Sue Cowley: Making the Most
of Home Education

How parents and little ones can find the best ways to learn at home.

The early years are a very special time in a child’s life. During their first five years they are growing, learning and developing at a pace that will never be matched again.

If your child is normally in childcare during the working week, you might sometimes feel as though you have missed out on some of the key milestones.

But if you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to home educate your child, many of us are now going to have the chance to find out.

Learning at home and the EYFS

It is useful to remember that the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is not a compulsory phase of education. It is only in the term after a child turns five that there is a legal requirement for parents to ensure that their children receive a formal ‘full time education’.

Even after your children are of compulsory school age, you can still home educate them rather than sending them to school. There are families around the world who already make the choice to home educate or ‘unschool’ their children, for a range of different reasons, and who do so very successfully.

Parents as educators

The first version of the EYFS stated that parents “are their children’s first and most enduring educators”.

You have everything you need to educate your child – although toys and other resources are helpful, in fact you are the most important resource of all. You are an expert in your own child, and this means that you can adapt what you do to suit their needs.

The close one-to-one relationship that you have is crucial for effective learning, because your child feels safe within the relationship and knows that you will respond positively to them. This is why early years settings use a ‘key person’ system, because it supports a process known as attachment, whereby children feel secure and loved, and are therefore happy and able to learn.

Frame of mind

To get the most out of home learning, change your frame of mind about what ‘learning’ looks like. Remember that learning is not all about academics and lessons, especially for this age group. It should be playful, led by your child and be all about you having fun together.

You have the opportunity to follow your child’s interests and to create a curriculum of your own design. At home, you are working with a much higher ratio of adults to children than is ever possible in childcare provision. This will help you create personalised input tailored to your child, whether that is playing together with your child’s favourite toy or sharing a much-loved book.

Remember to look for the learning in the everyday household tasks that you still need to do, from playing with the bubbles as you wash up together, to wiping tables or pulling up weeds. Your young child will enjoy the chance to help you with all of these!

Motivation and sustainability

Given that you are going to be spending lots of time together with your children, a key factor to bear in mind is motivation.

Focusing on your child’s interests will help to boost motivation for them, but have a think about how you are going to motivate yourself as well. Give yourself the occasional treat, and don’t feel guilty about snuggling up on the sofa with your child in front of the television when you need some down time.

Since the current situation looks to go on for weeks, if not months, a key factor in success will be to make whatever you do sustainable. Create a routine to give your family a sense of stability and security, but don’t set yourself overly ambitious targets. Be kind to yourself if you don’t always stick to your routines or if there are days when you can’t seem to get things right.

Taking the lead — learning through play

Children are natural born learners, and their curiosity about the world is what gets them exploring, playing, developing, learning to communicate, asking questions and looking for answers. It might seem strange that play is the best medium for learning in this age group, but this is absolutely the case.

Play is an evolutionary adaptation that performs some vital purposes: It helps us practice and build important skills, it encourages us to be flexible in how we respond to different situations, it allows us to generate new ideas, and it supports socialisation and builds cooperative behaviours. In fact, play deprivation is known to have significant negative impacts in terms of early child development.

Playing with your child, and talking with them as you play together, is the very best way to support their learning. Given the requirement to stay at home, what might normally feel like the luxury one-to-one time with your child can now be seen as one of the most valuable ways to spend your time.

Thinking about enabling environments

You might have heard practitioners in your child’s early years setting talk about ‘enabling environments’. The idea is that settings create an environment which enables learning through play. The environment becomes an additional teacher, because the child can access the provision with or without direct adult supervision.

You can create your own enabling environment within your home, by giving your child access to a range of resources or activities to choose from and play with. Remember that this doesn’t have to mean fancy or expensive toys – at Christmas, you might have noticed that your child is more interested in the box that the toy came in, than in the box itself.

Typically, the best resources for early years play are the open-ended ones that allow your child to play and explore in lots of different ways.

Here are some examples:

Enjoy the opportunity to spend some quality time playing together while helping your child to learn at the same time.

Sue Cowley is an author and teacher educator. She has helped to run her local early years setting for the last ten years. Her latest book is “The Ultimate Guide to Mark Making in the Early Years”.

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