Like most parents, I’ve experienced the joy of home schooling this year. And when I say ‘joy’ I really do mean ‘joy’. I’ll admit, when I first learned that I would be extending my professional remit to include the role of teacher, it was overwhelming and the panic set in a bit…

But once I’d got over the initial shock, I resolved myself to make the best out of the situation. Explaining it to Jacob, his main concern was that our lounge didn’t look like his classroom. So over the weeks we added alphabet lines, number lines, phonics lines, and pinned his work up.

By the end he was asking whether we could continue home schooling forever!

Having hit the summer holidays, I’ve now had a chance to reflect on our first year of school – in particular, the lessons learned from lockdown:

1. Planning is everything

The teachers were simply incredible in supporting us with home schooling and I genuinely couldn’t have done it without them. We had everything from lesson plans to sources for learning materials, links to various YouTube channels, online class blogs and whole school activities.

The thing I found really interesting though was when the teacher told me:

“As a rule, children can only stay engaged for their age, plus 3 minutes.”

For example, if I was planning a maths lesson, I’d need to switch activities every 8 minutes if I was to hold Jacob’s concentration.

Wow!

This meant a ‘typical’ maths lesson involved visiting ‘the maths cave’ under the stairs:

Activity 1: counting backwards from 20 to be allowed entry into the cave.

Activity 2: singing/dancing along with Jack Hartman on YouTube.

Activity 3: practicing forming numbers in couscous (I didn’t have sand!) and Playdoh.

Activity 4: watching The Count from Sesame Street introduce our number for the day.

Activity 5: using a white board to practice writing the number and counting it out with toys.

Activity 6: completing an activity sheet all about the number.

Activity 7: watching an episode of NumberJacks.

Activity 8: performing simple arithmetic using chocolates and a numberline, with a calculator to double check.

If I didn’t plan this beforehand, there’s no way I’d have kept him engaged for an hour. And I did this for every lesson – something I wrote about and shared with the Freelance Heroes community…

The lesson learned…

I’ve always been huge on planning anyway – I literally have a spreadsheet for everything in my life – but home schooling highlighted how important planning is if you’re to succeed. Without a plan, nothing happens. It’s only once you plan that the activity has a scope and is given a priority.

2. Make it fun

It’s never ‘just’ a phonics lesson. It’s singing, dancing, games, drawing, high 5s…

I remember being at primary school, spending whole lessons copying large passages from the blackboard. It was sooo tedious. It felt like that all the fun and excitement had been sucked from the room. But you daren’t say anything to the teacher for fear they may explode at you.

One of my biggest fears with home schooling was undoing all the hard work his teachers had put in and making him love school. So I vowed to try and make it a fun, happy experience.

Yes, we sat at a desk, but only when we were doing ‘careful work’, like practicing neat handwriting, or watching videos. Otherwise we were up and about…

  • Throwing socks at different targets to help learn the difference between ‘b’ and ‘d’.
  • Learning about different types of building materials by driving around the village.
  • Presenting the weather channel.
  • Building models out of Lego or cardboard boxes.
  • Making an Easter tree.
  • Exploring the woods while talking about where animals and minibeasts make their homes.
  • Baking (of course!)

The lesson learned…

Taking this mindset and applying it to copywriting, I realised that it’s possible to make anything fun – even data centre storage – you just have to think a little differently. Just because you’re a business, it doesn’t mean you have to be corporate and boring – it’s possible to be fun and still be professional.

I have one software client that specialises in the world of data and they’re achieving incredible things. They have the most incredible brand because they deliver really powerful messaging about cyber security and data protection, engaging CISOs, DPOs and CIOs, and yet the tone of voice is human, and each guide published with a quirky image – like an elephant riding a bike.

3. It’s about being ‘more than…’

Assuming the role of teacher was always about more than home schooling, it was about supporting my child to grow. Yes, part of that is helping him learn to read and recognise numbers, but a bigger part is about helping him to understand himself and the world we live in.

When we were assessing our local schools before applying for Jacob’s place, I spoke to many teachers, an educational consultant and even my old primary school headmaster about how to judge a good school. One of the things they all agreed on was that at primary school ‘social’ is so important because the child needs a sense of self, to feel confident and learn independence.

So every morning we had assembly as he would have had at school. And every day we talked about a different emotion and how we could cope with those different emotions or difficult situations.

We also kept in touch with his friends on Whatsapp. They were all a bit shy about video calls so instead they recorded messages to each other and shared photos of what they’d been up to.

I even involved family members and our neighbours to teach lessons over Zoom. It was amazing the effort people put into their lesson planning and how happy they were to get involved.

It would have been easy to simply follow the teacher’s lesson plan – even easier to do nothing and just let him play all day – but in augmenting each lesson, he took so much more away from it.

The lesson learned…

Applying this to content, it’s important to never look at something as ‘just’ a blog, ‘just’ a white paper or ‘just’ a case study because you can always make it more. There’s always the opportunity to dig a little deeper into the subject matter, the opportunity to share more of your knowledge and insights, the opportunity to bring in periphery areas – perhaps repurposing that content into another form.

There’s always more you can give…