Tips & Tricks to remain sane whilst balancing home working and children’s learning…
Today there are over 10 million UK children of school age; the majority woke up this morning to Home Learning and a blended approach to their school work. Some children will thrive, others will not. This is how our UK Government have decided we will beat the race and give the vaccines enough time to win the war.
Many parents will be tested over the coming weeks as they attempt to juggle their own work and their children’s learning; some will give up; others will lose work. What is clear to me is that the best part of 10 million school children have been thrown back into an environment that they are unfamiliar with. I of course do not mean they dont know their home, but, home has been where tea is cooked and bedtime reading happens. For some, home is much worse and I do not intend to imply that every child will be attached to a laptop or have food in their cupboards; of course that isnt the case and one must hope the more deprived, vulnerable children are still being allowed to enter the safe spaces of schools.
What I do want to offer is a small list of tried and tested methods for balancing home education with a part time or full time job (working from home). I have balanced home working with 4 home educated children for almost 17 years. My eldest is off at college but my younger 3 remain here with me. We have been in isolation since January 2020 and the end of our lockdown is currently out of sight.
I lecture, teach and study from home; it isnt easy and so I hope the upcoming list of tried and tested methods helps at least one parent who has been thrown back into the lions den with children who are more familiar with the routines of formal schooling.
- If you have technology (laptops/tablets/phones etc) plan ‘tech-time’ to coincide with any online meetings or telephone calls you need to undertake for work. Many children become entirely silent and transfixed when technology is given to them. Throw out the rules dictating how long they should be online but, ensure you know what they are using and add parental controls if you havent already. How we do it: if the morning activities have been completed ‘tech-time’ begins after lunch at 2pm. I try and schedule all my appointments and meetings after 2pm (where possible)
- Keep a rough schedule in your mind each day (one day at a time). Check your diary and calendars the night before so that you dont miss anything important. The kids dont need to know the flexible schedule you have in mind – it might change and it makes it a lot easier if they dont know.
- Plan ‘book work’ or formal school work during a time the kids are awake. If that is 6pm so be it; if that is 930am hurray! School work in school buildings is often only around 2-3 hrs. You could separate those 3 hours into 3x1hr blocks or 2x 1.5hr; whatever suits you and your children. Dont expect them to sit down for 6 hours youre setting yourself up to fail. How we do it: breakfast is 10:15; school work of their choice 11:15 – 14:15; lunch 14:15 and after lunch free choice (which is often Kindle baking or Art)
4. Try not to worry too much about the mess, use plastic mats if you have them (cheap to buy online); dont be afraid to hand things over to the children and let them decide what they want to do – children who choose their own activities are likely to concentrate for longer giving you time to work. How we do it: all the children know they must use plastic mats for any activity that may cause a mess (playdough and modelling clay are still firm favourites); when the children have finished they take time to clear up (as best as they can). Remember, Lego is one of the most celebrated activities for children of all ages due to its educational basis and problem solving potential. Board games are popular for children of all ages and across the globe ‘Game Schooling’ is an actual pedegogy for home learning families
5. Vertical Learning has been used in Europe for decades very successfully. If you have older children and younger children this may be perfect for you! How we do it: Our 14 yr old often oversees and supports the learning of our 10 year old. This has been the case since our eldest was around 7; he was able to assist with reading and basic maths, undertaking and supervising craft activities and encouraging the younger children to complete a task. Buddy up your siblings with each other and allow them to mark each others work, helping them to correct errors and complete the learning process. Older children often feel a sense of confidence when they are asked to help a sibiling and this is again a great time to get some more work done.
6. You dont need to know all the answers! The internet is a wealth, almost unlimited pot of answers and explanations. If your child asks a question or needs you to explain what a conjunction is in writing, ASK GOOGLE. There are millions of worksheets, quizzes, tests, videos, lectures and YouTube clips where teachers have created entire lessons. You dont need to know it all. There also hundreds of exceptional apps and websites designed specifically to help children learn at home – organise the technology so that they are learning whilst you are working.
7. If you dont have a great deal of technology but you have access to a televison, BBC services often provide opportunities for learning and lessons; smart tv’s can access YouTube and I cannot stress how vital YouTube might be for you and your family. Look out for teacher-led productions so that you know the content is accurate and it will loosely fit with the things your children would be learning in school. If you have Sky you can download hundreds of pre-recorded learning productions for specific age groups. How we do it: I sit and download as many clips as I can to my Sky box so that I can use them when I need to work. They are roughly 20 minutes long and so you can choose to work for 20 minutes or 2 hours; its up to you. Dont worry! Each clip is well worth watching a hundred times so you do not need to feel guilty that you are using the televsion to catch a quick zoom meeting.
8. If you want a technology free learning experience, many things can help you achieve that whilst working, including: having plenty of writing, colouring and doodling spaces. Use the backs of old letters, envelopes or even old sheets of wallpaper. Create roleplay spaces with your old clothes for dressing up and maybe some coppers to play shops and shopping with. Set up an area (doesnt have to be big) where the children know they can do whatever they wish, bluetac paper to the walls, have some floor space available for multiple uses and give them free access to books if you have them at home. If you are struggling with resources, there are many places online that you can try to obtain cheap supplies, but dont be afraid to ask your headteacher to send you some supplies from school.
How we do it: We are lucky and I have to say that from the start. We are so very grateful for the spaces we have had during the past 12 months. This can be done on a smaller scale (it will reduce stresses over mess and clutter). We provide a dedicated children’s learning space where they know they can access books and resources at any time either to support the study they are completing or in the afternoon for their free time. There have been some days where I look up at the clock and realise I havent seen a single child for 3-4 hours. When children feel ownership over their spaces, they are confident and concentrate better.
9. For older children consider study-buddies and online zoom collaboration with friends or family of a similar age. School work does go faster when friends are in it with you 🙂
If all else fails, do like I do and work after bedtime (sometimes thats just the day it is)
Good Luck! Here are some great places to get started (& check out some of the Home Education groups on Facebook):