Online learning: How to help your kids thrive - tips from a homeschooling parent
Kids have been out of school since the middle of March and parents have been juggling multiple roles; from teacher, tutor, extracurricular coach, and friend.
To take on a child's education on your own might seem like a daunting task but some parents have been doing it for years. We live in an uncertain time and no one knows what the future of schooling holds. Our certified P.E.T. Instructor, Vee Cowie, is a homeschooling parent and shares some helpful insights and advice for parents during this time.
Can you share some background on your homeschooling journey to date?
I have been homeschooling my son since he was five and as with most homeschooling families, it has been a journey to find what works for us.
Homeschooling is very different from “school at home”. Very few homeschooling parents will be following the same curriculums, philosophies, or methods. That is the beauty of homeschooling for us – it can be tailor-made for each child and each family’s different situations.
My son was severely bullied at school which triggered excessive anxiety. At five-years-old, he was having panic attacks before school. He also had learning issues such as dyslexia and problems with his eyes focussing. At that time, we had hints that there were problems but due to his age, nothing could be formally diagnosed. This coupled with the bullying was destroying my son's self-esteem.
Initially, we had planned to just give him a year or two at home to overcome the stress and return to a level where learning did not induce anxiety. However the further we went on the homeschooling journey, and the more I researched and understood about how the brain functions and learns, the more opposed to a traditional school setting I became.
Parents have been forced into an online learning space with little time to prepare, what do you believe are the most common misconceptions/expectations parents had/still have about the online schooling environment?
It is very difficult to re-create a school set up at home – especially under the trying and stressful conditions we currently find ourselves in. Children of all ages have had massive changes and restrictions placed on them. To now expect them to attend school online can place even further stress on them.
I applaud the teachers and schools trying to give some sense of normalcy back to the children but I wonder how much effective learning is actually taking place? A screen is definitely an effective learning tool and I use it all the time. However, it is also a very cold barrier to interactive learning. Sessions on Zoom do not encourage discussion and questioning. To expect that the same level of learning is happening at home that happens in a classroom may not be realistic.
Children are also anxious about what is going on around them and often they are not able to put into words what they are feeling. Instead, they will give us clues through their behaviour – such as resistance to learning, arguing, being depressed. We need to be aware of how this affects them and help them process the emotions rather than arguing/ punishing etc.
How would you describe the role of the parent in the child's online learning process?
The parent is there to support the emotional needs of the child. Everything is strange and new and stressful at the moment; children are missing out on time with friends, extra murals, and dealing with being at home - now they need to try and learn as well!
Your child will need a lot of encouragement, support, and a good ear to listen to their stresses. Encourage your children to talk about what they have learned. Or go through the work with them to ensure that they have understood what was taught. Some may be intimidated by asking questions online so ask them to explain the work to you and show a genuine interest.
You offer a communication skills course called Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.), what are some of the important skills that can be applied during this time?
The most important skill for me in the learning process has and always will be Active Listening. The P.E.T. course teaches us that a person cannot hear or reason when they are emotionally out of balance. This is also true for a child trying to learn. A child that is stressed, upset, or angry is out of sorts and cannot absorb or process anything and it is not a good state for learning in any form to take place.
Take the time to listen to your child and allow them the space to process their emotions first. This will not only strengthen their emotional intelligence, but it also opens the space and allows them to return to a “thinking brain” more conducive to learning.
Homeschooling is about more than just focussing on the academic needs of your child. It is about developing well-rounded individuals capable of tackling anything that life throws at them. Our current situation is a perfect example – who could have predicted that 2020 was going to turn out the way it has?
I found that a solid set of communication skills equips our family with the tools to deal with the stress of living on top of each other and to deal with the unknown. We have the skills to express our needs, concerns, and handle conflicts during this time. It proves once again why the P.E.T. course is so powerful and necessary!
Some households are thriving and loving the online schooling environment but are worried that their kids will be deprived of socialisation should they decide to start homeschooling. What would your response be to these parents?
This is usually the first question homeschoolers are asked. Again, we need to understand that homeschooling does not necessarily look like the current “crisis schooling” that is happening in homes all over the world. In fact, homeschoolers have more time to belong to all sorts of clubs, sports teams, and activities than school-going children do.
