Homeschool Tips for Parents
With so many parents suddenly finding themselves taking on the role of both teacher and parent this week, we’ve put together some of our top homeschool tips to help with learning from home. Check out some wonderful pieces of advice from teachers, former students and parents!
Well, 2020 is certainly turning out to be a year of surprise and change! To help WAPS parents stay ahead of the curve, we asked professional teachers and experienced parents and homeschool students what their best tips were for those who are new to homeschooling. If you have your own advice to add, why not get in touch with us and contribute to our next article!
1. Plan for Emotional Needs
Experts advise that a sudden change in circumstance, particularly those brought on by stressful situations, significantly affect children. In times of stress, a change to a daily routine can cause anxiety in some children, regardless of age. Whilst the stressful situation may be unavoidable, parents can prepare by planning ahead, and preparing; after all, children certainly pick up when parents are stressed too! It may be that during this time your family experiences more tantrums, meltdowns, or defiant behaviour. Whilst this may be difficult for both kids and parents, it’s important to remind yourself that it’s absolutely normal. This means that difficult behaviour can not only be expected, but planned for. Remind yourself that poor behaviour may be coming from a place of anxiety or frustration. Our teacher & manager Sylvia mentions Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This educational concept suggests that without the basics: health, feelings of safety, acceptance and love, teachers cannot expect a student to perform at their best in the classroom. Talk with your children about feelings of stress or insecurity, and let them know that they can discuss them with you any time. Look after your own emotional needs too – give each family member some breathing space, and time to process their feelings. Yes, that means mum & dad too!
2. Set Expectations Early
What are the normal behavioural expectations in your child’s school classroom? Let your child fill you in, and discuss what sort of expectations are reasonable to have at home during this period of homeschooling. Together, you can set boundaries and expectations that are to be followed by all – whether parent/teacher, or student. It’s a lot harder to argue against a values system when you’ve been involved in the decision-making process around it! Break down what respectful behaviour looks and sounds like, and put together a set of values that all members of the household can agree on and follow. By the same token, you as a parent (and now teacher) may need to balance your own expectations of yourself. Stacey, a mother and teacher, recommends against setting expectations for yourself too high. She says it’s easy to become “overwhelmed with the amount of work being provided, whilst also still trying to work yourself”. It’s great to have lofty goals, but be realistic about your own workload and start slowly.
3. Give Yourselves Time to Adjust
Paula, a mother of four, has started homeschooling in the past week. She says it’s important to keep her children busy, but that they’ve not necessarily set up a structured learning day from the get-go. She says “Our home is our home and I know how unsettled I feel so I’m very aware of this environment being home first”. Paula has set up school work on the dining table, including educational apps and YouTube videos. Each day, the family completes an activity or two together as a group. She has also prioritised time outdoors so that the family can move around and feel they have some freedom. “I know eventually our days will get more structured and we will have more brain and emotional capacity to home school, but for right now we are all adjusting to the new normal.” A positive adjustment period is a great way to learn what does and doesn’t work, so you can incorporate the right activities into your structured day once the family has adjusted.
4. Homeschooling Looks Different
Teddy was homeschooled, and laughs “the best part of homeschooling is that pants are optional!”. As funny as it sounds, the point rings true: pick your battles. If your child refuses to wear pants today, they can still do maths without pants on. As we’ve heard before from previous parent posts, it’s helpful to resist the urge to compare your child (or your parenting) to others. So many picture-perfect homes, families and classrooms on social media can be entirely misleading. This leads to frustration when our children don’t seem to ‘measure up’. Sinead agrees and points out that her children become tired a lot quicker than she thought they would. She’s taken the pressure off them, and found ways to incorporate learning into everyday tasks rather than too much structured “brain time”. We all know that tired and overstimulated kids can become grumpy kids very quickly! This week, Bec has found that rather than long arduous blocks of work time, her children maintain their focus better in 30 minute lessons, followed by 10-15 minutes of play time. There really is no “wrong” way to go about structuring your home learning, so rather than fighting battles over pants and hour-long lessons, why not go with the flow and ensure a happier experience for both you and your child?
