Even before the coronavirus upended our lives, more UK parents and caregivers were at least seriously considering educating their children at home, especially if their students have special educational needs.
Not only is the need for educational concessions the number one reason parents choose to homeschool in our country but that trend is reflected worldwide.
Parents of SEN students found long ago that the public education environment is not the best for their children to thrive and succeed. Now, the coronavirus pandemic is helping to prove that, not only is homeschooling feasible, it may actually be better for their kids.
Critics of home education point to the lack of social activities and the child being taught by an untrained, unqualified teacher. To that, we say: who is better qualified to teach a child than their caregiver?
Another frequent homeschool criticism: what materials and resources will those home teachers use to educate their children with? That's the topic of this Superprof article.
Why More Caregivers Are Turning to Home Schooling
In this article's introduction we said that, until this pandemic closed our schools, special educational needs was the number one reason more parents were turning to educate their children at home. That statement indicates that there must be more than one reason UK parents are considering - or switching to homeschooling.
There is a growing dissatisfaction with how children are taught in schools.
The grumblings are numerous and wide-ranging. Children are being taught only to pass exams; they're not given any real knowledge. Nor are they taught any skills - as evidenced by the growing alarm over the lack of critical thinking and problem-solving skills in the workforce.
To be perfectly fair, the Department for Education has its hands full. They have to administer to schools across the country, taking into account a diverse array of conundrums - how much maths should be taught? Should we provide also Mandarin teachers or would only Spanish teachers be enough of a choice for foreign language study?
The decisions go on: which curriculum will we teach from? What should we limit class sizes to? How about easing teacher qualifications to attract new talent and paying them more so they'll stay? Should we scrap the GCSEs in England now that the school-leaving age has been raised? How could we implement such a far-reaching, consequential change?
With all of these urgent questions and others whipping around the DfE, it's no wonder that those people in charge of establishing the rules for educating our children have no time to think about how our children are being educated.
Parents and caregivers have plenty of time to worry about how their children are being educated. In fact, such thoughts are often foremost in their minds whether they're working full-time or enjoy the relative privilege of being able to stay at home.
By invoking stay-at-home parents, we hope you don't get the idea that only they homeschool their kids. Plenty of parents with jobs to go to put in the time, effort and devotion to ensuring their kids receive an education that the whole family can be satisfied with.
Indeed, it takes devotion to embrace a practice that, until recently, many thought was the exclusive purview of trained and qualified teachers. It takes devotion to give up one's time - as a parent myself, I can attest to being giddy with relief at having a bit of time to myself once the kids are back in school.
One thing parents don't need for home education: teacher qualifications or certifications. Parents do not need to attend any classes, workshops or even seek out an authority - a social worker or teacher-mentor to guide their efforts.
They only need to know the laws underpinning the practice (and follow them, of course!). Laws such as whether homeschooled children are expected to sit standardized exams, who can administer them and when they should be taken. Regulations regarding everything from recordkeeping to what type of curriculum is considered acceptable.
If you are new to the idea of homeschooling, you may not know that you have several types are curriculum to choose from; we'll describe them in just a moment.
Despite taking it upon yourself to ensure your child is educated to your standards, you still have rules to follow. They are meant to ensure that, when your learner re-joins the mainstream - looks for work or applies for a place at university, s/he will be on par with peers who were educated in schools.
You don't have to be the be-all and end-all of home education, though. There are plenty of places for you to find the information you need to stay on top of such things.
Resources to Help Educate Your Children
Finding resources for home education might seem a daunting or costly prospect but, thanks to the Internet, there is much available online, with some of it accessible at no cost.
Keep in mind that you have a choice of curricula to teach your children with and, depending on which 'theme' you choose, you may find more help on some websites than on others. The different curricula include:
- traditional curriculum - rather like the National Curriculum, taught at home
- religious curriculum: includes scriptural references; available for Christian and Muslim faiths
- project-based curriculum: more 'doing' than following a textbook and completing worksheets
- Charlotte Mason curriculum inspires a wholehearted embrace of learning, not rote memorization of information
- worldschooling curriculum: for families who are always on the go
- autonomous curriculum, known as the 'un-school' method of learning
Each of these curricula has been approved for use by homeschools through the Department for Education. All of them include the information any student would need to succeed on their GCSE exams, enrol in college and, later, follow a university course of study if s/he so chooses to.
Keeping that in mind, let's look at non-curricular resources available to you.
The following are a few that might help home-educating families, particularly those with young children who are embarking on their first forays into homeschooling.
A good place to start your search for homeschool resources is the BBC Learning website. There, you can search either specific subjects or by year - meaning what level of education your child is at.
Don't limit your exploration to only the homepage; take a look at the ‘Basic Skills’ and ‘Bitesize’ tabs. You'll surely find plenty of activities to engage your student in. Even though some are aimed at adults, they’re just as useful for younger learners.
One advantage of home education is that you/your child are not restricted by either age or grade level.
Homeschoolers can pursue the knowledge that interests them, suits them best and that they enjoy the most, at any time and at whichever level they can competently navigate. That's why BBC Learning provides other links to games and activities that build skills.
The ‘Parents’ tab is also worth exploring for information on helping you help your child learn.
Channel 4 Learning is similar to that fantastic resource. It contains a wealth of activities and video clips that kids will enjoy. You can find those under the ‘Interactive Resources’ tab.
