Like many parents I am currently home schooling, but I consider myself very fortunate because:
- I am a freelancer, which therefore affords me the freedom to dedicate time to my children’s education while also continuing to support my clients.
- My boys are still young – Oscar is in nursery and Jacob in reception – which means that their learning is still very much play-based.
I’ve seen a mix of emotions online ranging from the parents who are absolutely loving the challenge to those who are flat out refusing to even entertain the idea of becoming a teacher. I’m not here to judge. Everybody is different and every situation unique to that family.
When I heard the schools were closing, I’ll admit, I was scared and felt completely overwhelmed at the prospect of becoming a teacher overnight. But after a gin and a large slice of cake I decided that the priority for my family was to maintain our routine, because without it everything else, like behaviour and bedtimes, descends into chaos.
I started by mapping out what a typical school day looked like, from the moment we get up to getting home at the end of the day and (attempt!) to stick to our usual hours.
I caveat this by saying that while I need a plan to feel like I’m in control of the situation, I’m also realistic…
- I know there are times where home schooling just isn’t going to happen because the boys aren’t interested – and that’s ok.
- There will be times where I really need to take that client call instead of teach history – and that’s ok.
- And there will be days when I’m just not in a great headspace, so we’ll do the best we can (even if that’s just playing in the garden) – and that’s ok.
The following are simple ideas and resources I’ve found to be useful when home schooling a reception class. And I’ve added some *productivity hacks* in along the way to give you that smug ‘nailed it!’ feeling.
If you do nothing else…
It doesn’t have to be for long – our school says even 5 minutes is enough.
Before the schools closed, we’d built dedicated reading time into Jake’s bedtime routine, which we’ve continued during the lockdown. But I’ve quickly discovered there’s opportunities for him to read loads throughout the day:
- Sounding out the letters/words on food packets.
- Reading instructions on the screen when he’s playing Lego Star Wars.
- Stopping to read road names while out walking.
- Identifying who the post is for.
- Helping to read the recipes when we indulge in some Friday baking.
There are literally words EVERYWHERE and because it’s not framed as ‘reading time’ they don’t fight it.
And because everyone loves a bonus…
Treasure hunts. I discovered this pre-Corona and it’s genius. Write clues on post-it notes and stick them all round the house:
“In the sink”
“Behind the door”
“In Oscar’s bed”
They love running around finding – and reading! – the clues, and you can always reward them with some treasure at the end.
They’re happy and having a great time.
They’re practising their reading.
And you get 15 minutes peace.
At our school they ringfence time for phonics every day, so we’ve maintained this as part of the routine. Every morning we spend 30 minutes working on phonics.
My youngest was just starting to learn the basic sounds – SATPIN – before nursery closed so we’ve continued working on these. To be honest, his attention span is very limited, so we start by playing the video with all the rhymes, which he now sings along to and does the accompanying actions.
If we’re having a good day and he’s willing to stay involved, we then do some arts and crafts:
- Decorating paper plates and cutting them into spirals so we have snakes hanging them from the curtain pole.
- Sticking pipe cleaners and pom poms together to make ants.
- Weaving string to make a tennis racket.
My eldest is currently working on phase 3 phonics. Again, the YouTube video is good to get them singing (*productivity hack* this counts towards your music lessons).
Then there’s loads of wonderful resources available online:
- Alphablocks on YouTube is great. Each episode is about 10 minutes and focuses on a different letter/sound.
- Picnic on Pluto is a cute little game that my boys now ask to play for fun.
- Mr Mc teaches phonics through the awesomeness of ‘Boom shake, shake, shake the room’ – well worth a watch.
- If you’re moving on to the common exceptions (i.e. words that don’t follow the standard sound rules) this is a useful videobut be warned, the tune will be in your head all day.
- Twinkl is a fabulous online tool that has all sorts of worksheets you can print off. Usually it’s a paid-for service but they’re offering free access to parents during the pandemic.
And then there’s loads of activities you can do offline to get them practicing writing the letters/sounds/tricky words:
- Write on paper with pens/crayons.
- Write on a chalk board or black board.
- Fill a tray with flour/sand and write with their finger (we used the 5-year old cous cous at the back of the cupboard for this).
- Paint them onto your patio with water or use chalks.
- Lay out toys on the floor to spell out the letters.
- Write them out on paper and hang them up on a ‘tricky words’ line.
- Stick them to the wall and throw a ball (we use socks) at the target shouting out the word every time you hit it.
- Stick them on the floor and shout them out while you jump on them (*productivity hack* burns off a little extra energy).
