How to homeschool through Coronavirus: words from a seasoned home edder

In 1996, at 11 years old, I left school for good. My family moved and I began my own homeschooling journey, which got me through GCSEs, A levels, and finally graduating with a First Class degree (via the Open University).

In 2006 my son was born. He is 13 now, and has never been to school.
In 2008 my daughter was born. She is 11 now, and has never been to school.

And now, in 2020, the whole world is suddenly forced into joining our fabulous world.

There are so many things I want to tell you all.

Don’t worry. Enjoy it. It’s easier than you think. Don’t replicate school at home. Prioritise. Choose joy. Keep boundaries. Stay active. Read lots.

My list could go on. But the reality is this enforced ‘homeschooling’ cannot and will not be a true reflection of home education in normal life. Because life is not normal right now.

In normal life, home edders meet up regularly in groups to walk, learn, or just hang out together. You don’t have this option. In normal life, home edders do not have the pressure of tests and standards to meet, because going to school in the future is optional. You may not have this luxury. In normal life, home edders have at least one parent who wants to be homeschooling their kids.  You might not want this at all.

Yet here you are. Here we all are. So how can you make this work? Well, the possibilities are almost endless. You could do everything from unschooling to hiring in online tutors for every subject. The following are my suggestions, based on years of experience in child care, tutoring, youth work, fostering and home educating. For ease I have split my advice up by age groups. But one of the huge joys of home education is the ability to tailor it, so take everything here as an idea and a springboard, and mix it up to fit your family.


Preschoolers: 3-5 years

This one is the easy one. You’ve heard it said that play is children’s work. Now all you need to do is believe it! Encourage play in all its forms:

  • Creative play, like these great No Mess art ideas.00000IMG_00000_BURST20200210121807207_COVER_2
  • Imaginary play – build a fort under the table, play cars, put dollies to sleep
  • Physical play – rough and tumble, roly-poly, skip, dance, jump, tickle, chase and laugh
  • Nature play – walk as often as you can, play in the garden, look for birds, bees, flowers and trees, make use of the National Trust’s generous offer of free entry to many outdoor spaces
  • Music play – get out the intruments or improvise with pots and spoons – get loud and enjoy it
  • Story play – read books like there’s no tomorrow – the more the merrier

Try to keep your patience. Yes, it’s hard. But it’s way more fun than getting stressed. Try to not mind the mess in the day. Clean up at the end and relax while the kids are in bed. Try to keep your boundaries. No means no. Get that clear now and the rest of your days will be so much more peaceful. Try to say yes as much as possible. Live life to the full.


Early primary schooler: 6-8 years

Okay, now we can add in a bit more structure. One of my favourite quotes for homeschooling this age group is “structure time, not content”. Put a loose schedule in place, something like this:

DSC_02527am: Wake and get ready for the day
9am: Go for a walk/play in the garden
10am: Learning time
12pm: Lunch
1pm: Play time
4pm: Screen time
5pm: Dinner
6pm: Reading time
7pm: Bath & bed

You don’t need to set particular learning goals or tasks. During learning time just let them choose something they are interested in, and as long as it has educational value, it will do them good. It could be baking, art tutorials, researching a topic, doing a work book, reading, building, playing with instruments. Don’t forget they still need lots of play time at this age, and lots of time outside is good for every age. Make time to read to them, even if you are working from home. It’s so good for them, and it’s so special for you too.


Older primary schoolers: 9-11 years

Here is where you might start getting nervous. Breathe. You can do this. At this stage my days looked something like this. We had some set work amidst our flexible lifestyle, and here are some great resources we used around that time:

  • Language:  Duolingo is free and fun, and focuses mainly on vocabulary. We also used Michel Thomas and Paul Noble books and audios, which were great for conversational learning. Also check out your DVD collection – many Pixar and Disney films have other audio options, and watching your favourite cartoon in the language you’re learning is a great way get your ears tuned to the language and pick up some vocab too.
  • Maths:  Kahn Academy has some great videos, and is also free to use. Life of Fred is costly, but if you think home ed might be something you’ll do for the longer term then it’s really worth the money.
  • English:  A Kindle is a great way to access free classic books which can be read together or alone. Writing a journal, writing stories and writing letters are great ways to keep English skills going, and about all we did at that stage. There’s also a great website called Brave Writer which offers short courses that could be perfect for short term home edders.
  • History:  Historical fiction is an easy and engaging way to learn about history. Apart from the obvious Horrible History series, other series we have enjoyed include Roman Mysteries and My Story collections.
  • Science:  This is one of the trickier subjects to do at home, without investment. One website we liked at this stage, which offered science amongst other topics, was Education City. They do offer a 21 day free trial, so it’s worth a look. We also liked playing Anatomix.
  • Geography:  Games and story books are great ways to get in some geography. We especially liked Geografunny, The Boy who Biked the World, Around Europe Snap and Atlas Adventures.00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20200212152715216_COVER

This age is also a great time to zone in on the subjects your child is really interested in. After all, if they have a love for something particular, chances are they will end up working in that field. So why not give them some extra time to invest in following their passion. We have done this in different ways – sometimes dedicating a whole day each week just to doing the thing they really love. They learn so much, and enjoy it too – bonus!


