Learning In Isolation: From a Home Ed Perspective.

We are now into week four of our lock down in the battle against Covid19. Schools are closed (except to provide essential childcare for keyworkers) many shops are closed, no cafes, restaurants or fast food chains remain open. We are instructed to only leave the house for essential purposes: To get essential groceries and medicines, to care for vulnerable relatives if we need to, to get to work where this is essential and can not be done from home and to get one form of daily exercise. We are not allowed to meet with anyone from outside of our home. I don’t know why I’ve detailed that, everyone knows. Even if there are still those who are choosing not to follow the rules, but that’s a whole other rant!

I am sure most of us realise that this will go down in history, children in schools in the future will learn about this, the time the earth stood still. When waters in Venice became so clear that fish could be seen, and wild boar were spotted in Italian streets. When cities in China experienced clear skies, the planet began to heal itself.  Children will learn about how everyone had to stay indoors to stop the spread, they will learn about the statistics, the total number of deaths and how we eventually won our battle against it.

But what are they learning now ? When lock down first became a very real possibility there was lots of comments, jokes and memes circulating about “home ed” becoming mandatory. There were those who laughed about this, there were home educators who viewed this as a positive opportunity for everyone to build a picture about this alternative lifestyle. Then there others, who expressed concern that there would be an increase in numbers of those claiming “I tried it, it didn’t work” and that this would only serve to exacerbate those opinions about home educated children being isolated. And so there became a movement amongst home educators to help support parents finding themselves in this situation, offering tips, encouragement and resources while continuing to point out that “THIS IS WEIRD FOR US TOO!”

I mean, sure, generally I am sure that most of us home educators are naturally far less worried about “keeping up academically” and we don’t have teachers setting our children work to do. But this is still strange. Normally we are out at workshops, classes, museums and social gatherings with friends. Our children are not kept inside learning on their own.

So, judging by what I am seeing across social media is that many people enjoyed an extended “easter break” and are now beginning to introduce home learning. I have had more requests for tips and resources and I have seen more stressed out posts and status’. I saw one mum respond to what  she thought was “a lovely suggestion” by explaining that the amount of school work that her children had been sent, there was no way that they would have time to do these fun activities. I think she absolutely failed to spot the highly educational real life value of these fun activities that incorporated maths, research, IT skills, presentation, budgeting, comparison (critical thinking is an important skill at higher education levels)…… all because they seemed fun, ie; plan your holiday for when lock down is over, your budget is X and must include travel, accomodation, food etc…..

A big struggle seems to be those parents with multiple children of different ages, and how to “teach” these different stages. My advice to you would be much the same as to an elective home ed parent. Stop worrying about “teaching”, you’re not a teacher, you said it yourself right? Think of it as facilitating and supporting. At school, most of the curriculum is repeated in varying levels of detail. Meaning, that its actually not that hard to tailor subjects to suit different ages. I have done this for the past nearly six years now. We started our home ed journey when the children were 12 yrs, 9 yrs and 2 months old. Now they are 18 yrs, 15 yrs, 5 yrs and 3 yrs. So juggling the age gaps is what I do!

Most recently we have been linking the 15 yr olds GCSE level biology and Rocket science with the 5 yr olds science and paw print badges. Germination of seeds is covered in nearly every early years setting, you are probably all familiar with the planting the beans in clear cups or bags to see the roots, and growing cress in different conditions? Well this stuff is repeated in the GCSE text book. So does the bicarb and vinegar rockets. So its fairly safe to say that these are suitable for all ages to do together. And its not as if there is a law to say that you are not able to introduce more complex topics to younger children in line with what their older siblings are working on, it may require a bit of forward thinking, but it is possible. For English work ideas I cant recommend Literacy Shed enough. This website offers suggestions for different ages and levels using the same original piece of media.

Wildlife inspired art, nature journals and observation is another activity which can be done together, adapting to different ages. There are all manner of documentaries available on various streaming sites, add blankets and snacks for a fact filled movie night!

We have been using paper mache and craft in our learning. Making a paper mache castle for fun from boxes and rubbish we had laying around opened up a whole world of learning about different castles and their defences. It didn’t take long to look through a book together and talk about what was used where, when and why so that he could decide which features he wanted on his castle.

We then used more junk to make a space man suit, a jet pack and a solar system, just for fun and play. But in doing so we looked at the size differences of the planets and which ones were closest and further away from the sun. As the space man (5yr old) reached each planet we were able to play our game using descriptive words to think about the climate on each planet. It really bought the learning to life and is something I expect we will revisit again adding more details.

We’ve also looked at chemical reactions (blasting off rockets, elephants toothpaste) infusion (food colouring) and air and water pressure, all through play!  This is how children learn best, all these things can be taught from books, but how engaged are the children? How much really goes in and stays with them if they are not engaged in the fun of learning? Do you ever pick your children up from school and ask “what did you learn today?” to be told “nothing” or “I don’t know” ?

Remember that school learning is done from books because that is easy to monitor and organise, real learning does not have to look like that at all. Learning in real life is still learning and, it could be argued, is more valuable a learning experience.

The important thing to remember if you are at home feeling stressed out, is that there is nothing being set by schools that the children wont cover again, so relax about that. Your children are not going to return to school academically behind. Remember that stressed out parents can not teach stressed out children. No one will be learning much in that environment, so breathe and focus, if you can, on something fun.

Allow your children at this time to explore what interests them, if that is gaming, then why not ask them to show you and teach you, and play with them? You will be amazed at the level of problem solving, coordination, reading and in some cases even physics and chemistry, etc is involved in playing that game that you’ve been so worried about. Allow one interest to lead in to another and make way for that conversation. Converse on their level, about what is interesting to them. Remember, they are as isolated as you are. There is no point or need to try and recreate school because at school they have their friends, social interaction, as well.

These are worrying and unprecedented times. None of us really know how long these restrictions are going to last or how things will be when they are lifted. So try to make the most of the situation, get to know your children on their level and remember that this is not home ed, my children re missing their classes and friends just as much as yours are, but you can get a much closer feel of it by focusing on the learning that is happening away from the schooling.

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