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Tips from homeschoolers

'Focus on building family relationships'

Gisborne homeschoolers may be more used to being at home but they too are being affected by lockdown as they transition from homeschooling to isolation schooling. Reporter Kim Parkinson talks to some Gisborne homeschoolers to find out how they are adapting to the Covid-19 lockdown and gets some advice for parents trying to keep up their children’s education within the confines of their own homes . . .

One Gisborne homeschooler Larisa Hockey said that while her children are more used to being at home, they will still miss their friends and activities.

“All our regular group activities like Tonui Colab, swimming, drama, art, volleyball, and general get-togethers are cancelled.”

Larisa and husband John have been homeschooling their children for eight years.

“I homeschooled my son Daniel for seven years but he is now at Gisborne Boys' High School and doing well.

“We chose to homeschool for flexibility, freedom and fun and have seen great benefits for the kids' learning and our family connection.

“The Gisborne Homeschool Group is a great source of support and opportunities.”

As Gisborne enters a period of lockdown some parents are wondering if they should attempt to homeschool their children.

Mrs Hockey said her biggest piece of advice would be to “relax”.

“Don't expect too much of yourself as a teacher or your children as students,” she said.

“This is a great opportunity to build great family connections and that won't happen if everyone is stressed.

“Routines will be helpful — get everyone together to work out a schedule for helping around the home, exercise, quiet times, school work times, and build in lots of free time.

“Use screen time as a tool — time-out for yourself and rewards for the kids for completing other parts of the schedule.

“Agree on time limits as a family but you might find you need to allow more than you normally would and that's OK, as screens will be useful too in connecting kids with their friends and whanau.”

As far as schoolwork goes, she said to just do what you can.

“Support children with the work the schools have given them, provide more if they are interested, but don't stress about it.

“A few weeks of lower levels of output won't affect them too much.

“Kids are likely to react differently to you as a parent than their teacher so try not to let schoolwork become a battleground.

“Find out what motivates them — star charts, food, screen time, games with you?

“This is also a great opportunity to get them into subjects or projects they are interested in, like learning te reo or another language, creating art, learning computer coding, writing a book and creating illustrations for it.

“Families who normally go to school are being thrown into the deep end without any preparation, so this will be challenging,” she said.

“Focusing on building family relationships will be the key to not just surviving but thriving through this experience.”

'Focus on building family relationships'

Another member of The Gisborne Homeschool Group Josh O'Neill said parents should follow their child's lead and let them focus on something they love.

“This is also an extremely rare chance to bond with your kids,” he said.

Josh and his wife Natacha have been homeschooling their 12-year-old son Tahi for seven years and their eight-year-old son Miro for three. Four-year-old daughter, Kuihi, will start when she is six.

“We live on a small organic farm close to Gisborne and this provides a great environment for them to learn in.

“We all work closely together throughout the day and this has become the backbone of their homeschooling, along with regular things like maths, reading and swimming.”

Natacha is the main teacher when Josh is working away from home or on big projects on the farm.

A huge part of their learning revolves around farm projects such as gardening, animal husbandry and tree planting.

“We love spending time with our kids and watching them discover new things every day.

“It's also great to have cheap labour on tap.As they grow older, they become responsible for certain aspects of the farm.

“We love watching them grow and every day we are more satisfied that we made the right choice to homeschool.

“We have learned to teach at the child's own pace and are able to adapt to their style of learning.

“We also learn new things along side them (dinosaurs were a favourite subject for the first few years of homeschooling) and we get to teach them skills that we think are important like cooking, cleaning, helping with doing the dishes, gardening and helping with firewood.”

Right now, Tahi's big project is to replicate a Daft Punk song on his loopstation and Miro is copying an artwork from an old children's picture book. They spend a huge amount of their time on things they are passionate about, like electronic music and drawing.

Mr O'Neill said Lego would have to be the foundation of their earlier education.

Neuroscience educator and director of X-Factor Education Nathan Wallis encourages parents to use this time of lockdown to promote creativity.

“Our school curriculum doesn't tend to value creativity enough, in my opinion,” he said on a video posted on his Facebook page.

Mr Wallis wants to encourage parents to focus the curriculum on the arts over the next four weeks.

“From a neuroscience point of view, creativity — dance, music and all those types of things — are right-brain things that support left-brain function,” he said.

“Get the kids singing, get the kids dancing. Maybe now is the time to learn to play that guitar that's been sitting in the corner of the lounge all that time.

“You can look it up on YouTube. Learn things with your child, alongside them.

“The kids are going to remember these four weeks for the rest of their lives so this could be the time when they learned to play the guitar or the equivalent.”

“So I'd just encourage you to be creative and embrace the arts.”

His advice to parents was not to be too quick to set up a home school.

“Our country is in a crisis, and we are all stressed and tired. Stressed adults cannot teach stressed children. It is a neuro-biological impossibility.

“Try focusing on connections and feelings of safety.”

FREE-RANGE KIDS: Ella-Rose and Ashley Hockey on their ponies in the river before the lockdown. The girls love the freedom of homeschooling which gives them extra time to spend with their horses. Their mum Larisa says she is not a qualified teacher but sees herself more as a facilitator who provides resources and support. She has a BA and a postgraduate diploma in marketing. ‘Websites like Khan Academy have great teaching videos so when my son's maths got beyond me I just needed to be a support person,' she says. Pictures supplied
CREATIVITY: Miro O’Neill with his Lego creation.
Tahi O’Neill working with his loopstation.
The Gisborne Homeschool Group at Pakeke o Whirikoka, Whatatutu, before the lockdown: clockwise from bottom right, Puriri Lasserre-Lenth, Miro O’Neill, Matai Lasserre-Lenth, Waiariki Ehau, Tawera Ehau and Sila Sneddon.