Since I shared our Half Term plan with you, I thought I would let you know how it went in practice.
We began the week with some housework and gardening. It was really important to me. There were jobs that needed doing, and getting the boys to help out really helped me relax and feel ready to create a lot of fun for them during the rest of the week!
We finished the day off with a virtual theatre trip. We watched four short puppet shows about Ancient Greek Myths.
The virtual zoo trip!
We began with a cuddly toy safari. Which ended with a huge surprise when Mr Frogotter leapt out from behind a bush, disguised as a crocodile!
We took turns being crocodiles and chasing crocodiles. Which was a lot of fun! Middly was tempted outside to join in.
Back inside, we did some face painting. And Middly made a panda head.
Then we put on the TV and watched a tour of Longleat. Eldest finally joined us, so the whole family watched together. It’s a brilliant tour, really interesting and with loads of baby animals!
Lunchtime! Eldest warmed up some pasties and made a side salad.
After lunch, we went back outside, with our masks, and used Google 3d animals to get some fun photos.
Finally, we went online and let the children each choose a ‘souvenir’ of our trip.
We had a Hat Day!
This is a simple idea, but it works really well. All the children think of two things they want to do, write them on bits of paper and put them in a hat. Then they take it turns to pull one out and we do it.
We had a walk by the river, played hide and seek, cut paper (Baby Girl’s idea!), made Skylanders, baked hot cross buns, played charades, and had a mini Jurassic Park.
The ‘souvenirs’ that we bought yesterday arrived. So all the children enjoyed playing with them.
The teens were tiring of family time, so ducked out of the morning. Baby Girl and Youngling enjoyed Wednesday’s walk, so we went for another one together.
Then Youngling got a new book in the post, so disappeared to read it! Baby Girl and I popped into town to post some parcels.
We painted together. I had a set of canvases for the children to use.
Baby Girl painted some dinosaurs.
We finished our creations for Art Day with decorating T shirts together, to make a family set.
Finally, we watched a tour of the Louvre on YouTube. It wasn’t actually very good, but we had snacks, so nobody minded.
A relaxed day today. I set it aside to be a Games Day. Another slow start for the teens. Youngling, Baby Girl, and I read some books together, and played Labyrinth.
When the older boys joined us, we played Giant Dobble – which was a lot of fun. Baby Girl worked out how to play, which delighted her brothers.
After lunch, we played Brainbox French and normal-sized Dobble, then charades.
Then the boys got the Wii set up and played a sports game together.
We have a regular Skype call with family on Saturday mornings, it’s kept us all in touch during lockdown.
After that, Mr Frogotter took Eldest out to run some errands and the rest of us did a bit of weeding in the garden.
Mr Frogotter brought home belgian buns, which was a nice treat after our hard work.
Online church. Then a family walk by the river. Our usual Sunday during Lockdown. This time, we took a box of chocolate eggs with us and had an Easter egg hunt as we walked.
Half Term went really well. I think that starting with jobs really helped my mood! Putting the big fun day near the beginning worked well, too. By the end of the week, the children were more tired and wanted quieter days. I’m very glad that the weather is starting to warm up. It’s felt like a long, cold winter. It’s very nice to see Spring on the way, at last!
I hope you’re all managing to have fun during lockdown too!
Obviously, one of my main points is going to be that the Frogotter Box allows you to home educate and spend zero time on prep 😉 It really does, and I think that’s a great thing!
But, full disclosure, there are other ways to achieve this! I ran a poll on my twitter account to guage how much time people were spending on preparing for home educating or remote schooling their children. Here are the results:
It was more evenly spread than I expected. An impressive 36% of parents were doing less than 15 mins. Most people, however, are putting some time into prep work.
What’s the Problem with Prep?
We’re all busy. Educating the children has to be fitted in along with work, running the house, cooking, keeping fit, playing with the children, and spending time on ourselves.
So, when we spend time on educating our children, we want it to be quality time. That means time devoted to education, should be spent with the children, not on admin.
You can home educate you can spend zero time on prep. If you’re one of the 25% of people who are spending more than an hour a week just preparing education for your children, then switching to a zero prep plan is going to make a big difference!
How Can You Cut Prep? Get Someone Else To Do It!
