Homeschooling During the COVID Lockdown in India
BY MANIDIPA MANDAL
In the unlikely event that you have not heard from your child’s school with a long list of work to ‘tide over’ the unexpected ‘holiday’, it is possible you are wondering about indefinite (but surely temporary?!) homeschooling yourself, so they are all caught up when school resumes.
We understand. But we would like to assure you that the critical importance of homeschooling in this pandemic situation is not to ensure your child is not ‘left behind’; it is to provide them with the reassurance of routine if they are used to structured school days.
For those of us who have been homeschooling since before the Covid-19 scare, nothing has changed. But if you are not one of those families, you may wonder: What does homeschooling look like, really, in India?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Because your child is an individual and your family is unique, and the best thing about homeschooling is it can be freely adapted to your specific personalities and space.
The most important thing to remember: It takes less time than traditional schooling — because you save the transition times and transports, the waiting for a whole class to catch up, the toilet breaks across a huge building, the movement to designated spaces—so don’t expect to be at it for the duration of a school day; think more like 2-4 hours max.
Second most important thing: Please accept that your child knows you can be more flexible than the school can and expects a lot more empathy and understanding from you, their primary caregivers, than they do out of teachers. Even a toddler, yes, has this understanding of differences in context. So take their inputs onboard, and elementary school onwards, involve them in the goal-setting and schedule planning so that their learning is child-led. You will fight fewer battles that way, because you have their buy-in.
What should a "home-school" space look like?
The floor can be a homeschooling space too! Picture Courtesy - Aparajita Kumar
It depends on how your child learns best.
- If they prefer to work solo, give them space. If they are happier on the floor than the dining table, that’s where they belong.
- Some kids have a harder time filtering out distractions so try and do a quick clean-up of the chosen space after breakfast, put your own phone on a discreet vibration mode and definitely keep out of the space where the grandparents are watching TV or the dog wants to come and play (again, YMMV—some kids love having the dog grounding their feet, lying across their legs).
- If your child is old enough to have their own phone or tablet, have notifications off or put the device in airplane mode.
- For some children, it is motivating to have a display of completed projects, or a ‘published’ shelf of books to read this week; for others, that leads to overwhelm or wandering minds, while anxious ones fixate on the hard stuff scheduled for later in the day (tip: teach them to eat their frog first thing, like Mark Twain suggested).
Create a daily reading selection and rotate the books. Picture Courtesy - Aparajita Kumar
Creating a routine
- What does their daily routine look like in school? Are there parts your child looks forward to or seems more comfortable with? Which are the ones they struggle with or resist most? Consider a sandwich technique to lessen the strife.
- Also, consider adopting what works at school and (if your child is in primary, or articulate and self-aware as a preschooler) get your child to brainstorm with you how to adapt the bits they hate.
- For example, if they absolutely don’t like math, what if you do math games and puzzles?
- For reading, maybe they can help write a story (we love doing this with story blocks, so your brain is not too busy building the narrative and has room to learn spelling; maybe they spell out with blocks the key word pictured, and then tell you the sentence to write).
- Distressed by the sight of a pencil? Write lists or letters to the friends they miss; consider using technology and have supervised messaging between youngsters. For my 7-year-old, who loves cooking, reading and writing recipes and grocery lists was quite a happy task.
Improvise and use their interests to get them to write. Picture Courtesy - Aparajita Kumar
Choose your pace
Play every day
This is absolutely critical. If you can build educational goals into your play, great: “Shoot 7-4 darts!” and then “Jump back 2 + 3 steps!” But also make sure not to do this all the time. There has to be play, that is free play. Let them build their tent and have their spaceship take off for Mars, and join in (with special packaged astronaut food—did you know astronauts can’t eat bread, only wraps, and that their cookies are wrapped in jelly so they won’t crumble?).
And physical education such as yoga are important too in these trying times (try https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga)
Play time is as important as study time. Picture Courtesy - Aparajita Kumar
Best out of waste
Pinterest is a great place to search hunting for projects you can make from trash. This and free printables from homeschooling blogs and pages are where you will find your school supplies. If you are working from home, this is when you work and they work alongside with their activity sheets or crafting goals.
Kitchen is a classroom
The kitchen can be a classroom too! Picture Courtesy - Manidipa Mandal
The kitchen is a lab, it always has been. Chemistry and math are the very basis of any recipe. And a bit of physics when you get to the chopping board and sink, right? In exchange for your child ‘directing’ the family meal plan (based on your constraints), they get to help you dish it up. Believe me, there’s ample opportunity for the ‘R’s right there.
