What a strange time we find ourselves in. We have been in isolation for a few days now as both of my daughters came down with a cough and a fever. They are fine and well now, but rules are rules, and we are staying at home for the moment!
As I used to be a primary school teacher and head of a pre-prep department, my first thought was 'how hard can this be?' Friends.... it is HARD! Homeschooling a 5 year old who happens to be autistic, alongside entertaining her opinionated 2 year old sister, when you can't distract them with a walk, or the shops or even (and I'm really scraping the barrel here) soft play, needs more planning than I first anticipated.
You are probably reading this because you have started your own homeschool journey or are about to. I'm writing this about 3 hours before the education secretary is due to make an announcement that may well mean we're all without school for a couple of months, so I thought I'd share what I've learned so far.
I'm telling you now, the first day of trying to be parent, teacher and playmate is going to end with you drinking some wine. Ok, a few wines. We've all managed fine in the summer holidays, when we have planned activities and we are off work, but this is different - we're all a little stressed, we are trying to work from home, and the children are not really sure why their lives have lost all routine. And that is the key word. The first thing I learned: get a routine and stick to it as much as you can. Kids LOVE a routine, and frankly so do adults. Especially between the hours of 3 o' clock and bedtime...!
We started with a loose list of ideas, and use that as a base each day. Things get moved around and taken out or added in, but essentially we will try to do all of these every day. There will be days when the girls have a Paw Patrol marathon, don't get me wrong! But if they know what to expect and I know what to expect, we're less likely to end up with someone sitting on the naughty step (and by someone I mean me, because they might not find me there). I guess my point is, contrary to the first sentence of this section, we are not teachers and playmates - we are parents, and that should be our priority - and a routine can help with that.
2. Twinkl is your friend
Every teacher knows Twinkl. It is a huge online resource bank of lesson activities and plans. Ignore the plans. You'll be swept into a minefield of good intentions. But do print lots and lots and lots of activities. There are lots of things that children can get on with by themselves - even my 2 year old spent a good 15 minutes on an 'I Spy' activity. They have put together a pack for each year group and this link will tell you how to get a free month's worth of unlimited downloads.
If I can give any advice though, it is don't overdo it all at once. Limit the activities you hand out otherwise they will either be overwhelmed and not want to engage, or they'll do lots of it and you'll be kicking yourself in a month's time. I promise you that, at school, kids don't sit at a desk from 9-3.30 completing worksheets. An hour a day is fine! (reminder: parent not teacher). You're going to have to mix it up a bit, which brings me to...
3. Live a life
This time is a really good opportunity to put into place all the things you always meant to, after that time you read Little Women and decided your children would lead an idyllic, peaceful and helpful life, rather than biting each other and dropping orange peel on the floor. I mean, it probably won't last forever, but hilariously the novelty of cleaning the house is still 'fun' for my kids. Ok, they generally just spray the windows and give a cursory wipe before remembering that their true goal is to mess up a different room, but its a start.
Cooking is another good one. You're making dinner anyway, so giving a task like chopping, weighing or grating stops them getting into any other mischief for a few seconds. Plus its maths! And science! Go you!
Sing songs, do silly dances, cuddle, read books, watch aaaalll the films and obviously take photos. We'll look back on this as a defining time in our lives and I urge you to document it.
Get them outside. In the garden or out for walks whilst you can. The National Trust have got rid of fees for parking and for their open spaces during this time, and you can find your nearest here. Even in the garden, giving them a scavenger hunt (or printing the one on Twinkl) should entertain them for long enough for you to do that conference call or write that paper. We are not likely to turn into amazing instagram parents, but we can try to live a simpler, calmer, life with lots of play and fun - those things are key to learning.
4. Learn a new skill
I talked above about the importance of documenting this time in history. But perhaps you'd just like to learn a new skill just for you? I have put together a free guide with hints and tips about how to take beautiful photographs of your children. If you would like a copy, click here to download. Creativity and photography is one of the things that keeps me sane - perhaps it can help you, too.