Secondary schoolers: 12-16 years

Things can get a bit more serious now, and people often ask how I can teach my kids things that I don’t know. The truth is, I can’t. But we live in an age where information is at our fingertips. Even if your libraries are closed (sadness!), books and the internet are a great place to learn a lot. Help your kids to filter out the junk and teach them how to search for good information. If you don’t have good books at home, then order some from Amazon. My teenager does several online courses at the moment, but the things he doesn’t learn from them he learns from books, documentaries, conversations, good quality science and history magazines, and the internet. He knows WAY more than I do about most subjects. He also has quite a full schedule of work these days. Unfortunately most of the good quality resources for this age are expensive and/or require long term commitments, so it’s harder to find things that work for a temporary homeschooler. If you’re in this situation, and don’t have enough homework set by your school to see them through, try supplementing with these suggestions:

  • Set a project for your teen to complete, that lines up with their interests. For example, I’d set a project to illustrate a set of Greek myths for my art-loving history-geek son, or a project to create an elaborate wedding cake for my bake-off aspiring daughter.
  • Find or buy a set of documentaries/TV programmes which interest your teen. Simon Reeve does some great travel documentaries that are packed full of geography and culture; David Attenborough, of course, has fantastic nature programmes; even series like MasterChef, Bake Off or The Great Pottery Throw Down can be very informative and inspiring.
  • Teach some life skills. Academics are not the only thing we need for adulthood – try using this break from traditional school to let your teen take more responsibility around the house, and perhaps learn some new skills too. Do they know how to do the laundry? Cook a couple of meals? Wash the dishes thoroughly? Empty the bins and get them out for bin day? Clean the bathroom? Vacuum the house? Wash the car? Make a budget?
  • Invest in some good books on topics your teen is interested in. Amazon delivery may be slower than usual, but there is still so much available. And again, investment in a passion will always pay off, even if you’re only on this homeschool journey for a short while.

00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20191225144017528_COVERRemember, even at this age being outside remains important. Your child may be missing regular sport activities, and keeping active will help keep them fit and healthy. As long as guidelines allow it, try to get outdoor activity in at least three times a week. A long walk, basketball in the garden, kicking a ball on the field.  Do what you can, when you can – it’s really worth it. And another secret – you can still read to your kids, even at this age. I do, and we all love it!

 

 


You can find out more about home education in my older posts. Check here for all my home ed related posts. Here are the ‘days in the life‘ series. Here are some posts about resources. Here are some posts about whys and hows. If you have any questions, please do feel free to comment.

Lastly, try to enjoy this unique gift of time with your children. Many times people have said to me that they could never homeschool, because their kids would drive them crazy. This makes me sad. If that is you, then I urge you to re-evaluate. I think, on reflection and giving it a chance, you’ll find out just how much you not only love your kids, but like them too.

Ten ideas for summer learning fun

Lots of people are getting ready to wind down school for the summer. In our home we don’t take an official summer break, as we see learning as something to be enjoyed and developed year round. Part of our philosophy of a natural home education is to make the most of learning opportunities as they present themselves. And opportunities, you may have noticed, don’t hold to any imposed term-time structure! However, the other side to natural learning is igniting inspiration, which can be done in so many, many ways all year round. Whether your kids go to school or you home educate, whether you follow a timetable or are extreme unschoolers, here are ten ideas for inspiring and building upon natural learning opportunities this summer.

  • Picnic with my best buddies in our local National Trust garden.

    Picnic with my best buddies in our local National Trust garden.

    National Trust day trips.  We are loving our National Trust membership, and often find ourselves just packing up our books, snacks, water and a picnic blanket to go and spend the morning in the beauty of our local gardens. In addition to the benefits of beautifully fresh air, the National Trust offers opportunities to explore historical homes and castles, activity trails, workshops, outdoor theatre and more. This summer we plan on going to ‘Honey weekend’, where beekeepers will be demonstrating honey extraction and talking about their work. This coincides with our recent interest in bees, and some lovely documentaries which have helped us appreciate honey bees more.

