If you’d have told me in the past that the kids and I would be homeschoolIng in lockdown for an indefinite period of time, I’d probably have burst into tears on the spot. While I’ve always thought homeschooling sounded lovely, it definitely wasn’t for me. When my kids were little, I dreamed of the day when they would both be in school and I would have six whole hours at home alone everyday.
Despite this, as someone who likes to plan and organise, I took the bull by the horns. As soon as it became clear that this was really happening I created a schedule. I introduced it to the kids, created a work area in the dining room, started researching resources and, after a few days I suddenly realised, I was enjoying myself. Not just enjoying creating the schedule (because who doesn’t love creating beautiful, colour coded schedules?!) but actually teaching the kids stuff! The more we’ve done it, the more I’ve enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, there are bad days (I end up crying in the toilet at least twice I week), but over all, I wake up looking forward to doing it and that has been a huge surprise to me.
Since I’m enjoying it, I thought I’d write some tips that me be useful for other people. Our very structured style won’t be for everyone but if you feel like you or your kids need a bit of structure, read on for some ideas.
You Don’t Need to do as Much as you Think you Do
Estimates vary but the amount of time our kids spend actually learning is only a small proportion of the time they are in school. Probably around an hour and a half to two hours in the primary age range. Homeschooling in lockdown doesn’t mean your child sitting down with pen and paper doing formal learning all day. In our schedule, we have 30 minutes of maths, 30 minutes of English and 30 minutes of topic work plus 15 minutes each of spellings and times tables practice.
Keep your Homeschool Sessions Short
We break our day between 9 and 3 into 30 minutes slots. This helps my kids know that, if they aren’t enjoying something, it will over soon. We include a one hour free play slot in the afternoon where they can do anything they want that isn’t playing computer games and they sometimes choose to carry on with work they’ve enjoyed earlier in the day.
Older children might need longer slots and younger children, even shorter ones. Better to spend ten minutes happily learning than half an hour taking nothing in because they want to be running around. Start with the length of session you think will suit your child and adjust as necessary. You might find different lengths of sessions are suitable for different subjects.
Schedule Fun Stuff Too
Our schedule isn’t just for academic work. It starts with getting out of the house for a half an hour walk/scoot/cycle with the dog. I’ve found they’re more ready to settle down to work after that than if i just suddenly said at 9am, time to do maths.
We have a 30 minute PE session scheduled everyday. We’re fairly flexible about what happens in that time. Joe Wicks isn’t really for us so the time is usually spent playing football, doing gymnastics, using the cross trainer or doing a cosmic yoga video.
I’m also using the TV for our homeschooling in lockdown. Everyday we watch a 30 minute educational TV show. I’ve been choosing quite a few things that would probably fall under the PSHE heading at school, they’ve particularly enjoyed the CBBC series “My Life” which is great for helping them understand different people’s lives.
They have half an hour of reading time each day. I’ve been surprised how successful this has been. My oldest loves reading and often carries on into free play time but my youngest had never really just sat and read to herself before, only out load to us, but she’s really enjoying it too. If you’ve got a reluctant reader check out my tips.
We have a slot every day that is what I loosely call “life Skills”. One day is letter writing, to friends or family. One day is art, usually some kind of process art project but we’ve also done some sewing. One day is gardening, we’re growing potatoes, herbs, tomatoes, courgettes and peas. One day is cooking, where we cook something together that we can eat for lunch that day.
We have an hour a day of screen free play time. I don’t want the kids to forget how to entertain themselves so for at least an hour each day I make sure I’m not providing anything for them to do.
Screen time is also part of our schedule. The kids can have their tablets or play computer games between 3.30 and 5.30 everyday. They aren’t normally allowed their screens on weekdays so they are over the moon about this. What they are even more over the moon about though is Wednesdays. On Wednesdays, they can have unlimited screen time between 10 and 3. We do the walk and half an hour of maths and then they can stare at their screens to their hearts content until 3pm when its free play time for the rest of the day.
I set things up this way because I still need to work from home. Effectively the kids can do everything by themselves from after lunch everyday so I can work and on Wednesdays I get five hours almost uninterrupted which keeps me sane.
Here’s what our schedule looks like:
The other reason for giving screen time everyday is because it acts as a carrot to get them to do the required work earlier in the day. I was very clear when school first closed that screen time would only be given if the work was done and done without an excessive amount of moaning.
I know that using rewards doesn’t suit everyone’s parenting style so it may not be for you but I think it’s still important to make it clear to children what is expected of them. Rules and boundaries can make them feel safe at this confusing time.
Homeschooling in Lockdown with Multiple Children
When we first started, I was having trouble with both children needing my support at the same time. I realised the solution was to schedule things so that one had something I knew they could get on with while the other did something I expected them to need support with. Since Chris has been furloughed he’s taken over the maths which has alleviated the need for that. If you have a partner who can help with a subject you and/or your child struggle with then I would definitely recommend making use of that.
Preparation Really Helps
Every weekend, I spend some time planning for the week ahead. When the school adds the work to the website I print off everything we need, put it into folders ready and add it to the relevant slots in my schedule.
I also check that I understand it. There is nothing that leads to tears quicker than trying to do a piece of work that neither you nor your child understand. If you can’t find the answer online then contact the school for more help.
Have Extension Activities Ready
I’m finding that my youngest tends to get through her set work more quickly than my oldest, although occasionally it’s the other way around. When I’m planning for the week I try and make sure I print of a few extra things for them to do so that the one who hasn’t finished doesn’t start complaining that “It’s sooo unfair” that the other one is no longer working. If you’ve got the free access to Twinkl you can find things they either will enjoy or need to practice (Boy Child was very pleased with the Ed Sheehan comprehension) otherwise you can google something they are interested in and the words “word search” or “activities”, mine have been loving Minecraft word searches.
You Don’t Have to Sit at the Kitchen Table with Pen and Paper
If the kids are struggling to focus and just don’t seem to be in the mood to work then a change of scenery can help. We may not be able to go and learn at local museums and farms like real homeschoolers but just a change of room or going and working in the garden can help. For reasons best known to themselves my kids quite like doing their maths in Daddy’s car.
On a similar theme, you don’t have to use a pen and paper all of the time either. Chalk on a board or the floor outside, white boards and markers, windows and chalkboard markers can all change things up. Using Mummy’s special hi-lighters has been a hit in our house. Boy Child loves creating PowerPoint presentations so I’ve been letting him do his Victorians topic work that way.
Don’t Beat Yourself up about Homeschooling in Lockdown
It is by no means always as straightforward as I’ve probably made it sound. My oldest in particular will mess about and try to run the clock out to avoid doing his English. My youngest gets quite anxious about things and we have to try and keep her from feeling pressured. What I’ve described is working well for us overall, it won’t be right for everyone but you might find some tips that suit you. Over all the most important thing is just to get through this and if you do no school work at all your kids will still be ok.
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