This isn’t the first time I’ve written in defence of home educators. A year ago, it was revealed some children who were educated outside of an ‘official’ school setting were at risk of violence, and/or being radicalised, and the tide of opinion turned on us.
As someone who has home educated my SEN child in some form since 2017, I felt I had a duty to step in and silence many voices questioning the motives of families who don’t send their children to school. My older son, for example, is currently home educated because he’s not well supported by the underfunded state system, and there are many like us out there.
So, it feels a little odd to now be writing a piece welcoming most British parents into the home-ed fold due to coronavirus; and school closures but you are welcome, you truly are. Because home educating families are not the shady, cloistered weirdos we’ve been made out to be. This community offers some of the most open, supportive and tolerant people in the UK, and we are here for you.
Under normal circumstances, you would find home education a whole lot more social than ‘normal’ school. A typical week for us involves numerous group activities: at the science museum, at forest school, with mutual friends or online with other home educated children from around the world.
And because these kids are there by choice, they are heavily invested in the activity. The benefit of self-directed, self-motivated learning is not just at the core of what many home educators believe — it is a scientifically proven method of educating children that fosters independence, a growth mind-set and authentic connection.
Unfortunately, social distancing means we can’t fully enjoy some of these benefits over the next short while, but home educating, even in isolation, needn’t be daunting or lonely. For a start, there are quite a few Facebook pages that have been set up by home educators to offer solidarity and practical advice, and I’d heartily recommend joining.
The most common question on the forums right now is, how will I manage to educate my child and work from home? Remember, you are not a school and education isn’t limited to the hours between 9am and 3pm. Also, you don’t have to fill up all your child’s time. At school, they aren’t learning every moment of the day — there is a lot of waiting around.
In our home, academic work tends to happen straight after breakfast for about 90 minutes with a few breaks here and there. We use online resources like Elephant Learning, Math Prodigy and Khan Academy, many of which are being offered for free right now. Your child’s school will no doubt offer lesson packs, and this is a good time to use them.
After morning tea, we move on to creative time. This is self-directed so don’t feel guilty about getting on with your own work. Many home educators also run businesses or work remotely, and they do it by stepping back and allowing their children space.
“In our home, academic work tends to happen straight after breakfast for about 90 minutes with a few breaks here and there.”
My kids are really into making comics, so we leave paper, card, pens, glue and glitter out for them. (Be prepared for some mess, and set down some rules about where creativity takes place so you don’t find your socks glitter glued to the bathroom ceiling.) Remind the kids they have to tidy up as well. That’s called citizenship!
I’m often busy with work at lunchtime and my boys, aged 8 and 11, are very capable when it comes to making their own food. Again, we have rules, like it’s OK to boil the kettle or use the toaster, but they can’t fry or bake without supervision. I work from the kitchen during this time so I am on hand if they need me.
Although social distancing is essential right now, you can still go outside. If you live close to an open space, like woodland or playing fields, then head there after lunch for some outdoor learning. If you are self-isolating, then get into the garden. Build a den with some chairs and sheets, let older children have a go at whittling with a craft knife. If you only have a balcony or a window, perhaps encourage the kids to plant a herb garden or some tomatoes. Back inside, leave the kids to read books. Many libraries offer ebooks and audiobooks online. There are also many virtual field trips available right now. And don’t forget that free play is essential for healthy brain development. It’s a form a day dreaming, which helps with reasoning skills.
Many parents are panicking about their ability to limit screen time. For younger kids, using an app like Net Nanny can help. We block out things we can’t monitor. Our children have access to Netflix, but not YouTube, for example. For older children, their phone and social media will be a lifeline they won’t thank you for taking away. But introduce parameters, such as no devices in bedrooms. Devices are also going to be important for catching up, whatever the age group. We have already signed up to Zoom so we can host group chats, and my younger son has invited friends to a special Minecraft world.
There are so many ideas out there for how children can learn, and so many people ready to support already frazzled parents wondering how they are going to cope. Honestly, don’t panic. You got this, and we — the home educators — well, we’ve got your back too.