The challenges of trying something new in lockdown!

At first, homeschooling was new, exciting even. The chance to try and educate my children at home was both daunting and oddly liberating. Finally, I thought, time to explore ‘other’ learning, which they might not encounter so much in school! Whilst the school got itself into gear with home learning facilities, much baking, nature walks, crafting and dramatic fun was attempted. But, it was a constant pressure to entertain and motivate my children, with limited resources. The challenge of juggling it all had begun.

At the back of my mind was always that lingering worry that the children would fall behind with their curriculum, so we tried to strike a balance. Schoolwork as set by actual (and much missed) teachers in the morning so we could do ‘work’, finish it off after lunch, then do ‘something’ sort of educationally aligned in the afternoon. It seemed to work, for a while.

Idyllic as long as the sun shines. Not so much when it rains or you are supposed to be working!

Being a routine kind of person, I hoped that this loose yet flexible arrangement would give me time to actually do my work. I envisaged that given enough time, this regime would eventually work and my kids would settle into the new norm well.

I admit, I may have been optimistic. An unproductive three months in, and I am still plagued by little feet pottering to my just-sat-down-to work-at desk for ‘help’ with what is something they should easily be able to do; in fact, I’m positive that before this all happened, they could do.

But, rather than giving up, we keep at it. Anything is better than nothing and I refuse to sink into the abyss of just letting them ‘do’ whatever they want to do. This will result in an overdose of screen time, which in turn leads to arguments, lack of sleep and general stress all around. It is hard work. I’m not ashamed to say there are days when I get so frustrated juggling it all, I want to scream.

The fact is, my children rarely gravitate towards the semi-educational things I would ‘like’ them to spend their time doing. We have lego’d to death, so interest levels in engineering are low. Crafting still results in the most monumental amount of mess and frustration if left unsupervised and unstructured. And as for time spent walking through the wilds of nature, they frequently just want to get us as lost as possible before moaning about how hungry they are (when we are miles from anywhere).

What they think they want to do and what they/we need to do in order to have some semblance of a happy life right now are polar opposites. I am highly aware that mental health is a priority in these unusual times, in itself, staying busy doing something is a motivation to keep trying and not slide into The Abyss….

Motivation is harder to achieve when you are starting from a bad mindset.

With this fear ever present in my mind, I have to keep trying to find new things to interest my children. For my sanity as much as my children’s. I have also realised that the moment when their curiosity is sparked is what keeps teachers going on (what I now know) is an uphill battle some days. My children learn in very different ways, so sometimes it’s a balancing act to get them on the same page, but we keep trying different things. The most important lesson I have learnt throughout all of this has been my attitude – if I present the activity as something new and exciting, the chances are, my children will give it a go. If I just toss it over as ‘Try this, you might like it or learn something’, then chances are we will all fail to engage.

Here’s some ideas for trying something new which have helped my husband and I, in case you too have fallen into the abyss of not knowing what to try next:

  • It takes some prep work, but link something together which is educational with things they like doing. Our kids love scavenger or treasure hunts, so we make a hunt for clues which involves them using their logic, or looking something up, or working out a picture based clue. These are written or printed on the back of one page which, when they had the whole page of clues, can be reassembled like a jigsaw to make a picture of the subject. Scavenger hunts can also be held outside – there are loads of ready-done lists of natural things to find in practically any place you choose. What is great about them is that they not only offer energy burning activity to find these objects, but you can then have conversations in a review of the treasures afterwards. How did the acorn grow into a tree? How many houses high is the tallest electricity pylon in the distance? What are these different kinds of stones made of and how did they come to be stones?
  • Extreme Pop Quizzes. Over dinner, we try and talk about what subjects they were looking at in school. If possible, we fire a few questions at them to make sure the learning is retained. Then, we take it to extremes! Alexa is very helpful as is Google, because let’s face it, who remembers how long the Great Wall of China is and what is it’s highest point? There is a novelty/learning lesson in phrasing for the children in finding the clerest way to Ask Alexa to get to the correct answer (there’s your english right there – how many different ways are there to phrase a question to get the results you want!).
  • Wraparound – additional resources to enhance a story is a technique teachers use, and what works for them works for us! Below are some examples of what I call wraparound which I’d like to share, because they feature stories about trying something new, and succeeding.
Bad Caterpillar by [Suvi Chisholm, Chiara Corradett]

Bad Caterpillar – a story we can totally relate to right now! But bad moods can change when you alter your point of view! I also love it when authors produce printables so you can carry on the learning with a beloved character. Suvi hosts a regular Reading Corner on Facebook which regularly features free books and activities, as well as helpful lists of books which cover topics relevant to today’s childhood.

Jake the Growling Dog Goes to Doggy Daycare: A Children's Book about New Experiences, Friendship, Stress Relief, and Kindness by [Samantha Shannon, Lei Yang]

Jake the growling dog – The Author, Sam Shannon, has helpfully listed out not only places to access the book, but on the website there are other resources to have a look at – videos of her reading the story and other ideas to have a look at around the tales of a fun loving dog, Jake.

As a standby on a rainy or ‘uninspired’ day, there are also a wealth of ideas online, Oak National Academy, BBC Bitesize, You Tubers reading stories. Here is a list of my favourite Famous Authors offering their stories and activities for free – why not check it out today and maybe it will inspire you to try something new?

There are days when I feel like an epic failure. I’m sure I am not alone. There are days when I tire of the battle to do schoolwork by 9.30am and have to satisfy myself that the achievement for the day will be mopping the filthy kitchen floor and feeding my family. There are other days when we happily collapse onto the sofa with a sense of Yes, something went right today, the Google classroom thing worked for once, my daughter was dressed and actually had work to share. But, we keep at it.

For all the other homeschooling parents out there – you are awesome. Keep at it! Keep trying something new!