When my eldest son was three, I was told by the local Education Authority that I would have to either move or home-educate as they were not going to help with his education if we stayed farming our island home. As so many families have been thrown in to home educating during the pandemic I wanted to pass on some tips that I have learnt along the way.
Being in lockdown has reminded me that competition is a great motivator and whether it’s a quiz on Zoom with friends, or a comparison of our latest creative genius via Instagram we are all using it to keep us in touch.
When I was home-educating the boys there were very few people teaching their children at home in Scotland let alone in Orkney. However, in the summer of 1996 I was told about another family in Orkney who were home-schooling four school-age children. I got in touch with them and we decided to try a joint project. As the UK was having a General Election in May 1997 and I have always loved elections, I suggested that all of our children should make up their own party manifesto complete with three election promises. If they won, they had to fulfil one promise, which seemed roughly similar to real life.
Rory and Owen devised their own party name and made posters to persuade the voters. Rory’s party was called the Auskerry Rock Party and at least one of his election promises involved a disco which will not surprise his friends – though maybe he did not fully understand what ‘party’ meant in this context! Owen’s poster was for the Auskerry Pirate Party and one of his three promises involved finding a treasure chest! I don’t remember what the other candidates’ parties were standing for, but on the day of the Election when everyone else was voting for Tony Blair, we had a voting booth set up and everyone had to be serious about casting their votes. In the event, one of the other family’s children won the election, and the winning candidate had promised a camping trip. This took place the following summer and was a memorable experience that they have never forgotten. I hope that it inspired an interest in democracy too – two of them went on to study Politics at university so something must have rubbed off!
The boys always learnt better if I could get some element of competitiveness into a lesson, and if your child has a good friend who they always compete with at school, then working with other parents to start a joint project is a great plan. I found that it was a good idea to have different elements to any project: some pieces of writing; some maths skills; some scope for creativity and imagination; some physical activity; and some reading and research was the aim. If you are working with other families then setting a time to work at it together will help to structure the day and make it more exciting for the children as they see each other’s efforts.
I imagine that it will be very hard for children to get back to school if they have only been interacting with friends via video games. Perhaps virtual classrooms with other parents involved as well as their friends might help to bridge the gap a little. A challenge I am sure you will enjoy getting to grips with!