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.

The elusive love of learning

Princess crocheting

Self-directed learning can be SO CUTE.

There are so many reasons our family home educates, and many ideals we hold which influence our choice.

I have always noticed that children are natural learners. The curiosity of a toddler is hard to beat. You know, that wonderful ‘why’ phase? Kids are addicted to learning! They learn to walk, talk and play with amazing determination.

One of my homeschooling ideals has always been to harness this natural desire and keep it burning bright.

Some people think this is asking the impossible. How can you possibly keep a kid enthused about learning when you get to times tables? And don’t boys just hate writing? Besides, no-one can enjoy everything, and kids need to learn to get on with it even if they are bored, right?

The truth is, I don’t know exactly how long I can keep my kids in love with learning. And yes, they do need to learn to complete necessary tasks – like it or not. But what I do know is that at eight and six, my kids are more interested in learning now than ever before.

I haven’t always found it easy to keep this love burning, and there have been times I’ve been on the edge of snuffing it out with bad choices I have made. But by the grace of God, we have got past those issues and to a place I have dreamed of – where I sit back and hold my breath in wonder as my children embrace learning with abundant joy.

Looking back, I can begin to make out some patterns – things that got us into trouble, and solutions God has provided; things that have worked so well I thank God for them daily; things I still don’t quite have under my belt, that I am searching for solutions to. But the journey so far has been fruitful.

If there is one piece of advice I would give to anyone who wants to foster a love of learning it’s this:

Know your child. Find out his learning style. Find out what makes him laugh, what he is passionate about, what he spends time doing when he’s left to himself.

This information is the key to winning your child’s heart for learning. Use it! 

Prince hard at 'work' - doing what he loves best in his free time.

Prince hard at ‘work’ – doing what he loves best in his free time.

Be ready to throw out your own preconceptions of what learning ‘should’ look like. It doesn’t have to be workbooks and tests (though some kids love these!). Find or make curriculum to fit your child, rather than expecting your child to fit the curriculum. Be creative! If your child loves music, sing educational songs – and let him indulge in music often. If he loves sport, recite times tables to the bounce of a ball – and allow him outside to play as much as possible. Pursue your child’s passions. I promise it will be productive if you look at it with the right eyes.

Make it your goal to provide a tailor-made education. This, I believe, fuels a life-long love of learning.

The refining pot of marriage

There’s a book I’ve been wanting to read ever since I first heard about it: Sacred Marriage by Gary L. Thomas. The tagline for the book is ‘What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy’.

Wow.

After writing about Dating, marriage and lists last month, a friend of mine made a great comment,

“I strongly support the idea of having a list; you’re certainly right that it keeps us focused on what’s most important. But I also have recently learned the value in having a list also for myself if I have a list for my potential spouse. Who do I want to be to my future wife? Can you write one sometime on who you’ve striven to become before and in marriage?”

These ideas about marriage being an opportunity to refine our own character, and not simply a selfish ‘get what I want out of it’ union, is, I think, exactly what God intended.

Wedding

Young, in love and ready to be refined!

If we look right back at the beginning of time in Genesis we see that Eve was created not simply as a companion but as a helper for Adam. And so that the men reading this don’t get to full of pride and power, God clears up any confusion in Ephesians 5:35 where he says: ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her’. The love referred to here is 100% sacrificial, guys – to the point of humiliation, torture and death.

One of Satan’s biggest, most successful lies is that being selfish (i.e. focusing on what I want before what I can offer others) is the way to happiness. Now there are many opportunities in life to find out that this is total rubbish, but perhaps none so effective as marriage. When you live with someone every day for the REST OF YOUR LIFE; when you are confronted with all their ugly character traits which you never saw during dating life (because don’t we all put on our best behaviour on a date?); when you are so vulnerable that you expose all your own ugly character traits – this is when true love kicks in.

Proverbs 117:3 says, “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts.” God is reminding us of the extreme value he places in making our hearts right before Him  And 1 Peter 1 tells us why. In verses 24-5 he says “All flesh is as grass,and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (Emphasis mine.) We need to go through the refining pot because the spiritual is foreverThe physical – marriage – is ultimately temporal but it’s value in refining our hearts is eternal.

Eleven years older, wiser, and more in love.

Eleven years older, wiser, and more in love.

Perhaps the most famous love passage in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. I once was told to read through this passage, replacing the word ‘love’ with my own name. Yikes! It was sobering. We are free with the words “I love you” to our spouse. But do we really know what love is? What if we measured our love against this description? We say, “I love you so much I would die for you.” But do we love our spouse enough to live for them? In the everyday frustrations of opposing opinions, of different priorities, of conflicting personalities? That is where we really learn to lay down our life.

Marriage is not there to ‘make us happy’, but when we let it make us holy, happiness happens. Take it from me – in my eleven years of marriage I have always been happiest when I have lived closest to God’s definition of servanthood. When (if!) we can conquer selfishness, there we find true joy.

