Teaching your kids at home - 1
Alison Taylor (Gwersyllt near Wrexham) shares some personal advice:
Last week I did something I thought I would never do. I wrote a plan for home-schooling my kids. Despite having trained as a Primary school teacher (and being a pastor’s wife!!) home-schooling has never been on my radar. If I’m completely honest I’m the sort of person who balks at the idea of having to look after our kids for a week in the holidays if my husband is working and as for doing crafts or anything other than reading and their compulsory homework with them, it’s a definite no. My life is busy; I’m a teacher (now teaching 16+ and adults), a mother of 3 – including a 6 month old baby (I’m on mat leave), and I do a lot of sport. I love my kids, but I’m probably the last person someone would think of as a home educator. In fact, I laughed out loud at the irony of being asked to write this article and some of you who know me might be laughing as you realise who’s written this...
But times have changed.
Thanks to Coronovirus, most of us now have to do some form of home-schooling for the foreseeable future. And for a lot of us, that is literally life changing. So I’ve come up with 5 broad principles to try and help us. There will be many people reading this who have a whole lot more experience and advice than I could ever give. I am NOT an expert. I do not have years of home-schooling expertise. And as I write this, I have precisely 3 days experience. But maybe that’s part of it. We’re ‘all in this together’ and trying to work out what works. So for what it’s worth, here goes:
1) Be prayerful. The first thing I do with my kids when we start ‘home-school’ in the morning is we pray. We ask God to be with us, help us learn, have fun, thank Him for the sunshine (so far!) and for the brains He’s given us. I also pray as I prepare things beforehand to do with them (more on the actual prep in next point). ‘Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself’ Jesus tells us in Matthew 6 – so pray for grace for today – for your daily bread – and don’t start worrying about tomorrow! Pray about the bigger, more important, picture. Pray for your children’s relationship with each other if you have more than one child – that it would be deepened through these weeks. Depending on the age of your children, this might be the last time you ever have this amount of time with them with no ‘outside’ influences (for good or for bad). What an opportunity!! What do I want God to do in my children’s hearts these months? My husband became a Christian age 6, and that’s the age of our eldest son. What an amazing blessing if these coronavirus months of home-schooling were when my son gave His heart to Jesus? That puts a different slant on being in isolation!
2) Be prepared. I guess this is what a lot of parents are now struggling with – what exactly do we prepare? Different schools are sending home differing amounts of work and we’re all left floundering in the sea of months of lessons to prepare! Personally, I’ve gone back to my primary teacher roots and am aiming to do a topic each week / fortnight – with pretty much everything we do (dubiously) connected to that topic. This week we’re using ‘Noah’s Ark’ as our theme, because my three and a half year old loves that Bible story and loves animals. Plus we have lots of animal toys. So we’re doing counting in 2s, story retelling, making arks, painting animals and rainbows, singing animal songs (to keep the baby happy – the boys protest), floating and sinking boats, world maps, making hedgehog bread rolls (there were hedgehogs on the ark, right?!) and countless animal colouring sheets amongst other things. I think the next topic will probably be Easter. I’m not just sticking to ‘Christian’ themes, that’s just how it’s worked out to start with. Kuyper said “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” The whole world is your oyster! You have the opportunity – maybe for the only time in your child’s life - to teach them about anything from a Christian perspective. Yes, even Maths. ‘Isn’t it great how God has ordered things? Look at the patterns He’s created!’ You know your kids – better even than their school teachers do. Stick to topics – at least at the start – they’re happy with and enjoy but also that you are comfortable with. There are lots of suggestions and methods online, from scribbled spider diagram plans like mine to detailed hourly breakdowns. Try different things. Find something that works for you and your family, then come off Facebook home-schooling pages and stop comparing yourself with others!! Know your limits. I am NOT creating a topic on Spiderman to keep my eldest son happy.
3) Be taught. Listen to your children. Give them time to speak, to research things themselves – and with you (great line to use - ‘ I’m not sure, why don’t we google that together?!’) In 3 days I’m already surprised by how enthusiastic my six year old is for learning and how much Welsh my three year old understands. Never knew either of those things in the stressful rushed hours between school, after school sports, tea and bed time! Don’t be afraid to change your plans. If something’s not working, end it, send them off to play and then do something else! Ask others for help. As a Welsh speaker, I’ve read stories to the son of some non-Welsh speaking friends who’s at a Welsh-medium school on a Whatsapp video call. I’m roping my husband in to teach Geography and science topics where possible. But more importantly, be taught by God. I think God cares more about what He’s doing in your heart and your child’s heart through this experience, than in how many spellings your child gets right when they get back to school. When my husband and I were engaged people told us that being married was like someone holding up a mirror to you and seeing all your sin and failings. For us, it wasn’t. And then our first child arrived. Suddenly all my selfishness, laziness and irritability came out. And it’s a constant battle – intensified perhaps now by the 24:7 nature of the current times. What is God trying to teach me through my children in this period?! Be open and humble before Him.
