Emergency homeschooling is HARD! Let’s get that out there, first of all.
I find teaching my eldest, Conrad, ten times harder than any of my other pupils! But each day I am better than the day before, I am learning what he needs and how he learns best.
Here are my top ten tips from more than ten years teaching and tutoring (and too many days of emergency home schooling):
1) Force yourself to look for the positive.
We all naturally notice bad stuff and it takes some real practice to see the good – but the science of gratitude has amazing results. Try three positive comments for every negative one, it really works. Every kid secretly wants their parent to praise them.
What?! I know, I know. It’s exhausting to be relentlessly fun and sunny, but please consider apologising when you ‘lose your chilli’. Be honest and talk about what went wrong. In turn, it will help them to be honest with you and should preserve your relationship in such stressful times. We want them to call us when they get into trouble and learn to apologise when they lose it.
3) Agree on the rules, so you aren’t constantly renegotiating.
Home is normally a sanctuary. Can you protect that by ring-fencing homeschooling to be a particular time, or a particular space, or a set number of tasks? Boundaries are vital, so they know when they are working and when they aren’t.
And please, please don’t make it too much like school. Our school system hasn’t changed much since Victorian times. Remember what you hated about school and do it better.
4) Try to be a coach working alongside them, rather than a dictator.
We all thrive when we feel we have some element of choice. Give them some autonomy. Even when there’s no choice, try to find the choice (it might be as lame as: what colour pen do you want to use?)
They know you’re not a teacher, you know you’re not a teacher. You’re more important than that. You’re their parent, their champion, their shoulder to cry on. Who do they complain to now when they want to whinge about their awful teacher and the awful work? Make sure everyone knows when you are teacher and when you are parent again – for some kids, you might literally need to have a different hat on!
5) Be choosy about what you focus on.
Make sure the work is really worth both your time! There’s a global pandemic going on – the work sent home from school really isn’t compulsory. If a teacher tells you it’s compulsory, they deserve your pity, not your time.
6) Try to work out why they always avoid certain tasks.
Then adapt and fill that gap. Depending on the age and personality of your child, as well as your relationship, avoidance might be shouting, running away, refusing, sarcasm, crying, shutting down, joking around or distracting you. All behaviour is communication (albeit, super annoying communication!) The hard part is working out what they are trying to tell you.
7) Give them lots of tiny breaks to store whatever they have just learned.
Their concentration span is their age in minutes, plus two. Learn something, then make sure they have a fun, wordless break (have a snack, do some exercise, play a wordless game, listen to some acoustic (wordless) music, even play a video game with the sound off).
‘Heavy work’ is particularly good (here are some fun ideas) but I prefer chores and gardening, which work the muscles just as effectively, but then give me more time to devote to them.
8) Use carrots, not sticks.
Threatening and punishing seems to work at school, but you know how much harder you work for a boss who celebrates your work, trusts, respects and cares about you. Great bosses tend to do stuff like bring in a box of donuts, let you knock off early once in a while or even get you tickets to something you love when you’ve gone the extra mile.
Random rewards, autonomy and intrinsic motivation have been proved to be the keys to motivation.
9) Trust your gut. You are the expert on your child!
You know what they need. Try to combine what they are struggling with and what they love. Their brains are empty at the moment and they can make massive progress if you focus on their gaps and their passions.
You cannot and should not deliver an entire curriculum! It is IMPOSSIBLE. Instead, find the dodgy bits and make them fun. I try to teach using Mary Poppins’ mantra: In every task that must be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun and snap the job’s a game. Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, in the most delightful way!
If you need some help, just ask. This is what I have dedicated my life to doing.
If you’re having a bad day, be honest and declare yet another teacher training day. You make the weather in your house: sunny, gloomy, freezing, stormy, dull. With us all stuck inside, you need to make sure the atmosphere stays as good as possible.
Click here for some ways you can use screen time and not feel guilty. Lean on someone else: BBC Bitesize, a family member, a celebrity, a tutor, a friend. Everyone has something they love to teach, this is the time to ask for help. You are not alone! I’m not even alone when I go to the loo – my toddler makes sure of that.
And remember, schools will work them to death when they go back to try to catch up, so they need to go back to school refreshed, relaxed and with higher self-confidence.
My personal aims are to not go too bonkers and to have deepened my relationship with my wonderful kids.
Not sure the work being sent home is right? Click here for some ideas about what other things you could focus on.