Learning at Home – love the ones you’re with.


learning at home home schoolingBeing asked to supervise your children’s learning at home can be very anxiety inducing for many parents. However, some parents may love learning with their children so much, they will choose to continue home-schooling even when schools reopen. In these uneasy times, the aim of education in the home should be to support learning while fostering a collaborative relationship between parent and child. This will look very different in every household.

From my perspective, teaching my children/grandchildren at home has always involved the Arts whether that is Dance, Music, Drama or Visual Arts. The Arts make learning fun for both children and parents. They encourage exploration, inquiry and, most importantly, student centred learning. But I have only taught my children at home for very short lengths of time!

To find out how experienced educators in distance education and home-schooling see this challenge I asked two amazing teachers, who also happen to be parents, what they thought. Sharndra Chapman and Emma Rickerts are teachers with many years’ experience in classroom teaching, learning at home and teaching through dance and music.

Their experiences can help parents and children to navigate the journey of learning in the home.

Emma Rickerts

Emma is qualified CSTD and RAD dance teacher with three children. She has worked in day care centres and has been home schooling her own children through the Australian Christian College and the QLD Dept Education – Home Education Unit. With three children at home Emma has some interesting ideas for parents taking on the adventure of home schooling.

What do you think is the best thing about children learning in their own home?

There are so many benefits for children to learn at home it is difficult to choose a “best” one. Flexibility of hours and a more streamlined approach to learning without the distraction and logistics that comes with crowd control in schools would be high on the list. Also, the close and trusting relationships I have with my children and my thorough connection with knowing who they are as individuals, and what their needs are for growth, is also hugely beneficial to their learning and overall development.

What is the most essential element or action in successful home schooling?

You’ve got to put in the effort and dedicate time. Be present and available and ready to learn new things in order to support your child. I’ve spent many hours studying philosophies and methods for learning, teaching strategies, the different learning styles, etc. Also attending seminars and webinars to learn more about Home Education will really be helpful for the long-term home schooler. Then, if you’re going to create your own programs, there’s hours of research needed for products, services, classes, and resources.

How much time do you need to take preparing activities and how much time implementing each activity?

This can be a bit of the old “how long is a piece of string” situation. It really does depend on the type of activity you are preparing for. However, for some subjects, I do prefer to find what we call “open and go” resources to minimise my time outlay per activity or per subject. Resources that come in a PDF format and has easy to read lesson plans divided into weeks are incredibly useful and save time particularly if they offer links to websites, suggested reading lists, and a list of supplies found around the home .homeschool dancing

You can find Resource Kits that have scripted lessons that match the curriculum. These are useful for subjects that may not be your strongest area! I really like a multi-media and multiple exposure approach for my children, so I tend to look for resources that provide for visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners in one package. This saves me from having to spend time finding resources to supplement the curriculum product.

For implementing activities, we generally follow the time allocations per subject as listed on the QCAA website and I source enough resources or activities to fill that amount of time per week.

What part do you think the Arts play in learning at home?

In the early childhood years, the arts are a HUGE portion of our study time. Maybe it was because of my own background, but I frequently opted for resources which involved movement and music during those years. They learned a great deal through songs and chants with actions.

I firmly believe my children were early readers (the girls were reading at a Grade 1 level at 3 years old) due to the music, songs and actions we used to learn phonics.

Now in Grade 6 and with my youngest in Grade 4, they still enjoy learning facts through music and movement. I still find it an important part of their Education for having a healthy body, mind and co-ordination.

How do you use dance in your teaching and learning at home?

Two of my children attend dance classes recreationally outside of school time, however, I often include some video clips from GoNoodle as part of their Health and PE studies at home. There are educational aspects involving song and movement on these videos which my children really love. They dance along at home in the lounge room.

What is your favourite home schooling moment?

I can’t think of an exact event, but our favourite times are when we are all engaged as a family in the learning process. Times when the school experience has spilled over into discussions around the dinner table about topics we’ve been learning about, or times when everyone in the family has a go at an activity that was fun during the day.

What is your best piece of advice for parents embarking on the home schooling journey?

Don’t try to replicate the school environment at home. Parents need to understand that learning can happen anywhere at any time, not just while sitting behind a desk with a textbook and a teacher standing at a whiteboard. Also, the parent-teacher role is not two different personas. It needs to become natural for your children ask you questions and expect that you either know the answers or can facilitate the learning of the answers together.

What is your best piece of advice for children embarking on the home schooling journey?

