By any measure, this has been the most difficult year in recent memory, not just for people who might ordinarily struggle - such as those with disabilities or financial challenges, but for everyone. Rich, poor, employed or not; housed, homeless or in transit from one place to the next, the coronavirus threatens us all.
Among our most vulnerable were/are students. Considering the lethal transmissibility of this virus, keeping schools closed for the bulk of the year was the only way to eliminate the possibility of education centres becoming hotbeds of infection. Neither schools nor parents were prepared for the shift to online learning.
To add to the challenge, planning the family holiday celebrations were made more difficult by the kids being home all the time when, typically, kids are in school and parents can shop for gifts and hide them before curious eyes come home.
That sounds like a petty complaint, to be sure. But, in a year when everything went topsy-turvy, our rituals provide us with the best way to remain anchored to sanity. Or, at least, maintain some semblance of it.
You might wonder why your Superprof broaches this topic now, with the holidays recently past. That's a valid question; let us answer it.
Against all odds, medical technology has hurtled through every obstacle to create a vaccine to end this infernal COVID nightmare. As though consciously spiting our best efforts to overcome it, shortly after the vaccine was heralded, scientists discovered a new, more virulent strain of this virus that seems to impact children more severely.
It's no wonder that schools in London have been ordered to stay closed; things are not much different around the country.
Mum, Dads, caregivers of all types, we have to face it: our kids may be home for the long haul. That means we have to prepare them to spend school breaks, Easter, birthdays... every day at home. We have to help them stay enthused with life and keen to learn new things even though their schools are closed and their friends are nowhere near.
Far beyond keeping kids curious about Christmas, your Superprof now gives you ideas for keeping your kids engaged all year 'round.
Laying out Bare Facts
Even with no coronavirus stalking humanity, naturally curious youngsters make it extremely difficult to plan holiday events, sneak gifts into the house and keep all of those secrets from the children at Christmas. Educating kids at home - what is known as home-schooling makes it even more difficult.
This year, there was rarely an occasion when kids were out of the house, whether you homeschooled or not.
Indeed, COVID has driven more parents to explore home school options; so much so that a government webpage was set up for parents to consult and discover all of the legalities and requirements of doing so. Surely, that's a big help but it still leaves you with the initial dilemma: where can you find time away from your kids to plan and prepare 'surprises' to keep them enthralled?
Maybe forced enthrallment isn't the answer. More specifically - and less harshly, maybe a child's motivation and compliance shouldn't be driven by caregivers. You can foster a sense of security and responsibility within your family that would inevitably lead to children being more self-sufficient - both to occupy/entertain themselves and maintaining focus on their home lessons.
If your kids are happy to keep themselves occupied, you will have time to cook up ways to surprise and delight them.
How to Keep Kids On-Task in a Virtual Learning Set-up
Besides the COVID-driven health worries we all share, students' mental and emotional well-being is the growing concern.
Naturally, they are not the only ones dealing with anxiety over the future, missing their friends and their normal life and social activities; we are, too. However, as adults, it's a bit easier for us to deal with our fears. Our kids aren't quite so resilient and the younger they are, the more they will pick up on the unsettling atmosphere we must now live in. To make things worse, they may not yet have the intellectual skills to express their feelings, which means we parents must work doubly hard to ensure that they feel secure.
If your kids are older - around the age when they can engage in idle musings, we have to emphasise that there is a point to their continuing with their lessons. If your teenager exclaims "what's the point?" out of frustration, you have to make it clear that they are the point. No matter what happens with this current - or any other situation, we will come out of this and, if we work hard, be better on the other side of it.
Whether it's December and Christmas is right around the corner or your student has a birthday coming up, you can help him/her stay focused on lessons with a bit of bargaining. "After you're done with lessons, we'll decorate the tree" or "Just get through your maths class and then I'll order pizza" are two easy ways to give your student something to look forward to in the short term.
You could also appeal to their sense of fair play. "I want to surprise you for your birthday (or Christmas or Easter or just for a good showing in school) so I'm going shopping without you. When I get back, we'll (insert name of activity here)".
Note that, if you're doing all of your gift shopping online, this would be a fantastic time to teach your kids about respecting others' privacy. Going through your online accounts and/or racing you to the door to accept a package delivery should be definite no-nos.
One parent who homeschools, who generally allows her 11-year-old daughter to open any parcels they receive, bans her from intercepting packages throughout December. Would you think it strange if we told you that that child complies without complaint?
Families who regularly homeschool have an advantage over the rest of us who were thrown into homeschooling because of COVID. Still, building family trust and instilling a sense of personal security is vital to a child's success whether s/he is home schooled or not.
One Parent's Experiences with HomeSchooling
We felt that an inquiring mind was the foundation of an educated mind; an essential prerequisite to learning which sparks motivation, discovery, self-improvement and sustains the desire to learn.
