Tuesday, 5 January 2021

How to homeschool and stay sane

At this point in any school year, but especially after the news last night of a return to full national lockdown, I'm not sure many people would be using the words 'sane' and 'homeschool' in the same sentence. 'Home educating is not for the faint-hearted' is a phrase which could have applied even before the events of 2020 and yet here we are in a time where pretty much every family is being expected to embrace it. 

If you've tried homeschooling and really enjoyed it, and might even be thinking it's a better option than our current school system, you are not alone. If you've tried homeschooling, and found it hard, you are not alone. If you've tried it, and given up, you are not alone. If you're feeling guilty because you haven't even really tried for any number of reasons such as having to work yourself, not having enough technology to go around or simply not having the headspace for it, you are also not alone.

Young girl with a smile, at home staring at a screen
Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash
Since Christmas I've seen so much anguish in Facebook groups about whether to send children back to school or not. For some, there will be relief that the decision has been taken away from them but for others there will be despair that the schools are not staying open. Different families have different circumstances and hopefully there will be less judging and more understanding over the coming weeks. 

When I saw the words below from a teacher I knew instantly that I wanted to share it, in the hope that it would help others. Homeschool doesn't work well for everyone and I'm keen to help other families who are feeling the strain. There's a bit more about our situation, and resources to help, after this great advice.

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Last night when the news of a new national lockdown came, and the reality of school closures hit, there was a shockwave of emotion across the various Facebook groups I’m part of- especially those of us dealing with kids with additional needs. I posted a few things in a group run by the wonder Yvonne Newbold (check her out if you haven’t already) and Steph messaged me asking me to do a quick guest blog here.

Firstly- a bit about me - I’m a mum with 2 young children, one of whom is Neurodivergent (awaiting an exact diagnosis, but suffice to say, he requires lots of energy to parent...).

Outside of my family life, I trained as a teacher and now head up the Education team at the British Science Association.  As I was seeing all the messages of fear and despair in parents who are balancing on a tightrope at home I wanted to reach out and give you all a massive virtual hug.

To all of you parents who are dreading 'home school' please know that even as a trained teacher I dread it too. My son didn't cope well at all last lockdown and the role of teacher and parent in his world are very different (he masks at school and explodes at home). It was a horrendous time for our family that I only survived through being furloughed from my job.

My main advice to parents, as a Mum and an education professional would be:

- Be their parent first, and do what works for your family. This is a scary time for children- especially those prone to anxiety. They need love, reassurance and ideally a bit of fun in their lives. They need you. 

- Connection and relationship needs should come before anything else. Any educational professional knows that children can’t learn unless their basic needs are met. Your children need security and safety before they can log on and attempt any kind of home learning. 

- To that end, look after your own self and don't put yourself under extra pressure. You are the most valuable resource in your child’s life.

- Learning happens in all kinds of ways. Indeed deep and real learning is often real world, practical stuff. Baking/art/walks and play are learning. 

- Don't be afraid to mix it up a bit and interpret tasks set by school creatively. My son resisted any form of written work during the last lockdown. I felt a huge pressure to get him to complete the work set- even though I knew we were both getting stressed out by it. Things were better when I introduced creativity/allowed him to complete the work in different ways. I ended up getting him to paint his weather map on our faces one day and take a picture rather than force him to draw in a book! 

- ‘Disguise’ learning with play/practical activities. Science is a great one for this (I'm biased I know!). I used the CREST ‘Star’ and ‘Superstar’ resources with my two last lockdown and they loved it. Quite a few SEN schools and Pupil Referral Units use them as they don't use complicated kit, involve minimal writing, and you can do at your own pace. For example, we rolled tin cans across the floor and made toothpaste. Check out their website at www.crestawards.org.

Finally, did I mention looking after yourself? Yep lots of that. However you can, in whatever small ways, make decisions that are kind to yourself and remove stress from the system where that is possible. This too shall pass. 

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Over the past eleven years I've written a lot about school and education on this blog, but surprisingly little about homeschooling. Our daughter has the type of autism known as Pathological Demand Avoidance and whilst there's much more to it than I can write here (you can read about it in my post Ten things you need to know about Pathological Demand Avoidance), in a nutshell it means that she avoids everyday demands both at school and at home. So me trying to homeschool her simply doesn't work.

