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Tips for home schooling your children

Sarah Ottewell, deputy manager at the One World Nursery, has written a blog post on her experiences of home schooling during lockdown. She has shared some ideas on trying to make it work for all the family, not being too hard on yourself, and why it’s okay to be just good enough.

So, home schooling. Not something I thought I’d ever find myself doing but here we are. Normally, just getting through homework is challenge enough.

It’s a rollercoaster. Good days, bad days, fun days, emotional days. It’s a strange anomaly but given that we are living some kind of Groundhog Day, actually no two days are the same.

I have three children, twin boys who are 12 and in Year 8, and a daughter who is 8 years old in Year 3. They are all totally different. One of my children struggles with anxiety and maintaining focus while also being severely dyslexic. Two are knocking on the door of puberty and the third likes to chat. A lot! They are all equally fabulous in their own unique ways. But do they want to be doing school lessons at home. No way! They want to be drawing, seeing friends, playing on their video games. So how do we make this work?

Wellbeing is the number one priority

Firstly, remember that everyone’s wellbeing and happiness if always the most important thing and nurturing that is a priority. If you don’t manage to get through the phonics lesson or can’t make sense of multiplying and dividing fractions (I have no idea!) it really isn’t the end of the world. There is a great theory by a man called Donald Winnicott who talked about being a “good enough” parent. Do what you can, but it’s OK to recognise your limits. This in itself will teach your children great lessons about independence and resilience.

Give the day structure 

Giving the day a structure can also really help. Waking up at the usual time, having a good breakfast, getting dressed. It all sounds obvious, but it can be easy to slip into new habits during these lockdown times. If you can, save your PJ day for a weekend treat.

Keep energy levels up 

Food is also really important (obvs!). Children need regular snacks to keep up their energy and concentration levels. Some fruit, and savoury snacks staggered throughout the day can help keep emotions on an even keel.

Have realistic expectations

Try to have realistic expectations of what you can and cannot achieve with your day. This counts for everyone, children and adults. Goals are good, but don’t set yourself or your family, goals which are unachievable. You’ll have a sense of failure before you’ve even begun. Even having everyone make their own bed in the morning can be enough. This can give you something to praise everyone for and start the day on a positive note.

Whatever your child’s drive, be it screen time, a particular game, certain toys, a film; if possible, ensure these only happen after work is done. It’s the carrot at the end of the race. We find if certain games get started or the TV goes on in the morning before we start work, then it’s all over before we’ve begun. The working day starts with a battle and that’s not good for anyone.

Make time for exercise

Exercise every day if you can. We live in a flat so it can be tricky, but we have been doing PE with Joe most mornings and getting out for our one walk a day, whatever the weather. Most days, despite the reluctance and moans before we go out, as soon as we are back you see a real positive energy in the house and at the end of the day, when we are checking in with each other, the kids always say our walk was the best bit of their day. I normally feel the same.

Getting some fresh air and a change of scenery has a real positive impact on everyone’s wellbeing. Also, burning off excess energy is hugely important for children. My son often describes having a “fizzy head” when he’s been cooped up for a long time. Getting out and moving around is good for growing brains and bodies.

Draw up some house rules

Finally, as a family, we drew up some house rules for lockdown. We did this together, ensuring everyone had a voice, and made sure we included both things which should happen to bring positivity, and things that we should try and avoid which could bring negativity. It included things like kindness, listening to each other, helping out with household chores. It included some positive simple things but important. Be kind. Try not to shout. All these things were written down and then we all signed it, some with names, some with squiggles, and one with a smiley face. These rules are more like guidelines. Things to aim for. They don’t always happen, but we can at least try.

Don’t judge yourself against others 

Lockdown family life is different for everyone. This is our new normal, but you will need to find your own rhythm that works for you. Try not to judge yourself by what others are doing or can appear to be doing. People on Instagram love to post the good bits and that can be fab for inspiration sometimes, but Instagram doesn’t tend to show the moments when the house looked like a bomb site and everyone was shouting at each other while eating beans on toast for lunch (again!). Everyone has those moments. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking I should probably take a bit more of my own advice. The perfect Instagram life doesn’t exist. We are all doing our best in these crazy times. And that’s good enough.

Further help and information

See the University’s help pages for current students for help with parenthood

Sarah Herbert • 28 April 2020

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