Tips from a veteran homeschooler

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As more schools close to stop the spread of COVID-19, many parents are becoming instant homeschoolers. I’m a mum of six who started homeschooling before it was cool, and friends have been asking my advice.

Parent and child struggling over homework (Getty)

I’m no expert. Stuck at home with no trips to the library, no playdates, no co-op, no basketball, swimming, robotics club, or scouts? This is not what homeschooling looks like. Having said that, there are some things I’ve picked up along the way that can help a lot.

Practice self care, don’t compare. I’m putting this first because, as a parent, it’s easy to put our needs last. This doesn’t work when you’re homeschooling. It’s important that you take care of yourself, so everything doesn’t fall apart.

Self care looks different for different people. Perhaps it’s waking up early to exercise or drink a coffee with nobody touching you. It might mean enforcing a silent reading hour after lunch to take a nap or read a good book. Maybe you lock yourself away in the evenings to have a bath or videocall your friends (just maybe not both at the same time!)

Some friends on social media deal with the stress of this enforced togetherness by projecting confidence. Newsfeeds become flooded with aspirational images of immaculate ‘school rooms’, clean, well-dressed children absorbed in work, mothers demonstrating science experiments with a full head of make-up and perfect hair (#homeschoollyf #iwokeupthisway). Remind yourself, when you behold your own bickering children and breakfast-spattered workspace, that social media presents a carefully edited highlight reel, which is far from the full story.

Routine is your friendThis sounds dull, but it helps to find a rhythm to each day.  When broken down into chunks, everything becomes more manageable.  You will discover that book work doesn’t take as much time at home as it would at school. 'Book work' is what homeschoolers call learning that’s done at a desk, as opposed to the learning that occurs in the kitchen or the garden or on the trampoline.

 

'Most importantly, don’t panic. This will be tough. There’ll be tantrums and meltdowns — and the kids might be upset too! But we can do this.'

 

Schedule something in each day to look forward to, for you as well as for the kids. And it’s definitely OK to take time to do housework. Your school will run more efficiently if everybody has clean underwear.

Resist information overload. There are so many resources. Khan Academy, BBC Typing Tutor, Moose Math, Duolingo: whatever you want to teach, there’s an app for that. Unfortunately, not all learning programs are created equal, and it’s daunting to sort wheat from chaff. Know that you don’t have to be on top of all of this, all at once. I’m still discovering great resources and I’ve been homeschooling for over six years!

Get to know your child's learning style. Children learn differently and the technique that was perfect for your friend’s child might be useless for your own. What time of day is your child most alert? Does he need to exercise first? Does she need to have things explained step by step? Does he need hands-on materials (like lego, buttons, dice or marbles)? Would she benefit from visual aids?

If your child has been stubbornly stuck on the same task for ages (we’ve all been there) it’s OK to take a break and approach things in a different way later.

Limit their screen time. I know, I know. This one’s a toughie. Sometimes, the only escape we get is when our children are glued to a screen. But bear with me. I know children can sound like tortured howler monkeys when you take their devices away, but, once they’ve reconciled themselves to this deep injustice, you will have happier and more relaxed kids.

There are ways to do this. Parts of the day can be scheduled as ‘screen free’, devices could go in a box or you could set a PIN on the TV. I like to save screen-based learning for Fridays, rather than scattered across the week.

Of course, they’ll get bored. Boredom is good. It’s part of the creative process. Their boredom is not your responsibility. The most engaging activities that are invented in our house begin life as 'I’m bored!'

Collaborate with other parents, Set up a video conference with other parents to talk about how you’re coping. You might discover that your Insta-queen friend is actually struggling with the morning routine but has pro-tips for backyard PE. You, in turn, have discovered great resources, but would like advice for teaching Maths.

Most importantly, don’t panic. This will be tough. There’ll be tantrums and meltdowns — and the kids might be upset too! But we can do this.

And the next time you find yourself in a room filled with unfolded laundry, a child lying on the unswept floor resolutely not working, another standing on the table for reasons best known to himself and an unauthorised TV blaring, be sure to snap a picture for the socials #nailedit.

