Seven years ago, for many reasons and after much through-the-night conversations (and long discussions with the kids), we decided to remove all four of our children, then aged between six and fourteen, from school in order to Home Educate.
We had researched it thoroughly, spoke to many experienced home educators, and did everything we could to prepare.
How did I feel in the first week without a school run?
Frankly I was overwhelmed and terrified.
Seven years later, my oldest is now 21 – passing all his exams, he has a successful career with a tech company. My youngest, now 13, had a recent inspected visit which declared she is ‘confident… articulate… has excellent motivation and self-discipline… is enthusiastic to learn… an extensive vocabulary… is well-mannered and mature for her age’.
So we seem to be doing okay.
So this month I thought I’d share my top tips on making learning work when you’re home all day.
- Remember that solo study time is far more productive (and intense) than when a class of 30 settle down to a task. There’s no chatter, there’s no waiting for three explanations even though you got it first time – or sitting through three explanations that you don’t get. There’s no bells, time to wait for people to sit down, get their stuff out, no distraction from Eric lobbing stuff at the back of your head, or Martha kicking off because her phone has been confiscated.
You just… sit and concentrate.
It’s been estimated that a typical school day actually contains just two and a half hours of real, productive studying.
So if you’re doing three hours – well done, you’re through for the day.
Obviously older teens can manage more, they’re capable of a full day’s work like you are; but remember the brain only has a certain amount of capacity for concentration. When they’re studying alone, it’s intense. So those breaks for a cup of tea, a ten minute chat on their phones or a flick to YouTube for some videos is totally fine.
- If you’re happier with formal support, there are a huge array of online learning resources. From formal schools where you show up for video lessons, to solo study courses which include digital lessons to watch as and when you want, along with a real tutor to mark assignments and provide personal support where necessary.
I’ve found that younger age groups need very little in the way of formal support, but once you hit the teens you’ll start to want to put formal systems in place for the basics, and for exam-based learning for GCSEs and A Levels, you can’t beat an online system like ICS Learn.
- Work out a plan together. No one likes being dictated to – and any age of child is going to feel complicit and more motivated if they actually helped decide what they’d like to do and when.
- Be flexible. The whole point of doing this at home is that there’s no timetable, and on one telling you what must be done when. And hurrah for that.
So if they’re horrible at mornings, agree you’ll sit down and start together at 11; don’t make every day a battle ground at 9.10.
Equally, if they’re morning birds and would rather work 8-11 to make the rest of the day free, then why not?
- For older teenagers, agree a level of work in a day. There really is no set timetable, and they all work differently. My oldest would procrastinate all day, and then knuckle down and get productive at 3 in the afternoon, working soldily for four hours.
My 17yr old loafs all day, but works hard in the evenings – come 9pm he’s face into his screen, diligently working away at a level I can only dream of at 9 in the morning when I’m trying to drag him from his bed.
I fought it for a while, but you know what? He gets the work done, he turns every assignment in on time, and he’s getting great marks. So I’m standing down.
- Make space
When they’re young, learning happens ad hoc all over the house. And that’s perfect.
But when you have a teenager who’s trying to settle into a serious study schedule for exams, then you need to help them on a practical level. They may not need your help with simultaneous equations, but they will need a desk, a computer and some quiet space.
If they don’t have their own computer, then make sure they are allotted enough uninterrupted time on the family PC. If you are able, investing in a laptop for your teenager will make everything MUCH easier.
- The work ethic will happen.
Some teens love to work; they like the routine of regular daily hours of study, and sail through a couple of GCSEs a year from the age of 14. On the other hand, certain Others (*cough* mine) have zero self-motivated to work on their education. In school they get no choice, of course – the teachers usually push them along, with parents nagging along behind. My biggest fear for home educating my soon-to-be teenagers was how I would manage to get them to actually do anything without constantly being on their case, making the house a warzone.
But Home Edders far more experienced than me said I should relax, keep their curiosity engaged and just trust them.
To be fair, I never had trouble with any of mine wanting to learn – but their curiosity never took them in the direction of the set curriculm syllabus. They’d watch endless information on physics, philosophy and world affairs online, but never the KS3 topics.
However, at various stages and ages I found they all suddenly hit a point where they saw the value and necessity in exams; usually it was a backwards process. They found what they wanted to do in life, and to do it they’d need XX degree or qualification. To get that, they’d need XX A levels, and to do those they’d need XX GCSEs. Immediately work began.
So if you’re waiting for it to hit, just keep them curious and encourage their interests.
- Think outside the workbooks. My daughter has a mental block with maths – when faced with a sheet of problems which her brain categorises as mathematics, she immediately shuts off, and her smart, capable brain repeats ‘computer says no’ with an infuriatingly dull-witted face.
But have her double a recipe for me, go buy something and work out the change, or play online problem solving puzzles like the Tower of Hanoi and she’s totally able. I know that those number relationships she’s solidifying now will mean the formal learning in a few years time will be so much easier to grasp.
- Not everything has to be about the curriculum. Learning is learning – and if I can get my kids through their teen years with an innate sense of curiosity intact, then I’ll be pretty happy. Don’t bash them over the head with the history syllabus if they’re hugely interested in String Theory right now. ALL learning is good – the keen interest will probably only last a month or so, and then you can get back to where you are, but without having made History a tense and difficult subject for you both.