Educating a large family during lockdown

When the country first went into lockdown, back in March, I think I felt the same combination of fear, panic and dread that all parents felt. Whether you have one child or an entire football team, the prospect of being confined to home with only an hours exercise each day was daunting. Prior to lockdown, the 4 eldest children were in school full time and the 3-year-old was spending 2 days with a childminder and a morning at the nursery while I worked. We had a strict routine and it worked well. Suddenly, school and work were closed, we had endless hours to fill and nowhere to go.

So what did we do?

For the first few weeks, we stuck rigidly to our routine and carefully completed all of the school work set. Each morning we were up at our normal time and ready for the day by 8:30 when we would have left for school. At 9 am sharp we were sitting at the dining table ready for ‘school’. Afternoons were for playing, our daily exercise, arts and crafts or baking.

But that wasn’t sustainable in the long term. No matter how much we tried, home just isn’t the same as school and doing all of the school work was never going to happen for us. It just wasn’t possible for me to teach them the same way that their teacher would. I’m not patient enough for a start! So, after the first couple of weeks, I scrapped the timetable and emailed the primary school teachers to say that although we would be doing some of the work they set, we would be doing it our own way and focussing on projects that interested the children. My teenagers were happy to lock themselves away and get on with their virtual lessons which meant I could relax and focus on finding different ways to engage the younger ones. 

We did a lot less sitting at the table writing and a lot more practical hands-on activities. We learnt maths by cooking, doing DIY and building clocks. We did a whole week focussing on space, building our own solar systems, using YouTube videos to take a virtual reality tour of the galaxy and creating posters. English was practised by writing book reviews, creating instructions on how to make sandwiches, creative writing and lots of reading. 

By relaxing and letting go of my routine a little, it meant that we could all enjoy the time a little more. Rather than having a million and one pieces of paper and trying to do different activities for each child, I only had one activity and just made it simpler or harder. We explored our local area more than we ever had before and discovered some brilliant climbing trees. 

Some days, we did nothing at all. The kids would play Xbox or watch films on Disney+ and I would try to catch up with the washing or attempt to drink a hot cup of tea. Other days, we would spend the whole day in our garden. We got through it, one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time. There were still plenty of arguments and moments that I considered selling the kids on eBay, but we made it. Even with my less than perfect approach to learning and a complete lack of knowledge of the primary school curriculum.

I may have been utterly rubbish at teaching the children how to do long division or what a split conjunctive is, but they can now bake cakes and build flat-pack furniture. My 9 year old has even taken a liking to cleaning the bathroom. So I’d say that’s a win.

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