  • Adult education.  This may seem like a strange way of encouraging learning in children, but it actually fits beautifully. One of the philosophies of Leadership Education is that parents need to be setting the example of lifelong learning. This summer I have joined a free university course from Coursera, studying ‘Fundamentals of Music Theory’. This is something I genuinely want to know more about while I teach myself flute, but my second motive is the desire for my children to see me learning. And it really does inspire them! Sometimes they stop and watch my video lectures; sometimes they comment on snippets they hear which connect to things they have learnt themselves; sometimes they suddenly start playing instruments in duets or solos; and sometimes they pick up a music theory workbook themselves and work through it voluntarily.
  • Make a video.  Our cousins have recently been working on a really cool project: making a video on what they have learnt about plants. Inspired, Prince asked if he, too, could make a video about ‘something’. Yes! In this day of electronics it is very easy to introduce kids to movie making. Depending on your child’s age and abilities, this could mean anything from Mom recording Kid do a two-minute puppet show through to installing some video editing software and creating a full-scale documentary! This easy project could last from one day to the whole summer long, and is packed with learning opportunities of all kinds.
  • Library reading challenge.  This is quite a common summer activity, but remember that you don’t have to limit yourself to taking part in the standard challenge if it doesn’t excite you. You can set any kind of challenge you (and your kids) like! Some ideas would be:
    • How many different versions of Shakespeare’s plays can you read?
    • Read at least one book a week.
    • How many books on the Romans can you read?
    • Write four book reviews: on a book you like, on a book you don’t like, on a fiction book, on a non-fiction book.
    • Read one poetry book a week, and memorise your favourite poems.
  • Educational games.  Invest is some good quality educational games, and commit to playing them with your children. Perhaps you could start a weekly ‘Family Games Night’, or a ‘Games club’ with friends. You can find some of my recommended games here and here.
  • Picnic & walk.  Being outdoors in vital to health and beneficial to academic achievements. Kids and nature go together so well, and you will find it takes no effort to keep them entertained. Why not head out with a picnic and some friends to a field or woods. You can catch up with friends and your kids will pick up sticks, climb trees, inspect bugs, cloud watch, imagine they are dragons, hide in hedges, run till they drop and generally have FUN!
  • My Prince soaking up the inspiration at the Military Aviation Museum.

    My Prince soaking up the inspiration at the Military Aviation Museum.

    Museums. Actually, unless you are a ‘schooler’, I don’t recommend you do this one in summer! Avoid the crowds and go term time – it’ll save your sanity. But if this is your only opportunity, museums are fantastic places for learning fun. It doesn’t have to be a big London museum (though these make wonderful days out). A quick Google search should reveal smaller museums all around you, some with local history and others with specific interests.

  • Focus on a favourite topic.  The summer is a great time for projects. Perhaps your kids are interested in farming. Use these weeks to visit a variety of local farms. Organise behind the scenes trips to a working farm. Watch documentaries on farming. Plant your own veggies. Make your own butter. Have farm-filled summer fun!
  • Nature activities.  There are all kinds of nature-based activities online. Although it takes some mental effort for us non-crafty types, kids LOVE making things like salt ice sculptures and land art.
  • House project.  Make this summer an ‘all hands on deck’ term. Maybe there’s a room you’ve always wanted to reorganise, an entrance you want to make more welcoming, a wall you want to paint or a bedroom you need to declutter. Take time to focus on one or two areas, and get the kids involved. Part of education involves learning to look after a home, and this kind of project teaches good stewardship and appreciation of space and beauty. It also has the potential to teach practical skills like painting, building and organising. Additionally, children love being a real part of the home, and involving them might be easier than trying to keep them out the way!

This is just a small sample of how you could weave in some learning fun with your kids this summer.  Do you have any other ideas?  I’d love to hear them!

Learning fun: a useful tool

Some of the fun ways we use the white (green) boards in our house.

Some of the fun ways we use the white (green) boards in our house.

One of my favourite homeschooling tools is the whiteboard. I love how versatile it is! We currently have three in our house, and each of them has a different purpose. We have our “Verse of the Week” board, which we currently use to write one verse from our Friday morning Bible study on each week, and try to memorise it. Then we have our regular notice board, which is topped with an encouraging Bible verse and used to just write reminders and notes on, such as “put the bins out tonight”. Lastly we have our activity board. This is the one we use for ALL kinds of things – from maths to geography to language to just plain silly fun.

There are so many ways to make learning fun at home, and the white board is an invaluable part of this process in our family. Below is a chart of some of the things we have done with our whiteboard (which is sometimes green… just semantics, y’know…) over the years, separated into categories. And colour-coded. Because it makes me feel more organised than I really am.

Please feel free to download this chart and use it for your own family. And if you have any other great whiteboard ideas please share them – I’m always looking for more 🙂

Fun and educational ideas for your whiteboard.

Fun and educational ideas for your whiteboard.

Encouraging, spiritual and character-building ideas for your whiteboard.

Encouraging, spiritual and character-building ideas for your whiteboard.

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