Distance education, homeschooling, unschooling and world-schooling are terms that have been around for a long time but have become more commonly used since the Covid-19 outbreak. School closures for months on end meant that families across the world had to follow a variety of regimes, using a combination of class calls and online resources.
Homeschooling became a trending term, while the families who have been doing it for years rushed to point out that current online learning methods and homeschooling are very different. Five families who have been using a variety of out-of-classroom education techniques for years spoke to Doha Family and shared their best advice on getting through blended learning.
Take It Easy
It’s safe to say that 2020 has been one of the most testing years in modern history. Being put in lockdown situations, working from home, missing friends and family, and living with the underlying anxiety of surviving a pandemic has made life challenging to say the least. “Motivating kids is hard!” a UK-based homeschooling mother, Sinead Camplin, reminds us. She says this despite homeschooling her children out of choice and not because it was a circumstance forced upon her.
This is also the case for the other families interviewed that started homeschooling after serious consideration and careful preparation. They had been able to plan their homeschooling journey according to their family values, beliefs, and specific requirements. This is a world away from the momentous task of parents who are currently trying to follow online learning plans from their children’s school and act as unqualified teachers to (often) unwilling and distracted students in the middle of so much uncertainty. But even the families who have chosen this path have reported having good and challenging days, so it is inevitable that everyone else will, too. Keep your expectations low—both of yourself and those of your children, and avoid beating yourself up on days when the going is tough.
Keep It Fun!
Melissa Wiringi has also been homeschooling her three children for several years. After selling everything to travel the world, she and her family had found themselves stranded in Vietnam back in March, and they have been there ever since. She says that she has noticed many families forced into online learning complaining about how awful it is and fears that it could be the most damaging thing for the next generation. “If you’re pushing them all the time and you’re not enjoying the process, then that’s not going to be conducive to them wanting to learn…the point of education is to create a love of learning,” she says.
And to that point…
Ditch the Desk
All five families were unanimous in their enthusiasm for moving away from the traditional classroom and desk environment, touting the idea that almost everything in life is a learning experience. They say that children learn in different ways—by seeing, hearing, doing, and generally using their senses. “Acknowledging this means trying to find the method that works best for your child, even if it is not your way,” advises Sinead. Chanel Morales world-schooled her daughter, who has dyslexia, for two years and saw huge positives in taking her out of the classroom and out into the world. “It was amazing for her to have the ability to learn in her own ways and at her own pace,” says Chanel. Chanel adds that she really valued the freedom that learning and travelling gave her family, along with the ability to learn more from the world they experienced at that time.
Keep It Short and Sweet
One of the biggest lessons learnt by our homeschooling families was just how much time they had to spare. Jenny Eaves is another mum who has been homeschooling for more than five years. She realised that when schooling outside the classroom, you have to account for the time spent on breaks, transitions between classes, holidays, and teaching time for the whole class in traditional school settings. When you do this, it is possible to cover just as much material in one to two hours a day. Furthermore, it is important to realise that schools don’t have students sitting in the same place for the whole day. Infant and primary schools have frequent changes between carpet time, whole-class teaching, small-group work, and individual work. Secondary school students transition between classrooms multiple times per day. Asking any child, of any age, to sit in the same place for six hours is, most likely, going to end in failure. Be sure to take regular breaks and consider doing different lessons in different areas of the house to keep things fresh.
Emma Pamley has been world-schooling across the globe for more than five years and now finds herself in the UK while worldwide travel is restricted. “Be flexible in your approach and attitude to learning,” she advises. In fact, all the families advocate being open to adapting and changing when things are not working out. Sinead agrees and recommends ditching timetables when you can. She says that regularly reviewing her family’s progress helped them to identify what was working and what needed improvement. World-schooling families find this flexibility particularly important. Travel schedules and tourism mean that some days will be spent on planes, trains, and automobiles (and buses, tuk-tuks, taxis, and boats!) or sightseeing, leaving little time for more structured learning. On the other hand, we have all been stuck inside on holiday thanks to miserable weather, and it is at these times that families with more flexible schedules can turn to indoor and online resources to redress the balance.