5. Learning is Everywhere
One thing all of our parents, teachers and former homeschool students touched on is that education is everywhere. Many parents described using cooking as a way to cover maths: units of measurements, time, processes such as weighing or measuring. Some children have even been practising their visual art language by creating beautiful shapes, colour schemes or compositions with healthy foods they’ve created themselves – what a great sense of accomplishment! Rachel is a mother of young children, and also a former homeschool student herself. Her children have a short attention span, so she’s abandoned a 9am-3pm learning approach from the get-go. Her family undertakes active learning for just 2-4 hours a day, though they follow a daily schedule with reasonable flexibility in each segment:
8am – Out of bed and ready to go
9am – Offline study
10am – Cleaning & tidying
11am – Online learning
12pm – Lunch and free play
2pm – Outdoor play
3pm – Reading
4pm – Project time
5pm – Family exercise
6pm – Ready for dinner
Doesn’t this sound like a fabulous and fun day! The flexibility allowed by these scheduled segments gives parents the freedom to change tack depending on the mood of their child that day. Those broad segments also mean that your schedule is still consistent and predictable, which is very important for some children. Certainly much better than locking yourselves into a strict schedule or plan that none of you want to follow!
6. Get Creative (Without the Hard Work)
Rachel, much like our toddler dance teacher Miss Lauren, institutes a theme for each day/lesson. Rachel has a “letter of the day” theme, which is a great way to find new ways to freshen up your tasks and activities. Miss Lauren’s classes have enjoyed a week of Jungle Animal-themed classes, followed by an exciting week of Party themed classes too! Even if your children are older, picking a theme is a great way to stay fresh and inspired. Finding opportunities for learning within play is another great way to be creative with your teaching. Teddy encourages parents to ask questions that cultivate curiosity in your children – find their interests and then “follow the rabbit hole”. Bec’s son is currently interested in tsunamis, so together they are learning about tsunamis in science, art and even creative writing. For you, this may mean things like:
– finding science activities on YouTube to try at home
– watching fun documentaries and then researching the topic further together
– creating an elaborate art project that takes over the dining table for a week
– pick a new or favourite recipe and film your own cooking show segment – you can upload it unlisted to YouTube for your privacy and email the link to grandparents and friends
– ask your child to research a theme or topic, and then create a lesson so they can teach you everything they’ve learned (role reversal is a lot of fun!)
– creating an artwork like a play, song, dance, or picture in response to a theme or idea
– watch a film and analyse it like you would a narrative in English class, discuss characters, setting, camera techniques and dialogue
– use your iPad or phone to re-create a scene from a favourite film or show, using free video editing software
– have your child design and create their very own board game, from concept to decoration, then play it together
– ask your child to create a tutorial for you on something they are good at – they can film the steps, record their screen, or demonstrate, so that you can learn it too – prepare to be a Minecraft champion!
These fun, exciting and self-directed opportunities for learning will nurture your child’s natural curiosity and love of learning, regardless of their age.
7. Play to your Strengths
Bec also happens to be the director of a local circus company, our friends Kinetica. She’s playing to her strengths and using homeschooling as an opportunity to share with her children something that she is good at. She teaches a short circus lesson every day, and her kids are always excited to learn something so close to mum’s heart. Children also pick up on whether their teachers are genuinely interested in a class and are enjoying themselves (yes, sometimes teachers have to be very good actors!). Because Bec is enthusiastic about the circus lesson, her children are too. No matter what you do for a living or a hobby, your children will be excited to share that with you and find out a little bit more about what their parent does while they are at school. Even if it’s teaching some Excel spreadsheet tricks like colours or calculations, you’ll be amazed at how new processes can engage and excite children, even if you consider them pretty banal! What a great opportunity to bond with your child, but also to work in a familiar and (hopefully) low-stress area!
As a parent (and now teacher), what are your priorities? Remember that your current situation is not a permanent one, and for most of us it is something we’ve never experienced before. Is “falling behind” the worst case scenario? The common thread in all of the advice shared by our parents, teachers and homeschooled students we spoke to was to be kind with yourself and adjust your expectations. Creating and following a path that looks different to others is not failing, it’s a wonderful thing for you to give your children. For children, the opportunity to experience genuine self-directed learning and curiosity in a space where they feel safe, happy and loved is truly a gift in these uncertain times. Your children may well look back on this time at home with you as a positive and precious memory, and you can too!