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spires from Carfax

crisis "home schooling"

It's important to note that what we and many other parents and carers find themselves doing now is not traditional home schooling. It has been thrust upon us, with little warning, rather than being deliberately chosen, and we are in more or less stringent "lockdown", unable to go on outings or meet up with other families. And our school at least is providing solid remote learning support — home learning plans, videoed storytelling and singing assemblies, links to other resources, and so forth. (While continuing to maintain a reduced physical school for children of key workers, and doing things to support vulnerable children and families that I don't know anything about, all while trying to protect their staff as best they can.)

That said, home education is completely unlike schooling.

Schools vary greatly, and teachers and classrooms within schools vary greatly, but they are still considerably more uniform than families and households. They are constrained by curricula and inspections, but even more so by the social and historical and institutional inertias of the education system. And, while school classes are vastly more diverse than the children in any one family, the diversity of children across families at least matches that of schools.

So it is extremely hard to generalise about home education, or to offer useful general advice on it to parents and carers.

Our experience is most unlikely to be broadly relevant. Our household is hugely resource-rich. Helen's book collection is not as big as her school library's, but she has over four hundred books and the comparison is not actually silly. We have a huge range of boardgames, puzzles, musical instruments, construction kits and suchlike, as well as laptops and tablets and a fast Internet connection. We have extensive domain knowledge and even some pedagogical background: Camilla has worked in public engagement of science and (though I'm not sure how practically useful most of it is) I read books and papers on maths pedagogy and reading instruction for fun. And we are time-rich, with one parent working half-time and with just the one child (possibly a drawback when it comes to entertainment in isolation, not so much for education).

But there are apparently half a dozen or so children for whom our school doesn't have a contact email address. Which leads to the unhappy thought that the children for whom school is most important are likely to be the ones schools will have the most trouble reaching in the current situation, and the ones with the poorest access to all the existing and newly sprouting resources online. And of course education will be a relatively minor concern for many, with some families that relied on free school meals going hungry, and with millions who ran small businesses or worked casually or on zero hour contracts now without an income (until and unless they can negotiate the disaster-at-the-best-of-times that is the UK welfare system).

Parents also vary within households. My instinct is to skim through what the school sends out, join in with the "social" material and the attempts to hold a community together, but to largely ignore the "academic" material unless there are bits that look like fun. (I've been most pleased to see the school's worksheets giving a prominent place to maths puzzles.) Camilla in contrast is keener on following school curriculum structures.

My "home education goals" for Helen remain exactly the same as they were six months ago. Trying to feed her a broad and diverse range of books that she finds engaging, including ones she can relax with as well as ones that will stretch her, and continuing to read to her myself. Working through Lockhart's Arithmetic with her, to try to make sure the tedium of the primary mathematics curriculum doesn't kill the fun of numbers and arithmetic, and continuing with my attempt at an ad hoc graph theory introduction. (But doing both of these at her pace, in no hurry because she'll have four more years of school arithmetic and it could easily be fifteen before she ever encounters a formal graph theory course!) Trying to make some progress with German, even if it's at a very slow pace. Inculcating a general curiosity about the natural world and humanity. And exposing her to a broad range of art and music and performance. Most subjects — history, myrmecology, anthropology, geography, politics, economics, epigraphy, etc. — are going to be covered by broad reading and the concomitant discussion and exploration.

Arithmetic is great, as are the Hueber Spielerisch Deutsch Lernen books, but they're hardly going to be useful for everyone.

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