Our home ed journey is over two years old now and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I feel so close to my children; their education is thriving and most importantly they’re extremely happy – they have a lust for life and for all the wonderful learning opportunities it presents, but sometimes I need some tips for tackling the tricky home ed days.
Most days it’s possible to appreciate all the multitude of benefits this lifestyle presents, such as being able to follow your child’s interests and passions; allowing them more time in nature; giving them time and space to imagine, think and explore; strong sibling bonds; no peer pressure; close friendships with a whole range of ages along with the confidence to be thrown into new situations and make friends easily; the freedom to travel and take advantage of the numerous educational opportunities this presents; the chance to learn something just for the pure joy it gives you rather than because you’re going to be tested on it, making space for creative pursuits as well as the more traditionally academic subjects… I could go on and on.
And then there are days which are not so good. Days when you question whether what you’re doing is enough. Days when you need some space from each other. Days when you’re all exhausted. Days when you’re completely preoccupied with some other pressing life event. Days when no-one seems to be learning anything. Days when you wish they’d just stop asking questions (after like the millionth question of the day) and then you feel guilty because you know this inquisitive nature is exactly what you should be nurturing.
These days are in the minority, but they happen.
Self-reflection is not something you’d necessarily assume to be an essential attribute of a home ed mummy, but it’s fundamental. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses as well as your “frustration triggers” can help you identify when things are not working and what to do about them. One of my characteristics, for example, is that once I have a plan in my head, I like to complete it. Sometimes this is a great attribute, but other times it’s a huge disadvantage.
At the start of our home ed journey, I’d persevere even if we were having one of the days described above. And we’d end the day having achieved very little, frustrated and unhappy. Over time, I’ve come to realise that, in these situations, the very best thing to do is just to stop. Stop what we’re doing and either rest if that’s what we need or do something completely different. Embrace the flexibility home ed offers. Change up our day, let go of the bad and turn the day around.
There are lots of ways of achieving this goal, but here are some of the strategies that work best for us when we need to tackle those tricky home ed days:
1. Getting outside and exploring nature
Just being in nature is a hugely therapeutic experience for adults and children alike. You can feel yourself breathing deeper, the layers of stress and anxiety lifting as you walk through that meadow or along that beach, and you’re left instead with a feeling of calm and serenity. As Richard Louv says in his excellent book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, “Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).”
Go and explore the woods, beach, meadows, rivers and lakes in your local area. Encourage the kids to make and pack their own picnic, and to carry it in their backpacks.
Let the children run, twist and jump in nature; climb trees; look under stones for interesting critters; build dens; and find interesting stones and sticks. If you want a little more structure or incentive for your walk, take along a penknife and a whittling book and spend a lazy few hours whittling sticks. Or sign up to eBird (an archive of bird sightings across the globe – more than 100 million bird sightings are contributed each year), grab your binoculars, bird book and notepad and take a note of all the birds you see in your local area. Once home, you can show your child how to add the birds they’ve seen and their location to the eBird tracker, thereby improving their naturalist and computing skills at the same time! Or tune into your surroundings by downloading a bird song identification app (such as Collins in the UK or Sibley Guides in the US) to identify the bird calls and songs you hear all around you. Or download Plantnet to help identify unknown trees and plant species you discover.
Or take a fishing net, pond/river life identification book and a bucket and see what interesting freshwater life you can discover. You could even teach them how to graphically represent their discoveries on your return home. Or pack up a little bag of paints, colouring pens & pencils or chalks, paper, and an identification book, and enjoy some time drawing the nature around you. You might find they become enthused about this and want to start a nature journal or it may just be a one-off picture for your wall. Or take a little collecting bag and ask them to see what snippets of the natural world they can find to set up their own nature table back home. Encourage them to lay out the display, identify their finds and add the labels.
Or just simply walk, breathe and appreciate the beauty of the great outdoors.
