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 The perils and pitfalls of teaching children from home

Some friends of mine were recently discussing the perils and pitfalls of teaching their children from home, whilst working and staying safe. Each had a different perspective and tale to tell, but the bottom line was the same – they were having to squeeze teaching children new concepts, whilst doing other things.  In short they were doing in a small amount of time something that a traditional teacher would do over a whole lesson. 

Now my children are a little older, and although one is still studying, I have not had to help her with ANY lessons since primary school, my other child had to be bribed to do his GCSE’s (with limited success) and has famously espoused any type of learning since! But one thing which is true about myself and both of my children (and everyone else’s that I have met), is that given the incentive and time, anyone can learn anything they want.

With the Lockdowns and stay at home orders of the last year, the one thing that we were (mostly) all given was time to stop and think and this has led to lots of life changing decisions, not only amongst the famously entrepreneurial of us, but also our children too.

 How it is working in reality

A good example is my friend, who is a single working mum with four children, three of school age and she has had to carry on working in lockdown, whilst making sure her children carry on studying at home.

Previously we would laugh about how different they all were, the eldest now doing A’Levels and looking to go to University, the second in the middle of Mocks, used to ‘wing it’ at school and is the funny but not overly bright one! And the youngest who is enjoying primary school, but who would find any reason to get out of work.  My friend used to spend most of her morning cajoling, reminding, shouting at them to get out of bed, get ready and in school on time.

I must say to my friends credit, despite having to work odd hours and run a household single handed, she always got her children to school on time and made sure they had everything they needed. She is not alone, millions of single parent households have been doing this whilst at the same time constantly worrying that they aren’t doing enough or that their children are missing out.

Anyway, since lockdown, my friend has seen a bit of a change in her children, the eldest always had been determined, and now that the Universities have adapted their requirement grades due to lockdown, they are deciding on which to take, but without a live visit or the traditional open day.

The youngest, seeing how the others are doing is following suit and likes the on-screen interactions, and the fact that at least here they can see their school friends, but the biggest change is in the middle child. Far from using the home schooling as an excuse to do as little as possible, they are actually taking it more seriously – hiding away in their own space to do the work and concentrate. 

This is where I think the new type of remote home schooling is helping. Without being in a room full of other children, the easily distracted, myself included can spend time pondering the questions raised and figure out answers for themselves without worrying who has put their hands up first, and if you  look like a ‘swot’ in front of your classmates.

 Different ways of teaching

I am reminded of a particularly difficult maths lessons I had, I was about 11, and my class was learning about quadratic equations, and I could not get it, everyone else seemed to understand and when the teacher asked me, I just got it wrong! It wasn’t helped by him being ‘bullish’ and telling me it was simple and if everyone else got it, why couldn’t I? I didn’t know, it just didn’t make sense.

Anyway, I went home and was trying to do my homework and my big brother came over and (Unusually) asked me if he could help.

The next hour was spent with him patiently leading me down the equation path, dropping bread crumbs of hints, but letting me find the answers myself! It was a revelation! (rather like learning to read –  I did that for myself too) and I learnt two valuable lessons, first was that maths can be fun when you do it right, more importantly, that in order to answer the difficult questions, I just needed the right teacher and time to work it out.

These days most schools measure everyone by the same parameters, you should be reading to this level by age 6 and able to do maths at this level by age 10, resulting in exams at 16 and 18 which dictate the start of your adult life.  Maybe after Lockdown has eased, and the children do start going back to school again, their teachers may find some differences in their results, simply because they too have found their own way of learning and have been given the time to work things out for themselves, simply because their home teachers (their working parents!) have given them the time to do so out of necessity? 

One friend of mine who is teaching through remote learning has found that some children have been turning in much better results since learning from home, the suspicion being that maybe their parents have been ‘assisting’ with their work a little too much! I am not so sure, this maybe the case, but as with my friend’s children, she has NO time to do their work for them, and  therefore their results, however good or bad are definitely their own.

 When the real learning begins!

Personally I did not start learning properly until after school, I have attended four colleges, and learnt a great deal, but only because I was interested in the subject at that time. Also I have some dear friends who moved their family down to the South coast so that they could send their son to an alternative school which shapes learning to the child, not the other way around.

As for my second child, the one who literally ran away from school as soon as they could, well they are also what you call outside of the main stream! I used to be amazed at how they would ‘phone it in’ at school, doing as little as possible, but yet when they found an interest in something, they would investigate it all the way through. They wouldn’t just like a football team, they would know their history, their statistics for the last 30 years or so and know about all the players. When learning the drums, they didn’t just practice everyday straight after school, but knows about all the great drummers, be able to discuss them and their histories. On paper they are (like so many!) written off as not well educated and unable to apply themself – the reality could not be more different.

However each of us has found education in the past, maybe one good thing from this worldwide pandemic, has been that we have all had to stop and think about what we want going forward, and hopefully the same can be said of our children (whatever their ages) that it has meant thinking about what they want from their schooling and being able to direct their lessons to achieve their dreams in the future –  even if it means just practicing the drums until you find the right band to join.

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