Go read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 with your own name. Pray for true love. Live it out.

Dating, marriage and lists

Recently I’ve had some conversations with single friends about how to choose someone to marry. Of course, it’s not so simple as ‘choosing’, as we all know. But even so, we agreed that within one’s own mind, there should be some set ideas about what qualities we feel are important when thinking about who to date and, eventually, marry.

I am so blessed to have been married for over eleven years to my very best friend. Before we dated, though, I had written out a list of things I believed were important in a man. I knew from experience it was all too easy to get caught up in the dating trap (going on dates without the goal of potential marriage) with just anyone I felt attracted to. Being single can be lonely, and it’s tempting to let go of ideals in the desire for intimate companionship. But after reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris, I decided to write out a list to help me keep my focus when tempted by pointless dates with people who I knew, ultimately, I would never want to marry. (By the way, I definitely recommend this book to all teens. I disdainful of it when my Mom gave it to me, but after reading it I completely changed my mind! The next boy I dated after reading it was my husband 🙂 )

So what was on my list? Well, here it is:

Qualities of My Perfect Man

He shall…

  •   Be worthy of respectTitus 2:2
  •   Have a strong faith in God1st Corinthians 16:13
  •   Be able to rule his house wiselyEphesians 5:23
  •   Have a happy disposition1st Thessalonians 5:16
  •   Be romantic!
  •   Love me as himselfEphesians 5:28
  •   Be willing first to listen, then to talkJames 1:19
  •   Be good at communicating
  •   Commit his heart, life and soul to GodMatthew 22:37
  •   Understand me
  •   Be able to pray with meJames 5:16
  •   Be thoughtfulProverbs 21:29
  •   Be considerate1st Peter 3:37
  •   Love my family as his own
  •   Fear GodProverbs 1:7
  •   Be a zealous Christian – Romans 12:11
So glad I've got this man in my life.

So glad I’ve got this man in my life.

Obviously this is a personal list. But that was the point. I had this printed out and kept in my Bible, where I could be reminded of it often, pray about it, and use it to keep my focus.

One thing I didn’t write on my list was that he should be my best friend. In hindsight, I can see that this is one of the major reasons that our relationship has stood firm through the trials we have gone through in marriage. Our solid foundation of friendship has made commitment, forgiveness and perseverance so much easier when they were called for. And believe me, they are called for in every marriage.

Writing a list may seem picky, idealistic or closed-minded to some. I beg you to think differently. Rather, it is freeing, helpful and keeps you focused on things of importance. If you are single, please consider the value of writing out your own list of qualities you’d like to see in your future spouse.

And yes – I did find someone with all of the qualities on my list.  And yes, I do know how blessed I am.

Listen – kids are people too

One of the blessings of having a good memory is remembering what it was like to be a kid. I had a great childhood, really – full of love, fun, and Little House on the Prairie with my bestie.

But I also remember some of the frustrations. Most clearly, I remember being frustrated when adults assumed they knew what I had done/was going to say/felt.  I can’t remember any specific instances, but I do remember the feeling of not being heard.  And as I grew up I was determined that my own children should not have this same frustration.

As a mom now, I find this is easier said than done. It is so easy to assume I know what’s going on in my children’s minds; to assume that I know the whole story behind a disagreement between siblings; to assume I know how it feels and the reason why my child is crying when I say ‘no’ to something. But the truth is, I don’t know everything. And so, I make an effort to listen to my children’s explanations and points of view, and I try hard to avoid making assumptions. I don’t do this perfectly, sadly. But I have a story which illustrates so clearly why I am glad I try, and how blessings abound when I succeed.

A couple of years ago Prince and Princess where playing in the lounge. Prince had left some of his toys unused on the table. After a while Princess, sitting on the floor in the middle of a game, needed an extra character, and seeing the unused toys on the table and asked,

“Prince – can I have your penguin?”

Prince look at her uneasily. I pricked up my ears to listen in, wondering if he would take this opportunity to be generous (something he had been struggling with a lot recently).

“Well…” he said, “That’s a very special toy to me. Couldn’t you have one of these instead?” Prince offered her two or three other toys.

I was disappointed. I felt angry, even. He just couldn’t seem to shake this selfishness – he wasn’t even using the toy! But instead of demanding he give her the toy and lecturing him on being kind (which is what I felt like doing), I stopped and thought about how to act. I then asked him a question.

“Prince – why don’t you want Princess to have the penguin? You’re not using it.” I said this simply, not accusationally. I genuinely wanted to know why he wasn’t giving her the penguin. What was stopping him?

Prince looked up at me, slightly teary-eyed. “Well – it’s very special to me. It’s one of my first big-eyed-toys! But…” He hesitated, as if needing my help, “does she want to have it forever?”

Prince and his penguin in their early days.

