THINGS I WISH I’D KNOWN WHEN I STARTED HOME EDUCATING (PRIMARY AGE)
Hey! I am an adoptive parent who found myself home-educating my son (now age 11) quite suddenly and without preparation 2.5 years ago now. I have learned a lot in that time (mostly by making mistakes!) and there are some key pieces of advice I would go back in time and give myself, if only I could! But I thought they might be helpful for some in this group at this time.
THIS TIME IS A GIFT – admittedly quite a lot of the time it won’t feel like a gift, especially at first, but it is. Challenges will be offset by the battles you will not need to fight in this time (no more dealing with early morning school anxieties and the post-school fall out, no more need to educate school about developmental trauma, no more need for your child to face school assignments which remind them of their trauma in the space they feel least safe to deal with it). In this time you will connect with your child again, you will build stronger attachment, you will discover their interests and their unique strengths, and you will begin to understand the reasons why they have been struggling to learn. So, tell yourself regularly, especially when it is hard, that this time is a gift, and do your best to make sure that that is what your child hears you say.
STRUCTURE IS IMPERATIVE – you will no doubt hear many home educators say that you don’t need a set structure for your day, but you know that your child needs one just like you would for a holiday! Creating a structure doesn’t mean that you are being over-bearing or tyrannical. It means that you are creating a sense of security and safety for your child so that they can stay regulated, and so that you can stay sane! But a structure does not need to mean structured activity after structured activity with no room for either of you to breathe. You need breaks between every little activity – you might not think something is too strenuous, but if it takes your child out of their comfort zone, they may need a brain break and a little attachment refill afterwards. So, break up any longer activity blocks into a number of shorter activities, leaving breaks in between. Your structure should also include lots of time for longer rest, movement, time together and time apart. It would be a good idea for you to have scheduled “together” times when your child knows he has your undivided attention (and your phone will be away!), and times when you can grab a quiet cup of tea, check facebook, do some self-care, or get on with some jobs and not be interrupted because your child feels safe knowing that you will be back together soon. (I will post in the comments how our daily timetable might now look as an example of what works for us – most days!).
A STRUCTURED DAY DOES NOT NEED TO LOOK LIKE A SCHOOL DAY – most home educators will tell you that trying to replicate school at home is not necessary and rarely works. That is even more the case for your child, who needs his home to be their safe place and you to be his safe base. You are only going to meet with resistance and increased fight/flight responses if you try to create school at home. Home Educators will also tell you that you can cover in less than 2 hours what is covered in a school day. So, it is worth taking a few deep breaths and trying to rid your brain of your pre-conceived ideas of what education needs to look like before doing any more planning (I really wish I had done this – I have made and thrown out so many plans along the way!).
EDUCATION IS ABOUT MORE THAN KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS – think of education as the development of your child in ALL of the following areas:
a. Attachment and Identity
b. Healthy heart and mind
d. Physical literacy (eg fine and gross motor skills)
e. Healthy body
f. Social involvement and responsibility
g. Knowledge and skills
Now, you’ve always known really that school can only deal with a few of those areas, but while your child was at school and you were busy dealing with the fall-out of that, neither of you had the time or energy to do anything about the others. Now that you have your child at home all the time, you have the space to get to know where it is most important for your child to be developing right now, and any developmental gaps that may need to be back-filled, and the chance to do something about it. And, in your heart of hearts, you know that even if all you do in this time at home is build a closer attachment with your child that will be invaluable for their future development. Knowledge and skills can come later.
PLAY, PLAY, PLAY – you know how important play is to development and to learning, and you know how your child has been deprived of play in his early years, and how much he has struggled to play with peers. So, make up for that now. Don’t even try to make it educational. Just play. Follow your child. Let him play like a toddler. Let him play like a pre-schooler. Let him play like a primary kid. Play with sand. Play with water. Play with play doh. Play with lego. Play with toys. Role play. Just play. You might never get this opportunity again. Make the most of it! Oh, and you can also model appropriate social interaction when you play together too.
DO NOT BE AFRAID OF PERIODS WHEN NO FORMAL ACADEMIC LEARNING HAPPENS AT ALL – those will be the times when you will see the biggest advancements in confidence, curiosity and creativity. Your child will not fall behind. In fact, you will be building the foundations which mean that they won’t fall behind in the future. Breathe. Trust yourself. And don’t compare with what others are doing. Just don’t!
IF (AND IT IS A BIG IF) YOU TRY TO DO ANY FORMAL ACADEMIC LEARNING IN YOUR FIRST FEW MONTHS AT HOME, KEEP IT SIMPLE – there are tonnes and tonnes of resources out there, more than you could ever possibly even read about, let alone use, in a few months. You don’t have to use it – any of it. Try just do things that will build attachment, rather than tear it down. Find books suitable for your own child’s reading age and read them together (even if you do the reading, they will be reading over your shoulder!) Read books aimed at higher than their reading age and talk about them – you can learn a lot about the world from children’s fiction, or if you read therapeutic books like Rosie Rudey or Charley Chatty and talk about those, you will be doing a great bit of therapeutic parenting at the same time. Play board games. Watch TV and talk about it. Watch movies and talk about them. Or just talk – you will be amazed at how much your child will develop just by talking with you. And you can do all of these things snuggled up on the sofa.
THERAPY DOESN’T NEED TO END HERE – you might not have access to therapeutic intervention services at the moment, but you are a Therapeutic Parent – you’ve got this! Use this time to do what your child needs. Do more theraplay. Have therapeutic conversations. Read therapeutic story books together. Build in some OT exercises to develop their core body strength and gross and fine motor skills. Do some sensory play. You might find that being at home gives your child the opportunity to start exploring some of their past trauma – they might start writing about it, playing it out, drawing it. Use all your TP skills to get alongside them. (And remember at this time they are going to be processing lots about what is going on in the world too – use your TP skills to help them process). Use the extra time you have with them to really get to know your child and the roots of their struggles, so when and if they go back to school they will be better equipped to cope and you will be better prepared to advocate for their needs to be met.
AND FINALLY, AND POSSIBLY CONTROVERSIALLY …
SCREENS AND DEVICES CAN BE GOOD – if your child can only be away from you whilst watching a screen or playing a video game, then so be it. So long as the content of what they are watching or playing is suitable for them, try not to worry about it too much. You need a break from them. They need a break from you. They will actually learn a surprising amount this way. And a bit of very closely monitored online interaction with known and trusted contacts can be really useful in alleviating loneliness and developing social skills. Basically, don’t sweat the screen time! But … make sure put away the devices in “together” time or you won't hear the end of it!
Written by an NATP Member.