Respondents to my poll who had achieved Zero Prep, all had one thing in common: they used pre-prepped work.
Some people are using online resources like Reading Eggs or BBC Bitesize. Some are using resources prepared by school. There are also various letterbox plans, like Kiwi Co, who will post you activities. All of these are ready to use and require no prep from you.
You can also use workbooks. My family have used CGP, Schofield and Simms and Colins workbooks at various times. Both CGP and Schofield and Simms have extensive ‘see inside’ pages on their websites, so you can have a look – even encourage your child to look with you – and choose the ones that will suit your family best.
Finally, if you’re looking for something hands-on, that’s what the Frogotter Box is designed for.
Can Prep Be Good?
One of the discussions that came out of my poll was about different kinds of prep.
In some families, children help prepare topics and schedule activities. This can be a fantastic learning opportunity in itself. Get your child involved in planning how to spend their time and they’ll be more invested in the time table. They will learn how to plan, and planning time will be together time. It’s a win win win!
Another parent shared that part of her prep is reading the same books as her daughter, ready to discuss them. Any prep that involves learning for us as parents serves dual purposes. It’s great for us to model learning, and who doesn’t like an excuse to read a good book? That kind of prep can’t be bad.
Get The Kids To Spend Time On Prep
Could you involve your child more in preparing their education as well as enjoying it?
Children can get involved in project-based learning by: choosing a topic, suggesting activities, searching for activities online or in relevant books, ordering the activities.
They can get involved in online or text-based learning by: trialing various sites or browsing books and recording their preferences, setting a timetable for the week.
Whatever style of learning you’re using, it’s great to plan the days and weeks together. It’s really valuable for your child to discover what time of day they focus best, and whether they do better with long or short bursts. Those moments I spend with my children, relaxed, chatting and planning together, are some of the best moments of my week.
In schools, this is generally a pretty easy question to answer. Lessons are as long as the time slot provided for them. The UK’s experiment with Literacy Hour and Numeracy Hour weren’t overly successful. Schools prefer to set their own lesson times, and these range from 30 minutes to two hours. However, schools are doing something very different to what you will be doing at home!
Save Time on Admin
School lessons include a lot of administration. It takes a great deal longer for thirty children to get out a book and a pencil, than it does for one child to open up their Learning Box. If you keep all your supplies to hand, getting started shouldn’t take very long. In our house we keep workbooks in a filing cabinet and all stationary in a big box (if you use the Frogotter Box, of course, everything is right there inside the box ready to go).
One to One Learning is Intense
Two hours might be fine for a lesson at school, especially if that lesson is comprised of a variety of activities. It will probably be too long for a one to one lesson. Learning one to one is intense. Your child can’t let their mind wander while worksheets are being handed out, or relax while the teacher explains to children who need extra support. When they’re learning one to one, your child has your full attention all the time.
However, most people believe that adults can only focus for about twenty minutes at a time before they need a break. It seems unlikely that there are many eleven year olds capable of focussing on one task for the best part of an hour.
Twenty Minutes is Enough
A lot depends on what the task is, how interested your child is, and how challenging they find the task. I can read a novel for several hours without needing a break. But if I’m trying to learn a new programming language then my mind will start to wander and I’ll need to shift from reading about it to trying it out, and back again. To keep the love of learning alive, we should aim to stop before the child is bored or fed up. I wouldn’t reccomend trying to study for more than twenty minutes without some kind of shift.
Breaks v. Shifts
A break is when you stop learning altogether. A shift is when you switch to a different activity. Both can help to lengthen the time for which you are able to focus.
Most of the activities in the Frogotter Activity Book include space for exploring the idea and playing with the materials. Playing in this way is a shift of attention, and can enable you to keep a lesson going for longer than twenty minutes. Playing doesn’t tire us in the same way as focussing does. Your child may well be happy to play with one of the activities for longer than twenty minutes. When you’re learning through play, there is plenty of space to relax, and many children are happy to play the same game for a prolonged time.
Shifting mental focus can reset our attention span. Sometimes, a child may be able to do a Literacy activity for twenty minutes followed by a Numeracy activity for another twenty minutes. As the saying goes: a change is as good as a rest. If you need to fit learning into a small part of the day, swapping from one subject to another, or even from one activity to another, can be a good way of preventing exhaustion.
