Over the next few weeks, and very possibly months, we will have to get used to a new way of living. So how do we adjust to a Church without public Masses? How can we help the most vulnerable? And might there be opportunities to live better lives than we did before? This week, six writers offer their suggestions for thriving in a lockdown. Here, Roy Peachey writes on homeschooling.
Starting may be the trickiest part of all. After the initial surprise of finding that they don’t need to go to school, children may well miss the framework that it provided. So creating a new and consistent structure to the day is a good way of beginning this new educational adventure. But don’t overdo it. Make sure your timetable has plenty of gaps in it, because you will undoubtedly need to adapt as the weeks go by.
Having a clear structure is important, but don’t try to recreate school in your home. It won’t work and you won’t be able to sustain it. It is certainly true that children need a place to work that is free from electronic and other distractions, but you don’t need to create a classroom in your house. As Neil Postman once wisely observed, “It is not written in any holy book … that an education must occur in a small room with chairs in it.”
Take the opportunity instead to break free from industrial time and give your children the space they need to enjoy learning for its own sake. Give time to those activities that need time – reading books and learning languages, for example – and don’t worry about racing through any curriculum.
When we started home educating, we assumed that our children would never learn anything unless we explicitly taught it. We now know the joy of learning with our children. We teach them and they often teach us. More wonderfully, we spend a lot of time learning together. Lifelong learning isn’t just a slogan: it’s the home educator’s reality, and at the heart of this shared learning is conversation. Never underestimate the value of simply talking together.
Of course, it is also true that you need time to get on with your own work, so make use of the many courses and educational programmes that are being offered on and offline from providers like the Kolbe Academy and Catholic Schoolhouse. But be very careful. Letting your children loose on the computer is potentially a recipe for disaster. Computer games, social media and YouTube videos can draw your children away from both you and their work quicker than they have been so unexpectedly returned to you. Though you’ll be glad to know that there are some providers who want to support Catholic families: have a look at Formed from the Augustine Institute, for example.
Connecting online can never be an adequate substitute for real human contact, but extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. We need to work hard to come together, even if by unusual means. I have just set up a virtual book group, for example, while others are using Zoom or other video conferencing tools to share lessons. Seasoned home educators, like the creator of Catholic Curriculum on a Shoestring, also have great advice on their websites. Using such technology may become the norm for the time being, but we need to set out our expectations very clearly to prevent it from becoming a rival parent whose demands our children more willingly obey.
Better by far are activities that involve physical stuff. More than ever we need to embrace the real. Making and mending. Painting and drawing. Gardening and growing. As I write this, my children are building a den in the garden and I wouldn’t be doing my job as a teacher or a parent if I called them in for a maths lesson. Not all learning takes place behind a desk or in front of a screen.
We are all having to adjust to the new situation that has been thrust upon us but, as home educators across the world can testify, educating your children at home is not a burden to be endured but a privilege to be enjoyed. So seize the day: after a few months you may wonder why you hadn’t taken the plunge into home education before.
Roy Peachey is a teacher, home educator and author of several books