Prince and his ‘big-eyed’ penguin in their early days.

Suddenly it dawned on me. My prince – my precious, darling, oh-so-literal Prince – heard his sister ask to ‘have’ the toy, and assumed she meant ‘have to keep forever as her own’.

“No, darling,” I explained, “She just wants to use it for this game!”

Prince looked relieved. “Oh!  Okay!” He passed her the penguin immediately.

I was convicted of my anger. Here I was assuming Prince was being selfish, when in actual fact he was being extremely generous. Remember – he chose some of his other own toys to give his sister ‘forever’, as he understood it. I’m so grateful that I chose to ask him to explain his own perspective on the situation. It blessed me, as I saw his generous heart; and it blessed him, as he was not unfairly accused of selfishness.

I think back on this situation often, and use it to remember that kids are people too. They deserve the respect of being listened to and heard. Their understanding, opinions and explanations are not always what we think they will be.

Let’s stop assuming we know it all, and take time to really listen to our children.

Tricks of the trade

Parents, over the years, find themselves picking up some useful ‘tricks of the trade’, and often wish that SOMEONE had told them this before. So if you are a new parent then consider yourself (at least partially) forewarned, because here are some that I have learnt along my journey as a mother:

  • Use distraction wisely. When you child scrapes their knee in the park, the pain can often totally disappear when you suddenly point out – in your most fascinated voice – that “That cloud over there looks just like a dinosaur!”
  • Most children respond better if given advance warning about things. My kids take it better if, for example, I say, “We are going to leave the playground in five minutes…. in two minutes… in one minute… okay, choose your last thing to go on and then we are leaving.”
  • Children love choice.  Instead of saying, “You can’t have a chocolate – have an apple” try, “Can you choose which apple you like best from the fruit bowl?”
  • Entertain their imagination. I am often amazed by how much better my kids will respond to instructions like “time to for bed” if it is said by one of their soft toys, race cars, Octonauts characters, or anything other than just plain old me!
  • Make water the norm.  Water is cheap and healthy. If you want your children to drink water without fussing, then make it their usual drink from young. It’s much harder for kids to enjoy water if they are used to the strong flavours in juice.
  • Use sign language to reduce early frustration. Both of my children could sign before they could talk. Signing is much easier than talking for babies, and it has been shown to reduce frustration and tantrums as the child has a way of communicating their needs and wants. It is also a very special thing, as you gain insights into their sweet little minds that you might not otherwise have had. If you live in Canada or the USA then I highly recommend the ‘Signing Time‘ series.
  • Use a toothbrush from early on.  As soon as the first tooth peeps up – or even before – get them used to having a toothbrush and paste in their mouths.  For some unknown reason, brushing teeth can be a real battle with little kids.  I recommend starting with something like this.
  • Speak gently. I find that children respond much better if spoken to in a gentle, positive way. This has its place, of course – I am very firm on disciplining when needed – but often I find undesirable behaviour can be avoided if the right tone and approach is taken by the parent in the first instance. For example, instead of saying, “Right – pack up those cars now” I prefer, “Okay, guys, we’re going to pack the cars up now, because Daddy is about to come home and we love to have a tidy house for him, don’t we?” This gets a faster and happier response 99% of the time.

I would love to hear some more tips from others; what tricks of the trade have you picked up as a parent?

10 things I’ve learned as a mother

In no particular order, here are ten of the many, many things I’ve learned in the nearly six (!) years I have been a mother:

Fun on a ‘train’ in the local park!

  1. You love your kids in a way that cannot be described or imagined until you experience it.
  2. It’s easy to let each day slip by without thinking, but a better way is to pray and parent ‘intentionally’ – thinking about who are you shaping your kids to be, and how your guidance now will affect both them and others in the long term.
  3. One-on-one time set aside to talk to and focus your attention on each child individually is so important, and can provide some really insightful feedback from your child’s perspective on how you can improve as a parent.
  4. It is essential to MAKE regular alone time for you and God. Even if it’s just reading a few quick Scriptures on Bible Gateway or following a short daily plan on YouVersion, regular spiritual food is necessary for you, and makes you a better parent too.
  5. Boys and girls are naturally very different!
  6. While it may take three times as long, it’s also usually three times as special to do everyday tasks WITH your kids rather than on your own – and they really love to help!
  7. Talk to your kids with respect and love, and never belittle them (e.g. don’t laugh it off when they are embarrassed in company).
  8. Don’t assume kids understand simple things. What is simple to an adult is not as obvious to a child, so take time to show grace and explain things to them.
  9. Be a playmate as well as a parent. When it’s possible, drop what you are doing if they ask you to play, instead of saying “in a minute”, “not now” or “later”.
  10. Let your kids see your relationship with God. Let them hear you praying, let them see you reading Scripture, them watch you worship – so long as you are not doing it for show, but as a genuine expression of your faith.

What have you learnt as a parent?

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