Parents: You DO NOT Have to TEACH Your Kids During School Closure

With schools closed nationwide, many parents are panicking about how to teach their kids at home.  Facebook has been full of parents sharing educational websites for nearly two weeks now, and all of our home ed groups are full of reluctant parents asking just how they can 'home school' their children.  Here's the big news: you DO NOT have to TEACH your kids!

Parents up and down the country are worrying about how to set up a school area in their home, how to create a home school timetable, how to occupy their children with school work for 7 hours a day, and how to teach them phonics, maths and all the other subjects most barely remember from their own school days.


Take it from a former primary school teacher and SATs examiner who taught everything from Year 1 to Year 6 in more than a decade of teaching: you do not need to teach your kids.

You do not need to set up an at home classroom.

You do not need to set a rigid daily timetable.

You do not need to teach them all the subjects, or indeed any of them.

So what should you do?

You carry on being their parent/primary carer.  You carry on being the person who taught them to walk, talk, play.

You don't remember teaching them those things?  No, you didn't.

But you were there.  There for your child to watch, to listen to, to talk to, to learn from.

And that is exactly what you need to do now.

You are not a home educator

What you are doing now isn't home education.  The schools closing is a response to a pretty dire emergency situation.

You are not a home educator or a teacher, you are a parent.  Be a parent first.

The first thing your child needs is to be loved, listened to and played with.  Yep, even the teens.

My friend teaches A level and his teens are hurting and confused just as much as the 7 year olds are, possibly more.

Spend time with your child.

Talk to them, play with them, read to or with them, go for walks in nature, play or potter in your garden.

Answer all of their questions.  Help them to understand what the heck is going on - as much as the rest of us anyway!

Most of all, give them lots and lots of reassurance and love.

What about the school work?

OK, you are worried about your child missing out on schooling for the foreseeable future, potentially months.

Don't.  They won't fall behind, they won't miss out.

You will do and be enough.

Any teacher will tell you that with all the time spent taking registers, doing class admin, lining up, assemblies, play times and breaks, transitions between lessons, paying attention to difficult behaviour, marking, listening to readers, having conversations, dealing with issues, and everything else that happens in a classroom, most primary aged children are lucky to get 20 minutes of actual learning done per hour.

20 minutes per hour

Over 6 lessons that's less than 2 hours a day!

Take away PE time and art time and they are probably getting just over 9 hours a week actual learning!

If you sit down with your child for an hour or two a day, you will more than cover that.

If you want to.

How can children learn outside of school?

One simple rule: don't stop them!

Children are learning all the time.  Literally, from birth.

You cannot stop them, especially if they have a willing guide to answer their questions and present them with new ideas and opportunities.

Yes, those opportunities are restricted in the current climate, but with on demand TV and the Internet we aren't going to run out of resources and ways to answer questions any time soon!

So by all means do some of the worksheets the school are sending you, but also find other opportunities for learning.  And please, please, please don't stress yourself and your kids out by trying to do too much!

3 things to know about kids' learning right now:

  • The school is as confused and bewildered as you are, and they won't be checking which worksheets you did or which websites you went on!
  • Your child will not fall behind as all learning is revisited multiple times in their school career.
  • Those worksheets are revision and consolidation, not learning.

So what should we do all day?

A consensus amongst friends who are still teaching is children aged 6-13 should do:

English/Literacy 1 hour a day:

Writing 20-30 minutes
Reading 20-30 minutes
Phonics/spelling 10 minutes

Maths 40 minutes a day:

Practice/application 20 minutes
Mental maths 10 minutes
Number facts/times tables 10 minutes

Remember none of that needs to be worksheets!

Maths can be fun and hands on: counting, measuring, making graphs, baking, capacity.

Writing can be stories, letters or a diary; and reading can be anything they like.

Beyond that formal bit, get the history, geography, science, art, music and PE in any way you like, the more fun and interesting the better!

Please do not expect any child to do fake school at home for 6-7 hours a day!

If you feel that you need more structure to your days rather than being creative all day, by all means set a schedule, but be sure to minimise the worksheets and websites and maximise the family time, play and fun stuff!

Let them sleep, feed them well, encourage them to drink plenty of water, and spend at least an hour outside each day to boost their immune systems.  Most of all, no stress!

Here are some of the fun learning opportunities you can fit into your week:
  • Card games
  • Play in mud, sand, water, grass, leaves
  • Documentaries
  • LEGO
  • Nature walks with a nature diary
  • Read
  • Baking and cooking
  • Imaginative free play
  • Go on a bike ride
  • Make puppets and put on a show
  • Online art galleries
  • Watch a film
  • Colour sorting
  • Dance party
  • Weighing with scales or measuring with string or a tape measure
  • Floating and sinking or capacity with different containers in a tub of water
  • Make an assault course in your garden
  • Easy fun science experiments
  • Write a story
  • Make slime or play dough
  • Board games
  • Play Simon Says, Fizz Buzz and word games
  • Writing letters to friends or grandparents
  • Audiobooks
  • Draw while listening to classical music
  • Outdoor play - here's how to encourage imaginative play in the garden
  • Junk modelling
  • Make, paint and play in a cardboard castle or pirate ship
  • Crafts
  • Role play shops, vets, cafes, travel agents
  • Bird watching in your garden - here's an easy way to make a bird feeder
  • Websites
  • Gardening or household skills like laundry or cleaning
  • Keeping a diary
  • Talk
  • Set up circuits in your garden
  • Dice games
  • Bug hunts
  • A project they choose then research and learn together or independently if old enough
  • Running, jumping, skipping

Parents of tweens and teens, do not assume your children won't be interested in some of these things, you may be very surprised by their behaviour, interests and conversation when they are not subject to daily peer pressure!

