I make no secret about the fact that I am quite a supporter of Home school and Home learning. There are many benefits to it for kids and as I see more and more of my friends opting to educate their kids in this way, as well as hearing the experiences of family and friends that are already doing it/have done it, it has me frequently wondering if it would be right for our family too. The last lock down, whilst in many ways inconvenient, did give me a trial run (so to speak) of what home schooling my kids might look and feel like. I realised it wasn’t a true representation as we were unable to swim, access clubs and museums and have the freedoms you normally would as a home educator, but aside from those things, for us (on the whole) it was a great experience that we really liked (the home learning part – not being in lock down). It left me feeling that if we ever needed to or chose that down the line, I was capable of the task and that our kids would enjoy it.
Up until now though we have been happy to send them to mainstream school, because our little village school has been great for them. All 3 kids enjoy it and are usually keen to go, the staff are brilliant and their schooling experiences are on the whole positive ones with lovely friends who are also our neighbours. However, that aside, I feel now there are bigger things at play and we have, with recent events that surround us, been watching closely at how Government decisions will affect schools. We talk about it quite a lot and have been more than ready to bring the kids home to educate them – should things go in a direction we do not wholly agree with.
I therefore have had home schooling on my mind more so recently. I have wondered what it might be like when they went back in January and what was in store going forward. I wasn’t keen on them being in cold classrooms “for ventilation”, or masking in school (if it happened) and I didn’t think it was appropriate to mass test kids (personal opinions!).
But then, none of it seemed to matter as the decision was taken/made for us earlier this week and suddenly, we went “back into lock down” here in the UK and we suddenly faced Home learning round 2.
I was actually okay about it. (Again the home learning part, certainly not the lock down part).
I felt at peace. I felt ready to take it on again as it is something I liked doing before.
I had lots of ideas for us and I knew it was going to be just fine.
And what made it better, the kids were fine about it too (especially the girls!).
But then it didn’t feel fine. Far from it actually. For the next couple of days, after rearranging our home to create a home learning area for them (we can’t use our conservatory like we did before as it’s far too cold) and trying to get into this new way of life again, I found myself feeling stressed by it all and anxious too. My initial spark and enthusiasm to home educate my kids was gone and I didn’t like the feeling of being out of control over how we were doing things and was just generally unhappy regarding their learning.
Virtual Learning doesn’t work for us!
I absolutely appreciate the efforts of our teachers – I cannot imagine how much harder it is to teach kids online and virtually or ensure work is sufficient that they can conquer it independently. Not to mention they are trying to be available to answer questions, mark work and reassure, all whilst facing lock down challenges themselves and some managing their own kids and trying to teach the kids who are still in school. They deserve a medal… a pay rise…. lots of treats! They really are brilliant with how much they have to adapt to!
But, for us and for our family, having 3 kids on 3 different devices for the school day and doing an array of subjects at differing times to one another, isn’t the way we want them to be educated or how we envisioned a home school day.
We appreciate that we live in a more techy world now and virtual learning has many benefits, but it also has many downsides too. Google Classroom is the one we use and I totally see it’s benefits – it is great the kids work can be uploaded with video explanations and mini lessons too, and that they can submit work and communicate with teachers as and when they need to. But the “new approach” also seems to take away the inclusive group we enjoyed last time. It minimises communication between us all and them between each other. It takes away the joy and excitement we felt before… I don’t really know, I just know that it doesn’t feel the same and isn’t manageable to me either.
After a lot of thought I realised that my frustrations and anxieties stemmed from seeing them all sat solo, on a screen doing different things. I wasn’t as involved and they weren’t as engaged with one another – sharing ideas and talking about the little video or text we had just accessed together. Instead, whilst one was doing English, the other was expected to be doing Art and another Maths – it was all over the place and not unified! The lovely learning environment we had before wasn’t there and the joy of discovering things together or drawing and creating side by side was gone.
I did question if I was being prideful or ungrateful – if I needed to just get on with it or suck it up! But no, it isn’t that at all. It is that I know what works for us and how I want our home learning environment to be. I want online learning to be there to access as when it fits in with what we are learning about – not as the entirety of their educational experience. Virtual learning – done solo – isn’t how I have ever envisioned home learning for us and it isn’t how we did it last time when were in a flow and enjoying it.
Virtual learning doesn’t spark as much joy and it doesn’t meet our needs in the same way. It is a great resource and a lot of work has obviously gone into making it accessible for each class, but I don’t like seeing my kids staring at a screen for several hours when they could be sat scribbling away in their little books, reading a paper copy or researching things. I don’t like seeing them staring at devices when they could be creating, engaging and playing together.
And so after lots of chats between Nath and I about all of this, we realised we both felt the same and so we decided we would home school the kids in a way we know that works for us. One thing the last lock down experience taught me was that we have to do us – these are our kid, this is our home and our family environment and our experience. What works for us won’t necessarily work for you and vice versa, because we are each in different circumstances, with different kids and different demands in our day. Some despise home learning and I know many parents who rave about how much better the virtual learning is – for many it has lifted a burden and it makes me happy that they are content with how things are going in their home now. For us however, I do like it, I am on maternity leave and so my time is solely theirs and the “old school” approach is how we like it.
Thankfully our school are supportive of our choice and have sent us some resources we requested. This enables us now to all work to the same schedule and in more of a routine each day. They all do bible study, then their individual English and Maths (some taken from Google Classroom yes), but it’s done simultaneously… then we all move onto studying the same thing for subjects like Art, History and Geography, with each producing work that is appropriate to their ages and in a group – learning and chatting together about it. We then can do PE/walks together, just dance, play games together or create and read together.
I learnt some lessons last time and have simplified what we do this time. I have added in more opportunities for the kids to be creative, to read and play, and I have shortened the “school day”, realising that actually slightly less hours of learning is more than sufficient and that most tasks take them longer than I initially anticipated too!
None of us really know what the future holds with all of this or how long this will last for. I do not know when it will be okay for our kids to return to school and when they do, what conditions that will entail and if it will mean home school becomes more of a way of life. But one thing I do know now is that I am happy to home educate my kids – it is fun and we have found a way that works for us. I am glad I spoke up and took control to get us into a place that makes us content, rather than doing what I initially felt like I had to do or should be doing – because the Government told the schools to go virtual! I am glad to have some control over this area of life that to me is so important; it means that we can move forward with confidence and in-spite of what is happening all around us and outside in the world, our kids can have a positive home learning experience in a way we envision and want to create for them. My advice in all of this, is do you and do what works for you and your family. If you love virtual learning, then go for it… if not, then find an approach that works for your home life (My friend Laura at Five Little Doves has written on this topic too which you may also relate to).
Education comes in so many formats and I love seeing the kids embrace them and being a part of their learning journey.