’t closed but you feel safer keeping your kids at home, my message is, please don’t worry about your child ‘getting behind’.
Firstly, children are barometers of our stress, so if we worry, they will too, even when we think we are keeping up a brave face. Children who are anxious aren’t available for learning. The good news is that children are natural learners – whatever they do, they are learning.
My own approach was that whatever my kids showed an interest in, I would facilitate learning in that area. Now, like so many things (eg baby led weaning) this approach has a label – ‘unschooling’. This isn’t a cop-out, it isn’t lazy, it can really stretch us as learning facilitators – finding resources, guiding our kids to find their own resources. When we consider how kids really learn, it’s not from boring worksheets or parental pushing, the best learning comes from interest and passion – that comes from the child. Encourage your child to explore their souls calling, what are they passionate about?
what if kids don’t seem to want to do any ‘formal’ learning?
One of my boys was super-active, I would have had to tie him to the table to get him to work from a textbook. I encouraged written work (to relieve my own anxiety) by creating learning experiences that were relevant to him. For instance, we would ride our bikes to the local BMX track, we would time his laps, then at home (when all his ‘ants’ were out of his pants), he would make graphs and work out averages of his times. He was naturally learning maths, but also working on goal setting and ways he might improve his performances – this is intrinsic motivation which is a valuable life skill.
Having kids at home and drawing our families together can be a positive experience for everyone. It can be a learning curve for the whole family, especially if you are working from home (I pivoted from nursing to working from home, writing for newspapers, editing and writing for magazines and writing ad copy for local businesses - I wrote my first book while home-schooling). It can be hard as hell and there will be days you want to scream as you work out how to manage the intensity of being all together without breaks from each other. But it can also be about strengthening family relationships, learning to be respectful of each other’s space and personalities, teamwork, helping kids develop life skills and opportunities for everyone to contribute to our families.
here are some activities to try:
Cooking: even young kids can prep food – teach them about safe food handling; cooking (lots of Maths learning here); encourage them to create a folder of recipes (computer skills or good old-fashioned handwriting and art); discuss meal planning and making shopping lists of ingredients. This teaches life skills – we all need to eat.
Housework: have an hour of housecleaning as part of your daily schedule: even little kids can help with pickups and wiping but for older kids, they each choose a room/space (nobody will choose the toilet!) and when they are finished sit down together with a nice lunch or fun activity. Or give them sponges, soap (it will kill viruses) and the hose or a bucket of water (depending on water availability) and get them to clean the windows or their bikes or scooters – they will be busy for ages!
This teaches teamwork and that fun comes after the harder/necessary work.
Create a vision board: get out old magazines, scissors, glue sticks and poster sheets and talk about all the things they might like to do, see, experience. Teaches organisation, planning, communication and positivity.
Set up a website: there are free website templates and programs that are relatively simple to use such as GoDaddy. Do your kids have a special interest that they could blog about?
Play board games and cards: Chess or Monopoly will last for hours, simple boardgames will suit shorter attention spans. Card games – Uno or some good old fashioned playing card games such as 21 or Poker (my big boys taught their preschool sister how to play Poker – she would carry a pack of cards in her Hello Kitty bag and invite any adult remotely willing to play with her, she would even offer to play for money!).
Board games and cards will be teaching your kids strategy, maths, literacy and communication skills. Yes, unsupervised they may argue and possibly cheat but they will become skilled at human resource management (a life-long benefit!). My own kids elected the most honest kid as banker when they played Monopoly.
Read together: snuggle together and share a book – even bigger kids who can read enjoy being read to. Oxytocin released from snuggling together has calming effects on parent and child nervous systems. And when kids’ emotional tanks are filled, they are more available for learning.
Garden: grow some food plants or herbs (kids will eat what they grow); plant fruit trees, flowers. Teaches the rewards of delayed gratification and it’s great for the environment.
Learn a craft: sewing, knitting, crochet, macramé, mosaics – lots of tutorials on YouTube – or do an art project (You don’t need expensive materials, I let the younger kids paint our windows and one of our teenage kids graffitied the back of the shed).
Learn a language: see websites like Duolingo (there are reward badges to encourage progess) or Babbel where they teach pronunciation and grammar as you practice – do this with your kids and learn about the country/ies where people speak that language.
They are learning about geography, history and diversity.
Watch a TV documentary or movie together: get kids to discuss the theme, characters, plot – according to their capacity – listen to their perspective, there is no right or wrong. They will naturally be noticing social cues (even small kids will tell you, he’s the bad person). Encourage critical thinking and honest, open communication.
Go Outdoors: Social distancing can still be practised while you walk, run, ride bikes, scooters and skateboards or swim at the beach (pools will be a risk factor at the moment). Physical wellbeing is important for all of our immune systems.
Have a dance party: put on some music and get your grooves on. If you like, let your kids join other kids on skype or zoom and have FUN!
Build something: tip out the Lego and watch them build, Make cubbies indoors or outside – peg old sheets onto branches with clothes pegs, then eat a picnic outside. Teaches creativity, maths skills (lego and blocks), fine motor skills and co-operation if there are siblings playing together,
Netflix and chill: you chill while they watch Netflix – pop some corn and switch on a comedy. And ditch the guilt, you need space and self-care too!
Above all, limit television news broadcasts, talk with your kids about what is happening – their imaginations can be worse than the truth - but keep it positive. Tell them, we can stay well by not spreading germs; by being kind and considering others who may not be as healthy.
For activities for pre-schoolers, see my book Toddler Tactics (Random Penguin House).
Leonie Dawson, Australian home-schooling mum has a very reassuring article and a fabulous list of resources here.
Ask Dr Sears - US Paediatricians Drs Bill and Jim Sears have a great selection of articles here about keeping your family healthy during the Corona Virus outbreak.
Tracy Gillett, Canadian home-schooling mum and gentle parenting writer shares her tips for keeping children healthy with some more great home-schooling activity links in her article ‘How to Protect and Nurture Your Family Through the Corona Virus Pandemic.’
Pinky Mckay is a mum of five, an IBCLC lactation consultant, TEDx speaker and best-selling author of Sleeping Like a Baby (Download the first Chapter FREE), Parenting by Heart and Toddler Tactics (Penguin Random House). See her books and audio programs here