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'Home ed is more about learning than teaching'

Vivienne Sharkey, an experienced home educator and a member of Stanmore Baptist Church, offers this reflection for the thousands of families now home educating for the first time


This week sees thousands of new families home educating for the first time! Many home educators choose this route from the moment their baby is born, as an exciting family adventure, but many also come into the world of home ed reluctantly and some arrive kicking and screaming… so, however you are feeling, you are not alone!
Breathe, make a cup of tea and pull up a chair for a chat.
Firstly remember that you don’t need to be a teacher to home educate your own children – you DO need to be a teacher to educate 30 plus children all at one time!
As parents YOU are the experts on your children - you’ve known them for a very long time and you’ve helped them learn to walk, to speak, to use the toilet... You may have taught them to ride a bike, to write their name, to love certain books or films. Nobody told you how to do it. You just learned on the job or you followed your child’s lead. You are already good at this. How did your child learn these things? Often it will have been through observation and experimentation.
Secondly home education doesn’t have to look like school. It’s about education and learning, not about school. Your home is a different environment and your child won’t be spending the day with other people the same age. This can be a time to allow your child’s natural curiosity to take the lead. Maybe they don’t usually have time to write their own graphic novel, design and make a new outfit or finish a time consuming stop motion animation. This could be their moment!
You may be feeling nervous that they’ll get behind in their school subjects and that you don’t know how to teach them. Fear not, because the internet is with us. YouTube is a mine of information for learning new skills – I learned how to use silk paints from YouTube, my husband learned how to tie a bow tie and our son learned how to use a green screen. If you want to check up on rusty maths skills Khan Academy is at hand for free. For younger ones Twinkl have just offered a month of free resources. Pinterest has ideas of curriculum related games and crafts too. You can do this. Many museums and art galleries have gone online for a virtual exploring experience.
During this time of social isolation you won’t get a complete flavour of what full-time home ed feels like as we are a sociable bunch and don’t usually stay home very much. Often we meet up at parks or in the woods to play and build things; sometimes we visit museums and galleries or go to the shops to choose what to cook that day. Also your child is used to being at school with a timetable to organise their time whereas many full-time home educated children are used to having time to develop their own learning choices.
In this unusual time your child may be stressed by the news and stories around just now, so diving into a replica timetable may well be counterproductive. This is a time that they will always remember “Ah yes, 2020 the year of the virus…” Barring personal tragedy, we can choose whether this is a time that they will remember warmly or a time that they will  remember as a battle ground over school work.

Read your favourite childhood stories to them, watch films, do some gardening together, build an obstacle course in the living room, use your stopwatch to time things like skipping and jumping, bake, do Ready Steady Cook dinners with the strange ingredients you are able to get at the supermarket, build with Lego, listen to audio books. There are lots of articles out there at the moment full of ideas.
You may not be able to make your child do the work sent home from school but the good news is you can’t stop them learning either! “Learning all the time” is a huge home ed motto. Children are born with an inbuilt curiosity to learn about the world. You may worry that you don’t know enough yourself to help them but that won’t stop them learning.

Our home educated son had a passion for animals in his younger years which took him into such wide ranging learning opportunities – drawing animals, making seed cakes for the birds, investigating the digestive system in cows, exploring animal habitats round the world using books and documentaries -  he could draw out the world map freehand by age 9 as he had spent hours mapping the migratory routes of various animals over the years.

This time you have now could be a time of discovering your child’s passions and a time of learning things together. A new language? As he got older our son discovered history and later went on to do a degree and is currently studying for his masters in this area… I have a failed history O level. Home ed is more about learning than it is about teaching. Our limits are not necessarily their limits so don’t let fear hold you back.
If you want to keep some structured academic learning in your day remember that your child won’t need to work from 9-3.30. Without assemblies, registration, time for putting on coats etc you’ll find that a focused couple of hours is plenty. This gives you the rest of the day for other things – board games (maths, strategy, communication), cooking (more maths, science, planning ), Lego (co-ordination, co-operation, planning and a jump off point for creative writing, story telling), exploring a project, drawing, phoning/Skyping grandparents or school friends, Minecraft (soooooo many educational opportunities), making cards to send to friends and family, gardening, building a den, dressing up, making a film, doing a puppet show, music… The list is as long and as wide as you want it to be.
Space – after a while you’ll start to discover which rhythms work for your family. You may want/need to build in times of quiet and space. For younger ones, times doing colouring or Hama beads or a favourite programme may help. Screen time will vary from family to family, but of course you can give everyone some much needed space on a rainy day. Don’t be put off by the rain though: look at the reflections in puddles, talk about waterproofing, make a rain gauge, learn about the water cycle, rivers, acid rain, which things dissolve in water, artwork with umbrellas in… sorry, here I go again.
I hope this can be a really special time for you as a family. You never know, you may just decide you want to continue in the times when we don’t have to be socially distant as there is a world of fun and freedom to be had in learning.
Some free resources:
Khan Academy
TED talks

Image | Pixabay | Pexels


Vivienne Sharkey is a home ed mum - she home educated her son until he was 18, and is still very involved with local home ed community in Harrow and Brent, as well as other groups online. She is a member of Stanmore Baptist Church.


What's your experience of having your child/children at home? What is working for you? What challenges are you facing? If you're able to offer your perspective, we'd love to hear from you. 

We recognise there are a range of different situations, and would like to reflect that so we can learn from each other - share your thoughts here


Baptist Times, 25/03/2020
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