These are challenging times for all of us. This pandemic has shaken our belief systems and forever changed how we see our world and ourselves. That sort of sudden change is never easy, especially when we feel that it has been forced upon us.
This is especially true for many families struggling to cope with random and prolonged school closures. We have been acculturated to believe that schools and education are synonymous. But schools, as we know them, are a relatively recent phenomenon in human history, less than two hundred years old.
But in that time, they have become so profoundly entrenched in our psyche that they are what social scientists and marketers would call a ‘lock-in.’ Something that is taken for granted and never questioned. Yet during these lockdowns (catch the pun), that is precisely what we are forced to do.
How can children possibly learn without teachers and schools? We are parents, not trained educators. What do we possibly know about teaching our children?
Stop for a moment. Did you doubt your ability to provide the loving support and guidance necessary for your child to learn to talk, walk, run, and play? Okay, we all have our doubts, but most of those were just superficial.
You knew that holding out your fingers for those first tentative steps was all the support your child needed. You trusted that they would learn to talk, and you knew when it was time to get some advice if they didn’t. Heck, you even taught them how to use the bathroom. Even if you shared caring responsibility with nurseries, you were their primary teacher for all those things.
Yet, the moment they step into that schoolyard, you, the parent, become superfluous. The ‘experts’ will take it from here. And you are kept in your place, made to feel that you no longer have anything relevant to add to their development – except maybe to demand they complete hours upon hours of homework that cuts further into the quantity and quality of family time. And most parents go along with that. After all, that’s how it has always been, right?
But now, that safety net has been yanked out from beneath you. These little humans that, for the most part, you spend less time with than you do work colleagues, are now your responsibility 24/7. And the government and schools expect you to ‘teach’ them? All they are providing are some stuff online and through the BBC. Of course, you are insecure. It is culture shock. Worse than the ice-bucket challenge.
But as a parent, who has chosen this path and assumed full-responsibility for my little human’s learning, let me reassure you. It does not have to be as hard as you think it is.
First of all, children (humans in general) are born curious. We want to learn. We do it all the time. Most often, without even realizing that we are doing it. That’s how talking and walking happened. Even without all those parenting books and Little Einstein toys, most children learn what they need to get by in life. So, breathe and relax.
Let me share some of my Top Tips for making this school-at-home experience less stressful and more enjoyable for you both. These strategies are drawn from three decades, over twelve years of experience with five children from three ethnic and cultural heritages, two of whom are labeled ‘special needs.’
To reassure you, one of them has risen high in the US Navy’s enlisted ranks, another holds a masters-degree and works in the administration at Oxford, and the third is finishing up his Ph.D. in computational optimization at Cambridge. Even my two ‘special needs’ off-spring have exceeded expectations. When we adopted my second son, we were told that his birth ‘defect’ meant he would never be able to hold a full-time job or live independently. He has done both for over a decade.
While theirs was a mix of home education and schooling, I believe that the schools only built upon the solid foundation that we had provided through homeschooling during the early years. And my youngest? Well, we’ll save that for tomorrow.
So, what are Tara’s Top Tips for ‘Homeschooling?’
1) It does not take as long as you think.
According to this former UK primary school teacher, just 51 minutes per day of learning could achieve the same results as 6.5 hours in schools. And that is IF you went the traditional teaching/learning methodologies usually employed in schools.
Of course, the BBC is broadcasting over three hours of programming every day. The schools are sending worksheets via email that you are expected to supervise your child completing. They want to go outside to run and play, thinking this is a holiday. And you still have your work to do – from home – with all this going on around you. I get that. That is one way this experience differs from home education, where you decide the curriculum, the learning methods, and the standards.
What I am trying to say is… give yourself and your kids a break. They don’t need to get up early, wear anything other than their pajamas, or sit at the table or in front of the TV for hours every day. And you don’t need to scream, yell, and force them to do any of that.
Take a page from a home ed mom, sit down with your family, talk about what is essential to all of you right now. Maybe your child is struggling in school, and perhaps with a bit of research and some extra time, they could go back to school caught up. Perhaps your young person has a particular interest or hobby that they want to explore. Maybe you need to set aside blocks of time for your work or sanity. All of those things need to be discussed and weighed. And ideally, decisions should be made together.
Now, after you have decided what you want education to look like for the next few weeks/months, grab a planner and schedule blocks of time that you all agree on. Put those absolutely necessary meetings down first. Now, how are you going to make sure that happens? Can older siblings supervise younger ones? Can your partner pitch-in? There is nothing wrong with allowing TV or gaming to babysit sometimes. Is it going to work perfectly? No way. No schedule ever does. But having a plan makes it easier to adapt.
One hint with those absolutely necessary meetings – think ahead. Half an hour beforehand, make sure that all necessities are taken care of. Is the baby changed? Have the children been fed or given a snack? A drink of water? Start the video a few minutes early – just to make sure there are no problems with the DVD. And if you know that your children tend to ‘fight,’ make sure each has their own safe space. Oh, and if they need help getting their pants up or down, put them in an extra-large t-shirt so they can go potty by themselves.