Taking a break to get outside and play, or to have a drink and a snack, can replenish our stock of attention too. This is a particularly good idea after an activity that your child finds difficult.
Move at Your Child’s Pace
If you were teaching a whole class then you might need to stop to settle a child who was disrupting the others, you might have to stop to look after a child who was unwell, you might have to repeat instructions for one child, explain in a different way for another child, and sharpen another child’s pencil. At home, you will only have to do this for one child. Of course, there may be days that your child needs all of this support, and those will probably be the days when your lesson takes a bit longer than usual! But, you won’t be waiting for any other children. So, in general, you can expect your lessons to be a lot shorter than they would be at school.
If your child is quick to grasp a new concept, then you may find a lesson is very short indeed. Conversely, if your child is struggling, you might decide to cut the lesson short to avoid overwhelming them.
However, if your child is enjoying the new material, engaged and interested, then you might decide to take a bit longer, and really explore the activity. It is wonderful to have the freedom to devote time to something that you and your child are really enjoying, and it’s a fantastic way to nuture a love of learning. Many activities will interest your child for longer than twenty minutes. You may even have educational board games that take longer than twenty minutes to play!
Stop if you need to
A school lesson would stop for a fire drill, or lunchtime. So, you can stop if it’s time to go out or make a meal. Home Education is an important part of family life, but it isn’t the only part. Yes, it’s great to give your child the time they need, but, it’s absolutely fine to put the maths game to one side, if you need to attend to another child, or get to work!
If you have a lot of time commitments, you might need to schedule your learning time to fit in with other things. In that case, your lesson length will be dicatated by the other things you have to do.
In the UK, there is currently only a very broad definition of what parents are required to do to home educate their children. Home educators are not required to teach to a set timetable, or to provide a set number of hours. However, in the guidance for parents, it states that education should occupy “a significant proportion of a child’s life”. This does suggest that home educated students are expected to devote a reasonable quantity of time to learning. Though, that learning will include reading, music, cooking, playing sports, art, craft, field trips, and engaging in educational projects – it doesn’t mean that most of the day must be devoted to studying from a text book. It does suggest, however, that a good working relationship with your Local Authority would be supported by keeping a rough tally of how your child is spending their time. (If you are using the Frogotter Box, you can download extra record sheets here, to easily keep track.)
In the same guidance, the writers estimate that school attending children receive 5 hours a day of educational input, for 190 days a year; which comes to 950 hours a year, though they clearly state that Home Educators are not expected to meet these figures. In the guidance for Local Authorities, however, the writers mention that independant schools are required to operate for 18 hours a week. This fact doesn’t seem relavent to home educators (who are not trying to register as independant schools) unless it is intended to imply that 18 hours a week (which equates to 684 hours a year) might be considered a reasonable amount of time for education.
How Much Time does Home Education Take?
I did an experiment with my own home educated children, recording to the nearest twenty minutes how they spent their time for two weeks. The teenagers spent more time on book work, the primary aged child more time building his own creations from lego and junk modeling; all spent a few hours a week at sports clubs and we had one big field trip day to a museum. In total, we did reach about 18 hours a week, so I think it’s an achievable level.
Another blogger, Monkey Mum, has done her own estimate of how much focused learning time is actually available for primary school teachers, here. She estimates that time to be about 100 minutes per school day, equating to only 316 hours and 40 minutes a year.
A lot depends on how you count education. I don’t think that young children should have focussed lessons that exceed twenty minutes. But, I do think that children can engage in educational play for far longer. I also think that extended play – especially creative play – can count towards your weekly total of educational time.
Sensory Play is popular in Early Years settings, and amongst parents of toddlers. But fewer teachers or parents think of using it with older children. I think that’s a shame.
Engaging the senses helps us to encode memories. So, the more senses we use in learning, the easier it is to recall material.
The Frogotter Box is designed to encourage you and your child to use your senses as you learn. The hands-on materials engage touch as well as sight. There are games to engage senses of proprioception and of sound. The Extension Activities even include recipes to engage the senses of smell and taste.
Sensory Play is appealing. Laying out a selection of resources invites children to explore and learn. Everything about the Frogotter Box – from the treasure chest style of the box itself to the lovely tactile wooden animals and the soft time snail sheet – is designed to invite children to investigate.