Make It Relevant
All the families were also in favour of making learning relevant to your current life, location, social climate, and so on. Wherever your blended-learning resources are flexible, adapt the lessons to make them relevant to your family and situation. Emma is a big believer in having an open dialogue with your children and having open and frank discussions about your environment and current affairs. She relies on a wide variety of resources, including Lego, museum visits, and nature walks. She also relishes in the chance to learn a new skill and has found learning opportunities in everything, from graffiti to history tours and volunteering sessions. Sinead agrees and says she takes her kids outdoors whenever she can.
Homeschooling offers more flexibility than online and blended learning, but even within the structure of your school’s guidance, there are ways to weave balance into your days at home. “You don’t have to do all the things every day,” asserts Melissa. She says that if her kids were struggling to concentrate with a given task or on a particular day, they would just take a break and walk away. They sometimes also found it useful to completely change the dynamic in a situation by playing cards or any other game. Doing this can reset tensions and give everyone a break.
On the other hand, if your child is really enjoying an activity, stopping them can curb their creativity and instinct for learning. Some kids will find the inspiration to do a piece of work just once a week, so sometimes it makes sense to let them persevere and not force the issue on days when the interest is not there. Other times—and you know when your children are procrastinating—they need to understand the importance of avoiding procrastination. Only you, as their parent, know the unique balance of when to push and when to pull back based on your kids’ needs, the family dynamic, and the situation at hand.
Quality Screen Time
During the lockdown, many parents struggled with the amount of screen time that schools were requiring from kids, which was difficult to limit appropriately. Jenny says they were able to learn a lot from podcasts and apps, while Sinead used technology to her advantage by getting her children to make short movies and animations. Melissa had used a variety of online resources such as Khan Academy to complement their world-schooling. Now, her kids are using technology in different ways, even for reading and music. All of these mums have proactively found resources to support them based on what the children were interested in learning. Chanel also did the same—she tapped into an online school called Galileo and found tutors through Preply, a virtual directory for online tutors. It is all about getting the right balance, though, as Emma says: “Screens can be used in a beneficial manner and can aid learning, but don’t dismiss comic books, pamphlets shoved through the door, or any type of material that kids can learn from.”
Be the Student, Not the Teacher
Jenny recommends listening to your child and taking their lead. “You need to facilitate learning that they enjoy and are happy with,” she says. Listening to your children can significantly help direct the overall learning objectives as well as day-to-day activities. Spending time learning with your kids can teach you so much about them, such as when they learn best and what their cues are for needing a break, versus when they need a push in the right direction. It is also fun to decide to learn something together and bond over that shared process. Melissa shares that her favourite thing about homeschooling is how much her kids teach her as well as the new experiences they’ve been having in Vietnam as a family. She also thinks that her children have been learning by watching her and her husband learning new things and handling difficult situations. We can certainly all learn something from children’s curiosity, enthusiasm, imagination, and zest for life!
But Make the Most of Teaching
For all that can be frustrating with teaching our kids, particularly in situations where we are all struggling to get the schoolwork done, there are also some benefits to having the opportunity to be more involved. Seeing your children doing their schoolwork can give you unique insights into their day. It can also help you better understand what they find easy and what they struggle with. Melissa says that she and her husband had known their son was struggling at school but had not really understood the extent of it until they pulled him out and were sitting with him every day. While most families will be continuing with formal education and not dedicating themselves to homeschooling, this awareness can help all parents assist their children and their children’s teachers in more supportive ways.
Trust Your Instincts
Parents—and mums in particular—will always worry if they’re doing the right thing for their children. Still, the reality is that it is often the parents who know what is truly best. They alone are the people with their children’s best interests at heart and no other agenda in mind like following curriculum requirements, timetables, or factoring in other students’ needs. It is they who know their children better than anyone else in the world and can tell what they need and when. Remember that caring for the mental well-being of the individuals in your family unit is just as important as the material they are learning. This is all, hopefully, a temporary measure, and there will be time for children to catch up. But the mental health scars of this virus are already starting to show in children and adults alike and may continue to affect us all in years to come.
So, relax into the process. Use your intuition to guide what you and your family need to get through this new phase of educating.
Doha Family would like to thank Sinead Camplin, Jenny Eaves, Chanel Morales, Emma Pamley, and Melissa Wiringi for their candid insights into home and world-schooling. You can follow all of their adventures on Facebook at Map Made Memories, Monkey and Mouse, Digital Nomad Mums, Journey of a Nomadic Family, and World Intrepids.