A few months ago my nine year old daughter sighed “Imagine if the whole world was homeschooled! I’d be able to play with all of my friends allllllll day!” Ramona hasn’t ever been to school and sometimes wishes that her school-going friends could come over straight after breakfast. In a bizarre twist in a plot that feels like it’s been written by kids, now basically the entire world is homeschooling – but the kids can’t play!
If you are new to life without school, welcome to the jungle.
Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious at the prospect of being home with your kids for the next four weeks. Solidarity. Personally, I am shitting myself. The next four weeks are not gonna look anything like the circumstances that I opted into. We usually roll out of bed, watch a bit of Netflix and then get with our little homeschooling gang to hit up some sweet museum or beach while us parents banter and generally have a good time.
We hunt down social interactions for our wee extrovert Ramona in the way junkies seek out smack. If she doesn’t get her fix life is terrifying.
Now it’s just the four of us knocking around with the craft supplies I panic-bought from the Warehouse yesterday. And I’m terrified!
So I don’t come to you with a high and mighty sense of yes I’ve done this for nine years and what can I say I’m QUITE the expert, but rather a genuine sense of we’ll get through this together.
‘Cos we will. ‘Cos humans are awesome.
So, here’s a few things to get you started. Some foundational stuff that means I actually enjoy homeschooling.
1- Not a teacher
Firstly, I don’t try and teach my kids. We go for a type of home education called unschooling or life learning. It’s an education paradigm based on the idea that the best learning is self-motivated, rooted in curiosity and joyfully done. Over the years I’ve seen our children pick up traditional curriculum topics such as multiplication and writing all through simply living their lives. (Ramona is so passionate about maths that we actually have long multiplication graffiti on our bathroom wall.) We’ve also seen them pick up millions of other skills through being around people in our community.
Now, I get that some of you are thinking WHAT THE HELL, those poor kids! And that is absolutely fine! Because you can still think I am a nutter AND make room for the truth that the idea of parents becoming teachers is the worst possible idea on the planet, but for a month or six it’s far better for your child to not have a teacher than for them to feel disconnected from or coerced by their parent.
And if ever you have a wobble and think “my kid’s haven’t done the sheets sent from school” you can always think of me and how the government has approved my home education plan!
Kids are learning all the time, whether they are doing worksheets or not. They are learning creativity as they watch you make face masks out of your old bras, self-care as you tend to your caffeine needs and picking up literacy skills seeing you reading a novel on the sofa.*
I think that in these stressful and overwhelming times, what kids need most are parents committed to connection. Listening to them, holding them, playing with them, processing feelings with them. Basically anything BUT making them do stuff they don’t want to do.
I checked in with some teachers about this and around twenty got back to me, all of them saying things along these lines don’t make your kids study if they don’t want to! Use this time to do stuff together so they remember quarantine as good family time.
2- Stuff you can do lying down
Now one of the the things about that – doing stuff together is that it is knackering. I try not to do too much of it. Ha. But seriously, I do try and keep it in balance, spending enough time playing with my kids so they feel connected and nurtured, but also planning lots of things that they can be self-sufficient in.
One of the things homeschoolers have got down is activities where the parent lies down. My sister who is new to homeschooling due to Covid19 (shall we just go ahead and call it #virusschooling) sent me a picture of a man lying in bed and his kids sitting right there sketching him and the caption “Set my kids the challenge of drawing me so i can take a nap.” My sis was all lol emojis about it and I was like, girl that is the oldest trick in the book. The kids latch on by the third time and you’re going to need the following activities:
The kids paint your belly while you read a book.(What this is a thing!! It’s on Pinterest! Usually the person is pregnant but whatevs.)
You pay them 50 cents for a full body massage.
They have to guess what kind of sleeping animal you are. (It goes without saying that the more obscure the better- a golden snub-nosed monkey is gonna be my next one.)
This game we haven’t named yet where they have to creep up on you while you nap.
Despite what my mum and dad think, our children do not watch Netflix all day. Nope sireeee there is also Youtube Kids and Cartoon Network.
They probably do watch slightly more TV than they would in my dream homeschooling life. That’s because of something I call Intentional Compromise. My friend and I came up with that term (I think, hang on, let me just google, no yeah we did AREN’T WE GREAT!) to describe the idea that nothing is ever absolutely perfect, and often in our endeavour to believe that it can be, we end up making compromises in areas that we don’t want to. If you acknowledge that we don’t have to be perfect, the perfect parent or the perfect homeschooler or perfect anything, you can instead select where you are going to compromise for the greater good.
I highly value self care. It’s the only way I can homeschool. Every morning I like to have a cup of tea and journal and spend a bit of time nurturing my heart. But I also like a teeny weeny lie in. Instead of waking up at 6am to get my self-care in pre kids wake up, or forsaking my self-care time and snapping at my family members because I’m bitter, I let the kids switch on Netflix when they get up, intentionally compromising my perfect vision of us doing family yoga at 7:30 every morning.
You are not going to be a perfect home education parent during this time. So go right ahead and choose some areas where you are going to release the pressure. This way you can be good enough in the areas that are important.
4- Do this together
Part of the unschooling educational paradigm is a deep trust of our children. We reckon that our kids are their own gurus. They know their brains, their hearts, their bodies best, so we try and give them as much autonomy as we can handle.
You might not be quite ready to see where you kids go with lots more freedom. But many of you will find the next few weeks and months much easier with your kids if they feel like they’ve had a big say.
One way we do this is in Family Circles. We have two types – one where it’s just a chance for everyone to share their feelings. It might be around a particular incident or it might be just a response to some family tension. We had one this week about Covid19 and Ramona finished it with saying “PPPHEWF that felt good to get that off my chest!” I was surprised as I thought we had a fairly open communication anyway!
And then there’s the planning kind. Yesterday our Family Circle was the opportunity for our kids to shape the next few weeks. We sketched out a gentle rhythm for each day and all put down our suggestions for things we want to do. The kids suggested loads of things that I never would have dreamt of – if you need us in the coming weeks we’ll be foraging mushrooms.
It’s going to be super important for our kids to have things to look forward to and they will really appreciate our attempts to include them in decision making and planning.
5- Don’t be afraid of the Internet
There are so many educational programmes on Netflix (you can set up a profile especially for that) and Youtube Kids- you can also select channels that you feel okay for your kids to have free access to. There are tons of kid friendly podcast to listen to.
And, in honour of the Coronavirus people are putting out even more resources. Ben Fogles is entertaining kids with adventure stories on Instagram, The Little Oak Learning is running morning circles, there are dance parties and live yoga and so many weird and wonderful resources to tap into. The one I actually skipped about the room about was that Audible have made all their kids books available for free. Don’t tell anyone but this was the one single thing that made me feel like I was going to make it out the other end of this lock down without us turning into the Addams Family. (Pre-Audible announcement I was on a fasttrack to Uncle Fester.)
We are going to make it through. Not just as shells of our former selves, but even better versions of ourselves. There’s a very strong chance we will be more grounded, more connected, more resilient. And we get to do this with our kids. So many of them are going to thrive in this time. They are going to learn stuff they can’t at school, they are going to feel closer to you, less stressed, less social pressure and they’ll get to experience a four week long pyjama party with their fam!
These are really only the very start of ideas I want to share with you. There are so many little hacks that I think people will find super helpful. So I set up a new video series that’s gonna be jam packed with this stuff! For more inspiration and support take a look at my Covid19 inspired Youtube Channel: Life Without School.
PS My online parenting course ALLY is kicking off in a couple of weeks. If you want to supercharge your empathy and worldchanging parenting take a look at the curriculum right here.