Sensory Play is open-ended. Repeat is s key element of the Frogotter method, not because it’s about drilling information into children, but because returning to toys and games gives time and space for children to develop their ideas. The first time you try an activity, you may just follow the steps and your child might have few ideas to contribute. The second time, however, they will be ready to go further. If you repeat an activity a few times, your child will begin to play with the ideas themselves, and in play they will take their learning in new directions and to greater depths.
There are lots of online resources, and they certainly have their place. But, I think that learning a new concept is far easier when you can get your hands on it and move it around.
If you want your child to read, they need to know what books are for. So, read to them. Read as many types of books as you can: stories, recipes, poems, guide books, encyclopedias, how-to books; all books are great for this step. As soon as possible, let your child choose books. We go to the library every week (except in Lockdown, of course) and let the children choose their own books. It’s one of their first tastes of independance. Even a baby can indicate which of two options they are more interested in. Encourage your children to choose.
Rather brilliantly, one of the best predictors of children who love to read is having parents who love to read. So a great way of beginning to teach your child to read is to let them see you reading for pleasure. It is actually good for your kids if you pick up a book while they’re watching TV! Hurrah!
Step Two – Teach Your Child to Read Pictures
Before you start with words, look at pictures together. Talking about pictures, spotting details, working out what’s going on – what movement is being represented by a static image – are all great ways of building literacy skills. There’s lots of information about why looking at pictures helps children learn to read, but this is a quick guide. Playing ‘spot the picture’ games is part of teaching children to read. In the Frogotter Box, we use the Time Snail for this step.
Big Time Snail Sheet
Step Three – Identifying Letters
You don’t have to stop talking about pictures to start Step Two, ideally you will keep doing that as well; it will build comprehension skills. But, it’s really easy to add ‘spot the letter’ to your game. In the Frogotter Box, we use the Anatomy Sheet for this game.
Big Anatomy Sheet (with alphabet in lower and upper case)
Once your child has found all the boats on a page, point to a letter ‘b’ and ask if they can spot another ‘b’ just like that one. You can spot letters everywhere, on signs, on packets, on TV, and – of course – in books.
Step Four – Make the Sounds for the Letters
When introducing the letters to your child, say their sounds and not their names. So ‘a’ is pronounced ‘a’ as in the beginning of ‘apple’, not ‘ay’ as in the end of ‘say’. You can find plenty of guides online; here’s ours.
It can take a bit of practice to get the hang of this, but it’s really worth it, as it makes it much easier to get reading. If you put ‘see’ ‘ay’ ‘tea’ together, it sounds nothing like cat; but if you put ‘c’ ‘a’ ‘t’ together, it does!
Step Five – Put the Letters Together
I am a big fan of phonics. It does very well in studies, and really does seem to be a great way to teach your child to read. Plus, it’s not hard to do. Start with a few letters at a time (if you start with s, a, t, p, i; you can get a good handful of words that your child can read, very quickly).
Letters that you can pick up and move around are really handy for this stage. The Frogotter Box has a huge selection of 154 letters (plus three pieces of punctuation) – two capitals and five lowercase of each letter – which have magnetic backs so you can stick them to the whiteboard. We have a lot of fun making words with the letters in our box, you can watch us on youtube.
157 Foam Magnetic Letters
As soon as you can, it’s great to get your child reading books. There are lots of reading schemes out there, hopefully you can get hold of some from your local library. But, if you’re available and ready to read any words that they can’t manage, your child can practise their reading with absolutely any book. Don’t be afraid of letting them choose books that are ‘too hard’ for them; it’s far better to read a ‘too hard’ book that interests your child than a ‘just the right level’ book that doesn’t. Just be on side to help when they get stuck.
Step Six – Blending
Sometimes children struggle to get from sounding out single letters to reading whole words. If you want to teach your child to read whole words, and not just letters, you need to teach them blending. The best way I found is slightly counter-intuitive: start by teaching the child how to split words up into individual sounds. You can see us doing this in ‘Talk like a Tortoise’.
Step Seven – Repeat!
I am a big fan of returning to ideas and activities to help consolidate learning. ‘Repeat’, is one of the key themese of the Frogotter Approach. But, it’s even more important when you’re trying to teach your child to read.