Interactive Games and Programmes
No need to worry whether these enjoyable interactive games are not ‘proper’ learning from the traditional school approach. They’re just as effective - if not more so, because the more children enjoy their learning, the more they retain and engage with it.
And the more likely it will be that they will want to continue learning. If your kids are a bit older, watching documentaries or dramas on TV, natural history programmes or historical films is a great teaching resource. Such materials provoke thought and discussion; they also encourage further research round the Net.
Some sites also lead you onto other websites children can explore and learn from like this one for science or Google Earth.
Whereas we once did all our learning by studying books and writing things down, today's more web-based, interactive and independent approach is just as effective, so let the children explore – it is research, after all.
It might be clear, by now, that you don't have to act like a traditional school teacher to teach your children at home. You have much more leeway in how you conduct your lessons and how you assign homework - both in how that work should be done and how it's presented.
Worksheets or ‘lessons’ are not the only ways to explore and learn. Youngsters these days go straight to YouTube whenever they want to find out how to do something. This is just as valuable an approach to learning as any other.
For example, a quick search for ‘long division’ brought up several short video clips demonstrating how to divide large numbers. Pretty much any tutorial can be found on YouTube and whatever else you need to know, you can search for via your favourite search engine.
Self-teaching can serve one's learning needs as well as being taught; maybe even better. Indeed, many education experts maintain that autonomous learning - students taking the initiative to seek information and learn what they found is the future of education.
Social Media Groups
Another convenient way to find resources and support for homeschooling is to join any of the many Facebook and Yahoo groups.
There, homeschooling parents share and discuss the resources they use, where they found printable worksheets and exercises, which were most valuable among the freebies and the ones that they bought. Social media groups may provide useful insight into a particular resource you might be considering investing in before you commit to the outlay.
Another good reason to join such groups is for social and extracurricular activities.
Social isolation is a common criticism of homeschooling. Many supporters of the traditional education models contend that school is where kids learn social skills. That may have been mostly true in the past but, back then as in these days, they also learn/ed anti-social skills - bullying, unhealthy competition and a host of other social ills.
Joining like-minded families and sharing similar experiences does not put you or your child in a bubble, outside of the mainstream. Rather, it allows children to develop in a comparatively safer environment that nevertheless permits them to learn how to function in society.
Not all homeschool resources are meant for the kids or for educational purposes. You're taking on a significant challenge and you might need help and guidance, too.
Many homeschooling families are extremely generous in sharing their homeschooling experiences. They write blogs and/or record vlogs, both of which may be one of the most valuable homeschool resources of all.
On these, contributors may list their curriculum selections or extracurricular activities, experiments they conducted with step by step explanations, or craft ideas. You may find one homeschooling blogger who writes book and resource reviews, and others who describe their outings and field trips.
Most every homeschooling caregiver talks about how they set up their teaching area, tackled specific concerns related to learning, which subjects they've elected to teach this semester and which exams they've administered. You can find out what they’re reading, if they’re using schemes of work and how they go about planning and guiding their children’s learning.
These blogs contain a treasure trove of information and support, ideas and reassurance. Here are a couple to start with; Adventures in homeschooling and And Ordinary Life. There are many more equally good ones out there.
Tutors: the Top Resource in Home Education
You might think: "What do I need a tutor for?" as you're staying home or otherwise managing to fit conducting your children's education into your busy schedule. After all, we've already said you don't need any special certifications or qualifications to teach your children at home so, again: why bring a tutor into the mix?
One way that (especially older) students benefit from public education is through exposure to a variety of knowledgeable people and teaching methods.
If your children are in their earliest years of formal education, different pedagogies may not be important. In fact, your kids may find comfort in not having to work with anyone but you. However, as time goes on, your children will need to experience what it's like being taught by people other than you, your partner or their grandparents.
You may, for instance, team up with another homeschooling family to swap classes every so often. You may also consider having one parent-set teach Humanities subjects - Geography, English and Art while the other set focuses on STEM subjects like Maths, Information Technology or the sciences.
If you have no other team to trade lessons with - and even if you do, know that a private tutor will bring a fresh perspective and new attitude into the mix.
Any tutor you hire will likely have a bit of experience working with children of many different temperaments and levels of intellectual curiosity. S/he will be able to recognise whether your child is a visual learner, an auditory or a kinaesthetic one and plan their sessions accordingly. All of this is said with no disrespect to your experiences with teaching or how well you know your child.
If you've homeschooled your kids since Day 1, you may not recognise that they have a learning disability that may impact their future career or forays into university study. A tutor will likely know the signs of any learning disability and be able to advise you on how to modify your teaching to minimise its impact. They may also counsel you on how to document your child's condition for future protections in the workforce or in higher education.
Should you worry about hiring a tutor during lockdown, consider that tutors also give lessons online.
As noble a goal and as selfless as you are in devoting so much time, energy and resources to ensuring your children are educated to your satisfaction, you're still human. You need time to yourself to maintain your balance and keep your focus sharp, to stay enthusiastic about this endeavour you've embarked on and see it through with as much dedication as you started with.
Engaging a private tutor can give you a few precious hours to yourself each week. You may not want to leave your house if, during lockdown, your child takes lessons online but, at least, you won't be constantly engaged in a decidedly monumental task all the time. Being a parent is already a full-time job; being a teacher on top of that could make the demands on your time excessive.
Go ahead: take an hour or more off from teaching each week. Let your tutor take over; read a book, have a cuppa and just relax!
Do you know of any resources we've overlooked? Perhaps you could add your favourites below, in the comments section.