Tips for educating at home from Oxford HomeSchooling

Home educating is IN this season, albeit unexpectedly and so suddenly us mums and dads have had no time to prepare for taking on the role of teacher. With this in mind I approached Oxford Homeschooling, an organisation with a long history of helping home ed parents, what tips it had for parents and carers who suddenly find themselves giving lessons.

Greg Smith of Oxford Homeschooling explains the role of tech in homeschooling, the importance of routine and why distractions should be kept to a minimum.

Greg Smith, the company’s Head of Operations was kind enough to accept my challenge. In the following Q&A he explains why distractions should be kept to a minimum, why it’s important to make sure children get plenty of sleep and highlights some great resources that could be used in the months to come.

I am one of the many parents who is currently homeschooling because of the Covid-19 related school closures. I found Greg’s ideas to be very useful and I hope you will also.

A lot of people are having to balance homeschooling and the day job. What are your top three tips for achieving this?

  1. Make sure you find time to socialise. People often talk about socialisation for children but forget that the parent needs to find time to socialise without their children too (Editor’s note: Socialising is best done online in the present climate).
  2. You don’t have to do it alone. I have seen it work where both parents work part-time and divide up the homeschooling commitments.
  3. Homeschooling is a broad church, with a diverse and friendly community. If you’re considering homeschooling, you should get in touch with your local community, it will almost certainly have a Facebook page or website where you can talk to people already home educating in your area. If you’re struggling for time, a different home educator may be able to help you out every now and again. Or you can ask them for advice.

What role can tech play in homeschooling?

Technology is now a massive part of education both in schools and at home. Homeschoolers do not have to follow the National Curriculum so if any particular topic grabs the child’s attention, they can use the internet to find related resources.

Sites like BBC Bitesize and Geography Games are great for delivering educational content in a fun, engaging way.

It can also be used to keep in touch with the homeschooling community to share tips and advice.

If you’re temporarily homeschooling, then tools like Google Classroom can help you interact with your class and teacher from school.

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As you’ve mention those who are temporarily homeschooling, what resources should parents who are doing just that because of the Covid-19 school closures use over the next few months?

There are endless resources online for homeschooling, from educational sites like Science Journal for Kids and National Geographic Kids to more game-based websites like Fun Brain and Geography Games.

YouTube is another great resource. Check out channels like SciShow and Mike Likes Science for science content, Geography Focus for geography videos and Crash Course Kids for a variety of subjects.

It’s also important to keep active, so consider watching Joe Wicks’ new online PE class for kids on YouTube, which goes out at 9am every weekday.

If you would like some extra support, professional home education providers, such as Oxford Home Schooling, can guide you through the whole process. From supporting textbooks to a dedicated student advisor, it can help give parents that extra peace of mind.

Any tips on how parents can teach children subjects they may not be good at or have little knowledge of?

We recently found that just a third of parents feel confident helping their children with homework, so this is a natural concern to have. Most parents are not quite as skilled or knowledgeable as the teacher would be, in respect of specific topics, but this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Perhaps the parent will have to learn something for themselves in order to be able to convey it to their child and the freshness of the learning experience will feed into the child’s own enjoyment of the subject.

If you find that the content is too challenging or too far out of your comfort zone, either speak to a fellow home educator or consider consulting a professional provider, who will offer tutors as part of their package.

You have said some interesting things about distractions. Why is it so important to keep them to a minimum and what counts as a distraction?

While homeschooling involves less strict routines compared to traditional school environments, distractions can still be an issue. These are anything that prevent a child from focusing on the educational material and engaging with the subject matter.

It’s really hard to focus when the TV’s blaring, the radio’s on or there are lots of things going on in the place you’re working, so try and get rid of the distractions. Also, concentrating is easiest when you’re in a quiet, comfortable place, so play around with how you study: Sitting, standing or lying down. May inside or outside, with lots of light or without. Try and find a method that helps you concentrate.

Why are routines so important when homeschooling?