More ideas: 150 Fun Activities to Do with Young Children at Home

The easiest way to learn

Another great way to encourage learning is just by talking, honestly!  The questions that children come up with, even in their teens, will continually astound you.

Offer to find out the answers to questions together.  Ask open-ended questions that encourage children to think, to explain and to predict.  Examples of these are:

  • What made you think that?
  • Can you tell me why...
  • What could you do differently?
  • How did you do that?
  • What might happen if...
  • Tell me more about...
  • What do you think about...

How can I do all this when I need to work from home?

Just like every child's school day is cut down by assemblies, lining up, snacks, transitions etc etc, I bet your usual work day is interrupted by your boss, your colleagues, essential water cooler gossip breaks, lunch, phone calls, constantly monitoring email, Facebook or Instagram scrolling and a hundred other things.

Instead, if you are working from home, turn off email notifications, turn off your phone, go into another room and sit down to work for a solid hour.  You'll be amazed how much you get done.

If you have another adult at home to be with the children, or your kids are old enough to occupy themselves for an hour - even if it is with TV! - get on with your work.

If you are a sole parent or the only one at home, then take a break, do something with the children, set up an activity, then get back to work for another hour.  And repeat.

It would be completely unreasonable of any firm to expect employees to work 9-5 hours in this situation.  If they are, talk to your union rep.

If your children are younger you'll probably have to do what I have done for years: get up super early or work after the kids have gone to bed.

Either way, with concentrated and uninterrupted bursts of effort, you will get way more done in a few hours than in a whole day at work.

More tips: How to Work from Home with Young Children

What if they spend all their time on screens?

Don't let them!  Not with arbitrary rules or by making them 'earn' screen time.  But by giving them something more interesting to do instead.

Things that are more interesting than screens:

  • Challenge them to a game of football
  • Set up a painting opportunity
  • Take them for a walk
  • Go on a scavenger hunt
  • Make some crafts with them
  • Get the board games or jigsaw puzzles out
  • Set up a science experiment
  • Bake together
  • Teach them a skill like sewing or crochet or gardening
  • Learn how to play chess together
  • Plant some seeds together
  • Make jam or do some cooking
  • Playing with Mummy or Daddy
  • Write stories
  • Build a den
  • Make a board game
  • Design or build a house
  • Making collages and scrapbooks
  • Dressing up

For more ideas see these posts:

How to Teach Children to Garden
10 Easy and Fun Nature Activities to Get Kids Outdoors
The Best Board Games for Family Fun
7 Easy and Fun STEM Science Experiments to Do at Home

Even more ideas on Pinterest:

Homeschool Ideas
Kids at Home Activities
STEM Science Activities for Kids
Art & Craft Activities for Kids
Learning through Play

What about teens?

To be perfectly honest, I would be valuing this amazing opportunity to spend more time with your young person.  They will be at home, you will be at home.  Start some conversations, join their world for a while, find out more about how and what they are thinking.

If they manage to do 3 hours a day of learning, mainly from websites, podcasts or books, you're winning!

And really, don't overlook all that stuff you think they are beyond now.  They might be perfectly happy to bake with you, to do some crazy circuits in the garden, play board games, to learn some new household skills (great for uni!), and even to play or get messy.  Honest!

I have known plenty of 12-16 year olds still get down on the floor and play when no-one's looking!

What do we do?  How am I qualified to tell you this?

In the UK, education is compulsory for every child aged 5 to 16, school is not.

The key phrase 'education otherwise' means that any parent can choose not to send their child to school: Elective Home Education.

We home educate our daughters.  We have done since birth and will continue to do so.

We planned this and chose this path.  I plan our activities and learning every week, month and year.

You shouldn't have to, you didn't choose this.

But even with all our planning and choices, we spend less than two hours a day doing formal learning, and spend in an inordinate amount of time outside or on 'field trips' for hands-on learning.

We watch documentaries, we do experiments, we observe nature, we have conversations (endlessly).

Most of all we play and have fun.

Childhood is so short.

If you choose to follow a similar path for a few months, your child will thrive, and when a return to school comes they will be happy, feel secure, and be ready to get back to more formalised learning.

But for now, in this time that you will never get back, take the opportunity to spend more time together and make some amazing memories while doing some incredible learning too!

You might all look back in years to come to remember this as being the best of times, not the worst.

More about how we home educate:

What Unschooling Is
Unschooling and How and Why We Home Educate
The 6 Realities of Home Education

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