Last year on the 1st of May 2020, we prayerfully decided to embark on the wild and wonderful adventure of home educating our 3 kids. Our decision was made relatively easier by the fact that we were in lockdown because of COVID-19 here in the United Kingdom. This meant that schools were closed and so our school-going children had to be home-educated with lessons that their teachers were providing on a weekly basis. We quickly realised however, that home schooling was not only enjoyable, but preferable for a host of reasons.
So here we are, a whole year since we made that decision. Granted, these have been unusual times. Even seasoned homeschool mums have told me that home educating during the pandemic is vastly different to what it’s like when life is normal: when we can meet at homeschool co-ops, at extra-curricular activities, each other’s homes and go on trips to museums. Nevertheless, I am glad to get a ‘soft’ start to home education and in a way, I’m grateful that the pandemic has provided that for us.
I thought it might be useful to write a Lessons Learnt of some of our highlights and takeaways this past year:
1) Relishing the time spent together
Having kids at home all the time is enjoyable and I am so grateful to get the best hours of their day. It’s not like when they were going to school, when I only saw them in the morning (looking all groggy and half-asleep and I was on a mission to get them quickly dressed, fed with porridge and out the door for the school run) or in the afternoon, when they were knackered and often frustrated after a long day of sitting still.
I’m with them the whole day, literally every waking moment. This means not only do I get to witness all the tantrums and sibling fights, I also get to enjoy spending time with them and collecting memories that will last forever.
I will say though, that it has also been a challenge at times, which is why we instituted Quiet Time to be able to get a much-needed break during the day.
2) Seeing my children develop and progress. This is a big one so I have divided it into many subheadings:
Their confidence and mine
I taught my four-year-old to read! This has been an achievement for me as much as it has been for her! We used a popular book called ‘Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons’. We certainly had a couple of challenging lessons and days, but she persevered. The reading rules clicked and made sense to her. She now loves reading and I have seen her confidence grow as she tackles another book on her own.
Seeing progress and making connections
It has been a delight to see my boys progress in their understanding of Maths concepts and Grammar principles. We are currently using Saxon Maths 1 and 2 with the boys and I love the curriculum’s repetition and mastery philosophy of teaching. We use First Language Lessons and Writing with ease for Grammar. My boys were quite reluctant to do written narration at first, and narration time was often met with rolling eyes because honestly, it is quite hard. But I have seen how persevering and constant encouragement has helped them to improve in their written narration abilities.
I have often thought about how I have missed certain ‘first times’ from my children because of them being at school. For example, the first time they were able to phonetically sound out a word or their joy when a maths concept made sense in their head.
With homeschooling though, I have had the privilege of experiencing those moments when a piece of information ‘clicks’ or when they make connections in real life. For example, Timothy being excited about knowing what are odd and even numbers and wanting to teach his sister the same using manipulatives, Thomas finding ‘Gutenberg printing press’ in an encyclopedia and saying ‘Mummy look! It’s just like in the timeline’ or travelling in a car and the kids being excited that the area name on a road sign is a county in Southern England that we’ve recently memorised. Timothy saw a packet of biscuits the other day called ‘Bel Vita’ and he went on to remind me that ‘vita’ means life in Latin as we are presently memorising John 1:1-7 in Latin.
The kids also like to base their imaginative play on subjects we have been reading or watching on tv, for instance the other day, they were pretending to baptise each other in the bathtub after reading about John the Baptist!
Finding their natural talents and interests
Home educating has also made me better understand what their interests are. For example, Timothy loves fine motor and arts and crafts activities and has recently been asking me to teach him how to sew. Both boys have taken to stapling A4 papers together and making them into little booklets. They then write stories and poems in them or make them into user manuals. I have seen their interest in cooking grow, from just wanting to merely watch me cook to getting involved and measuring and reading out recipes. Over the course of this past year, I have noted their natural abilities and interests and have thought about ways that I can enrich their environment so that I can encourage them.
