The Positive Choice to Home School — What Lockdown Has Taught Me.
Like most parents, I’ve always wanted my children to do well with their education. I have always taken great interest in my children’s development. Each evening I’ve discussed with my children what they’ve learned at school that day, and asked their teachers at parents’ evenings to talk me through what my child would be covering that year or term, and the targets that they should be aiming towards. I’ve always tried to support their learning by doing extra work with them at home, or I’d take them on family excursions relevant to the particular topics they were covering at school. How I’ve engaged with my children’s education has been similar to how my parents engaged with mine. However, although I did well at school, I finished my formal education earlier than I should’ve done at the age of seventeen — dropping out halfway through my A-level studies to get a job. I regretted it, and in my late twenties I returned to further education as a mature student; and after many years of struggling around life’s other responsibilities, including work and family, I’ve finally come closer to the educational achievement I’ve always wanted, having recently completed a Master’s in English literature. That’s probably why I’ve tried to encourage my children to do as well as they can in their education, because, although it’s never too late to learn, I know it’s better to make the best of such opportunities when you originally have them.
Most days, however, when I’ve asked the children what they’ve learned at school, they would relate all the annoying events that had occurred in their classrooms that had affected their ability to learn that day. I’m sure their classroom experiences are like most other classrooms in most other schools: the disruptive pupils whom the teacher tries unsuccessfully to handle, the classroom being too noisy to concentrate, other students wanting to talk to them about irrelevant subjects, etc. My husband, a former teacher, often used to relate similar experiences about his day, but from the other side of the net. It’s always frustrated me hearing about these kind of school days and the many incidents that have kept my child from learning and developing; as much, in fact, as it used to frustrate me when it was my learning being disrupted in the classroom. Now, as an adult, I’m more aware of the rules, regulations and conditions that teachers face which make their job such a challenge, especially since class sizes in state schools have never really come down to a workable level. When I spoke with my son’s teacher recently about how distracted my child gets when I talk to him about anything school related, she wittily responded that I should try teaching 32 of the same type of pupil! I thought about what she said, and realised what a near on impossible task it must be to keep so many children focused on and engaged with their learning.
The Coronavirus situation of the past three months, of course, has changed things dramatically with regard to our children’s schooling, and in a way which I am sure many of you reading this can relate to. With the schools closed it was up to me to get the children doing schoolwork. I had to try and maintain the kind of educational structure that my kids were familiar with following. BBC Bitesize was great for a few days. We went through many different subjects together, reading the required information on each subject, watching the related videos and taking the quizzes. Going through the pages together meant that I could keep my eye on how much work they were actually covering. My kids could be too ready to say they had learned a topic, when, in actual fact, they would have just hit ‘skip page’ twenty times!
As we went through each subject matter, I would often find relevant clips from videos on You Tube to clarify or expand on what they were learning. Soon, we were all really into learning from home. The children would write down what they’d learned that day and we’d display it on the wall, or I would get them to write flash cards of the period table and we would all test each other. After a few days they could each see for themselves what they’d learnt, and we’d discuss these topics enthusiastically, and they’d be asking further questions and talking about things they wanted to find out more about. Most of the time I would get them to look up the answers online, even if I knew the answers myself, so that they could better develop their independent learning skills. In the evenings, I familiarised myself better with the curriculum for each of their year groups, and I had soon devised a plan on the subjects that needed to be covered while we were on lockdown. There was so many free resources on the internet, and also many websites that help support learning from home. Many of these websites even have lesson plans, presentations and handouts already prepared.
I have been home schooling for more than two months now and I can already see the benefits. My children have had one-to-one learning with no distractions, and they are always commenting on how brainy they feel. We have covered so many topics and I have got them to be creative with their learning, something that can be stifled if pupils are required to follow a curriculum that is too rigid. While I have been teaching my older two children, who are of late primary and secondary school age (10 and 12), my younger sons (2 and 3) have voluntarily wanted to get involved in the learning. From my experiences with the elder children’s education, I knew already that my 3 year-old would be covering phonics during his first year of school. I began getting him to watch some sing-along videos on YouTube of the alphabet phonics, and I also ordered a book from Amazon where he could trace the letters of the alphabet. Two months on, he has already learnt the sounds of all the letters and can even read four-letter words by sounding them out phonetically. In two months, he has covered the same amount of learning that he would cover in a whole year of school, and I can’t wait to see what he will have learnt in another ten months’ time. Although he went to nursery part-time before lockdown, I am certain this progress is due to his one-to-one tuition at home.
I always imagined that teaching would be a rewarding profession, where you would gain a great sense of fulfilment when you realise how your efforts have helped someone develop skills and knowledge they will always benefit from and build on in life. However, it’s an even more amazing experience when it’s your own child that comes to understand and be enthusiastic about something you’ve taught them, because the level of emotional investment you have in your own children is so much greater.
I have some friends who have home schooled for years. A few months before lockdown, they asked me whether I would consider home-teaching. I must admit, the idea frightened the life out of me. It worried me because I thought I would be ill-equipped to help them with all the range of subjects they studied, and, consequently, that they would end up being behind in their learning. Instead of explaining that to my friends, however, I gave them a bit of a cop-out response, saying that it wasn’t my responsibility to teach my children: it was the Government’s, and if my children didn’t do well in their education then I could blame the Government. My friends responded that, as a parent, everything in my child’s life was my responsibility. As much as I agreed with my friends, I couldn’t really see the benefits of going outside the norm and thought it best just to continue going through the motions and sending my kids to school just as everyone else did. After the new experience that I’ve had with home schooling, however, I look back at what I said then and can only view my old-self’s response as completely ignorant. My child’s education is my responsibility.
After seeing how quickly they have learned and in such little space of time, it is clear that keeping them at school is, actually, putting my kids behind. I can see only the benefits of home schooling now. It’s not the fault of teachers — they often have their hands tied with unmanageable student numbers and restricted means of appropriate discipline for disruptive (or bored) kids. At home, we are free to learn and to keep learning. Nowadays we even have all the resources we need easily to hand. Like most things in life, the hardest part is actually making the decision to do it — not, you find, the experience of actually doing it.
By Leanne Rogers