4) Be kind. To your children – this is new for them. Yes, children are incredibly resilient, but this is a big change. I have 2 incredibly loud, active boys. They’re used to seeing all their friends, running around a big field/ playground and letting off steam. Now they’re confined to a house and garden with just their siblings and us. Show grace – if your children are fed up and tired, let them go and play. Remember that the classroom ratio is often 1 adult to 30 children and each day a child has around 4-5 hours of lessons. If the ratio is dropped to 1:3, then maybe the teaching time should also be dropped accordingly? The smaller that ratio, the more intense the work. Go easy on them! God is sovereign over all things – and this current beautiful weather is no coincidence. Make the most of any outdoor space and let them run around, go crazy and shout. Make a joyful noise to the Lord!! If you’re not in isolation ensure you take the permitted daily exercise /walk outside – in God’s creation. We’ve been collecting giant sticks in our nearby nature park to bring home and make a den. That’s DT covered. If you’re that way inclined (I’m not – another challenge for me in the coming months!), learn about the names of trees, birds and flowers then go and find them on your walk. That’s Geography covered. Again – the world is your oyster and there’s no Estyn / Ofsted watching you to assess if you’ve covered all required aspects of the national curriculum, so be kind to yourself too! If you’re a 2 parent family, share the calling to teach your children together as much as working from home requirements permit. Also, remember that teaching children is a full time job – and you’re not being paid!! That means that there is simply not enough time to do all the housework too – your spouse has to help! Stick to the essentials – make sure there’s food and the house is hygienic. It’s going to be messy – embrace it. Get the kids involved in the cooking and cleaning – that’s Home Economics covered (do they still teach that?!) It’s not as if anyone else is allowed to just pop in unexpected anyway and see the mess! Take time to put the tv on for the kids / let them use an app (see resources below), make yourself a cup of tea and close your eyes. Or run. Or read a book – whatever helps you to relax. And finally on this one – make sure you don’t neglect your daily walk with the Lord or your family devotions. Being in a different routine every day can really affect this – or is it only me?! How about involving the kids in quiet times? Let them see you’re going to read and pray and encourage them to as well. Sing with (at!) them.
5) Be honest. It’s hard. Really hard. It’s why, within a day, I left facebook and whatsapp groups for home-schooling – whilst useful for ideas, they just made me feel completely inadequate. Feel free to grieve the loss of your independence and share in your child’s grief at not seeing his friends every day in school. Share your sorrow with your children at not being able to go to church together on Sundays – and your hope for the future. Don’t expect of them what you don’t even expect of yourself. Say sorry when you mess up. The only perfect child was Jesus and the only perfect parent is our heavenly Father – rest in His beautiful parenthood. And say thank you – to your kids and to God, because whilst this might be the hardest few months of parenthood I’ll ever experience it might also be the most precious. May God give us the grace we need – one day at a time – to parent our children well in these broken, struggle-filled days, pointing them to Him, the only hope and source of true joy.
This list could be endless but these are my personal favourites:
Twinkl.com is invaluable for worksheets, powerpoints and activities for primary aged children on almost anything you could think of – in Welsh, English and many other languages. They’re currently offering a month’s free access at www.twinkl.co.uk/offer with the code UKTWINKLHELPS. Use it!!
At the moment I’m not a massive fan of using screen time in teaching my kids – I’d prefer to use it to keep them occupied so I can have some down time / feed the baby (!) but we have been using:
Joe Wicks’ PE lessons every morning (on YouTube)
‘Criw Celf’ Welsh medium art lessons with Huw Aaron (on YouTube)
Google. You can find the answer to anything (whether it’s right is something you can then debate with your kids!)
There are too many apps to list – but hopefully your child’s school will have sent some suggestions home with them (maybe email the school if not?) We’re going to use: Tric a Chlic, Magi Ann and Cyw as my kids are in a Welsh-medium school.
Old-school invaluable household items:
Books. Such an under-used treasure. If you do nothing else over the next weeks, read to your children and let them practice their reading with you.
Start keeping old cardboard boxes. And buy in Sellotape, pritt stick and paint (all available online if you’re in self-isolation). Today my 6 year old made an ark out of a cat food box, a cardboard box and a corn flake box plus a lot of Sellotape and paint. I’m not sure it was to the Biblical proportions but it kept him productively occupied for an hour.
Stickers. Kids love them.
Old Argos catalogue / magazines – great for cutting out pictures.
A wipeable tablecloth. For obvious reasons.