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Homeschooling: Two experienced practitioners and two 'struggling to adjust' parents give their advice

Parents throughout Ireland are facing new and difficult challenges. What advice is there from those who’ve been doing this for years?

Image: Shutterstock/Dmitry Melnikov

THOUSANDS OF PARENTS around the country are grappling with a new reality. Not only are they parenting through the current changes, but they are now under pressure to emerge as teachers, chefs and fitness instructors.

Obviously, the first priority is ensuring children are safe and well, so many parents may argue that at least now kids are home from school, they are out of the reaches of Covid-19.

It does seem, however, that this new and strange phase of ‘physical distancing’ is set to last for some time. Work has stopped for some, which is hugely difficult, while many parents are juggling remote working and homeschooling.

Here, we speak to parents who are struggling with the changes to their routines – and we get some advice from others who have been homeschooling for years:

New to homeschooling

Sheena, Dublin, two daughters under 10

I’ve been starting every day full of beans and we kick it off with Joe Wicks’ workouts. I find that because I feel I have to do the work with the kids, I’m wrecked then myself, so I can enjoy a morning coffee.

While drinking that, I try to give the girls some work kindly submitted to us by their teachers. Soon enough, it all falls apart. The fighting starts over rubbers and pencils and not having enough space and whose homework is harder than the other.

Starting to feel my own frustration grow, I throw in a few buttered rich tea biscuits and a drink of water just to stem the tide. Off we go again, peace is restored. Then the singing starts and the “I need help” and “how do I spell this word, that word and the other”. We are only half an hour into our day.

Threatening no use of iPads in the evening buys me another 15 mins.

Then the elbowing and whining starts, shouting next and then pinching. No iPads allowed later, then. It’s all gone pear-shaped after an hour. TV goes on and more coffee for me. Sure we’ll go for a walk in the afternoon, maybe. It’s official, teachers are heroes, as are health workers. Thinking of them.

Kathleen, Dublin, two daughters under four. Working remotely

I am finding this whole thing very, very stressful. On Sunday morning last I was dreading the week ahead, which doesn’t happen normally. We’ve two children – a nearly one-year-old and a three-year-old, both normally in a creche. My partner and I are both still ‘working’ remotely. I do find, however, that when I’m not working I feel totally useless and the fear of the coronavirus outbreak really takes hold.

At work, normally, I would need to find a quiet space to work for periods of the day – and that’s when among my colleagues. I find it nearly impossible to get any sense of peace to focus clearly while at home with the kids.

My partner and I agreed to a day-on, day-off approach to this whole phase. One of us would be a key parent while the other worked. Realistically, however, that’s not possible if we both want to be active and visible for our jobs while from home, signing in to meetings and the like. This is more important than ever with the economic impacts of this whole thing hanging over us.

I usually have to dial into about three video calls with clients a day. Couple that with internet issues and the pressure of having two kids wrestling, crying, whinging, eating or needing nappies, as well as a partner who also needs and wants to work, well you are left with a fried and frazzled headspace.

I find I’m working longer hours from home, because of the many interruptions throughout the day. I start around 7 or 8 am to get a head start and likewise in the evenings once the kids go to bed. I haven’t yet found a sustainable groove but at least we have jobs, decent employers and clients who understand, a garden and good weather, so I’m staying grateful for that.

Parents who homeschool all year round

We spoke to some parents who homeschooled their children before this and have asked them for their advice for parents during this time:

pjimage(1) Marie Halford homeschools her almost 12 year old son, Jack.

Marie Halford, Westmeath, homeschooling her son, Jack

My husband and I have been homeschooling our almost 12-year-old son, Jack, since March 2017. There are as many different ways of homeschooling as there are people doing it.

For us, we took our son out of school in 2nd class as he is intellectually gifted and was diagnosed the previous year. The school was not suited to his needs at all.  The beauty of homeschooling is that you can cater to your child’s individual needs. You can give them more help if they are struggling with a subject. Find different ways to help them learn.

Also, let them fly ahead with subjects that interest them. My son loves doing Irish. It is not my strong suit. There is a Facebook group for learning Irish so if I’m stuck I can ask questions there.

Every week there is a new Irish paragraph written with window chalk on my dining room window. My son then writes that paragraph as cursive in his copy. So he learns cursive while writing his Irish sentences. My patio doors are always covered in window chalk. Whatever we are currently working on is on them. My first recommendation, therefore, is window chalk. It makes everything more fun.

20200128_165503 Window chalk on Marie's back window. Source: Marie Halford

We also learn subjects in bulk. For example, for one term we just did Geography and Maths. We made and coloured on the map, labelling counties, rivers etc. I found A4 sized ones that suited our needs and got them enlarged to A1 size. When we finished them, I got them laminated. The prospect of getting them laminated and stuck up on our wall really spurred him on to be as neat and accurate as he could. 

My son reads a staggering amount and has a comprehension that would put some adults to shame so we don’t do schooled reading or comprehension.

For English writing, sometimes I give him a list of topics and he can choose one to write a short story. If we went on a day trip he could write about that. For example, we had a tour of Trim Castle. His essay was, “Adventure at Trim Castle”.

