Insights from a home schooling mother of four

For parents who were home schooling their children before the virus remote hasn’t been much of an interruption and there is much to be learned from parents who have done it well.
Aug 12, 2020
Patience, empathy, fun

Remote learning was a process of being thrown in at the deep end for a lot of parents and as the COVID situation doesn’t seem to be disappearing completely there is the possibility that learning from home could become a permanent feature of how education is done.

For parents who were home schooling their children before the virus remote hasn’t been much of an interruption and there is much to be learned from parents who have chosen to teach their kids at home.

Ben and Jessica have been married for 15 years and have four children: Jennifer 11, Isaac 9, Noah 6 and Emily 2. They are self-employed and Ben builds sheds for a living. Jess, formerly a Pharmacy Assistant is now a full-time stay at home mum and does the bookwork for their business.

Daily program and structure
Our day is quite structured. We begin at 9am at the latest, but the older two children often start around 8am. We have 5 x 45 min periods with 5-minute breaks in between plus a morning tea break. In saying that, if the older kids are ‘on a roll’, they will often continue to work without breaks, hoping to finish sooner. We have lunch around 1pm/1.30pm for an hour, then for the rest of the day, until 3.30pm we do activities. The activities vary between art and craft, knitting, sewing, drawing, painting, building, cardboard construction, board games, cooking, Lego challenges, card making, exercise, ball games, bike riding, science experiments, music, gardening, woodwork, clay and more.

We set goals daily across Maths, English, Word Building, Literature and Creative Writing, Science, Social Studies, Animal Science, and Bible Reading. Later on we will take on other subjects such as Geography and Grammar etc.

How we got started
We have sent each of the kids to regular kindergarten and then have started their home-schooling journey at the beginning of their prep year. Home-schooling is something that we had always talked about doing, but it wasn’t until the last half of Jennifer’s kinder year, when it was time to choose a school for her to go to that we decided to ‘bite the bullet’ and give it a go.

We knew a family from church where the grandmother home-schooled her grandson whilst running a before and after school care facility. We started asking her questions about her experience and she lent us a short DVD about ACHS. Straight away we were intrigued by Terry Harding’s passion for home education and loved the processes and structure that his system provided. We wanted a character focused education for our kids and that’s exactly what we found. We weren’t fans of the ‘unschooling’ and un-structured home-school ideas that we had seen from other home-ed families we had encountered and were of the opinion that home-schooling shouldn’t hold our children back or keep them behind their peers, instead it should be an advantage to their education levels. If the regular school experience had a ratio of one teacher for 20 to 30 children, how much better off should home- schooled children be with the undivided attention of their parent/supervisor/teacher.

So we committed to trying home-schooling for the first six months of Jennifer’s prep year, as we had no idea what to expect and if the whole experience would suit our family. If it wasn’t right for us, then we had no problems sending her off to regular school.

We were very impressed with the curriculum and loved that first moment when Jennifer looked up at us with a special twinkle in her eye because she had understood a completely new concept. It was priceless, and I was able to be a part of her learning new things every day.

When the initial novelty stage of doing school work passes, the kids fall into a time of “I just want to play all day” stage. Every one of our children have gone through this and it just takes some gentle encouragement from Mum and Dad, and an understanding that we all need to start growing up and take on new responsibilities at this stage of life.

Periodically the kids go through times of bad attitudes towards life, school, chores and authority, but it’s not the end of the world. Every child goes through this, its natural and a core part of growing up. As parents, it’s our role to help our children navigate these seasons and bring them out the side having grown in their character. On the flip side, there are wonderful times when the children are overflowing with self-discipline and are extremely driven in their attitude towards their school work. These times are wonderful and are a reward in themselves for home-schooling parents.

The other biggest challenge we face is: Mum, as the primary teacher, doesn’t get much of a break. I’m with the children 24/7! They come everywhere with me; to appointments, food shopping, everything. This is where it’s crucial to have the support of my husband and routinely ‘schedule in’ times that I can get away on my own. Once every three months I go to the hairdressers in the evening for some ‘me time’. I’ve also tried to plan to go out with a friend for a walk around the lake a few times. This is an area that I often neglect, and I should be more intentional in planning respite for myself.

