“Joy” in learning? Yes, it’s possible, says home-schooler
By Vera Marbach
With the lockdown continuing longer than the school holidays, some of our children have already started schooling again. For others this is looming ahead. The possibility of a staggered return to school is being explored. For many of us as parents, our children’s schoolwork may feel like another burden we need to carry, another source of stress in our already busy, pressured lives. For others, schoolwork will help to structure our family routine. For some, this routine may feel boring. The question “how long this will continue?” hangs over us all. In these circumstances, the word “joy” does not seem to belong in the same sentence as learning. We know that schoolwork needs to be done, and for now this will be at home. Are there any choices we can make that will affect this situation? Let’s have a look at how we think about the subject…
Will you be schooling at home, non-schooling or home-schooling? To illustrate the difference I am sketching three exaggerated pictures.
The school at home
The school at home picture is drawn with a ruler – lines, strict patterns and geometric shapes – taking the school structure and imprinting it on your home routine. The family gets ready for school as before. The only missing element is the school commute. School starts at approximately the same time as before. One subject follows the next. The time-keeping bell between periods rings in our heads. Perhaps there is an on-line teacher giving the lesson on zoom at a specific time. In other cases, the parent feels the pressure of morphing into a teacher themselves. Joy doesn’t have much space to grow here.
Non-schooling is a bit of a caricature of a modern artwork – a cacophony of colour splashed across the canvas – unruly children running around the house with no structured activities, doing whatever is in front of them, leaving a trail of chaos behind them as a stressed parent tries to work in the middle of the mess. The invisible load of schoolwork is largely ignored by everyone, but grows into a threatening shadow. Occasionally schoolbooks (if they can be found) are picked up, and some lessons attempted, but quickly put away again because it’s just too overwhelming (after all, we were not trained to be teachers!) There could be joy in some paint splatters, but it’s not connected to learning.
Home schooling’s picture uses a different approach – rich colours to paint a recognisable work of art – the day is structured around the optimal routine for the family. Learning happens as a fascinating discovery during fun activities. Good memories are made together. Children are encouraged to pursue their passions. The parent is the facilitator in the process – pointing the child to resources, giving precise guidelines (preferably written, age-appropriately), timelines and clear consequences. There is a regular daily time where the parent helps with specific subjects, but there is also time where the child works alone. The child grows in responsibility. The parent (and school) creates the framework, and the child fills it with decisions about which subjects to focus on when. In the process she learns more about her own abilities, strengths, skills, challenges, and develops discipline, concentration span, the ability to wait for the parent’s help at a set time, and problem-solving skills. It is probably pretty obvious where I find joy!
We can all develop our own hybrid picture that works for us given our children’s ages, grades, and our family’s lockdown constraints. How can we reclaim some joy of learning within the framework of required schoolwork and our own work load? I have some ideas:
- “Wonder” with your child: I wonder what kind of family an ant has…I wonder what makes the sky so blue…Encourage your child to wonder too, and then look up his wonderings on Google together.
- Make family memories that are fun and screen-free. The verywellfamily website is helpful e.g. https://www.verywellfamily.com/absolutely-free-activities-for-kids-2997490. Even when playing games we enjoy, we can learn about our skills and abilities, and each other!
- Read “living books” together – they bring a subject to life! http://livingbookslist.com/ (use the filters to find books for specific age groups, subjects or free) or listen to a book on Audible. https://stories.audible.com/start-listen
- There are also many on-line opportunities for learning about something that your child is passionate about. Choose some from the following comprehensive list and point them to the resources. https://www.verywellfamily.com/online-learning-activities-for-kids-during-coronavirus-closures-4800553
Let’s make it work for our own unique circumstances and for the sake of our families – let us recover the joy, especially in these challenging times!
Vera Marbach worked as an Occupational Therapist in a variety of fields, including mental health and childhood development. She lives in Gauteng with her husband and three children, whom she home-schooled. She has been a regular guest speaker on a variety of subjects such as self-esteem, family relationships, ethical consumerism and so forth. She is currently focusing on coping coaching, writing and dialogue facilitation, all on-line, at ThinkThru-TalkThru (www.tt-tt.co.za) You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org