So we are coming to the end of our 11th week with 4 children at home. Ok so one re-entered external childcare this week when Antonia, 4, returned to nursery, but to be honest she’d been pretty much exempt from any attempts at home learning.
I’m not really sure what terminology to use to describe what we’ve been doing over the last 11 weeks – or not doing! I don’t really like “home schooling” or “home education” as if I was home educating this is NOT what I would be doing. And “home learning” implies that you only learn through doing these set activities when I would argue that instead you learn through lots of other things. For the sake of ease, lets just stick with home learning unless through writing this I can think of anything better!
When we started lockdown, we discussed the children how they wanted to approach the day and activities. We agreed quite a time based schedule which covered some maths, reading, writing and PE, in the morning and arts, projects etc in the afternoon in a much more free form way. For the first two weeks all the children (Sylvia 13, Isaac and Mariela 8) had just been given paper based packs and I spent quite a long time on websites like Twinkl finding resources, particularly, Antonia. We agreed everyone would get dressed and be ready for 9am. This fitted in with the working schedule Mike and I had agreed.
Ok so that schedule lasted precisely 2 days. By day 3 the children were bored of the paper activities, had completed most of them and were refusing to get dressed as well as fighting over PE. So we lightened up the schedule a bit and did some rather lovely things like reading in the sunshine and making wishing wells.
This rough doing a few things in the morning and using the worksheets lasted for the first two weeks then it was the Easter holidays. Despite Mike and I wanting to ignore the holidays the children were adamant, mainly because holidays allowed 2 hours of minecraft in the morning. Who were we to refuse.
So by week 5, term had started again. Eldest child now had a full schedule of activities through MS Teams much to her disgust. The first week she really struggled to fit everything in and then school introduced twice weekly lunch time sessions as well to record attendance. By the second week she’d come up with planning a schedule on a Monday so she could complete everything by Thursday and have Friday off. This seemed to be working well and we were pleased that she seemed to be learning self organisation and motivation. These are probably more important than the activities she is actually doing in terms of life skills….. This all seemed to be going fine until the emails starting arriving from the school about the number of assignments she was not submitting on a weekly basis. Ah, perhaps she needs more oversight than we had thought. Generally though I’ve been really impressed with how she has managed her learning and organised her time. I think organising and completing 14 1 hour assignments over a week and getting motivated to do them when you have few other commitments is impressive. I do think we need to check over her list though as there is very little PE being done! Despite having half term during week 10, she’s managed to get back into it again this week and there is no sign of her going back to school before September at the earliest.
For the others, home learning has been more challenging. Week 5 started with one 8 year old in tears about doing her Maths and the other refusing to do anything. I refused to make a child do any work whilst in tears and decided to adopt the approach that this is an adventure and I wanted them to remember this period as a happy one, not one being forced to do work on a laptop! All the cues that they usually have about learning in this way are absent – no friends, no engaging teacher, no classroom, no timetable, no uniform, no walk to school, no assembly etc etc. If I find it hard to get motivated I cannot imagine what is must be like for an 8 year old and in many countries children this age have barely started school. The home learning resources provided by the school must have taken ages to make and they have done a great job of uploading materials for a number of subjects, but day in and day out watching the same format of videos and activities without the interactions with their teachers and friends is dull and hard to engage with. So from week 5 to week 9 we just let them have the choice as to whether they did anything. Some days they did and others they didn’t. Which was all fine. This week as 3 mornings we have a bit more time with them we are asking them to pick one activity to do, which eventually they might do!
What this whole experience has reminded me of, once again, is the power of “action through inaction”, I think that is probably the best way to capture it. Two instances from the last 11 weeks really stick out for me. One morning I was getting dressed, left the younger 3 downstairs playing, when I came down about 15 minutes later they were all grouped around the table writing and illustrating story books. Completely independently. My son who had refused to put pen to paper for about a month wrote a story about our dog getting lost in the woods, without any input from me.
Just this week, I came down to find the two 8 year olds engrossed in a home science book, plotting which science experiments they could that morning which resulted in them making some invisable ink with lemon juice and a liquid density jar, as well as one of them later drawing a picture for a school activity she had been sent.
Now, if I had designed or suggested any of these activities I would have been met with resistance and refusal. What I have been reminded of again, which I should know!, is how capable children are of seeking out their own learning and learning through play. Yes there is a need to focus on your timetables at some points but the power and engagement is so much more when it is self motivated and self directed.
This realisation or should I say re-realisation means that little “school” learning may take place, and although I have a little niggle that this might mean that they struggle a bit more to adapt come September, I think they will be more engaged and open to seeing learning opportunities in everything. I hope that they look back at this strange period as one of joy, embracing their curiosity and having a unique opportunity to kick back and relish in unstructured play. So much of our lives is about structure and being forced to undertake things we don’t want to that we are very lucky to be able to have the space and safety to do things different and escape for a bit.