Joy of learning with them
This is a new one for me! On days that we are learning Classical Conversations, I find that I go to sleep singing ‘The Monarchs of the UK’ and wake up to the song of ‘the area of a rectangle’. I’m re-learning all that Maths I had forgotten (anyone still remembers what the circumference of a circle is?) We are only in Saxon 2 and I’m nervous about what is ahead of me when I realise that I’ve forgotten even these junior concepts!. Even reading the children’s Bible and engaging in discussions with them has opened my mind to better understand the Bible narrative in a way I didn’t before.
Lots of reading!
I am utterly convinced about the importance of reading aloud and just reading in general. I try and squeeze in some daily reading time even if it’s only for a few minutes. Thomas is on chapter books now and the younger two are reading their book collections (Oxford Reading Tree, Ladybird, Julia Donaldson, Frog and Toad, etc). I try to not feel guilty about not reading enough. When you add the reading that takes place in other subjects throughout the day (for e.g. Bible, Grammar narration) it actually all adds up! Sometimes on days when I am tired, I do their reading at the end of the day upstairs in my bed. We all cosy up with blankets and do our reading together. This is a special time for the kids and they absolutely love it. It also helps me when I am having an exceptionally tiring day and just need a break!
This past year, we also spent a lot of time on nature walks to local reserves and parks. Taking studying outside has given them a new appreciation for nature and God. I plan to write another post about nature walks and our experience of Classical Conversations after one year, so stay tuned.
3) Structure and Flexibility
We have not felt the pressure in the mornings to be up and out a certain time, to make lunchboxes, be involved in numerous school events (that I sometimes had no interest in), or even the pressure to attend certain school activities. At home, we still very much work on an established routine and schedule but, we have had the flexibility to work our routine around events and appointments that were important to us as a family.
The routine and structure we have to our day/week has been immensely beneficial for us to navigate our day and also with ensuring that everyone knows what is to be expected. Structure and routine come naturally to me, so my big takeaway in this area is learning how to be more flexible: for e.g. being able to forgo a day’s schoolwork and spontaneously decide to have a day in a park if the weather is glorious or being ok with a change of routine or no routine (gasp!) if circumstances require it…The Lord is still working in me for that!
4) Developing friendships
Social interaction (the lack of) has come up as one of the issues that usually affects home schoolers. I think this was a genuine concern for most parents during the pandemic regardless of whether they homeschooled or not. My kids are blessed to be close in age, so they are each other’s companion and love to play together. However, there have been times when the kids have felt the strain of not having other children to socialise with.
When extra-curricular activities re-started, I have seen my kid’s excitement at the prospect of meeting friends again. Also, I think it has been especially valuable for them to connect with other homeschooled children.
5) My house furniture
My house resembles a mini schoolhouse. My once gorgeous beige carpet is crayon and food stained: after numerous crayon-resist art afternoons and my attempts to remove the stains with Vanish, WD-40 and nail polish remover, I’ve given up trying. There is literally no more space on my living room walls to plaster another visual aid or chart. And because of this lack of wall space, we attached a whiteboard onto one of our bookshelves. This whiteboard contains weekly CC grammar. A lampshade helps us to remember the list of UK Prime Ministers from inception to now!
All our home schooling takes places in our living room, so our dining table doubles up as a place where we eat and study, and I am forever trying to keep the mess under control (and failing). Since I need more space for teaching, I plan to buy a stand-up flipchart/whiteboard that I can hide behind a sofa in the future.
We bought an additional bookshelf that acts as our homeschool bookshelf. It is stacked with art supplies, a globe, maths manipulatives, history books (gems that we found in Charity shops) and book collections that I have slowly started accumulating.
I would love to have a separate homeschool room, but we made do with what we had…and made it a fun challenge to be creative!
6) And finally…
I feel incredibly blessed and honoured to be able to homeschool my children and one big takeaway of this past year is the realisation that my time with my children is fleeting.
I’m so encouraged that we read the Bible together and that it forms an important part of our morning. The conversations we have as a result during Bible time are thought-provoking and their questions are challenging.
Home schooling has been fun this past year, but it has also been humbling and petrifying. It has brought me face-to-face with my own inadequacies and sinfulness and exposed all of this in front of my children. I count this as God’s grace of course, because I know this is how He sanctifies me.
Left: 1st of May 2020 when we had made the decision to homeschool.
Right: One year later, after a year of Home Education.