What I say – If you’ve just started because of this pandemic, try to be patient with Mum or Dad. They are having to learn a lot in a very short time. Also, try to include Mum or Dad in what you’re doing.

What my kids say – Start early in the morning so you can get finished early and have lots of free time in the afternoon.

Do your best and don’t try to pretend you’ve finished things when you haven’t because you aren’t going to learn anything that way.

Sharndra Chapman

Sharndra has been a home school parent for 6 years and a Distance Education teacher for 5 years. As a qualified Queensland Education teacher with over 30 years’ experience in State, Private and International school Sharndra has a broad range of teaching under her belt. Add to that being a Dance teacher for 35 years and you can see why her advice is a must for families learning at home.

What do you think is the best thing about children learning in their own home?

They feel safe, they can engage in the subjects they love at length and no need to finish when the rest of the class is told to. They can work at their own pace and not feel embarrassment when they struggle. They don’t have to wait for all the disruptions, and they don’t need to impress their peers. Children can set their own goals and time frames to work. They don’t need to wear uniforms or have homework. And there is more time for educational activities that are NOT school work.

My Motto: Don’t let school get in the way of your child’s education.

What is the most essential element or action in successful home schooling?

Relax!! If it’s not working today…pack up and try again tomorrow. It’s not worth parent/child conflict. For example, if maths is stressing you out, do some art, play and instrument, go for a run or bake a cake. Come back again later after regrouping and start over.

How much time do you need to take preparing activities and how much time implementing each activity?

Depends if you are home schooling or enrolled in a distance education school. These are vastly different and require different parental preparation. Some parents may start with ordered and prescribed tasks. If you want to be ACCARA aligned, then choose a school that suits.

learning to danceSome things to consider may be: how much teacher contact do you want, do you want to create your own curriculum to meet your own child’s needs? This will take more effort on the parent’s part but it can be extremely rewarding. Some children are very self-directed, but this will take time. To come straight from mainstream school into this kind of scenario would be difficult unless you have a very independent child.

All children are gifted in different areas and home schooling allows you to focus on this. Bear in mind this may not be suitable to work in some Distance Education programs. There are many schooling alternatives, unschooling, the Qld government’s Home education unit and many Distance Education schools, both private and state.

Editor’s note: Of course, currently there is also the online schooling delivery for each state in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What part do you think the Arts play in learning at home?

Every child should be exposed to the arts as it is a Key Learning Area. Depending on the child’s gifts, this can be explored further with private tuition if this is an area of interest, either face to face classes or video links. This is true for day school and well as school from home.

Do you use dance in your teaching and learning at home?

Definitely! As a dance teacher and mother this is an area we love to explore. Not always in a formal way but whenever we want.

A short story: I remember when I was home schooling my daughter in year 5. It was my first attempt as a home school mum. I had quit my job as local state school music teacher. We had heard some terrible news; I was so grieved that I could not even get out of bed from the grief. I knew as a responsible adult that I must function because my ‘school day’ with my daughter should begin. I put on some beautiful music and together our school day consisted of us choreographing a dance that we did together. This is still such a precious memory for both of us. We occasionally do this dance- and have done it in other nations together also. The song is an African song called ” Peace in the Storm” I remember crying a lot that day.

Home schooling has brought a special bond into my life with my kids.

What is your favourite home-schooling moment?

As our journey continued my kids gained independence apart from the curriculum. I can’t really take any credit. My daughter would listen to worship music for hours most days. She would complete the tasks I set and then create her own YouTube videos.

My son was not such an easy student. He hated Maths and reading but wrote copious songs when he was supposed to be doing other things. He is now an accomplished song writer with his own band. His spelling is still terrible!

One day we had great expectations to do a project on fish/corals and marine life. Dad and daughter had an incredible day swimming and photographing fish and corals. After this day no more attempts were made at this assignment. It was too wonderful to spoil by turning it into a laborious project. The memory though will always be savoured.

What is your best piece of advice for parents embarking on the home-schooling journey?

Take it slow. Focus on the main subject first, like English and Maths for little guys. Follow the children’s interests and then slowly add the ‘must do’ task. Be easy on yourself. It’s a huge transition. Parents know their kids better than teachers. Don’t flog a dead horse! When it all goes to pot (and it will) remember that even teachers have off days. Then go do a pleasant activity or read a book/go fishing/do gardening and live life.

Life skills are very important; like washing up, cleaning the bathroom. Fit these into the schedule. Give plenty of time to be creative and don’t fill up every second with prescribed tasks just because some book or teacher or ACARA requires it.

It has to work in your house…in your family!