Use their interests and co-opt their language
Just because the teacher tells a story of a butterfly jumping flower to flower to teach them skip counting does not mean it takes your young dragon-slayer or wannabe hairdresser’s fancy. Change the script to suit the child: Teach shapes using constellations, or count using a bone-burying puppy. Teach the child averse to physical activity to play with their whole body by attempting a lava river crossing over rocks (cushions). The interest is the basis of incidental learning when you are child-led.
Hands on learning is the best kind of learning! Picture Courtesy - Aparajita Kumar
Getting inventive with school supplies
Repurpose old cardboards for drawing and writing practice! Picture Courtesy - Aparna
Necessity is the mother of invention. Well-washed pebbles for game counters or instead of an abacus; food colouring for paint; a knotted rope for counting beads (use pegs to mark position since you can’t slide). Don’t despair.
Playing board games with nuts and a table mat! Picture Courtesy - Manidipa Mandal
Some ideas for you!
- Running out of paper? Is there grocery packaging you can staple together into a notebook? If there’s no paper at all, use plastic sheets or tiled surfaces (even the floor) as a makeshift blackboard; photograph to record. You can make them into an album later when printing becomes less resource-intensive.
- To teach letters and numbers and rudimentary spelling or math to the preschool-age child, you don’t need workbooks or blackboard/whiteboard/flash cards. Just tape some straws/rope/Styrofoam/lengths of wool on the floor to make the letter and mark a start dot (green for ‘go’ and a red for ‘stop’, and little arrows) to make the letter on the floor. Have your child walk on it. Then have them look at it and copy in chalk or crayon on tile, and air trace it with their whole arm—remember we want reading and recognition before writing, so don’t rush this. Next, they can try writing in a trayful of play sand or semolina or rice/lentils/flour if you have enough to spare.
- Raid the kitchen for colours from squashed veg or turmeric (and other spices) and soda.
- Make a mystery box (a carton with a hole covered by fabric) and place different objects in there to teach geometry and adjectives; they can write and draw alongside, before the big reveal, and you already knew drawing is really writing practice, right?
TIP: Rewards and Praise
Without access to reward charts, you are fumbling and your child is demotivated. If that sounds familiar,
- Include 10-minute timers for chores throughout the day, to do together collaboratively.
- Compliment each other. Consider it a team-building exercise.
This way you have filled each other’s cups and will survive the odd power struggle or frustrating five o’clock frenzy (you are frantically finishing up, racing to the finish line; your child is climbing walls instead of playground equipment and increasingly antsy and hangry)—well, you’ll handle it better. That’s all.
Enlisting children in chores - Picture Courtesy - Manidipa Mandal
If your child’s school rhythm fits you, good and great. But if their usual break is at an inconvenient time for your work commitments or the family’s daily rhythm, we suggest exchanging a ‘quiet time’ then instead. This is for reading by themselves or playing QUIETLY (for younger children, make separate quiet time bins). Personally, I find it helps if I sit alongside and work with the child at quiet time so they feel connected rather than sidelined; and have the proper recess for play after the afternoon snack.
If you have access to a balcony or terrace or porch that is not shared, but private, by all means get some sunlight and fresh air in the afternoon. Will do wonders for everyone’s mood and health in these anxious times, and support your immunity.
Reading time = quiet time! Picture Courtesy - Manidipa Mandal
Wait, with all this work, when do I work at my living?
You need a schedule too. Depending on your child’s age, you might need to block out an hour [say 7 years plus) or 20 minutes at a time [toddler/preschool], or if you have a baby or younger toddler, be guided by their nap schedule. In the last event, we really hope you have another caregiver on hand, given they are likely not sleeping through the night in the adult sense of the term; we advise handing over some night-time parenting duties and book-ending your own bedtime with an hour of work after baby sleeps and before they wake up.
AGE-WISE GUIDANCE FOR HOMESCHOOLING
Preschooler/playschool age child:
- Draw up a visual schedule; preferably with the child’s own drawings.
- You have to work alongside as they play-learn. Make that 20 minutes and use a bit of Pomodoro tech like Tomato Timer.
- If frustration is taking over, and you are super busy: rotate different types of sensory bins, hand over some clay to mess with on a washable mat (sacrifice a flower pot), have some time scheduled to splash in the wading pool if you have access to a patch of sun. If your bathroom is clean enough, have them use bath crayons or sketch pens on tiles while you sit and work just outside the door. This way, bath time can double up as get-work-done-quarter.
Their bath time can be your work time. Picture Courtesy - Vaishnavi R
Elementary school (grades 1-4):
- Maybe you can do 30-40 minutes a subject (but be child-led too, because you don’t want power struggles daily when there is no walking away—assign 20-minutes tasks for less preferred areas and up to an hour for favourite topics).
- Intersperse these with hour-long free time to spend on Legos/art/reading a comic book, preceded or followed by a snack.
- Curate the snacks and keep, so those are your work times with minimal need for supervision.
- Some children would rather get it all done and play all day. Fair enough! Just have some ground rules about not missing meals and keeping the decibels in check.
- Have a reading hour to take turns reading to each other. Don’t use this time to correct; use it to model good diction, with apt inflections and intonations in response to punctuation, but also take note of how they read. Then discuss. If they are willing, have them write it down; else write it for them. Then describe things you noticed, felt, enjoyed, disliked.
- Play Uno or Monopoly for math and critical thinking; or open a shop with play money.
- Teach biology with glitter glue and perfect handwashing to get it all off—there’s a two-in-one opportunity there!
- Challenge them to use wooden blocks or Lego to build working boats and bridges or pulleys while you work; then discuss the physics when done.
Physics made easy - constructing a pirate ship here! Picture Courtesy - Manidipa Mandal
Legos being used for construction and independent play. Picture Credit - Manidipa Mandal
Middle school (grades 5-8, or advanced primary-age kids!):
- Have them read recipe books and cook one meal or snack on their own; make their own breakfast while following a nutritional model, and plate it up for family (that’s a whole science of nutrition and physics module there). Discuss why the recipes work the way they do, why you soak something or prep something with acid, etc.
- Have them disinfect grocery with you—again, there’s a biochemistry lesson right there.
- Assign a project report based on any of their interests. Statistics should be involved, and research using dictionaries and reference books and magazines around the house. If it is a child’s interest, you already have books on it, right? So just get them to read, write and do arithmetic around that subject.
- Sign them up on Khan Academy on a supervised, child-mode device.
- Teach them about debit and credit cards, and online banking—it’s about time (do NOT let them operate yours!; use their own savings account).
- If they don’t know already, teach them laundry and dishwashing skills.
- For the rest, they already know their curriculum and have the texts; be available for help as needed.
- Have adults or older kids willing to volunteer with a spot of online tutoring? Take advantage of trusted adults in your social circles and neighbourhood, now that distance is no bar for anyone.
- Take apart and rebuild a toaster or a car engine, if a parent has time to play along.
How to navigate screentime
Screentime can be productive too! Picture Courtesy - Aparajita Kumar
Yes, you may need to resort to more screentime than usual, and you can’t make it all educational; but some your child may enjoy that is not just another toon or syndicated character:
- See the Children’s Film Society’s YouTube channel
- Also on YouTube, HiHo Kids’ series of trying different kinds of foods
- Sesame Street on TV or YouTube (like their Healthy Habits playlist)
- BBC Earth is excellent for wildlife lovers, and almost entirely age-appropriate across the board, both on TV and YouTube; they also have shorter snippets for younger kids to take a transition break between activities (or for you to take a bathroom break) as well as longer ones that middle grades and up can base science and geography projects around.
- Also try https://explore.org/livecams
- Find videos that teach a craft: Finger knitting? Quilling? Pottery or papier-mâché?
- Do you have the Bedtime Math app? It’s great for adults too!
- Check-in with friends on Hangouts or Zoom or Skype and ask what they are reading! Read together and catch up on things they learnt (works best for the older kids, middle grade and up; just be cautious and make sure to debrief if your child is anxious and the friend is an ‘achiever’)
- Independent browsers can graduate to National Geographic or TedxTalks in the high-school age group.
- Offer younger kids some directed drawing opportunities (this is elementary school, mainly; we advocate full freedom of exploration for preschool age), such as here.
- Make screentime not-couch potato time with an app like GoNoodle (also on the web and YouTube)
- Explore interactive sky charts with the SkyView app or theskylive.com.
- Keep the movies and serials for parent-and-child hygge hour/family night with popcorn or (roti)pizza.
