Read our practical guide for making the transition to homeschooling, including teaching tips and linked resources to lesson plans and activity ideas.
School shutdowns have been a surprise and stressor for millions of parents around the world, most of whom have never even considered home-schooling.
Now, these same parents need to get up to speed with creating learning environments and ensuring that their children’s education doesn’t suffer over the coming months. As Covid-19 cases continue to rise and fall, predicting when schools will return to their normal, year round schedule is presently near impossible.
We’ve created a practical online guide to help you through the transition process.
It will help you to get started with lessons at home and try to maintain a happy family life through this difficult time.
We’ve included linked resources to help you plan lessons, change up your activities, and get the support you need to successfully home-school during the school shut down.
1. Explain to your children why their routine has changed
Most kids associate being at home with school holidays and summer, when they’re not expected to recreate their school day and can spend time playing or with friends.
When they heard that schools were closing, they probably didn’t imagine being taught by their parents for weeks or even months.
It’s important to explain, in an age-appropriate way, what home-schooling is, what you’ll expect from them and why it’s happening. This will help them understand what to expect over the next while and understand that they have to learn from home and aren’t on holiday.
2. Involve them in decisions
Creating a new home-schooling routine can be challenging, but involving your child in some of the decisions will help them feel a little more in control.
For example, you could ask them whether they’d like their morning break at 10:30 or 11, or check whether they’d prefer to start Mondays with English or Science lessons.
Getting their input into these decisions and making sure that they understand what’s happening each day will help to reduce confusion and tension, and will help you to plan ahead as well.
3. Don’t try to recreate the school day
Many parents will try to recreate their child’s current school schedule, along with 8am wake ups and 6-8 hours of work with breaks. However, most seasoned homeschoolers know that this is an easy way to tire out your kids and create a lot of stress.
Think of it this way: your child is now essentially getting 1-2-1 tutoring, with much less chatting with friends and waiting for the teacher to help them. This means that you can remove a lot of ‘filler’ time that’s essential in a large school, but doesn’t exist when home-schooling.
The good news is that your home-schooling day can be entirely based around your kid’s needs.
If they understand concepts quickly and want to move on, you can do that! Likewise, if it takes a bit longer for them to understand the latest maths problem or historical event, you can make sure they definitely understand it before moving on.
A survey of homeschoolers showed that 54% studied for 2-3 hours each school day, 15% studied for 4-5 hours, with only 7% studying for 5+ hours.
4. Create a specific area in the home for study
Just as routine is important, so is creating a specific home study area where they don’t expect to be able to watch tv or play with their phones or tablets.
Try to remove as many distractions as possible and make sure it’s a comfortable spot to spend the day.
It’s a good idea to set up the area in the morning and then put it away once the school day is finished to clearly mark when they’re ‘at home’ and when they’re ‘at school’.
You’ll also need to consider what technology and resources they’ll need, and whether certain lessons may need to move away from their dedicated home-schooling area.
5. Use existing lesson plans
The current situation and sudden need to home-school are both difficult enough without having to learn to write detailed lesson plans.
The first port of call is to ask your child’s teachers whether they have anything that you can use or any guidance that’s appropriate to their age group and what they’re learning at the moment.
If you run out of ideas there or you can’t get any specific guidance, there are plenty of online resources that you can draw on. You can get started with:
- https://www.khanacademy.org, which offers daily schedules for kids aged 2-18 to help parents through the school closures
- https://hungrylittleminds.campaign.gov.uk was created by the UK government for children up to the age of 5
- https://www.education.com/lesson-plans/ – this is primarily for US audience
- https://www.teachingideas.co.uk – this is aimed at a UK audience
- http://www.primaryresources.co.uk – this is for primary school-aged children
If you do prefer to write your own lesson plans, there are also resources to help you do that effectively.
The British Council has an excellent guide to writing lesson plans for English teachers, but the advice can be applied to any subject. Macmillan Education have also created a free course on how to create lesson plans for maths.
6. Include videos, online lessons, and games in your schedule
Luckily, there are plenty of online learning websites that have subject and age specific activities for kids including quizzes, videos, games, and entire online lessons.
You can rely on these for the majority of your learning content or you can use them to fill out the day and help with areas where you’ve forgotten the curriculum yourself.
These should make a huge difference to how much planning you need to do, and how much you need to directly teach your child rather than facilitating learning.
If you’re stuck, we’ve added a list of great online home-schooling resources at the end of this guide.
7. Understand learning outcomes
Learning outcomes are essential to the structure of a curriculum or lesson plan. If you understand the overall aim of your lessons, you can assess whether they’ve been successful and when it’s time to move onto another topic.
Your school will be the best source for learning outcomes and expectations at your child’s current level. You should share the outcomes with your child so they know what expectations are set.
8. Vary activities throughout the day
Being stuck at home without seeing friends or being stimulated by the outside world will be hard for children. Sitting down to read from a textbook or website most of the day may make it a lot harder.
