While I am by profession an educator, I am not writing this article from a place of expertise, as no one can claim to have completely figured out how to navigate the strange times in which we find ourselves.
Rather this is written to share with you that this is not normal for any of us and that everyone is facing some struggles.
I hope it can also provide some inspiration to hear what has and hasn’t worked for us, as we have taken inspiration from others who have been sharing their journeys throughout lockdown.
As a teacher, I know that school provides so much more for children than just an education, although I am also aware that it doesn’t get it right for every child. I am also a keen follower of many home educators and proponents of unschooling such as ‘Happiness is Here’ and ‘Raising Revolutionaries’ and can see the myriad benefits of being able to tailor your children’s education to follow their own interests and passions at a pace that perfectly suits them.
However, the current mixture of homeschooling directed by schools is, despite the very best efforts of teachers and parents, in some ways the worst of both worlds.
The restrictions of providing lessons online, to be completed remotely with unknown amounts of support, drastically reduce the amount of personalisation teachers can give to the lessons.
Whereas in school we have immediate feedback from pupils and are constantly adjusting, be that through the use of questions to extend children’s thinking and learning or the provision of extra scaffolding and resources to support, now the lesson has to be planned completely in advance with no room for deviation from this plan. Lessons therefore often end up knowledge-based and ‘one size fits all’.
For the families homeschooling during this period (whether they were doing this before or not) there is a definite lack of the collaboration and social support that are so vital to learning, as well as an absence of many of the activities that provide a daily structure and rhythm to our lives.
Children around the world are missing their friends and all of the extra-curricular activities that usually enhance the fun and self-directed learning taking place during the school day.
The uncertainties of this period have contributed to a certain level of anxiety in even the most laid back of souls. Anxiety affects the working memory, making it harder to retain new information or use previously retained information which is obviously not conducive to successful learning.
Finding our way
As a family during the lockdown, we have certainly struggled to navigate our way through many of these issues. My children have fought against having to complete work they are simply not interested in, and I have fought back because of course, they must complete it, even if I could not articulate to either myself or them exactly why!
Daily screen time has become the norm, with most of their schoolwork requiring a laptop or tablet to complete it, and it has crept into our leisure time too.
The amount of screen time which is considered acceptable is a constant negotiation ground with cries of “Can I just finish this episode?” heard frequently. We have also had to contend with vastly different amounts of work for each child being set and then balancing that against two parents needing to work from home as well.
However, there have been many positives that we have taken from this time learning together as a family, some of them new and some of them established daily rhythms that we simply have a greater awareness of and gratitude for.
As a dog family, we have been getting out for ‘Daily Walks’ long before that was a government-mandated idea!
Our daily journeys into the Surrey countryside have provided a much-needed escape for all of us in recent months. During the early days, we kept to the rhythm of an early morning walk, with a couple of hours playing in the nearby woods and stream allowing all of our minds to refresh and reset, ready to focus on schoolwork once we arrived home.
Possibly the biggest advantage that being a teacher has afforded me during this time is the deeply ingrained practice of self-reflection.
We have adapted and changed the way we approach things many times to find a way of making things work for us and I am certain we will need to adapt again in the future.
In terms of balancing school work we have set certain daily non-negotiables and are completing other tasks on a more flexible schedule. Daily non-negotiables have been a shared reading of a novel, individual reading and an online maths lesson. Once these were ticked off, the other tasks could roll over to the next day if need be, although there has been a self-imposed pressure to ‘catch up’ by the end of each week which I am trying to ease up on.
We are making a concerted effort to learn practical skills too.
I have taken up crochet and Lottie has been having sewing lessons via Zoom with Granny.
The day they announced single grandparents could now join another household ‘bubble’, the sewing machine was swiftly packed up and she disappeared off to Granny’s for 3 hours, returning with a brand-new home-made t-shirt…and a fantastic sense of achievement!
The seeds we planted in the garden back in the spring are starting to bear fruit (and vegetables!) which is a thrilling accomplishment even for slightly older children and one which has been a great learning experience for a family of very novice gardeners.
I have also been fortunate to be able to run Forest School sessions as part of the keyworker provision at my school. The days spent playing and learning outside in the school grounds have been incredibly energising and have bought into sharp focus the aspects of teaching that not only really inspire me but also work best to encourage deep and meaningful learning.
Going forwards we will continue to prioritise our time outside, both as a family and as a means of spending time with friends, with den building, tree climbing and games such as 40-40 and Hide and Seek now regular features of our daily walks.
We have been using the natural treasures of pinecones, leaves and interesting sticks we find on our walks to create things once back home.
The next step is to experiment with taking some of our Forest School kit out on walks with us, as the addition of things such as adding a tarp to a den or the ability to whittle out in the forest would enhance the play opportunities of the woods even more.
And of course, with the creation of Flo & Fawn, we hope to make playing and learning the Forest School way accessible to even more children and families in the future.