- Find them in a book (*productivity hack* get a little extra reading in here).
Such a horrible word that automatically creates a feeling of boredom and an instinct to fight what’s coming next. But I promise, we can do this – and we can enjoy it too.
Our school provided an excellent 1-page overview of what subjects are covered within the curriculum, and within each subject, what the children need to learn that term.
So, in no particular order, your subjects are:
- PSHE (personal, social and health education)
- Art and design
- Design and technology
I’m not mucking about, there’s a few we can get crossed off right now with zero-effort:
P.E. with Joe. Yes, it’s wonderful. Yes, it keeps them entertained. Yes, it burns off that energy. Although we’ve switched from doing the sessions live, to doing them in the afternoon when the cabin fever starts to set in.
Art and design
I discovered Art Hub for Kids on YouTube, which walks you through step-by-step on how to draw the most amazing things. There are a tonne of projects to choose from, including Star Wars, Harry Potter and popular computer game characters.
*productivity hack* If you don’t fancy a dedicated art lesson, you can literally fit art in to any other lesson. There’s always a poster to be drawn, pamphlet to be created or doodle to illustrate a point.
Maintaining routine is essential in our family and because assembly happens every day at school, it happens every day at home. We spend 15 minutes each morning on a different emotion. We start with a little YouTube video – usually something from Sesame Streetbecause it’s pitched perfectly – and then talk about what we’ve just seen and how we can manage those emotions.
And it can be anything:
- Why I’m special
Top tip! Sometimes it helps to involve a toy. Now Bertie the rabbit is feeling scared, which makes it a lot easier for Jacob to express his feelings.
*productivity hack* You can work music into most lessons too, whether it’s singing phonics songs or tapping a drum along in assembly.
*productivity hack* That’s right, it’s a double whammy – why not make some instruments and count it towards design and technology?
- Fill a plastic bottle with some lentils you’ve got hidden at the back of the cupboard – shaker.
- Stick some different sized boxes together and bash them with some pens – drum kit.
- Take the lids off some plastic bottles and fill them with different volumes of water – pan pipes.
Design and technology
*productivity hack* And talking about D&T, again, it literally falls into any other subject. Activities we’ve undertaken include:
- Geography: learning about different types of buildings and choosing one to create out of rubbish.
- English: studying Jill Murphy books and making a space rocket out of cardboard to act out ‘Whatever Next’.
- History: learning about Mary Seacole and creating a booklet about the herbal remedies she used by cutting and sticking pictures we found online (*productivity hack* that’s right, we squeezed computing into that lesson too!)
And if you want to run a dedicated lesson, is there anything more important than food technology?
We’ve always had Cake Friday in our house, where every week I treat the boys to the most delicious cakes we can find. Now we make them. When I left a previous employer my parting gift was a book containing 1001 cupcake recipes. I’m hoping we’re not in lockdown long enough to try them all, but I let the boys choose a new recipe every week.
And if you’re less confident in the kitchen, try a rocky road or a tiffin – essentially melted chocolate with biscuits and other goodies thrown in.
*productivity hack* get them baking for their lunch too. We’ve made pizza using naan breads as the base. And sausage, bean and cheese pasties with ready-to-roll puff pastry.
*productivity hack* Again, you can literally work this into any lesson:
- Using the computer to write a story with pictures in a Word document.
- Searching the internet to find out facts for our history lesson.
- Watching crazy science experiments on YouTube.
They may seem like basic skills to us, but they’re tricky and super important for your little ones to learn. And certainly, I find my boys stay engaged for longer when they’re writing on a keyboard rather than with a pen.
So, what are we left with?
We’re doing pretty well, right?
And so far, nothing’s been too taxing? In fact, most of it is stuff that we might do anyway to keep the little ones entertained at home.
So, here’s where it gets a little more difficult…
And where you need to get online and check out Twinkl.
As I said back in phonics, it’s an online resource for both parents and teachers and right now it’s completely free. You can search for anything and they’ve got a variety of videos, PowerPoint presentations and worksheets to keep the little ones entertained and support your home schooling.
And if that wasn’t enough, they’ve made it even simpler by putting different lesson packs together so you can download a new one each week – minimal effort, maximum learning.
In addition to Twinkl, there’s plenty of amazing content on YouTube if you take some time to search.
And my biggest *productivity hack* so far…
GET YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS INVOLVED.
Because frankly, what are the grandparents really doing right now?