Varying activities helps to break up the day, so make sure that you include some practical activities, physical activities, quiet work, online learning, and reading.
The split will depend on your child’s age and temperament – some might be perfectly happy reading and teaching themselves for large periods, while others prefer more physical work and a hands-on approach.
Here are some ideas to help mix it up a little:
- Do a free kids’ workouts instead of PE
- Go on a virtual tour of a relevant museum/gallery, such as the British Museum, Natural History Museum, or the National Gallery
- Try out a safe, physical science experiment
- Watch a documentary
- Watch a relevant YouTube channel
- Turn lunchtime into a cooking class
- Learn the periodic table through battleships
- Quietly reading a book is still learning
- Watch a Shakespeare play at home
Some of these activities work best as one-off treats, but others can be turned into regular parts of your new timetable.
9. Brush up on your knowledge
It’s probably been a while since you had to do quadratic equations or remember what a temporal clause is.
You’ve also never had to take such a hands-on approach to your kid’s education before, so remembering your school work and getting an understanding of how to teach will help massively over the next few months.
10. Be flexible
A large part of this guide focuses on proper planning and preparation for home-schooling, which will make life a lot easier.
But remember, we’re going through an unprecedented change and it’s going to be hard for everyone.
Some days, your plans just won’t work out and sometimes your classes won’t work well. The plans are a guide but you don’t have to stick to it if things don’t work out that day.
You can always use your lesson plan or activity on another day, or you can always take a break sooner or for longer if needed.
11. Coordinate with other parents
Support systems are as important as ever and you’ll need to coordinate with other parents to help your child see their friends virtually until the schools reopen.
Arranging virtual playdates or chats is a great way to stop your child from feeling too isolated. You could even share lessons if technology and timing allow, so parents who are free in the mornings or are particularly strong at maths can take those classes, and you can repay them in kind with other subjects or times.
12. Experiment to find something that works for you
Every teacher and parent knows that all children are different.
While some kids will easily adjust to the new status-quo, others will find it difficult to concentrate at home, be away from their friends, or learn in a new format.
Experimenting to find the right thing for your child is going to be essential to making this work.
13. Get some help
We’ve repeated it throughout this guide, but support from your school, teacher, co-parent, and other parents and friends will be essential to successful home-schooling.
Until very recently, your child’s education was managed by a village of people including teachers, heads of subjects, heads of years, administrators, lunch ladies, and various government officials.
It’s difficult to take on all of that by yourself, especially if you’re also trying to work from home.
Reaching out and arranging help with various parts of the school day or overall workload will make a huge difference to the success of your home-schooling and your family’s happiness.
In addition to your existing educational network, there are plenty of websites online that offer learning resources to help you through this period. We’ve created a list of options at the bottom of this guide to help you find the help that you need.
14. Take care of your own wellbeing too
On a related note, be sure to take care of your own wellbeing, happiness, and stress levels too.
That might mean leaning on family members, taking a walk somewhere that you can practice social distancing, getting some exercise, or just letting your kids watch a film or documentary one afternoon because you need some down time.
It’s a hard time, and the lockdowns and anxiety around health are likely to last for at least a few weeks if not months. Taking care of yourself and each other is essential to getting through this with a happy, harmonious family.
There are plenty of online resources available to help you with every element of home-schooling. Many of these are free, but others may require payment for access or for premium versions of the service.
Online home-schooling resources:
https://www.brainpop.com – an animated educational site for kids
https://curiositystream.com – a documentary subscription site
https://www.tynker.com – coding for kids, with free access currently
https://outschool.com – video classes cross different subjects
https://beastacademy.com – a challenging maths curriculum for kids aged 8-13
https://www.khanacademy.org – free classes across all subjects that now offers daily schedules for kids aged 2-18
https://www.creativebug.com – craft classes and workshops
https://www.discoveryeducation.co.uk – curriculum-matched content for schools with some free resources available
https://classroommagazines.scholastic.com/support/learnathome.html – day by day resources for learning at home
https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours – travel the world at home by going to these 12 virtual museums and galleries
https://www.abcya.com/ – educational games sorted by age group
https://www.funbrain.com/ – free educational games, books, and videos sorted by age group
https://www.splashlearn.com/ – maths learning programmes
https://www.storylineonline.net/ – a children’s literacy site with stories read by actors, with a supplemental curriculum for each book
https://www.highlightskids.com/ – learning content, quizzes, and activities
https://www.coolmath4kids.com/ – maths lessons, games, and quizzes
Online courses to help with homeschooling:
YouTube channels to help with homeschooling:
Crash Course Kids – science lessons.
Scishow Kids – answers difficult ‘why’ questions.
Free School – age-appropriate ways to introduce kids to art, classical music, literature history, and natural history.
The Brain Scoop – interesting pieces and ideas from The Field Museum in Chicago.
Kids Learning Tube – learning through music and animation.
Geek Gurl Diaries – programming and coding videos with a focus on getting girls into STEM.