2. Reading, reading and more reading!
My children relax by reading. It’s their absolute favourite thing to do. As Dr. Seuss said, “You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax. All you need is a book.” If it’s a beautiful day, set up a picnic blanket and cushions in the garden and lay out lots of lovely picture and/or chapter books for them to select from. Or make a really simple tent by throwing a rug over a washing line and weighting down with rocks. Snuggle up together inside. If it’s a miserable day, get the duvets out, grab some hot chocolate and a few snacks, and settle in for an afternoon of joyous reading.
We sometimes forget that even older children and fluent readers still relish being read to, so enjoy cuddling and reading that chapter book together. Or, if they’re deeply engrossed in their own books, take your book and read alongside them. There’s always a temptation when the kids are fully occupied to fit in just one more job, but don’t! You need a break too, and after an hour’s reading, you’ll be in a much better head space to tackle whatever else the day throws at you.
3. Let them play
Play is vital to children (and to us adults too!). It’s how they learn. Their exploration of the world through play is what forms these wonderful, crazy, creative and imaginative individuals. “Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” -Joseph Chilton Pearce.
So, step back and give them the time and space to play to their hearts content. Take some time for yourself when they’re engaged in play, but also come back from time to time and just watch. Really notice what they’re doing and how they’re playing; it’ll bring joy to your heart.
4. Watch a documentary together
Our kids don’t watch TV apart from documentaries and the odd film or two, so having the opportunity to relax in front of a good documentary or film feels like a real treat. There are some excellent documentaries available, many for free on You Tube. Ours particularly love anything by David Attenborough or the Deadly Sixty series on the natural world front, and anything with Ruth Goodman on the historical front (such as Full Steam Ahead or The Secrets of the Castle).
5. Set up some art provocations
Simply lay out a few art supplies, and possibly an inspirational book and let them while away the day creating masterpieces. My two are particularly partial to me reading to them whilst they create, but if you need a break, put on an audiobook and buy yourself some free time.
6. Enjoy some time giggling together
“A smile starts on the lips, a grin spreads to the eyes, a chuckle comes from the belly; but a good laugh bursts forth from the soul, overflows, and bubbles all around.” — Carolyn Birmingham.
Rejoice in the joy of children and have a good giggle together. Get out the joke books, or dance around the kitchen or one sure fire way to make my children laugh until their tummies hurt is to get out the Mad Libs, a super fun word game (and they can practise their grammar at the same time).
7. Take an impromptu day trip
Clearly this is not one to do if you’re tired, but if you just need a change, ditch the books, and head out for a fun day out at a museum or historical location. Savour in the delicious advantage of being able to visit these places when it’s lovely and quiet.
8. Practise some independence skills
Give them the responsibility of cooking a meal or planning the menu and shopping list for the week. Instead of whizzing through your jobs, include them and do them together slowly. The result – you get your jobs completed and the kids love being involved with the important work of running a household.
9. Play board games
We love board games in our house. Children play them because they’re great fun, but they’re also developing their logic and reasoning skills, improving their critical thinking and enhancing their spatial reasoning at the same time. Favourites in this house are Dutch Blitz, Top Trumps and Ticket to Ride.
10. Take Photos
Take lots of photos throughout the day, and just before bedtime, sit down together and go through them (if your children are anything like mine, they’ll love looking at photos of themselves!), asking them what they enjoyed learning today. Seeing the day through their eyes is a lovely way to connect with them before bedtime and gives you a greater appreciation of just how much they’ve absorbed in this hands-off, go with the flow sort of day. And more importantly you’ll end the day on a positive note, ready to take on whatever the next day holds.
Do any of these tips look like they could work for you? Have you used any of them yourself? Do you have any great tips that we can add to our bag of tricks? Comment below and let us know!
Debbie Douse is co-author of www.fiveescapetheclassroom.com, a blog she writes with fellow home educator and best friend Cathy Smith. Their children bonded over a love of the Enid Blyton Famous Five stories and became firm friends. In the blog, they share their home ed adventures with the world.Follow us!