I’ve invited several members of my family teach my boys:
- History: my Dad and step-mum sent over a load of their old photos and school reports. We then had a video call where we looked through them while they told us all about their childhoods (including the dreaded cane!) and compared it to life today.
- Geography: my sister prepared a PowerPoint deck with photos of all the houses she’s lived in. We then video conferenced where she talked through the different building types, and different towns/cities she’d lived in.
- Science: my mother-in-law sent instructions and seeds for us to plant, then called us to talk the boys through the process and give them tips on caring for the seedlings.
- RE: my next-door neighbour, who is a practising Christian, called the boys on WhatsApp to tell them all about the Easter story.
The only expectation I set was that we would call them to talk about a particular subject, and off their own backs they all put in the most amazing effort to make their lesson interesting. In fact, it’s turning into a bit of a competition now to see who can make theirs the best.
Not only is this great for inspiring my boys with their education, it’s making sure we’re all staying connected while we can’t physically meet up.
Then there’s the most important subject of them all…
Well, as a copywriter would you expect me to say anything else?!
I never really liked English at school and really struggled with every lesson. Largely I put it down to my teacher and the way I was taught – forced to study Shakespeare at length and constantly put down in front of the class when I didn’t understand olde English.
But English is the most important thing you can study because it touches every other subject and sets you up for life.
I want my boys to feel inspired by it. I want them to understand the beauty of the English language, and to see that there’s a whole world of exciting literature beyond the Oxford Learning Tree. So, we’ve been focussing on different authors each week.
With each one, we choose 2-3 books and read them in different formats – for example, I might read one, we might watch another being read on YouTube and (*productivity hack*) I might get Jacob to help read the third.
Then we talk about the characters, introducing the concept of using adjectives and similes to describe them. (*productivity hack*)We’ll then draw our favourite characters or make up our own. (*productivity hack*) We’ll then write out the key parts of the story on the computer.
I’m not a teacher, but I think the secret of inspirational teaching is to start with things they love and are naturally interested in, so it never feels like learning. So, for Oscar it’s Dr. Seuss, where we can explore the joys of rhyming couplets, and for Jacob it’s superheroes, where we talk about verbs and varying sentence structure for maximum impact.
And finally, the numbers
That’s right, we’re ending with maths.
In many ways I’ve found this to be the most fun because a bit like the reading, which you can do all day every day, numbers are all around us too:
- Whether it’s reading quantities for ingredients in our Friday baking.
- Talking about the time.
- Counting when we’re washing our hands.
- Encouraging them to eat half of their dinner to get pudding.
I’ll admit, I may have got excited and raided Amazon to stock up on maths equipment like:
- Counting animals
- Maths games
- Wipe clean booklets to trace numbers
- Stacking bricks
You don’t need to be crazy like me as you’ll have tonnes of stuff at home already. For example, give them a maths problem to solve like ‘3 + 5’, and get them to count out toys to help them calculate the answer. Or drawing numbers out in cous cous. Or painting numbers on the patio with water.
One of the best things we’ve done is to create a number line from 1 to 20 in the lounge. Not only did Jacob write them out (*productivity hack*) and decorate them all, he was instantly happier because our home classroom looked more like his one at school.
You’ve got this
This list is in no way exhaustive, but hopefully you’ll see there are lots of simple ways to run a reception-age class. They learn best through play and exploring the world, so focus on presenting them with a variety of experiences and they’ll not only take it all in, but they’ll genuinely enjoy it.
Psst…a little something to keep in your back pocket
Possibly the 2 most powerful words I’ve discovered during lockdown. If at any moment things become too much and you need a break, or you feel your child has done so well they’re worthy of the ultimate treat, just utter the words “free play”.
I don’t know what it is about those 2 words, but they hold immense power. My boys have been driving me nuts, hovering round while I’m desperately trying to steal 5 minutes of quiet time and the moment I say “free play” they’re off, immersing themselves in a wonderful world of make believe and playing so nicely together.
It’s an amazing discovery and a little gift from me to you.
Hello! I’m Alice, a B2B copywriter, specialising in ‘top of the funeral’ content, such as blogging, thought leadership with white papers, reports and guides, and case studies. I’m based in a little village just outside of Reading with clients across the Thames Valley. I work with small IT and tech businesses who have achieved a certain level of success organically and are now looking to scale to get ‘to the next level’, but who don’t necessarily have a dedicated marketing person or go-to market strategy in place yet. Establishing a schedule of regular interesting and engaging content to clearly position and differentiate you in the market, I can start to create the tribe that ensures a constant drip feed of leads into the top of your funnel, ready for your sales team to qualify.