Norlander, mother of nine and home school educator for ten years Vicki Goldby (Set 19) shares her tips for homeschooling. Vicki’s family was recently featured in Channel 5’s A Country Life for Half the Price with Kate Humble. View the programme on from the Channel 5 website

With the Easter holidays behind us and school doors remaining closed, we face the challenge of home educating our children while the lockdown continues. As a Norlander, mum of nine children aged one to seventeen years and as a home educator for the last ten years, I would love to share with you some ideas that I hope may make the road ahead smoother.

lady in a field smiling

“We need to bear in mind that these are not normal times, and this is not ordinary home education. We are educating in a crisis situation and we, therefore, need to relax some of our expectations in order to get through the next few weeks without causing ourselves unnecessary stress.”

It is worth noting that many countries begin formal education at seven years, for example, Finland, which also has a reputation for excellence in education. So, if you have a young child, maybe now is the time to take the pedal off and allow them the time to learn without the confines of academic expectation. This doesn’t mean they won’t still be learning. Children are natural explorers and creating a learning environment that works with their interests and needs will still provide opportunities to develop their learning in an active way.

Children of all ages learn best when they love what they are learning. Parents need to consider themselves at this time to be facilitators, not necessarily teachers. Take time, where possible, to watch your child, and ask yourself questions. What does my child love? What activities hold their attention? What are they drawn to? Then create opportunities to incorporate academic subjects into those activities.

Let me give you a couple of ideas. Let’s say a child loves playing with sticks in the garden. Use those sticks for counting (maths), create mini houses (design and technology), read Stickman and write your own stick poem (Literacy) or make a cake and decorate with stick-shaped matchmakers (food technology). This framework, of project-based learning, can be used with many ideas: gardening projects, cooking, kitchen science, the list is endless.

If this all sounds too much, take it back a gear, simply live with your children and teach them life skills. Money maths, reading recipes, writing greeting cards, writing shopping lists, telling the time, playing board games, reading stories; these are all very educational and reinforce concepts they will have learnt at school. You may find that when they go back to school these concepts will be more easily understood because they have learnt with their hands as well as their minds.

Children thrive when given routine, they know what is coming next and in times like these when their life is changing so quickly, a framework to the day will give them much needed stability. Keep meals and bedtimes consistent but try to consider the education side more as a lifestyle of learning, rather than school at home. A strict timetable rarely works and often causes family stress. There does need to be a rhythm to the day, but timings can be fluid.

You may find that a couple of hours in the morning of table work is more than enough to complete any work that school has sent, age depending. Although this work has been set by teachers trying to help your child, if it is causing conflict then speak to the school, they are there to help you. It’s also really important to note that it’s not worth being a slave to a routine, routine is your servant, not your master. In our family, we find our life is best structured around meals, so we aim to do most of our academic study before lunch. But we are also realistic and some days we start school after lunch because the morning was busy or full of emotions.

I would suggest that you consider your workday first. Many parents are still trying to work full time from home. If you are trying to home educate as well, that is a huge challenge, and not a situation most home educators have to deal with. Schoolwork can be fitted around your routine. If your only completely free time is in the evenings, then just do an hour then with your child, of reading, a little writing and some age-appropriate maths. They are very unlikely to fall behind if these basics are covered. They will also have matured, learnt life skills and had less pressure from tests, you may find lockdown has in some ways benefited your child.

Home educated children are often very successful at university because they have learnt self-led learning from the beginning. Schools are brilliant at teaching, but the thrust of home education is to encourage independent learning and a child who is fascinated by the world around them. With this encouragement, we can go forward helping mixed age groups to learn side by side. It looks different to school and that is as it should be. It is about making your environment stimulating as much as it is about providing book work.

If your child has work set (which many schools are already providing), then you can encourage them to work through this as independently as possible and come to you with any difficulties. Schools will not generally be requiring children to learn new concepts during lockdown, but rather to revise what they have done this year. So, your child may well be able to be self-led. Maybe organise a fun activity for afterwards to help speed them along.

This is the ideal of course, but children are not robots and sometimes they throw us a curve ball and we must roll with it. When times are tough and emotions run high, I try to remember relationship first, academics second. At the end of this lockdown we all still want to get along with our children more than we need them to know their times tables. Maybe teach things in a more surreptitious way, by sneaking fractions into cake eating and telling the time into when they are allowed screen time. On that point, I limit screen time each day to about an hour, but, in this current situation, that shouldn’t include talking to friends over video on the computer.

Children, like adults, need to socialise. Normally, as home educators, we would go to groups and meet up with other home educated children or join in with evening clubs. Like everyone else at the moment, my children are not socialising with anyone outside their family, and this can bring its own challenges. Thankfully there are many wonderful ways technology can help us to stay connected. Live video enables our children not just to see their friends but to play games together, cook recipes at the same time from different houses or even learn sign language, the possibilities are endless.

This may be a time when children are struggling with their feelings, but we can help them to feel empowered, by helping them to serve those who are in different situations to themselves, by taking food to the food bank, taking some food to a neighbour, writing letters to care home residents or sending photos of pictures to hospitals, for their walls.

female nanny and young girl playing with salt dough and stencils

“Although this is a difficult time for many, we can look on this lockdown as an opportunity. For many it is a gift of time, a chance to slow down and press the pause button. Education can happen anywhere, not just in a classroom. Everything has the potential to be a learning experience for your child. When you take time to see the world with the wide eyes of your child’s discovering mind, you will have unlocked the door to home education.”

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