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious” said Albert Einstein. We fiercely encouraged questioning and inquiring minds, even if it did present challenges.
Most children start out in life with inquiring minds. This sense of enquiry is how they begin to learn about the world around them. From their first experiments to do so – usually by putting everything in their little baby mouths – to their hunger to find out how things work - often by experimenting, misusing and eventually breaking the things they get their hands on, kids are on a path of discovery. We have to be patient with their explorations – it’s just them learning.
Developing language skills gives them another tool to continue these explorations, often through the use of the ‘Why’ question.
Every parent experiences endless ‘Why?’s. They can sometimes feel quite wearying, until we think about why kids do it. It shows a child’s developing interest in his world and a desire to know, to learn, to extend their intelligence and understanding of their world. It is a valuable opportunity for parents, minders and teachers to maintain that desire.
However, as much as they may want to, with rigid targets and curriculum to fulfil, teachers rarely have the luxury of time for lengthy, in-depth discussions in during class. A prescriptive schooling regime seldom allows for keeping children curious and questioning.
This was a huge advantage with home education. Those lengthy and in-depth discussions as a result of their curiosity are invaluable in developing the mental aptitude and intelligence young people are so often accused of lacking, most particularly an alert and inquiring mind.
For instance, during the recent festive time, we talked about everything to do with Christmas. Baby Jesus and the church's perspective on this holiday, what this season is actually a celebration of and even how different cultures prefer different decorations. You should have seen our son's face when we told him that Ukrainians decorate their Christmas trees with spiders!
Young people with alert and inquiring minds, whose questions haven’t been dismissed, who are encouraged to be curious, to observe and question, explore, experiment and find out, are also more likely to have developed greater language and conversational skills. They tend to exhibit more awareness and respect (also a form of intelligence), initiative and confidence (essential for growing independence) and an ongoing desire to know more about everything.
Should this journey of discovery continue uninterrupted, as one skill builds on the other and your child's competencies grow, you will witness a snowball effect. Your child will accumulate a vast storehouse of knowledge, itself surrounded by a mantle of self-esteem.
Listening to and responding to their enquiries, their curiosity and their ‘Why’ questions extend this effect. It helps develop intelligent thinking - otherwise known as critical thinking, another vital aspect of what it is to be educated. We have to take any opportunity we can to do so.
Although I admit that, at Christmas, we had to be quite ingenious with our answers to keep those surprises!
What You Can Do to Spice Up Lessons at Home
Before getting into how you can make school lessons exciting, let us acknowledge this reality: as the wearer of many hats, you have your work cut out of you. Add any holiday or celebration into that mix and you might find your stress levels peaking. So, the first step in making lessons exciting for your learners is taking into account all that is on your shoulders and being kind to yourself.
Your child will reflect your attitude. If you are positive and enthusiastic, there's a good chance s/he will be, too... unless s/he just naturally has a surly disposition, in which case you might look for any underlying causes and deal with them before you begin your homeschool undertaking.
Once those two main factors are in check and dealt with, the sky's the limit! You might try:
- chemistry classes in the kitchen by baking gingerbread biscuits or other seasonal goodies
- you can also give maths lessons in the kitchen by weighing out ingredients, slicing fruit and so on.
- physics in the bathroom (creating water tornadoes or smashing water balloons into the tub)
- you could also play with cars, balls or marbles
- watching documentaries together to explore historical events
- host a family writing contest
- engage in 'round robin' reading - group reading out loud
- ask your church to give religious studies lessons online
- use any fitness equipment you have at home (order some if you don't have any) for PE lessons and daily workouts
- fold origami or make papier mache art
We could go on and on; the list of ways you can educate your kids at home is limited only by your imagination.
Many parents worry about their perceived lack of teaching skills when thinking about homeschooling their kids. If you too worry about that, rest assured: you do not have to have any special training to teach your kids. In fact, you've been doing it for all of their lives. You only need an established curriculum that is approved by the Department for Education. Those books come with an instructor guide that will tell you everything you need to know for every subject you will teach.
If the idea of taking this task on seems too immense - or you need to sneak away from some Christmas or other special occasion shopping, consider hiring a tutor.
Private tutors are another way you can keep your lessons fresh and exciting. You might not want tutelage for your child the entire school year but, if there's a subject you believe would be better taught by someone with more experience, a private tutor might be just the ticket.
Whether you normally teach your children yourself or are forced to by our current circumstances, Superprof has tutors to suit all budgets and needs, experienced in teaching a variety of subjects. So, before things get desperate and you feel you'll go mad without any help keeping lessons fresh, just remember that your Superprof is only a few mouse clicks away.
And we give lessons over Christmas, too!