He was interested in Egypt so we did a small study on the history of the pyramids. We made clay models of the pyramids as well. We also did a project on the history of flight which lead to a project on aeroplanes throughout history. I spent ages copying and pasting bits of information from different websites into a word document that he could read.

We then took points from that and wrote about the aeroplanes and glued a picture with the text. Right now we’re doing a similar project on the characters from a book series. This time, seeing as he’s older, he’s researching online as well. You can do a project on whatever interests your child.

pjimage(2)

Shyamala Sathiaseelan, Dublin, homeschooling her two children

I have two children, Abhinav who is nearly 13 and Anoushka who is nearly 11. Like many people reading this, our interaction with the outside world has dwindled recently. The last time we met friends and were outside having fun was on Thursday, 12 March, minutes before the library closed.

As an unschooling family, we do not follow a curriculum but that does not mean we don’t learn anything. From the cooking we do together at home to climbing with friends, all of these things become learning opportunities for us.

The local library has been our best resource for books and also for meeting other children and family groups as a part of the workshops they run. We were rarely at home before and now it is a difficult time for everyone as we too, like the rest of the country are stuck at home with nowhere to go and no friends to meet.

Unlike other disasters, this is something the whole world has been affected by and hence there are resources from all over the world which our children could have never gotten access to or had the time to sit down to watch and learn about earlier.

A lot of museums, zoos, national parks have webcams or do a home safari every day to help during this time. I am really thankful for all of them to have opened their gates to children all over the world. It is a tough time for homeschoolers too as we hardly stay at home usually but we will all get through this together

RESOURCES FOR PARENTS

Thanks to all our parents for sharing these resources:

Academic
  • ScoilNet.ie – set up by the Department of Education, this offers a massive database of resources, books and other helpful links for secondary school children.
  • iRevise.com – revision resources, prepared by educational experts.
  • ExamLearn.ie – grinds resource for secondary school children.
  • HomeSchool.ie – online grinds school for secondary school children.
  • StudyClix.ie – dividing Junior and Leaving Cert subjects out for secondary children.
  • TopMarks.co.uk – phonics games for primary school children.
  • Readers Theatre Scripts and TheBestClass.org – providing scripts for reading and acting, for all ages.
  • IXL (Ireland) – maths games for primary school children.
  • Twinkl – a learning resources site offering free logins due to coronavirus.
  • RTE is starting one hour of school programs Monday to Friday from 30 March.
  • Shyamala – Dublin Area Home Education Facebook group admins and members have over the years collected a huge list of free and not so expensive resources that are being widely shared in the public domain now. It is a document compiled by a few of us which has plenty of local and international resources that are helpful for adults and children alike. This document is updated regularly. This is not an exhaustive list though. Click here for this resource.
  • Marie – We use Kahn Academy and I find some of the Carol Vorderman workbooks quite good. She has a whole series of books across many subjects.
Physical education options
  • P.E with Joe – nearly one million people are now joining Joe Wicks, The Body Coach, live at 9 am on  YouTube every morning for daily live workouts for kids.
  • Boxer Eric Donovan is offering a fitness class online via his Facebook page, suitable for parents and kids. 
  • Yoga/play – there are many resources online to help children do yoga and mindfulness, such as GoNoodle and CosmicKidsYoga.
Creativity and play
  • The Lego Shows Ireland‘s Facebook group runs a Lego competition for children seven days a week.
  • Will Sliney – this Irish illustrator has worked for Marvel’s Star Wars and Spider-Man. He’s running daily live illustration workshops for children. Follow the #wewilldraw hashtag.
  • Gardening – this is the time of year to scatter seeds, and the weather will help encourage kids outside, where possible. Check out GIY and gromor.ie for resources and advice.
Reading/audiobooks
  • Libraries are providing books online via the Borrow Box app, instructions here.
  • Audible has offered hundreds of its audiobooks free to the public for use during the coronavirus outbreak. Titles like Winnie-the-Pooh for small children and A Little History of the World for teens are on offer.

Other educational offerings

  • Dublin Zoo – the zoo has kicked off a #dublinzoofun activity series in which it will release a new activity workbook themed around one of the animals at Dublin Zoo each weekday.
  • Shyamala – Our personal favourite is the Cincinnati zoo Home Safari that they are doing every single day. We look forward to watching that every evening.
Keeping in touch with school friends

Many students, particularly older teenagers, will already be communicating with friends via smartphone apps. However, some video conferencing apps are helping parents and younger children keep in touch with their friends:

  • Zoom – this free video conferencing app has come into its own in the last two weeks and is proving to be one of the simplest to use if you’re hoping to speak to school friends. You can download Zoom to your PC, Mac or smartphone and when you create a Zoom meeting, it allows you to email the invite to your guests.
  • Houseparty – this ‘party’ app has become popular with young people and has taken off in the past couple of weeks. Download the app to a smartphone and have some fun with your friends, from a distance.
  • Google Hangouts – download the Google Hangouts Meet app to your phone and set up calls via your Gmail.
  • WhatsApp – most smartphone users have WhatsApp installed. It allows you to run one-to-one or calls with a small number.
  • Skype – the original video conferencing app, still worth using.
  • FaceTime – a handy video call option for Apple iOS users.

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