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.
I distinctly remember thinking that I was pushed to the limits of my energy and that I would collapse if the school did not take a break soon. This was when I was home educating three boys: Rory in secondary to whom I was delivering fourteen subjects; Owen in upper primary, and Hamish just starting school. How do you juggle teaching geography to one child, whilst trying to teach another to read when their attention span is about five minutes and the third child is needing help with their sums? The only way to get through the day was to meticulously plan a timetable and stick to it.
We had just acquired a temperamental 12Volt black and white TV and so I planned around the programmes that the BBC would put on for small children. Hamish would be wrapped in blankets in the kitchen to watch ‘El Nombre” ( a Mexican themed numbers programme), whilst I taught the other two history or science lessons that I had prepared the night before. Then I would set the older boys work to do on their own, and sit down with Hamish to listen to his reading or practise his letter writing. Although Hamish learnt fast, I confess that I hated teaching the boys to read; nothing tortures me more than listening to words being stumbled over as I am a fast reader and impatient to boot. In the end I insisted that Simon did their reading homework with them as he seemed to love sitting in his chair with them going over the same page time after time.
I would teach all morning then stop to cook dinner, sometimes with the boys’ help if it was cooking lesson, before heading out to do my work on the farm all afternoon. After tea and bedtime it would be back to the desk for up to three hours of marking and preparing the next day’s lessons. My favourite lesson to plan was maths because the teaching was logical and therefore easy to plan. Once I genned up on the topic, I could set them exercises from the textbook and just be around to help them if they got stuck. Despite studying English at university I still found it difficult to mark their writing. I could not get beyond the ‘editing’ to see the content first. As a result I was probably not as encouraging as I should have been.
By the time schools were breaking up for half-term I was feeling totally exhausted and was struggling to get going in the morning despite several cups of coffee. I would often feel completely frustrated when one of the boys was refusing to settle down to work and just want to go outside and scream. If you are feeling any of these things then do not beat yourself up about it; it is normal to feel like this. You may not be perfect or even really good at teaching your child but you will be being ’good enough’. Give yourself a chance to go outside, take a deep breath, swig that cup of tea, and change the subject- as the chances are that you have all got bogged down in the task in hand.
And the really good news is that it’s your school and you can decide when half-term comes…
Home educating survival guide Part 9