When I first moved onto the boat it was moored in a marina over the winter, and the place was alive with liveaboards and there was an incredible community spirit. Adam was working remotely and I was restless and wanting a purpose, so I offered to run classes for the kids that lived on their boats in the marina.
I had never really thought about homeschooling, and how hard it must be. Teaching is something I was trained to do, and I appreciated that it wasn’t a job for everyone. I knew it required patience and creativity, but I didn’t really think about the skill and knowledge involved. I mean, I taught primary. Everyone can count to 20 and read Roald Dahl stories. But as I started having conversations with some of the brave parents taking on the role of teacher in their children’s life, I started to realise just how hard it must actually be.
With no training and experience in primary teaching how could you possibly know that when you teach a child something they will forget it within hours, how could you know that sitting still for more than 20 minutes is a big achievement, or that managing to read a book is not the same as understanding it. I finally understood why the parents of children in my class were frustrated when the children came home with a spelling score of 5 when they’d got 10/10 at home, or why they were incredulous when I told them their child still couldn’t recite all their times tables by heart at the end of the year. What an earth was I doing in the classroom if I hadn’t yet created a genius!?
What Are You Meant To Do?
I don’t think there is a single teacher out there that would expect a parent to know how to teach their child the academic lessons they have trained for years to teach, just the same as those teachers would have no idea how to perform brain surgery, or fix an engine, or edit a research paper.
If you’re excited about giving it a go, then great, and feel free to email with any questions as I’m always happy to help where I can. If it’s sending you into a cold sweat every time you think of it, then not to worry. Here are some suggestions of things you can do that will be just as useful to your child’s well being and happiness in the short time they’re out of school.
I know these are all things you probably do, but now you have time to do it properly. Not just remind them every now and again. We have whole lessons at school on things like this for a reason – because it’s important and not easy to learn. But the great thing is that it’s all super easy to teach, no chunking or adverbial phrases in sight. And I promise you, these are the things every teacher is hoping you teach your kids while you have some time on your hands!
Some Things Teachers Are Hoping You Teach Your Kids
Teach Them The Importance Of Manners
Pleases and thank yous go an awfully long way in the world, and most children know this. But for some kids speaking to adults is a little scary, and even saying please and thank you can be daunting. Spend time practising with them so that they feel confident. Teach them to stand aside and let others through a doorway. Teach them to close their mouth when they chew. Teach them to ask someone how they are when they greet them, or to say goodbye at the end of the day, or to look someone in the face when they’re talking to them (if they’re happy to do that).
These little things are such big things to so many people. I know that a child that said thank you at the end of a lesson or the end of the day always made me smile, and I always remember the children that came into the classroom in the morning and asked how I was.
Us teachers are all about differentiation, so if your child already excels in the polite department then why not teach them about politeness in another culture. You never know when it might come in handy for them!
Share Stories With Them
Rather than pull your hair out over graphemes and phonemes, why not just share a really good story. Read to them, get them to read to you, take turns to read. Stories are so much more than just words. They give children imagination, understanding, empathy, vocabulary, expression and confidence.
Let them see you enjoying the story too. Rather than just rushing through it because it’s bed time, actually read the story yourself. Look at the interesting pictures, discuss the weird ending, tell them you really like the friendly sheep. If you love looking at your phone, your child will love looking at your phone. If you love reading books, your child will too.
You could encourage them to act out a story, or draw a comic strip of the story. You could get them to design a new, catchier front page or write a new ending. Ask them questions about the story to make sure they really understand what’s happening, but make sure you really want to know their answers. Spending 20 minutes a day doing this will be better than an hour of shouting at them to concentrate on ‘ing’ endings!
Teach Them How To Tell The Time
Now that you’ve been given the job of teaching your children, you might want to take a look at the maths curriculum that we’re set by the government and the topics we have to get through in three terms of lessons. We have about half a week in every term to cover telling the time. This absolutely essential skill is given a few days a year worth of teaching time. Within the first few weeks of teaching, you’re going to quickly realise that children do not learn things in a day. Whatever you teach them on Monday will be forgotten on Friday. So try every conquering the task of teaching them to tell the time – an incredibly complicated and ridiculous thing that no one ever remembers learning because we use it so often!
I used to dread teaching time. It’s great fun to teach, lots of moving clocks and not too much arduous marking. But it was demoralising to know that whatever you managed to teach them was probably pointless, because when tomorrow came and you asked them what 12.30 looking like on an analogue clock, none of them would remember. The year before I quit work was the year I decided that wasn’t going to happen again. I splashed out on a £1 watch for every child in my class and hung them across the classroom with a tick sheet.
It not only reminded me to keep on top of it, it reminded the children. And I know full well that when the first few determined children had nagged me and their parents to help teach them to tell the time and earned their watches, that the other followed. Even the children who were finding it really tricky persevered until every child in my class could read an analogue clock. I know this wouldn’t have happened if the children weren’t nagging their parents to help them at home as well as learning at school. Because it’s really, really hard!
Show Them How To Hold A Conversation
If you’re not leaving the house all day then there’s no way you’re rushing around taking them to different activities and play dates. You don’t have to shove a sandwich down them and get them bathed and into bed. Spend time over dinner having actual conversations with them over genuinely interesting topics. Discuss things and encourage their input. Tell them about something happening in the world and seek their reactions. We all know kids say fascinating things, but listening and responding during actual conversations doesn’t just happen. They need to see it, hear it and have the chance to join in with it.
Get Them Eating Their Vegetables
I promise you this is possible. In 12 years of teaching I encountered many, many children that refused to eat vegetables, and there is only one who I couldn’t eventually persuade in one way or another. And that child will haunt me forever! Now that you have all the time in the world, make time to encourage your child to eat vegetables.
