Homeschooling or home schooling, also known as home education or elective home education

verbgerund or present participle: homeschooling

  1. educate (one’s child) at home instead of sending them to a school.

Bonas MacFarlane has arranged thousands of homeschooling, residential assignments. Parents choose to temporarily remove their children from school, or give over holidays to tutoring. Suddenly, by school shutting decree, this rarified world of education in the home has become the national norm.

In the late 1990s, I spent three agreeable years homeschooling children, in the USA to Turkey, North-East London to the Dordogne. Some American parents became so enamoured of homeschooling that I helped them found a school in Taos, New Mexico, based on two of it’s key ideals – experiential learning and parental participation. The later ideal was less constructive at the haunted French farm house where I lived and established the next homeschool group. I returned at night to parents hiding under the stairs, whispering in ghoulish Franglais. 

The homeschooling to which the nation’s children are about to revert, however, is something quite new, and rather less appealing than the way many children are still schooled at home in the States, but less so in England. (This was not always the case: along with many high born girls, HM The Queen was homeschooled for the entirety of her education; jump back a few centuries and one finds young aristocrats lodging near great public schools with their family tutor ‘going up to school’  for reasons only of communality). 

The pandemic induced homeschooling of the Digital Age, that began last Spring during the first lockdown, is actually a hybrid of conventional schooling and pure homeschooling. In the later, schools play a peripheral role, if any; education is led by an on-site parent or tutor. 

The new homeschooling of course, is all online and school led. In the independent sector during the first 2020 lockdown this system worked well in parts; teachers have mastered online learning software. Instead of literally locking parents out of their children’s learning environment all day, schooling was brought into the home and became collaborative with parents, by necessity. Parents, particularly from Communist education systems, were fascinated to see what their children do all day at an English school. 

Then from September 2020, a second new digital iteration of homeschooling was borne out of boarding schools physically reopening but with a continuing absence of many overseas pupils. They could now access real time, ‘real life’ lessons online. Some of these pupils have yet to visit their school but have been educated virtually by it since September, accessing, from thousands of miles, the communisation of campus life. 
Longer term, this may well make the necessity of ‘keeping terms’ obsolete.

Migrating across the planet for two thirds of the year just to be physically present all term may become anachronistic. By limiting physical attendance, schools could grow considerably, with no need for the concomitant physical expansion.  

And now in January 2021 we will enter a third homeschooling iteration.

Here are ten suggestions for what will hopefully be a final round of schooling at home;

1. The key advice we stressed in March remains: without a routine, productivity will underperform a British Leyland Austin Allegro car plant on a July Friday afternoon. As the mantra goes, it takes twenty-one days to form a habit and three days to break one. If parents also follow the routine to the second, it gives them control. Remember: don’t try and beat schools at their own game.  They keep hundreds of children in confined spaces all day by routine – the endearing power of the ‘voice of the bell’, as a late Victorian Harrow Song describes.

I once tutored a boy with a mother whose anxiety about reliability became tiresome. So I scheduled tutorials at an hour she assumed I would miss. Knowing that news bulletins were a permanent fixture in the home (her husband was a politician), I would wait around the corner a few minutes before ten on a Sunday morning, set my watch to the Speaking Clock and press her door bell exactly as the pips on Radio 4 beeped the hour. A few weeks of this behaviour genuinely unsettled her husband and I was left to do everything my way. So: routine = control. 

2. For primary / prep school aged children in particular, the ‘Zoom School Day’ is too long. Ask your school to see the schemes of work for the term. You and / or a tutor, can then cover them with your children in a fraction of the time. Login to some of the school day for socialisation; do not feel compelled to join all of it. This advice is unlikely to endear us to schools but we have been homeschooling for a long time…

3. Try and have your children leave the house before they start work everyday, even if it is to walk the dog around the block for ten minutes. Repeat this several times during the day. Short indoor bursts of intense exercise also work. One of the advantages of tutoring children in six storey Belgravia town houses was dispatching them to the top of the house and back as a reward for finally producing the right answer. 

4. If possible, dedicate one room as the schoolroom. Ensure that the children tidy it up at the end of every day. Ban phones from it. Have no social media participation take place there.

5. Make sure that every study session – with or without parental supervision – has a structure to it, with a short written plan of the objectives (what is going to happen eg reading a chapter and taking some notes on it) and a note of the outcome – has it been achieved and to what standard. 

6. The great problem with home learning is the isolation, not social as much as communal, because children are not surrounded by other children bouncing ideas off each other and finding the learning equally challenging. I tell our tutors that they must wear different hats, one being that of a fellow pupil, rather than a graduate tutor churning out model answers and operating on an elevated cognitive plane. Mediocre tutors show children how to recreate; only the talented tutors can show them how to create and instil the confidence to become independent learners. 

So join in with some of your child’s learning – have a go at doing some GCSE Chemistry or whatever challenges you the most. Relearn your Maths. I did and found it far more enjoyable to tutor than my degree subject. Have the family all read the same book and watch the same documentaries, then talk about them over the supper table.

7. Use descriptive praise (ie detail the reasons you are impressed with your child’s work rather just saying ‘great’ or ‘well done’) and positive reenforcement (of what is going well rather than waiting for something to go wrong then launching into criticism).

8. Exploit reward systems. These work, particularly the financial ones. Most of the older children I have tutored were already blissfully siloed in a woke free, 1980’s, ‘Gordon Gekkoesque’ motivational time warp (‘Greed, for want of a better word, is good; greed is right; greed works; greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit…’). For younger children, it’s all about star shaped stickers. Play to their charming greed for stickers. 

9. Rome was not built in a day. So you must calibrate expectations of your child that are realistic and empathetic. When was the last time you studied something completely new to a level where it would be examined? Think how hard and horrible it is to have to listen to instructions about operating a water softener, or to directions. For less than two minutes.

If a child is learning with complete focus for an hour a day, that in itself is a noteworthy achievement. You can then build the learning at maximum efficiency for up to three or four hours a day. That is a newsworthy achievement. More than an hour of intense focus needs several breaks – long and short. How much of this sort of ultra efficient, intensive learning happens during a school day packed full of lessons but also full of distractions?

10. Visual projections of success also work as motivators. With a severely underperforming thirteen year old, an adolescent behavioural advised me to have him visualise his eighteenth birthday party after he had succeeded at school: the pride on his father’s face as he gave a toast, the go getting guests, conversations about well earned gap year plans – everything down to symbols of success represented by the choice of music. I did as advised. Off went the boy to school. The next call from his mother was five years later, to ask me to that birthday party…

by Charles Bonas.

If you got this far well done, if you have more questions please call the Bonas MacFarlane office on +44 (0) 207 223 2794 or fill out our Client Enquiry form, we have hundreds of tutors and mentors standing by to help.