As home education begins in earnest for families all over the UK, Plazoom’s Sue Drury reckons a little structure for primary aged children can go a long way...
We’ve all seen the posts on social media: suddenly, millions of parents are finding themselves in charge of their children’s daily education and – something that comes as no surprise to those of us who teach or have taught for a living – a large proportion of them aren’t finding it at all easy.
Families with teens are facing their own struggles, of course; but anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s households where the youngsters have not yet reached secondary school that are finding the new normal especially challenging.
In fact, Roger MacGinty, a professor at Durham University, pretty much caught the mood of the nation fairly early on, when he tweeted on March 18th, “I am 30 minutes into home schooling my 6 year old. I suggest that all teachers are paid £1m a year from now on” – a message that went instantly viral, shared by slightly hysterical parents and very-much-trying-not-to-say-we-told-you-so teachers with equal fervour.
So, what’s the problem?
After all, it’s not as though families are simply being left to get on with it entirely unsupported – schools are sending work home; commercial resources providers (including the one for which I now work after over 20 years at the chalkface) are offering free downloads and subscriptions; and everyone from celebrity fitness coaches to independent forest school practitioners is offering virtual tuition, daily storytelling, suggestions for wholesome activities that don’t need a classroom or playground, and much more.
When it comes to filling the day with educational endeavour, parents are spoilt for choice – especially as they’re in no danger of a call from Ofsted to check on their curriculum intent, implementation and impact.
But maybe that’s the issue. With so many options out there, and so much well-meaning advice, it can all very quickly become overwhelming.
Parents who are used to structuring family life with the ‘education’ part of it largely outsourced, are now having to fill a school-day-sized gap in their weekly schedule in a way that meets their children’s learning and wellbeing needs and, quite possibly, allows them to carry on with their own work simultaneously.
They’re making decisions about what should be learnt, and how, and when; the kinds of decisions, in fact, that can take SLTs with years of experience to the very limit of their professional expertise. They’re timetabling.
And timetabling, as every teacher knows, is as much an art as a science.
What is right for one class won’t automatically fit the bill for another – similarly, what works in a school with hundreds of pupils and dozens of teachers is unlikely to run smoothly in a home environment for one or two kids and an untrained adult who is trying to keep on top of work emails at the same time as supervising learning and managing the catering.
Certainly, demanding that a six-year-old and a ten-year-old sit neatly at the kitchen table and simply “follow whatever it is they would have been doing at school” is unlikely to lead to a harmonious, let alone productive, educational experience.
Whatever it looks like, though, a prominently displayed timetable that’s been carefully considered in advance and is clearly understood by everyone involved is probably the single most useful resource that I would recommend to the current army of largely reluctant home-edders.
Why? Because it represents a shared language for families in this new stage of their lives.
It’s a mechanism for introducing shape to chaos, and ensuring a healthy mix of learning, play, activity and relaxation.
It can incorporate ways for parents to continue working from home, and remind everyone to think about everyone else who’s sharing their space.
And most of all, it might help to bring an element of comforting familiarity for children in the changed and uncertain world we’re all currently navigating.
In other words… it’s a start.
How to help children learn at home