Sasha has been at home, without a school to go to, for 18 months. Her version of a lockdown started long before everyone else's. I'd have loved to home educate her in that time but she has always resisted it; she wanted to be in a school, to be part of a community. School hasn't always worked for her - I wrote a few words on that in my post Why being out of school is no holiday but I'll be following it with an update on here soon. 

I've tried homeschooling; we've even had the odd session with a projector and Powerpoint slides but the tiny spark of interest due to the novelty factor soon wore off. In her mind, school is for learning, home is for relaxing, and there is nothing which can change that. However, we have come to accept that her relaxing, which involves a lot of YouTube and game playing, is actually learning too. Just not in the traditional sense; she might not be learning set history topics or reading English literature texts, but she is still developing and learning a lot about the world around her. News, politics, social interactions, all areas which will affect her in later life. So many parents are made to feel guilty about letting their child have screen time, but there are definitely good aspects. I talk about how it works for us in more detail in my post Autism, Gaming and Screen Time.

I guess my over-riding reason for writing this post was to help parents feel less alone, and less guilty about what will happen over the next couple of months. All we can do is our best, to help make sure the current risk is reduced and then help pick up the pieces afterwards. We need to not be in pieces ourselves to ensure that happens so my advice is to go with the flow, do what you can and don't feel guilty about what you can't change.

Below are a handful of links which could help with home schooling or family life:

Yvonne Newbold has just been awarded an MBE for all the hard work and effort she puts in to helping families who are living with SEND VCB (Special Educational Needs with Violent and Challenging Behaviour); her wonderful website is www.yvonnenewbold.com

For anyone in the UK really struggling with life in general, you can text SHOUT to 85258 for free, confidential, text based support at any time 24/7 (giveusashout.org)

For those who have given up avidly following the news but who would like some down-to-earth, helpful updates about the virus situation, I recommend checking out The Brick Castle at www.thebrickcastle.com (or her Facebook page).

Kiddycharts has a great website with lots of free activities (and over 80% of the profits of anything they sell goes to charity). Here are some great science and STEM activities: www.kiddycharts.com 

BBC Bitesize is a great website with lots of learning videos.

There's a great list of homeschooling resources over on the Scope website at www.scope.org.uk 

A few ideas specifically for younger children can be found over on Mummy Est.2014Emma and 3 has some tips for managing a child's education at home and Actually Mummy shares 75 ideas for activities which teens can do at home.


For more information about PDA, please read the book shown below: 
* this is an affiliate link and I may receive a small commission if you click and go on to buy anything. It won't cost you any extra.
Book cover for Understanding pathological demand avoidance syndrome in children, by Phil christie, margaret duncan, zara healy and ruth fidler
(Other PDA books can be found in my 

To find out more about our experiences, please check out our 'About Us' page or the summary of our experience in Our PDA Story Week 35. If you are looking for more online reading about Pathological Demand Avoidance, the posts below may help.


What is PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)?


Ten things you need to know about Pathological Demand Avoidance


Does my child have Pathological Demand Avoidance?


The difference between PDA and ODD


Strategies for PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)


Pathological Demand Avoidance: Strategies for Schools


Challenging Behaviour and PDA


Is Pathological Demand Avoidance real?


Autism with demand avoidance or Pathological Demand Avoidance?




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6 comments:

  1. This is really insightful Steph and I know you have so much experience that can help make this time easier on parents. Thanks for including my link. I'm going to update it with some new ideas this week given the latest news.

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    1. Thank you! Will look out for your new post too x

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  2. This is an awesome post Steph, and thank you so much for including me in it! It's not a role I envisaged, but I think it suits. I just wish I could give you all a hug :)

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    1. Thank you. You're doing a sterling job - some might say much better than the PM ;)

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  3. Such a useful post Steph. I know that children with extra needs find these times especially difficult. My three are all dealing with it differently which gives me even more of a headache. We will get through it though, I just always keep in mind that my eldest daughter didn't go to school from the age of 12 and she is doing ok now (well, she has an education and job anyway!) x

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    1. That's a good message to pass to others. School isn't the be-all and end-all! x

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