By now, homeschooling might have lost some of its novelty – for your child(ren) and for you.
Maybe you’ve settled into a nice routine?
Maybe you’ve realised you missed your true vocation in life? (I’m sure the recruitment drive for new teachers will continue once we’re back to our old routines if so!).
Or perhaps, as some posts and memes going around social media seem to suggest, it is proving more of a challenge?
If some days it feels more difficult than others, let’s consider why that might be.
Whilst it’s really important we focus on children’s learning in these unusual circumstances and schools are providing families with resources and tips to support some continuity academically, it is also crucial to not overlook the elephant in the room.
Things are different. Things are unknown. Anxiety is high – for adults and children.
Anxiety can sometimes present in the well-documented ways of worry and nervousness – but it can also present as behavioural challenges or lack of focus or concentration.
We must not overlook this in our desire to be seen to be “doing something” educational.
Think about your conversations over the past week or so, with family or friends.
Our national obsession over discussing the weather, sport and what you binge-watched last night on TV has been overtaken by conversations around health, food shortages and vulnerability.
Very real worries which impact our actions and thoughts.
You might find yourself checking your newsfeed more often than previously or find your thoughts distracted when you were supposed to be focussing on other matters (which is even more difficult if you are supposed to be working from home at the same time as providing some education for your child(ren) ).
This is totally typical – our priorities shift in times of heightened emotional reactions.
We can all get anxious.
Why then do we presume all children will be able to focus on academic concerns when the rest of their world is shrinking rapidly?
Children will be outside less, mixing with friends less, using their energies less. They might be spending longer online or on games consoles. They might be going to bed later and getting up later.
So what can we do to limit these anxieties and help our children through this troubling time?
1. Don’t overdo it
One response to all of this is to try to create a very detailed “timetable” of activities and “lessons” – the aim of this is to replicate a typical routine, which is totally understandable.
But in these unusual times does this create an extra layer of pressure for young people who are not used to working alone, without face-to-face support from their usual teaching and support staff?
What if their anxieties over what’s happening in the world are preventing them from concentrating on the timetable provided?
If we put it in context – children who don’t go to a regular school placement for one reason or another – perhaps they are home educated or taught in small groups in alternative provision – these children usually do not have a typical 9-3 timetable.
Working alone or on a one-to-one is mentally intense, there is less time to have a “mini-break” as there is in a classroom when a teacher typically shares his or her attention amongst 30 pupils.
So let’s recognise that whatever we provide at home needs to be shorter in time than a school day and varied in style.
Let your child dictate it – if they are struggling, take control and enforce breaks.
2. Consider your “teaching style” and your child’s “learning style”
Also we need to consider the fact that how we as parents/carers “teach” our child might have very little in common with the styles employed by school staff.
Perhaps you have looked at a child’s maths homework at some point and thought “what a complicated way of doing that sum!” or “we never did it that way in my day” – because styles are often different.
3. Provide feedback
Another issue is how we are providing feedback – some children get stuck if they don’t know that what they have done is “right or wrong” – they freeze from moving forwards or they lose motivation.
Make sure you are available for your child and help them/ provide feedback if they are struggling.
4. Don’t ignore challenging behaviour
Some children who really rely on routine to keep their emotions in check, might be finding this current situation really difficult – and it might be seeping out in more challenging behaviour.
Tantrums (not just of the toddler variety), restlessness and sometimes meltdowns might become your experience.
Generally no-one likes to lose control – this includes children.
So these explosive behaviours tell us something is wrong.
- We could just double-down on the expectations – school work to be completed, rooms to be tidied.
- Alternatively we could threaten sanctions for non-compliance.
But if we do either of these, we are missing out on the reason why the behaviour occurred in the first place.
We are in extraordinary times. Anxiety is high, normal life seems under threat. This leads us all to act differently.
If the child loves their games console, threatening to limit exposure to it if they don’t complete their school work might usually encourage homework to be done – that seems logical – 1 + 2 = 3 – I do what is asked and I get what I value.
However, in times of perceived threat our brains are wired to act a bit differently. We go into fight or flight (or freeze sometimes).
It’s really useful if you find yourself crossing the road and a car speeds into view, it helps us to move out of the way! We recognise it from the feeling in our stomach, or tension in our fists or any number of other internal warning signs.
Sometimes when we feel threatened it’s less helpful – it means any of us can become more argumentative or angry or scared when objectively we might not need to be.
Currently we are all feeling this a little bit as the situation we are living in is new and we don’t have an end-date so the uncertainty and huge levels of anxiety are real.
For some young people this means they are reacting in fight or flight fairly regularly and little demands provoke a reaction that our thinking brain might feel is out of proportion – but it is a reaction from the survival brain so rational thought isn’t prioritised.
This can lead to extremes of behaviour.
5. Show them you care.
Show children you are there for them and that you care. (I’m sure you’re already doing this.)
You might tell that that you love them more than usual, you might show it through actions – even spending time asking them about an activity they love but you don’t usually participate in will help.
Tell them that whilst we’re all unsure what exactly is going on – it will be ok in the end.
Communicate with them about why school has set work and what work you as their parent/carer do expect them to complete. Be realistic. Don’t worry about your child(ren) “regressing” – once everyone is back in school teachers will plug any gaps – it’s what they do best!
6. Consider mental health and emotional wellbeing
Remember: mental health is more important than academic skills.
Look up websites where you can get support for your own and your child(ren)’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.
www.youngminds.org.uk is one place you could start – they have a section on the Coronavirus.
If your child isn’t seemingly comfortable with opening up to you, possibly share the Childline number with them – 08001111 – and teach them when they might want to use it to chat.
Explain to your child(ren) that when people are stuck together in close contact for long periods of time, people get grumpy and sometimes even angry.
That’s not unusual – so allow them a break, let children play on their games console more than usual, encourage them to read a book or go for a walk.
Bake cakes, watch movies together – anything to encourage positive relationships and make children realise they are not alone.
We’re all going through an immensely different time at the moment and most people are bound to have their struggles along the way, especially when you are trying to work from home and homeschool at the same time.
Tensions is high, so it’s important to remember that when setting work for your children.
It’s also really important to look after your own emotional wellbeing during this time. Be sure to keep up with friends and family and try to take part in activities that you enjoy and keep you mindful.
Here are some more blog posts that might help with that:
- 4 Ways to Stay Mindful Whilst Working from Home
- 11 Tips For Homeschooling Your Primary School Children
- 5 Mindful Activities For Children At Home
If you haven’t already seen them, we’ve also collated a wide range of resources, activities and ideas to support you with your homeschooling, on our Parent Page.
Topics covered so far: English, Maths, Science, Music, RE, Online Safety, Wellbeing. Find out more here: Information and Resources For Parents
About the Author: Jo Perrin
Jo Perrin taught PSHE in schools for over a decade and held the role of Designated Safeguarding Lead and pastoral lead. She currently works as an Education Adviser for Services For Education which allows her to combine her experience in schools with a personal knowledge of child protection and childhood trauma as a foster carer.
In addition, Jo worked as a West Midlands’ Adviser for a national PSHE resource, has delivered a presentation to the Sex Education Forum National Members’ Event and has created a variety of RSE resources as part of her role for Services For Education.
Jo’s advisory experience is not limited to training school staff as she works with non-education based organisations to support them in safeguarding and emotional health and well-being aims and is an affiliated trainer for Mental Health At Work.