 

 

Kate MoriartyKate Moriarty is a freelance writer. She writes the 'Home Truths' column at Australian Catholics and blogs at Laptop on the Ironing Board. Main image credit: Getty images

Topic tags: Kate Moriarty, education, parenting

 

 

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Existing comments

Kate, I am in awe of you. Having had just two children both boys and both going to local school- a long time ago-I would have benefitted enormously from your tips on 'Child Management'. I am sure many parents with children at home now will be enormously grateful for your article. Having said all that, I myself am enormously grateful that mine are now middle aged and responsible for their own continuing education for life.
Henri | 03 April 2020


What a wonderful opportunity this lockdown presents to teach boys and girls how to cook and clean a house ((including the toilet). This would surely pay dividends in happy marriages down the track.
Anne Lawlor | 03 April 2020


It's always refreshing to read Kate Moriarty's writing. Thank you for mingling humour with your wisdom. I'm sure this will be very helpful for those parents who are at home and faced with home schooling for the first time.
Kathleen | 03 April 2020


I'm dusting off my teaching skills homeschooling my grandchildren and agree wholeheartedly with your insights. Mine like to be included in developing the daily schedule so we start each day with a list which they choose from and apply to their timetable. My granddaughter likes to tick them off and really likes the structure. My grandson always wants to add something extra thats not on the list. Moving between rooms and outside/inside for activities also helps and forms part of the discussion. So much to learn...and for how long....really recommend the ABC Play School program on the coronavirus too, kids need reassurance in these challenging times.
Carol | 03 April 2020


Kate,as a retired teacher I want to commend you on a well written, candid article. Your over view of problems & solutions was spot on. I hope that the families who read this can take solace in the fact that are not alone!
Swift Sue | 03 April 2020


The COVID-19 crisis will no doubt accelerate existing trends in society, including the rapid increase in home-schooling. One reason for this is our declining education standards. In 2017, a UNICEF report ranked Australia 39 out of 41 middle-income countries. Since 2003, Australia has fallen behind in math (10th to 29th); reading (4th to 16th); and science (6th to 19th). Our students are said to be up to 3 years behind Asian schools which were top performers. But things can change. In 2018, a small independent British school for poor and disadvantaged children, Michaela, which tossed out all the educational “wisdom” of the last 50 years, got results that were four times better than all other schools. Teachers unions, which want all schools under the bureaucratic grip of public sector unions, oppose Michaela. And Australia’s career educrats responsible for our substandard education system, remain immune in their Ivory Towers. So home-schooling and home-based work should increase. According to the New York Times, about 43 percent of the US workforce performed some work remotely in 2016. By 2017, there were 38 million home-based businesses, many run by people otherwise excluded from conventional work—single parents, the disabled, and caregivers.
Ross Howard | 03 April 2020


Eminently practical tips here from Kate. I think it worth considering, too, why - even before the current COVID-19 pandemic - homeschooling gained increasingly widespread support. In some cases I'm familiar with, parents of single-income families find the cost of sending children to school - private and state - out of their reach; in others, the reason is a lack of confidence in schools' abilities, to manage issues of bullying; in others, a dissatisfaction with low standards of literacy and numeracy, "the basics"; and in others still, a conscientious opposition to the imposition of an ideologised curriculum detrimental to the expression and development of Christian belief and teachings; and in some, a combination of factors -with now, of course the perceived health-risk featuring strongly. Personally, I consider homeschooling at best a temporary resort which leaves the broader schooling system, particularly at the secondary level, complacently free and largely unchallenged to carry on business as usual.
John RD | 04 April 2020


Such a refreshing and real take on the situation. Thank you for the giggles. I’m actually looking forward to the challenge when the school term ‘resumes’ (VIC), just not the part where I need to juggle my own work on top.
Kate | 05 April 2020


Homeschooling is all well and good but it’s real school which teaches the little lords of the flies how to live together as adults ----- although perhaps not to the point where we don’t need woke dads to homeschool their little lords into how not to be like the tramspotting jacks and rogers of St. Kevin’s, most of whom, one assumes, must have mothers and sisters.
roy chen yee | 05 April 2020


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