Portion a small amount off on the plate so they think you’re only making them eat a little, get tough with them and don’t let them leave the table until they’ve tried it, make sticker charts or fun games, or get creative and cook them in a different way (or even better, teach them to cook them!) There will be a way that works. Unless you have that one kid I couldn’t crack, and then I really do feel for you.
Take Them Outside (Or Bring The Outside In)
If you can take them out into the garden then you have a wealth of learning at your fingertips. If you can’t, then you can get creative!
Playing in the outdoors is such a wonderful, wonderful thing for children to do for so many reasons. You don’t really have to plan anything at all, just stand back and watch them learn. First, they will be forced to use their imagination. Some children may need a little help with this, as today’s child usually has so many different ‘things’ to entertain them. They’re going to make toys out of soil and sticks and leaves. They’re going to be using their imagination to the full, and with imagination comes the ability to write stories, to act, to communicate and to dream.
Tell them the fairies that live outside need a house to isolate in, or that the ants need a bridge so they don’t have to pass by the grumpy snail on their way to work. Take them on a bug hunt, or tell them you’ve found a dinosaur egg that needs protecting, or that you need to grow some veg now that the supermarkets are empty! (ok, maybe don’t scare them with that story!) But you get the idea! Then just stand back and let the magic of the outdoors do its thing – or join in like you know you want to!
They’ll gain problem solving skills and fine motor skills. They’ll use description or begin to understand adjectives ‘isn’t this stick slimy, I’ll use this rough stone as a fence’. They might count or measure, or sort or review and improve. They might take the role of leader and tell you what to do, or use the time to reflect inwards and find relaxation and calm.
If you can’t get into the great outdoors then bring the outdoors in. Find a container to fill with soil and some small sticks and stones and make a mini garden. Or plant herbs to grow on the window sill. You could use sand instead of soil and make a mini beach. Anything to find a little slice of the outside world.
Teach Them How To Use A Knife And Fork
It’s one of those essential skills that you rarely make time to teach a child. You just sort of hope they’ll pick it up through osmosis. Which to be fair, some sort of will. Others will be content to just shovel the food in until they’re eventually taught otherwise. You’ll be sharing lots of meals now, so spend a minute or two showing them how to hold and use a knife and fork properly!
If you want a little differentiation for the child that excels with their table manners, then get out the chopsticks and teach them to use them properly! I’m still not sure I’ve mastered that one!
Teach Them How To Tie Their Shoe Laces
If there is one thing you do in the next few months, let this be it.
Encourage Them To Be Helpful At Home
I’m sure this is something you’ve done by the bucket load, and it’s wonderful seeing kids become kind and thoughtful little people. It is so wonderful to watch children’s passion for giving to charity, their loveliness towards animals or the way they want to help their friends.
But I wonder how many of those same kids are kind and helpful when they’re at home. It’s so much harder to spend the time encouraging children to lay the table, or do the washing up. It’s so much easier to tidy a child’s bedroom yourself. My Mum always says this is where she failed my siblings and I. We’re terribly chaotic, leaving shoes and coats by the door and our empty mugs in the living room. She always says if only she’d put the time into making us tidy up after ourselves as kids, then we’d still be tidy now.
Teach Them About Money
You don’t need to teach them to add or take away money, they’ll learn that when they go back to school. But you could teach them to recognise the different coins and the amounts they signify. You could teach them the importance of money, or how to save for something they really want, or how it doesn’t grow on trees. You could teach them the worth of different things, like how much a holiday costs compared to their school uniform.
Set up a snack shop in your house and pay them for completing jobs they wouldn’t normally have to do. They can spend their 5p on something small straight away, or they can save it to buy the bigger treat they really want. That’s teaching them a lot of different things! It’s teaching them that snacks don’t just magically appear out of your handbag, that they have to be worked for and bought. It teaches them the rewards of hard work, and also the rewards of saving. It also teaches them that the things we really want often cost more money, so we have to work harder for them. Or something like that!
Share Your Hobbies Or Passions With Them
You might not know anything about teaching division, but I bet there are plenty of things you do know about. So rather than stress about the things you don’t know, why not spend some time teaching them about the things you do know!
If you love to bake then bake with your kids and they’ll learn all sorts of maths and science. If you enjoy listening to music then introduce your kids to all sorts of different kinds, so they learn rhythm and counting and poetry and rhyme. Teach them football and improve their co-ordination, motor skills and fitness. Teach them to sew or knit and they’ll be learning fine motor skills and creativity. Teach them art and they’ll explore shape, space and measure. Or get them gardening with you so they can learn biology first hand, and learn about protecting our environment.
I think we sometimes forget how much learning is involved in something that seems enjoyable and easy to us.
Hopefully that’s given you a few ideas of different ways you could be teaching your kids over the coming weeks, without necessarily having to teach them ‘school work’. It’s hard to mix up job roles, and if your children know you as Mum or Dad then make sure that’s still the case. Keeping your children safe and happy during these times of change and uncertainty is far more important than them knowing their numbers or how to use full stops and capitals. But if you can teach them to use full stops and capitals, then that would also be great!
And when all of this is over, and you hand your kid back into their class of 30, maybe say an extra big thank you to the teacher that’s trying their hardest to overcome all the battles you’ve just experienced!
If you’re looking for some teaching ideas then I’ve been having a go at making some online ‘lessons’. This project started out as a way to help my God daughter who is in reception, so it might be a little personalised, but the ideas are there. It still needs a lot of tweaking, as it’s a weird experience trying to teach a lesson with no interaction, so be forgiving! There are details about the worksheets used in the description, and you can adapt them for slightly older or younger children as you wish. Hope it helps!
Please share your great ideas for alternative learning below and share the ideas!