There are loads of sounds in English, and it takes a long time to become familiar with all of them. Keep reading together – even if your children can read to themselves; there’s something very cosy about sharing stories. Keep looking at pictures together, and talk about them. Keep looking at letters and how they build words, once your child has met the first sounds, introduce more, and look at how the same letters can make different sounds – like ‘ow’ in ‘snow’ and ‘ow’ in ‘cow’ – and how different letters can make the same sounds – like ‘oo’ in ‘cool’ and ‘ue’ in ‘blue’. Keep taking those letters apart and putting them back together – it’ll help with spelling, just as much as reading.
I’ve taught three of my children to read so far. Baby Girl is still on step one, as I write. It has honestly been one of my favourite parts of parenting. Sharing something so brilliant with my children has been a huge pleasure. I hope that you will enjoy sharing reading with your child too.
However old your child, and however experienced you are as a parent, starting home education can be daunting. Being responsible for your child’s education is certainly an important task, but it can still be a lot of fun.
There are fewer time limits than you might think. Even GCSEs and A-levels can be taken at a range of ages, and there’s no real deadline to anything your child learns in primary school. You don’t have to follow school terms, or school days. In short, you have all the time you need.
School isn’t going anywhere. If you want to, in a term, a year, or a few years; you can re-enroll your child in school. This may seem like a strange thing to say to someone starting home education. But, it can be very freeing to know that you haven’t made an irrevocable decision. If you change your mind, or if circumstances change, you can use school again.
You’re not alone. There are lots of home education groups (Facebook can be a great way to find local groups, and Education Otherwise keeps a list of local groups), and all the ones we’ve come across are always ready to welcome new home educators. You and your child will find a community to join.
Nor are you under-resourced. There are loads of trips, online games, workbooks, board games, libraries and sports centres out there waiting for you to find them. Once you get started, you’ll soon find that the hardest bit is whittling down what you really want to do. There’s loads of choice!
Relating To One Another:
Sometimes parents take children out of school because their child was unhappy. It can take time, and gentleness, to heal a child who had a tough time at school.
Often – especially if a child has attended school or nursery – parents are unused to taking on the role of teacher as well as parent. When starting home education, it can feel a bit strange to be closely involved in your child’s education if you’re both accustomed to having another adult there. You’ll both need to ease into your roles as home educating parent and child. It’s not quite the same as being teacher and pupil. It is, however, a flexible role that you can mould to fit your family.
As you explore learning together, you’ll get to know each other better. You’ll get to know what time of day you have most energy and enthusiasm. You’ll get to know what excites you and what baffles you. Home Education could be called Family Education, it involves the whole family, and everyone will need to work out their role and how to really enjoy this period in your life. Don’t expect it to be all about your child. The best Family Education set up is the one that’s comfortable for everyone.
When deciding on timetables, groups, even what to study; consider everyone’s needs. In the early days of our home educating, my husband worked Monday-Friday, then did some home ed with the children on Saturdays, so that I could pursue my own projects. Sunday was a family day, then Monday I did fun activities or trips with the children, to ease us all back into the week. My main home education days were Tuesday-Friday. These days, I work Mondays and Tuesdays, so my husband does home education in those days, then he works Wednesday-Fridays. I do home education with the children on Wednesday and Thursday, then use Friday as a Catch-up day to sort out all the things we didn’t get around to during the week. Which leaves Saturday and Sunday for family time. Find a pattern that suits your family, and to adjust it when required.
Most children thrive with reliable routines. I like to think of our routine as the plain canvas that allows everyone to express themselves in bright colours. We keep the pattern of the week predictable and the children can fill it in with their own ideas and projects.
People learn in spirals, returning to ideas over and over, adding a bit more detail and depth each time. So, it’s good to repeat activities, trips, books, and games with your children. As they repeat, they will have a better chance of mastering activities, which will boost their confidence.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the options available when starting home education. Try out a few at a time. You don’t need a new activity every day, or a new game every week. You can go to the same forest over and over – that’s how you’ll see the seasons change. Never be afraid of boring your child. When you’re predictable, they will have space and security to be imaginative. Practice leads to excellence. Let your child practice skills over and over. Encourage revisiting, it’s how we learn our way around.