My 9 year old son and I began our home schooling journey together last week; we made the decision as a family that this was right for us as my son and I are both in ‘vulnerable groups’. I talked to my son in simple terms about our decision and I let him ask questions and gave him the space to express his feelings. It was difficult to know how much he really understood but he seemed to accept the situation and was able to talk with me about what our home schooling days might look like from now on.
I looked online for support with ideas to start home schooling and came across different examples of daily timetables. It seemed really sensible to create a set daily timetable with my son factoring in different aspects of learning, time outdoors and free time which would also allow me to do some work from home within the school day. I timetabled day 1 from 9:00-3:30pm and shared this with my son the night before. I was confident we had planned for success! By 11:30am, we were off timetable and my careful planning had gone out of the window. We just couldn’t keep up with everything we had tightly planned and the afternoon was quite different to the afternoon we had so carefully scheduled. By the end of the day I realised we needed to take things much more slowly and we both needed time to adjust to the new normal. It was suddenly very obvious that it was quite impossible to go from normal school life one day to a full timetabled day of home schooling the next, even with time carefully scheduled in for breaks, time in the garden and play. We needed the time and space to just talk and have a cuddle. We needed time to connect with family and friends online as I was worried about family members and my son was missing his best friend. I needed longer than planned to connect and plan with work colleagues online and my son and I went for a long walk and stopped to feed the ducks and watch the lambs racing around the fields. All of this was so much more important on that first day than the maths and history lessons I had planned.
A few days down the line, we now have something that is working for us at this time. The night before, we discuss and plan our day but in a much more relaxed way. We plan to read together for half an hour every morning and we plan one morning and afternoon learning activity acknowledging that we may not do everything we have planned. We make sure that we prioritise getting outside for at least an hour every day. We will soon receive our home learning pack from school and of course we will engage with this but in a way that is meaningful and manageable for us now. Our needs may change over time and we will adapt as they do.
Our new home schooling curriculum is very much centred on the 5 Ways to Wellbeing which feels vital right now. According to the NEF (New Economics Foundation) research, there are 5 steps that everyone can take (see poster designed for children by Mindspace Stamford in collaboration with the Mobilise Project) to look after their mental health and wellbeing in a comparable way to the 5 fruit and vegetables a day to look after your physical health. They are Connect, Stay Active, Keep Learning, Give and Take Notice. The research suggests that doing these 5 things as regularly as you can will have a positive impact on your mental health and wellbeing. I explicitly talk to my son about the 5 Ways to Wellbeing and we discuss these as we are going about our day. On our walk, we take time to notice things, point them out to each other and reflect that this will have a positive impact on how we are feeling. We talk about the importance of staying active and how the combination of being outside, walking and being together will release hormones which will make us feel happier. We make time to connect with family and friends (online) and talk about how important it is to keep talking and give our loved ones time, particularly those who are on their own. We do keep learning and focus on how important it is to keep our minds active, making the links between learning now and our plans for the future – my son wants to be a teacher.
For everyone starting home schooling this week, my message is to take it slowly, be kind to yourself and to your children and be there for each other. Family and wellbeing first and the learning will follow.
Anna has collated information and links to support both parents and children in their well-being during these challenging and unusual times, you can download the first edition here: