An eight-year-old American boy’s hilarious journal entry (above) is going viral for his candid thoughts on his mother’s attempt at home schooling during the coronavirus outbreak.
“It is not going good,” says the boy, whose name is Ben.
Here in lockdown, many parents in New Zealand find themselves having to take responsibility for their children’s education from home.
The prospect might be rather daunting because it is true that “they didn’t do it like that when I was at school”…and they certainly didn’t do it in lockdown.
As a former teacher I have put together a few guidelines to help you navigate the world of home schooling.
I have written these tips with primary school students in mind since college students will, on the whole, be able to manage their learning for themselves, but I hope there is something useful here for all families.
Top 10 tips for home schooling
1) Think “home learning” rather than “home schooling”.
No one is expecting us to educate our children to the level that their school teachers do. We don’t have to run a full-day program that covers all areas of the curriculum. So my first suggestion is not to try to do it all and instead to set realistic expectations for yourselves and your children.
Remember, too, that all life experiences are learning experiences, especially for children. My son made pancakes with me on Sunday morning, giving him the opportunity to practise following a recipe, try out a variety of practical cooking skills and work with fractions.
2) Create a rhythm to your days.
Flexibility is needed at a time like this when so many of our normal ways of living have collapsed and emotions fluctuate. However, having a predictable daily pattern will give our children some sense of stability and set them up to expect (and accept) structured learning activities at certain points in the day.
In our house, mornings are similar to before lockdown but at a more relaxed pace. After breakfast, chores and teeth, we get into home learning. When attention wanes, we stop and anything that needs finishing is completed after lunch.
3) Work in short bursts.
At school, activities usually get changed up every 15-30 minutes, depending on the age of the children. We wouldn’t want to interrupt them if they’re on a roll but, if our kids are losing focus after 20 minutes, they may need a break or a change of activity.
Allowing them to do so, will keep them engaged and feeling positive towards their learning.
4) Aim for quality not quantity.
For my family, one-two hours of structured learning a day seems to be the sweet spot. It allows my boys to do about three different activities a day without rushing their work.
I’ve heard from parents that some school teachers have set their children an unmanageable amount of work to do already. This is likely because teachers are obliged to set a workload similar to what they normally would in class.
However, you’re the parent and you are not obliged to get your children to do it all. My suggestion is to handpick the amount of work and the particular activities that seem appropriate for your child.
5) Give your child some choice in what they do.
When children feel that they have a degree of control over their learning, they are less likely to resist it and more likely to be keen to do it.
“Would you like to start with reading or multiplication today?” or
“What would you like to write about?”
Encouraging our children to choose some of their own projects also keeps them busy and motivated. So far, my eight-year-old has made a YouTube video, started learning to touch type and set himself the challenge of learning to say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious backwards.
Getting involved in some of these activities alongside our children enables us to stretch their thinking as well as giving us another opportunity to connect with them.
6) When your child isn’t “getting it”, make it more simple.
Occasionally, we meet a concept that we just can’t get across to our children. In such moments, take a breath, go back a step then slowly inch forward. The idea is to find out what they can do then to build on that.
For example, if they are learning to multiply two-digit numbers together, make one number single-digit instead.
Once they have solved a few of those examples, show them how they can use that skill and knowledge to multiply two-digit numbers. If stress levels are rising, leave that concept for now and revisit it later.
7) Don’t panic if you don’t understand the work your child has been set.
If your child’s teacher has set work, it should mostly be matched to their ability, naturally building on what they already know.
So, even if it stumps you, it shouldn’t totally stump your child. However, if your child can’t figure it out and neither Google or a Skype call with a classmate can shed any light on things, I would send an email to the teacher then leave it until you get a reply.
8) Get your child started then give them space.
If we sit beside our child, watching their every move, they may feel that they are being scrutinised and become reluctant to experiment with ideas or to make and notice their own mistakes (valuable learning strategies).
Children need time and space to think things through and to try things out. So, when appropriate, set them up then go and hang the washing or send a few emails. When they’re ready, you can review their work together.
9) Limit the amount of learning on screens.
Much of the work school teachers set will be online as it’s a simple way to set up and monitor their students from afar. But, if a learning activity can be done manually, I would usually choose that.
The brain thinks differently when it’s on a screen than when it’s using objects for maths or writing by hand, for example.
As motivated as children are by the chance to use a screen and as much as it is often the easier choice for us, a bit of variety in their learning activities will keep them stimulated and motivated in the long run and it will benefit their bodies too.
10) If you do nothing else, get your children reading.
Some parents, such as those working from home, may have neither the time or the mental space to get their teeth into home learning. If you have just 20 minutes a day to support your child’s learning the best way you can spend it is by reading.
Read to them or listen to them read to you or keep an ear out while they read to the dog. Chat about their thinking as you go or afterward.
Ask “how did you figure that word out?” or
“why did the girl scream in that part of the story?” or
“what would you do if you were in her situation?”
Reading both grows our children’s familiarity with language and prompts them to think about new ideas.
Reach out for help to the teacher if you are struggling. You can do this.
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