Coronavirus home tuition: ‘At first, they resisted it a bit...but they have come around’
Veteran advises parents to ‘trust that children will always be learning even if they don’t appear to be’
Edward Gray and his sons Tom (9) and Charlie (5). Like thousands of parents, he has been plunged into home-schooling’s his children. Photograph Nick Bradshaw / The Irish Times
Edward Gray is an engineer by profession. Over the past week, however. he’s had to reinvent himself.
The father of two is juggling his day job with telecommunications company Three with trying to teach his two boys, Tom (9) and Charlie (5) as schools are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve no experience of this. It’s only now I realise what’s involved in the art of teaching,” Gray says.
While it feels like unchartered territory, he says his training as an engineer has helped give some structure to the home school day.
“The school sent home guidelines and exercises to complete. I’ve looked ahead at the two weeks and broken up the work into 10 days,” he says.
“I get up early and start work about 7am. Then myself and my wife try to do a three-hour learning session from about 9am until 12. After that, I try to get back to work and play catch-up.”
The children, meanwhile, are adapting.
“At first, they resisted it a bit because they thought this was going to be a holiday, but they have come around,” he says.
Gray, like thousands of parents in Ireland, has been trying to navigate this new scenario over the past week.
There are, however, hundreds of parents who have been home-schooling their chidren for years and have reassuring advice for parents in relation to academic progress and structuring the school day.
Almost 1,500 children were being homeschooled by their parents last year, with numbers rising steadily in recent years.
Meadhbh O’Leary has almost 15 years of home-schooling experience, having educated her three daughters in Cork. When it comes to timetables, she doesn’t attempt to mimic the structure of the school day.
“There isn’t really a timetable for us,” she says. “There is a homelife structure and children, when they are young, they are up early.”
O’Leary says she taught numeracy in a functional and hands-on way.
“It’s not taught in the conventional sense in that we never had a curriculum book,” she says, “We are obviously counting, in cooking we are measuring, we are working out the prices of things and in sales the percentages of things.”
She believes children will find opportunities to learn outside of a structured curriculum.
“Trust that children will always be learning even if they don’t appear to be. You can’t stop them,” she says. “It is a lovely thing to do to read to your children and so often we don’t have time.
“Do what you like to do, if you like playing the guitar, try and do that and be a role model of learning yourself...most children want to do what their parents are doing.”
O’Leary advises against trying to get children to do worksheets at all costs.
“That is just so stressful for both parent and child and the learning won’t happen,” she says. “When there is love and emotions involved the learning is just boundless.”
Cora McCauley of Home Schooling Ireland agrees. The mother of four, who has been home-schooling her children for the past six years, says giving children some control and input into their learning is crucial.
“Ask them what do they want to get out of the experience. Don’t try to replicate school at home,” she says. “If they are weak in a subject they might want to work on it, but let it come from the child.”
Assistant professor in education at Trinity College Dublin Ann Devitt, a mother of three primary school-going children, also says it is important to involve your children in planning their education, and to have goals and rewards.
“They’ll be much more bought into the process if they are feeling that they have some control over what is being asked of them,” she says. “We talk a lot in the education system about students needing to become self-directed learners. This is an opportunity to put this into action in our own homes.”
Devitt advises parents to work with their children in drawing-up a plan to reach goals, and to think of longer-term as well as having a short-term daily structure.
“You don’t have to stick to this rigidly but it helps everyone to know what’s next. Define and agree the timelines for the day and the week. Be sure you have timed breaks in there with things they like to do. Again, agree on this and put it somewhere visible.”
Gray, meanwhile, is still figuring out what works and what doesn’t . It’s a learning curve for both him and his chidren.
“I’ve realised you need to make sure that you are prepared, and everything is set up before you start,” he says.
“Books out, pencils out, pencil parers out. You need to make sure that you have no distractions, so the rhythm isn’t interrupted.
“Even though it’s a little shorter than the school day it’s probably that little bit more intense.”
The Irish Times has compiled a guide to the best teaching and learning resources online for parents, students and teachers at www.irishtimes.com/education