And when you come out of that meeting – give yourself and them a reward. Put your work down, dance around the living room, have a pillow fight, build a fort, go for a walk. But trust me, you and they will be happier, less stressed, and more productive for it. Because…
2) Never more than 45-minutes at a time.
That is the optimal ‘meeting time’ for adults. There are loads of studies on this. Some with conflicting results. But the consensus is between fifteen and fifty minutes. TED limits its speakers to 20-minutes for a good reason. And like I said, that is for adults, and perhaps older teens.
I would suggest that ‘focused learning’ activities be limited to no more than three times their age for younger children. So for a five-year-old, that would be 15 minutes. For a ten-year-old, half an hour. For twelve or thirteen-year-old, 35 to 40 minutes.
Just think about it for a moment, at what point do you usually ‘zone out’ in those meetings? Come on, we all do it. Well, most of us. This leads me to my next point…
3) Never expect more from your child than you would from your partners, friends, or co-workers.
The truth is that in our society, the expectations placed on little humans are higher than the standards applied to adults. Think about it.
- Would you tell your best friend to stop crying when she was upset? Yet, we do that to our young people all the time, especially our males. The same with anger.
- Do you demand that your partner eat his beans, or he can’t have a cookie?
- Do you tell your wife that she can’t have your Kindle until she cleans the living room? (Shhh, don’t give Alan any ideas with that one.)
Remember – children are human beings too. With all the same needs, wants, feelings, thoughts, and dreams as everyone else. They are not your property or your pets. They do not benefit in the long term from forced, blindless obedience to authority.
So, before you make that demand on them, ask yourself…
How would I feel about that?
And yes, that might apply to those endless stacks of worksheets you downloaded from the schools’ website. Look at them from your little human’s point of view. Are they teaching anything new? Or are they merely ‘busywork?’ Now, think about your job and how you feel about that same sort of ‘busywork.’ Am I saying not to make them do any of it? Not necessarily.
What I am saying is that this is a golden opportunity for you and your child to connect. Discuss how that makes each of you feel and what you are willing to do about it. For some, perhaps just going along and doing what is expected is right the thing. For others, focusing on the things you need to know or your area of expertise is the way to go. And for some of us, telling society to shove it is the only option.
But whichever of those choices you make, there are consequences to them. And that is another of those golden opportunities for real learning to happen. Speaking of which…
4) Be an active participant in learning.
What do I mean by that? Engage with your young person in discussing the things they are learning. Not just enforcing random standards on them. But listening, genuinely hear, what they think and feel.
This is especially important right now. Our children are aware of more than we realize. And that means they have the same anxieties, fears, and stress that we do in these uncertain times. It will help both of you to discuss those. To get those things out in the open.
That may be a new concept or experience for some. How do you even begin? First of all, don’t sit them down and say, ‘so how are you feeling?’ Look for open doors, little opportunities for starting meaningful conversations. ‘That’s so lame’ can be just the bridge you need to reach out to your young person.
Rather than challenge them or telling them, they have to do it no matter what, ask why they feel that way or what would be more useful. Then as I said, truly listen, not just with your ears or brain but with your heart. Apply it to your own life experiences, share those with your child, and be open to input.
‘But all they want to do is spend hours on the computer, their phone, or gaming.’ Which leads me to my final tip…
5) Don’t undervalue gaming or the internet.
I hear that one time all the time. But you would be surprised at how much your young person is learning from those things, and how valuable those skills are.
The truth is that we live in an age of transition. The situation we are in right now is only highlighting that. It saddens me that many parents who would benefit from this blog cannot access it. As shocking as it may seem, some people do not have the internet at home. Others cannot afford the luxury of using precious data on blogs.
That has been one of the biggest concerns during this time and one of the biggest arguments for keeping schools open despite the obvious risks. This hiatus from schools unfairly disadvantages the poor. Thankfully, governments and corporations are coming together now to address some of those inequities.
But conversely, many parents, and especially grandparents, raised without computers in the home, and phones in their pockets with more computing power than NORAD once had, cannot understand or accept the necessity of technology. Frankly, we fear it. This is no different than serfs who watched their children migrate to cities for work. Farmers whose children moved to work in factories. Or craftspersons who watched as apprentices were bustled into classrooms for ‘book learning.’
Okay, your homework assignment for tomorrow is…
Of course, there are dozens of other things that I could share with you. But since this blog is almost thrice as long as the ‘recommended’ 750 words, I have probably lost much of your attention. If you want to know more about our story, there is almost a decade of history in the archives. Either scroll through some or search specific topics.
Tomorrow, we get into my specific area of expertise and interest, our ‘additional learning needs’ children and young people. Hint – I’m not too fond of that term and don’t believe it. But more about that tomorrow.