- Youtube channels that are great learning resources are Storybots for younger kids and Sci Show Kids for older kids.
Relax! Or, Keep Calm and Carry On
If you take one piece of advice from the Nestery team, let it be this: Remember that emergencies pass.
Life is not a daily emergency unless you work as a firefighter or doctor. Even if we are at war now, this too shall pass. Your job is to help your child feel stable and secure, not to be a school; that catching up will happen later for the whole world. So don’t try to recreate school. Bank on your child’s resilience, and build that instead.
Which also means, not micromanaging their learning—set goals (ask their teachers about goals, not ‘tasks’; many are eager to enjoin worksheets and reading lists anyway) and let them self-regulate as far as possible, rather than hover.
Guard your own sanity too:
There’s a reason not all of us are kindergarten teachers; and also a reason why kindergarten teachers try not to helm their own child’s class. When the cling factor is super high for the younger child:
- Tag team with the other parent.
- Put an audiobook or rhyme CD on, whatever you use for a long car ride (heck, make a pillow Ford and put the child in it, too).
- Video call friends and family who may be free to chat with your child for a few minutes while you take a few deep breaths and watch an YouTube video or just go into Shavasana.
- Homeschooling siblings? Have the older teach the younger a bit, especially if there is a considerable age gap. The older child gets an activity of choice for helping with sibling while you give the youngster some one-on-one love later. For siblings with a small age gap, alternate ‘class monitor’ duties and who chooses the book/activity—this can be alternating per activity or per day. (They already take turns in school with friends, right?)
- Got twins or a larger set of multiples? We don’t know how you do it! Our hats are off—please write in and educate us in the comments below.
Siblings? Get the older one to teach the younger, or just let them play together! Picture Courtesy - Aparajita Kumar
Homeschooling Resources for all ages
- https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com for easy and fun preschool activities, even printables.
- https://lemonlimeadventures.com/ ideas for children of all ages who might be developing atypically, and especially useful for children who have sensory sensitivities (whether seeker or avoider) or would ideally benefit from an early intervention programme
- Teaching through activities for primary-school kids here
- https://www.thehomeschoolmom.com/homeschool-lesson-plans/india/ for India-specific lesson plans
- https://storyweaver.org.in/ books in popular vernacular languages and English, most written by Indian authors and some that are translations of international favourites; a truly rich, deep resource you will be accessing for years to come
- https://stories.audible.com/start-listen Currently free, meaning you can ask them to listen and illustrate, write a book report, whatever seems age-appropriate; they have Karadi Tales too
- https://mummadiaries.com/ oodles of printables and Montessori-style resources for families with younger children (pre-K)
- https://www.tfhsm.com/ budget resources in the West so might work here right now
- https://www.homeschooling-ideas.com/ whole bunch of free resources
- international resource from Scholastic here but closer approximation to progressive classroom lessons; Indian children may need to go up a grade or two, but also feel free to let your child explore lower grades for a confident boost or revision (this tool is also handy for older kids teaching younger sibs)
- https://home.oxfordowl.co.uk/ age-based activities and a phonics-supportive library; subscribe to their YouTube channel as well for educational videos (math concepts, phonics, etc)
- https://theimaginationtree.com/ lots of resources, from baby to early primary
- https://readingandwritingproject.org/ for older kids as the most accessible resources here would be digital
- https://projectkid.com/ they don’t seem to align with academic goals at Indian schools in any obvious way but arts and crafts are strengthening those tiny fingers for working harder at the 3Rs and teaching their brain a lot of problem solving and sciencing.
- Download DuoLingo for free foreign language learning, even if it’s not on your child’s formal curriculum
- Download NCERT’s Epathshala app here .
- https://www.commonsensemedia.org/ to see what is age appropriate for your child and what is not when it comes to all forms of media.
- www.ekstep.in is one of the few Indian educational resources that is endorsed by Unesco. With options from Kindergarten to plus-2s, there are lesson plans and projects that you should be able to execute with just the stuff around the house. Lessons are also available in 17 languages, including Ho, Maithili and more.
- https://go.edmodo.com/distancelearning is a toolkit of resources for those of us struggling with the how as much as the what, specially developed for the pandemic situation (this platform is otherwise popular with many tech-friendly schools too)
Manidipa Mandal is a seven-year-old parent still learning about parenting. She also likes to read and write about ecology, biology (especially gender), food and travel.