They can master a classroom of 30 unruly children for seven learning-packed hours every day. But homeschooling their own kids can prove far more challenging.
We spoke to a few teachers about the extraordinary challenge of homeschooling. Here are the tips of the trade that they’re taking home…
Be prepared for homeschooling
Never find yourself in a classroom without an activity prepared. Teachers dread this: it feels like running out of fuel at 30,000ft. While you’re faffing around looking for what to do next, your children are plotting how to throw a car through a window pane.
Plan your activities in advance and lay out the resources before you invite them to sit down. Your home will thank you.
Give frequent feedback
Children enjoy their work more—and progress faster—with regular, personalised feedback. This can be verbal or, if they’re old enough, written.
Good feedback is specific: instead of ‘good’, try ‘I like how clearly you’ve described the tractor-plane crashing into the zoo’. It can also improve their work (‘Check the dictionary for how to spell efelant’) and extend them (‘What could you add to make the story scarier?’).
But most importantly, your questions make them feel heard and valued—which will make them enjoy learning more.
Children, little monkeys that they are, are better at aping and mimicking than they are at listening to long explanations. That’s why good teachers always model an activity: they show the kids how it’s done.
You don’t have to force them to do it like you did. You don’t have to nail it, either. But let them see you do it—they’ll need you less if you do.
Structure (5+): Starter – main – plenary
All school lessons, whether they’re in PE or English or Physics, follow this structure – because it mimics how the brain learns.
- Starters are whizzy, short activities that make children curious about what they’re about to learn: Guess what this is? It usually introduces them to the key concept (this is a bear) or technique (here’s the kind of brush you use to draw fur).
- Main activities are the bulk of the lesson, where the learner actually applies something: ‘draw a bear.’
- Plenaries are quick recaps at the end of the session where you consolidate what you’ve learned. (That’s why so many children’s books have a recap page at the end.) They also help you see how much your child has learned, so you can choose whether to spend more time on it next time or not.
Structure (under 5s): Guided play
Younger children who aren’t yet used to structured lessons respond better to guided play, where you follow their lead, let them do what they want to and interject with questions that begin with ‘wh’ – where is that giraffe going? What is he going to do next?
As you ask questions, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to introduce new words, find shapes and numbers, and write down words or sounds you’re talking about.
Make it fun…
It’s far more important for your child to enjoy learning than to know that a baguette is feminine in French.
Don’t just pretend something is fun: make it fun. Need to learn how to shop in French? Turn your kitchen into a French market. Need to write a persuasive letter? Dress up as a superhero to deliver the speech.
The 5-minute Mum has some great ideas on this, and some brilliant links to other fun homeschooling activities too.
But have clear behaviour policies
Even if you don’t like using rewards and consequences at home, chances are you’ll need them at Home School.
Rewards: Good teachers use rewards often enough to make them attractive, but also sparingly, so as not to cheapen them. Stars, privileges, even the right to choose the next activity are all simple rewards that will keep kids at home on track.
Consequences: The first trick with consequences is to stagger them. Good teachers start with the ‘Gentle stare’ and the ‘Oh-oh’ before building gradually up to ‘no break’ until finally it’s ‘outside the principal’s office’, as if the headteacher is some sort of flesh-eating octopus that feeds on disobedient children. If you leap straight to octopus-level every time, one day they’ll realise the octopus is just an exhausted 50-year old with too much to do. And then where will you be? Give yourself somewhere to go before you whip out the octopus.
Trick two: stick by the consequences, kindly but firmly, like they’re the rules of the cosmos that you have to follow too. Do not bend. By exercising consequences regularly at the beginning, teachers only need to raise an eyebrow a few weeks down the line. By then the kids know exactly what happens when they overstep the mark.
Use a timer
Children are weirdly much worse at arguing with clocks than they are with humans. Set a timer: that’s how long they have to do the activity for. When it beeps, they can stop (or carry on if they choose to). That’s it.
Remember that the first time you try a skill or a subject is usually the hardest, for all of you. As you build a homeschooling routine, you build confidence which helps settle everyone down, including you.
Hang in there.
Put love first
In spite of all of these skills, teachers are finding homeschooling just as tough as you. Because what’s even more important is the ability to listen to their kids, follow their kids’ instincts, and love them unconditionally.
And that’s not something they get to do much at school.
Home is different. Let the kids lead for once. Listen. Dance. Laugh. Love.
There really is nothing more important than that.