Homeschooling tips from a home educator

My daughters were both home educated for many years (the younger one still is) and I want to share some things I have learned along the way with parents who find themselves temporarily home schooling because of lockdown.

This is all written from a British viewpoint (e.g. it assumes under 16s will be aiming to do (I)GCSEs), and also based on what worked for us: parents, children and circumstances vary.

Do not worry too much.

Neither parents, not schools, nor anyone else, will do a perfect job of education. It is intrinsically messy and uncertain. You need to figure out what will work for you and your child.

Forget the curriculum.

For children not studying exam syllabuses yet, you want learning, but what they learn is of secondary importance. They need to learn to think, and to learn study skills. English and maths are important, as they are needed to study other things. Other than that be flexible, and let children follow their interests.

Look for opportunities

Use the time to do things they do not have time to do because of school.

Hobbies can be educational: even if not directly so they develop concentration and some range of skills. My daughters did a bit of electronics when they were little (they learned to solder by 7, made little kits, improvised a few things….) and my older daughter is now doing electronics A level (and planning to do a degree in it).

It may also be an opportunity to do subjects schools do not offer. Interested in Latin or astronomy?  Want to learn programming to a useful level? Interested in philosophy? Obviously particular schools might, offer subjects, but no school can offer anything like the full range of available subjects. The sky is the limit Рunless you are interested in astronomy, in which case, the observable universe is.

There are now MOOCs (large scale  online courses) that, again, many adults do for pleasure. My children have done MOOCs on everything from Dante to Haskell (a programming language no one teaches at school level Рbut which appeals to the mathematically inclined).

Doing interesting stuff may not advance covering the syllabus, but the motivation and knowledge pays off in the long term

Be realistic about time spent studying.

School hours are not study hours: there are breaks, assemblies, recording attendance, time between lessons and so on. There is time spent on interruptions, telling kids off, and a lot more. Studying at home should be more intense, so three hours of real study (broken up by breaks) is more than enough. Less for younger children, more for those in a final run up to GCSEs, and still more for A levels.

Keep an eye on time killing habits

TV, videos, games, social media, and more. It used to be easy to just not have a TV, but there is too much online distraction for that to work. Many routers let you block certain sites and services at certain times. Very useful.

There are lots of excellent, free, online resources

There are far too many to list here, and what is suitable depends in maturity, ability and interests. Its not hard to find them online though. Oak national Academy was set up for the pandemic – but there are also Khan Academy, Wootube, Wikibooks, BBC Bitesize, and many, many more.

Give children responsibility

The more responsibility you give children for their education, they less you need to push them. I do not know it this will work for everyone, and some kids may just drift, and it will need some conversations, guidance to make it work, and will not work all the time – but when it does its easier for parents, and children are happier

Encourage reading and creative interests.

Encourage reading, encourage any other interests they have, especially creative ones. Art or music or a good book is a respite from studying, but not a lazy one like slumping in front of the TV, but feels like relaxation.

Read around subjects instead of just text books. Looking at my own bookshelves, we have lots of things related to school subjects (maths, history, physics etc.) aimed at adults who buy them to read for pleasure.

Project Gutenberg has a huge range of free ebooks – they can be read on a phone or tablet with a suitable reader (I use FBReader).

Do NOT try do everything HE families do

You may know home educating families, or read about them and be tempted use them as a model. There may be things you can learn from what we do (that is the point of this post) but we also do a lot of things that depends on the flexibility we have because we home educate long term.

We have very different choices. For example, as often spread (I)GCSEs out over several years. We cannot do certain (I)GCSE subjects (art and PE for example) so use alternative qualifications for those – but we can do a much wider range of academic subjects: anything available to private candidates, from Sanskrit to Economics. This means we have a lot of flexibility in following a curriculum to suit the individual On the other hands schools will take a lot of decisions (which subjects and exam boards to offer) which does make life easier.

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