Trips to museums, educational tours, etc are an integral part of most homeschooling families’ lives and there are always homeschooling outings, gatherings, and social events being organised. And yes, our children are also missing their friends during the lockdown.
However, it's important to note that during normal times, strict scheduling is often needed to ensure that a balance is maintained. Often a little more effort is required from the parent to keep track of what events are ongoing, or sometimes even arrange them, but that is a task I take on gladly.
Most homeschool children that I know, have a much more varied social life than school-going children. They are exposed to a very diverse group of people and are encouraged to interact with children of all ages and backgrounds. There is no “standard normal” - every family is unique and different and this allows a lot more freedom to just be who you are.
Not all schools have online learning plans in place, can you recommend other local online learning platforms that can be helpful during this time?
The Department of Education's website has a comprehensive list of what is expected at each grade level as well as some downloadable worksheets and activities. Usually, the best is to google specifically what you are looking for – for example, “grade 3 division free worksheet”.
There are also a number of free learning websites such as Kahn academy. These may not be aligned 100% with the CAPS or IEB curriculums but they cover a huge array of topics and you can pick and choose which lessons to watch.
Why not try something as simple as YouTube? There are literally thousands of educational videos on this platform. It may take a bit more time as you will need to search for what you need. But this is definitely a worthwhile resource to tap into.
I would suggest keep it as simple as possible. Search for specifically what you need rather than an overall curriculum. Rather concentrate on finding resources that fit into what they are already learning. If you do not know what they are learning or what they need to learn next consult the Department of Education's website.
As parents, we stress about our children's future and we want to provide them with the best possible opportunities. If your child is currently in primary school, please bear in mind that a few months of more relaxed learning will not damage their future success. Most primary school-aged homeschoolers complete their schoolwork in 3-4 hours a day. Most of the day is spent on “accidental learning”:
Baking (maths and science),
Gardening (life skills, ecology, biology),
Nature walks (biology, science, ecology),
Living through stressful times (life skills, communication skills, EQ, self-regulation, empathy, community involvement),
Playing with lego (engineering, problem-solving),
Playing board games (taking turns, strategy, problem-solving),
Crafts (creative thinking, fine motor control), etc.
Learning does not have to involve school books and planned out lessons. The above holds true for high school-aged children as well.
Take this time to enjoy your children. Spend time watching them discover the world around them. See the world through their eyes and you will be amazed at what you discover.
Do you have any cost-saving or budgeting tips for parents?
Be careful of joining expensive online curriculum providers. These are a great resource if you are permanently homeschooling but can be expensive as a short term solution. Don't fall into the trap of signing up or buying a curriculum. Rather tap into the many free resources available.
There a number of library apps such as Libby. If you have a library card you can have access to hundreds of e-books online at no cost. There are fantastic resources for kids available.
Swap ideas or finds with other parents. Or do a subject swap – one parent finds resources for science and the other for geography, then you swap.
On a final note...
We are living through history – we can make this a time of stress, fighting and anxiety or we can let go a little bit and spend the time making memories and strengthening bonds.
Learning does not only happen in the classroom. Our children are learning from us all the time. They are keeping a close eye on how we deal with stress, how we communicate with each other, how we treat others around us, and how we make time for ourselves to recharge and take a breath.
These are the things they will carry forward. In 20 years, they will not remember what science or maths lessons they attended during the lockdown. They will remember walks in the garden, picnics under the stars, and time at home spent with loved ones.
Contact Vee Cowie
082 336 8201
firstname.lastname@example.org There are schools, universities, colleges, etc. to prepare you for everything in today’s fast-paced world but very little prepares you for being a parent. When a friend told me about a P.E.T. course she had been on I was immediately interested. The course proved to be both practical and logical. The difference that I saw in my son week by week as we learned new skills made me decide then and there that I would want to share this with others. I am so excited to able to share these life-changing skills with you and walk the journey together to a more fulfilling and rewarding relationship with all those around you.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this communication is not to be construed as medical advice. Consult a professional on any medical or psychological concerns. The articles and blogs are posted only as opinion or ideas, and are general in nature. The administrator takes no responsibility for any action or outcome a reader may make as a result of reading a post.