Veteran homeschooler Michelle Morrow wants parents to relax and enjoy the current period of isolation when most children are at home during school term.
“It is very much a family bonding time and has so many benefits,” says Morrow, who homeschooled her four children to university level from her home in Newcastle, NSW.
Morrow, who runs an advice website, Homeschooling Downunder, reassures parents that all they need to worry about is supervising two hours of course work, then encourage their children to discover more creative activities such as passion projects, learning an instrument and exploring nature – and doing chores.
But, she says, it’s going to be messy – homeschooling just is. Your days are not going to run according to a clockwork schedule as school does and you will feel incompetent.
It’s an admission that may hearten stressed-out parents who are trying to work from home as well as supervise their children. Here are her eight tips for surviving this lockdown period.
- Dedicate a block of time to homeschooling. For at least one hour a day, but preferably two, fully engage with your children as they learn. That doesn’t necessarily mean doing the lessons with them, but help them get organised and then sit with them and be available to answer their questions.
“They’re not going to work if you just plonk a whole lot of stuff in front of them. They’re not used to that, they haven’t got the organisational skills or anything,” she says. “Don’t think you can put a worksheet in front of younger children and expect them to do it on their own.”
- Set boundaries. “Only expect to dedicate a morning block of time for homeschooling and then forget about it for the rest of the day. Then you have your time.”
- Get everybody involved in the chores. “So it’s not Mum does everything and the kids do nothing. It’s ‘okay, it’s morning tea, everyone can hang the washing on the line. Everybody make your own lunch and clean up after yourself.’ Get them doing as much as they can for themselves and definitely make everybody do the chores.
- Maintain school hours of 9am to 3pm. After children finish their two hours of course work, encourage them to pursue other educational or creative activities until 3pm, confiscating their iPads if necessary. “Keep that as a time where there is no entertainment. Keep that as educational time, even if it’s just them choosing to read a book or to do a puzzle or tidy their room and redecorate it, or some sort of project they’re interested in,” says Morrow.
- Welcome boredom. “I think there’s this idea that idle hands make mischief, but boredom is good when you’re homeschooling. At first, it will feel terrible. They will feel bored and they’ll say, ‘I don’t know what to do, I want to go on the computer.’ If you give in, that will mean that’s the sort of pattern that you set up. But if you just say, ‘No, from 9 to 3 there’s no TV’ or whatever their weakness is, they will find something to do – and that’s what you want. You want them to go beyond the point of thinking, ‘I’ll sit on the couch for four hours waiting until 3 o’clock, so I need to find something to do.’ It will happen, but it does take a bit of time. It won’t happen in one day, it might not happen in a week, but it will happen in two weeks, three weeks.”
- Create a family team. Get the children involved in all the activities of daily living. “Do gardening, work out cooking menus … write up a roster for who’s unpacking the dishwasher … teach them how to do some ironing.” Rather than letting your child go to their room and play on their iPad all day, get the family team working together to get stuff done.
- Expect to feel incompetent. “Homeschooling is totally messy, and if anyone thinks it’s going to be scheduled, then they’re crazy because it will not work. You won’t have a perfect day, you’ll always feel a little bit stressed that you’re not doing it right. New homeschoolers feel incompetent for five years and then after that they think, ‘Oh, this is never going to change, this is just how it is,’ so they accept it.
- Don’t worry about your children not seeing their friends. Morrow says a lot of parents are addicted to the idea of peer group socialisation, but she believes it is a misconception that children need to see their school friends to be fully socialised. She says her children became mates as well as siblings as a result of homeschooling. “So instead of them pushing their five-year-old brother away because they’d rather play with their school friends, they get the five-year-old involved. A lot of us are addicted to the idea of peer group socialisation but you just need to get your kids used to the fact that’s not happening, you just need to give them a bit more time.”
Some websites to help:
Suddenly Homeschooling – How To Set Up Well
Homeschooling With Babies and Toddlers
How Many Hours Should I Homeschool?