All our experience shows that a child has a better chance of success if a parent decides when and what they should be studying. At school, there would probably be relatively little choice. The typical school day might consist of seven 40 minute periods: Four in the morning and three in the afternoon. Some might be double periods.

Now, should you aim to duplicate this idea and give your child seven study periods in the day, one for Maths, one for English, and so on? Some parents do exactly that.

Some children are capable of studying for five study-hours a day but the majority are not. It is not easy to concentrate for long periods, whatever the learning environment. Kids do not concentrate on their studies for five hours a day at school. The average forty-minute lesson is filled with interruptions and irrelevancies and the real ‘work’ that is useful for the child might be condensed into ten minutes. The same is true at home. Even if you have assigned 40 minutes to Geography, do not be surprised if the useful work is done in just ten minutes and the rest is spent in (apparently) less productive activity.

Thus organisation is not simply a matter of time slots. It is a combination of timetabling and study objectives.

By setting routines, children will find it easier to stay focused, stay engaged and make progress.

Children may be excited and see the present situation with mass school closures as a long holiday. Surely it’s going to be better for them to keep up some sort of educational routine as it’ll help when they return to school?

For many, this will be a very unusual experience and it will shatter the routine of thousands of families. It will certainly be seen as a novelty and for some it will inevitably involve a less formal educational routine. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, as we find that a relaxed approach can sometimes prompt better engagement from the children.

But routine is still important in home education, and by somewhat replicating the school day, it may help children readjust back to normality when the current circumstances are over. Try and ensure that all of the subjects are touched upon in some way and that some learning takes place each day.

On a similar note, kids may be excited, but they need to sleep, yes?

It’s an accepted fact that if you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll find it harder to concentrate, learn and retain information. The trick is pretty simple: Get some sleep! Most people between the age of five and 11 need 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night, while 11 to 18-year-olds need 8 to 10 hours.

Should you try and teach all the subjects that feature on your child’s curriculum or stick to what you are familiar with?

It’s important to try and cover all of the subjects your child is used to learning about, but don’t worry too much about spending an equal amount of time on each.

You will naturally have greater knowledge in some areas than others and it’s fine to lean on these more heavily. However, your child may have interests in subjects you are less familiar with, and it would be a shame if they were unable to continue learning about these during this period. Avoiding these topics altogether could result in your child losing their passion.

As mentioned earlier, if you are unsure about any content, it can be quite refreshing to do some research yourself and learn something new, before passing on the information to your child.

Any advice on taking breaks while homeschooling?

A bit of experimentation should identify what works best for you. You might find 30-minute blasts followed by ten-minute breaks help keep your concentration up. Alternatively, you might prefer to work for longer periods at a stretch and then enjoy a longer break.

Boring as it might sound, giving your learning a predictable structure and routine does help to make sure you get everything done!

Whatever method you adopt, we feel that it is best to ensure that there are plenty of organised gaps in the study. There should be clear-cut breaks between lessons, just as there are at school. If a child works hard during the day, they should not be expected to study in the evenings as well. They should study for no more hours than they would do at school.

And one of the great advantages over school is that the timetable can be continuously negotiable. If the child really does not want to do French on Thursday and has a good reason for doing something else instead, the parent should be happy to make appropriate adjustments.

Finally, for many of us homeschooling is a temporary thing but what are the main benefits of a home education?

Compared to the mainstream school system, home schooling brings with it a wide range of benefits, including:

  • Learning at the correct pace – In schools, children are encouraged to study at a certain rate, however, this can mean they either fall behind their classmates and feel they are learning too slowly, or find their potential constrained, leading to boredom. Home schooling can eliminate these issues, given that a student’s progression is decided by themselves and their mentor.
  • A flexible curriculum – With home schooling, a student can create and study a curriculum they want to learn, enjoying more choice and drive.
  • Control over educational philosophies – Parents can ensure their children are taught in line with educational philosophies that are well-suited to their child’s learning style.
  • Improved family ties – Home schooling can strengthen the bond between parent and child, given the amount of time spent together.

Further information

You will find more information about Oxford Homeschooling on its website.

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