Also, I’m a night-owl, so I like to stay up late. It’s important to me that the children are in bed at a reasonable time, so that I get some child-free time. This is reasonably do-able while the kids are young and go to bed at 7 pm, 7.30 pm and 8 pm, but I’m sure we’ll have to adjust as they get older and will start staying up later.

The successes
Following such a solid curriculum has ensured that our children have a strong understanding of everything they learn. They don’t move on to a new concept until they have established what they are currently learning, therefore they don’t have ‘gaps’ in their learning.

The emphasis on character building throughout the curriculum has added so much to the whole development of our children. We have had wonderful conversations and ah-uh moments discussing life lessons and issues that we all face throughout life. Morals, ethics and character traits are a massive part of the reason that we chose to home-school; we wanted to be the biggest influencers in the growth of our children. We have been so blessed watching them grow into wonderful young people.

During Isaac’s prep year I was pregnant with Emily and was extremely sick. I was bedridden for most of the year and we did much of his schooling from my bed. It wasn’t the best start to his learning and consequently he didn’t have the necessary level of understanding to excel in his education. He ‘knew enough to pass the tests’ but we knew that he didn’t have a proper understanding of all that he had learned. Therefore, at the start of his second year, we decided to repeat his prep curriculum. We thought “what’s the point of home-schooling if it doesn’t give us the freedom to tailor the education to our kid’s needs”. It seemed like a step backwards, re-doing everything he had already done. It took four months to repeat Prep, but by the end of that time, he had fully cemented his understanding of all that he had learned and knew how to read. It turned out that those four months weren’t wasted, instead they acted as a launching pad and he hasn’t looked back ever since. He is well and truly flying through his learning now.

Throughout this pandemic we have had a chance for our kids to do their school work alongside some of their friends who have been doing remote learning. The parents of these children have all commented on how advanced our children seem to be when comparing their work with kids of the same age, or even a year level above them. I was very interested when Jennifer’s school work (grade 5) was compared to that of a grade 6 student at a very expensive and well known private school. Jennifer’s work was far more advanced. And this has happened on many occasions over the last six years of our schooling journey.

My kids really enjoy the fact that if they get all of their school work done early, they get more free play time. They don’t waste time waiting for the teacher to deal with 20 to 30 other students in order to get assistance, and they don’t have to wait around for the bell to go at 3.30pm to allow them to go home. The harder they work, the more freedom they have. It’s completely their responsibility. They have learnt huge life lessons in this one area alone; be responsible for your own actions, have self-discipline, be driven and there consequences to your decisions and actions.

Tell other remote-learning parents
My advice to other remote-learning parents would be; be patient and in the moment. Be present in mind and body. Kids know when you aren’t really listening and aren’t interested in what they are learning. If you will give them your undivided attention, you will both get so much more out of the whole process. Invest yourself into your kids and the reward will be greater than you could have imagined, in so many areas. You will find moments where you have that an unplanned deep-and-meaningful conversation in which you learn so much about who your child really is and how they think or view the world, or you inadvertently help them through a crisis of emotions and come out the other side closer than ever. You get to help your child navigate this increasingly tricky world we live in. You have a life-time worth of experience and wisdom that you can pass on to your child who hasn’t experienced most of what you’ve lived through, both good and bad.

Also, take the pressure off. Kids are resilient and they learn so fast. If you have a day every now and then where you find that the whole family is struggling and are about to blow a fuse, pause, breathe, just put the school work away and make everyone a hot chocolate. Then sit down and play Uno or monopoly or scrabble. Kids can learn from almost anything, but most of all they need to know that you love and care for THEM. Not because they are smart at school or good at sports or always do as they’re told, but because they are your child. They will learn more from and about you in those precious moments sipping hot chocolate and coming up with silly words in Scrabble, than you forcing them to get all of their school work done now, no excuses! And yes, playing Monopoly, Uno or Scrabble can be educational too. And even if they kids fall a little behind for a season, in time, and with your love, support, encouragement and patience, they will catch up. The education process is a marathon, not a sprint, and it needs to be viewed as such. They won’t and can’t learn it all in a month, so relax and pace yourself.

