The kids are alright

My beautiful wife and home education wiz Em has started this game, with challenges varying everyday and a weekly trophy winner. Photo: Pete Barrett

I had an article published in the Age and the SMH today on our approach to home education. The main message is, go easy on yourself and your kids. These are very tricky times.

First published in The Age, 6 April 2020.

By Peter Barrett

With schools closing around the country early to fight the spread of coronavirus, there’s been a spike in interest in home schooling. Our children – a daughter aged 15, and two sons 11 and six – have been experiencing a mix of mainstream and home education for the past three years. Here’s what a typical day looks like for us.

First, there’s no alarm clock. Late-night reading and podcast-listening are common, but when morning comes there’s no prepping lunches or nagging kids to get up and put on uniforms. Our dress code is relaxed (PJs and bed hair are fine) and our morning stress levels are low.

Second, there are no formal classes. We don’t sit down with our kids and teach them a traditional curriculum (as some home educators do) because we believe in self-directed, interest-based learning. Our job is to be connected enough with our kids so when their interest is ignited we can fan those flames with awesome online tools, books and other resources. We’re mentors, not teachers.

While our older kids are more inclined to go down their own research rabbit holes (pen pals, journalling, World War II and cooking are a few recent ones) we’ve found that for our little guy, leaving interesting things around the house to discover works a treat. In home-education jargon it’s called “strewing” and this week ours included feathers, shells, new apps on the iPad, watercolour paints and paper, Tintin comics and documentaries on the Bedouin desert.

For our sport-mad middle son, not being able to play club footy is challenging. But we make up our own games (how many left-foot kicks can we make before dropping one?), our backyard tramp paid for itself this week and recently we discovered Tabata workouts (burpees and star jumps in the kitchen) available for free on iTunes.

In the afternoon, online games such as Fortnite, Terrariaand Minecraft offer plenty of opportunities for the boys to be social and learn important negotiating and team-building skills. There are also great online resources such as edX and Crash Course on YouTube for specific interests.

If I can give some advice to parents who are new to home schooling, it’s to give your kids plenty of time to “decompress” from regular school because it’s a big change. Regular home schooling is usually about being connected with the outside world but right now we’re trying to make “pandemic school” work.

So, give yourself a break. Don’t expect to be the world’s best teacher. Just be a regular mum or dad who loves and reassures their kids. Because after this crisis is over, all they’ll remember is how they felt.

Peter Barrett is a contributor to The Age and parent of three home-educated children.

For more information visit the Home Education Network