Photo Credit: Clancy Job
When the announcement came out last week that schools would be effectively closed for 5 weeks I knew exactly who I needed to talk to.
Tara lives on a cattle station 140km from Cloncurry in Outback Queensland with her Husband Danny and their 3 kids. She's been teaching their kids in the school room for over 6 years via School of the Air, so I knew she could help me out.
She answered all my questions with such an open and kind heart and really put things into perspective for me, I hope her words do the same for you.
Me: Your oldest, Miss E is grade 6 now so you’re a total pro now but do you remember how your first year went teaching her?
Tara: Ha ha, first of all, am so not a total pro.... some days I'm packing all their bags for boarding school with a drained wine glass in hand!!
But yes, I do certainly remember teaching E the first time. She is incredibly determined, headstrong and defiant - not the kind of child that results in an easy start to home schooling.
Perhaps those qualities will serve her well later in life, but not as a four year old starting school.
For me teaching her it was all about patience and perseverance.
I was overwhelmed, she was overwhelmed, and I made the all to common mistake of too much, too soon.
The best (and worst) thing about home schooling is that there is always a new day to start again and try better and I had plenty of nights where I went to bed in tears praying that tomorrow would be different.
We got through, and we continue to get through, and it does get easier.
Me: What do you wish someone had whispered in your ear back then?
Tara: They will get there in the end.
The hardest part about teaching your own kids is your own expectations of how well they can achieve.
Yes, we all want them to do well, to read well, to be able to add, subtract, etc but you need to push your own expectations aside and let them learn at their own pace.
They aren’t going to excel at everything all the time. That's ok.
Build on their strengths, work on their weaknesses and support, encourage and praise.
If they don't get it one day, put it aside and work on it tomorrow, next week, next term. Give it time.
Let them be kids first, students second. They will get there in the end!
Me: So you’ve got 3 kids in school now, Grade 6, Grade 5 and Prep. How many hours a day do you spend in the school room?
Tara: Too many. Be aware though, that teaching children through Distance Ed is very different to the current situation parents are facing of supervising teacher-sent schoolwork.
One thing that is the same though is that you must be organised.
Read through what you have been sent by your teacher that your child is expected to do that day.
Make sure you know what they are expected to do, be able to support them if needed.
You may need to set an hour aside every day (early morning works great, or late night if you are more of a night-owl) - especially if you have multi-age kiddos - to read through and organise their school work for the day/week.
While you're at it, make a little timetable to plan your day and get the kids input on it too so they get a sense of responsibility.
Kids love structure and routine and if you’re organised, their home 'school' will be too.
Me: Do you get all the school work out of the way in the morning or do you spread it out over the day?
Tara: Mornings are certainly the most productive time.
Most schools schedule their most intensive learning in the morning and leave the afternoons for sport, art, music etc.
Make sure you allow about half an hour first thing in the morning for physical exercise - that way, when they come in to start school, they are much more prepared to sit still and concentrate as they've gotten all their "wiggles" out.
Allow for lots of breaks that also incorporate movement.
Kids aren't made to sit still and the smaller they are, the more important it is.
Try and get all your work done by lunch and never, never, attempt any sit down school work after lunch - no matter how productive your morning was. A great morning can come completely unstuck by just trying to squeeze in 'a little bit more'.... There is always another day.
Me: What’s been the hardest thing about teaching the kids from home?
Tara: There's a couple. For us, it's isolation. Which is ironic given the current situation. I try so hard and drive so many miles to ensure my kids have social interaction with other kids. It is so hard, and so easy to overlook thinking that they are fine just to play with us or themselves.
They really need opportunities to just be 'a kid'. Same goes for the parents. God know how many times I've been saved from going completely insane by a day in town and a catch up with good friends.
The other hard thing is defining the difference between 'home' and 'school' and 'teacher' and 'parent'.
It's harder the smaller they are. I'm sure my kids thought I was just being mean making them sit in a school room all day until I realised they didn't know that that is what every other child is doing as well.
I still say to my big kids - every other child you know is doing school, it is not just you.
Also, I am a mother first, teacher second. But in the school room, I have to be a teacher. They must respect me and the classroom.
They wear their school uniforms every school day and take them off at the end of the day.
Setting those boundaries early on makes it easier as you go along.
Me: What’s been the best thing about teaching the kids from home?
Tara: Hands down being there to witness and celebrate all their learning victories.
Remember how you felt when your child took their first step? Or said your name for the first time? Try being the one responsible for teaching them to read. Or write their name. Or write their grandparents a letter. So, so rewarding.
Me: One piece of advice for all of us clueless parents? Anything?
Tara: Be thankful that you have this time to spend with your kiddos. Be proud of the little humans you have made and enjoy being the one to guide them through this uncertain time. Kids are looking to us for reassurance and guidance. Be there for them, spend time with them, watch them grow.
You won't regret it ❤