Just a side note, we stick to the regular school terms, because I find that the kids and I really need a holiday after 10 weeks of school. It’s a great chance for them to catch up with their friends who are also on holidays.

We have found that when Dad gets involved in the learning process, even if it’s just a little bit, it makes a huge difference to the enjoyment and balance of the education for the kids. That fresh voice and perspective adds a lot and makes school more fun.

We have, over our journey, had catch ups with other home-schooling families. My favourite thing to do with other home educators is go on organised educational excursions. These are fun and really add to the whole learning experience. We have also had monthly co-op craft and activity days. But as far as just playground play dates, these tend to happen during school hours and I prioritise the kids school work, so we don’t tend to go to many of these.

To put it simply, this pandemic hasn’t affected our home-schooling experience at all. We have just continued on as always, without any kind of disruption to the kids learning. In fact, we’re actually getting more school work done than usual because we haven’t had all of the extra activities to interrupt our work. The kids haven’t skipped a beat.

Accelerated learning
Home-schooling allows for accelerated learning because there are less distractions in the classroom. The child does not have to wait for the rest of the class to catch up before they move on to more advanced work. They don’t have to wait for support from the teacher whilst the teacher is busy with 20-30 other kids.

If the child has a special interest in an area, they will naturally absorb the information quicker and throw themselves into learning more and more about that subject. In home-schooling we have the freedom to be able to follow and nurture these interests, allowing the student to fly ahead in that particular area. We are able to go at the speed of the child, which without distractions is usually faster than a regular classroom environment. There is also the added freedom of being able to choose the hours that home-schooling will occur.

We find that our children work at their best earlier in the morning. We don’t wait until 9 am to start our school day, often the older kids start on their own anywhere from 7.30am onwards. It is a regular occurrence for them to have finished the academic side of their schooling by 11am. When this happens, they have the freedom to ‘get ahead’ (do extra work), pursue other interests, read a book of their choice, have more free play time, or help younger siblings. Each of these things the kids do regularly.

Tailored learning environment
We learnt very early on in our home-schooling journey that each of our children are very different. They learn, think, behave, express themselves and work differently. For example, Jennifer can sit still and concentrate for long periods of time without needing a break.

Our boys on the other hand are very active and struggle to sit still and concentrate for much longer than about 20 minutes. When the boys first started schooling we would watch their body language for clues that they were struggling. After about 20 mins we would let them stand up and quickly ran from the front door to the back door three times, then they would sit down and continue on with their work.

As Isaac has matured he can now go for longer periods of time without needing a break. This need to move is in-built into our children. Another change that we made which has made a huge difference in allowing Isaac to excel has simply been changing where he studies. We used to all sit up at the dining table for school, but as their needs changed, this wasn’t working well anymore. We purchased Isaac a card table so that he could do his schooling in his room. He sits on the end of his mattress, allowing him to bounce and move, he puts toy cars under his feet, also allowing him to move. This has helped him to concentrate for longer because he doesn’t have pent up energy that is begging to be released.

Isaac is also naturally very musically minded. He reads by singing. When he first started singing through the stories in his school work I thought he was mucking around and wasting time, so I told him to stop. But I soon realised that this is how he learns. It’s remarkable how allowing him to move and sing has given him a big boost in his ability and capacity to learn.

On the other hand, Jennifer likes it quiet. With four children in the house, this home is rarely quiet, so when she began struggling to concentrate at the dining table and constantly complaining about the volume levels, we allowed her to begin working at a desk in her room. This made a big difference to her ability to learn in quiet and she has flourished.

Noah is a hands on learner, so we often let him use blocks and Lego bricks to help him with his maths.

Each child is so different, and as their parents it’s our job to help them find what works best for them. If a child is frustrated because they aren’t able to or don’t know the best way for them to learn, this negatively impacts their attitude and behaviours.

Photo by Janko Ferlic from Pexels