Muddy meets: Adele Jarrett-Kerr, home educating parent, writer and podcaster
In this new era of enforced home educating, Muddy caught up with Adele to glean tips and wisdom as well as some words of comfort for parents now facing a new norm.
Adele has been home educating her children for the past five years alongside working from home part time as a freelance writer with a mix of journalism, social media content and copywriting. These are unprecedented times of change for all parents (and everyone else), home-educators included, and we are all united in concern for what to do – read on for some of Adele’s comforting thoughts.
Hi Adele, can you tell us a little more about your family set up?
I have three home educated children who are eight, six and three. I work from home part time and I also work as part of the team on our family’s small, bio-intensive vegetable farm near Falmouth, Soul Farm. My husband and I take turns doing paid work and home educating.
Have you always home-schooled?
My children have never been to school! My eldest would now be in Year 4 so September will be our sixth year. My six-year-old would be in Year 1 and the youngest would have been starting Reception in September if they were going to school. So she might have been in a preschool setting now.
How do you structure your days/ plan what to do?
We have resources we use but we don’t follow anything in a highly structured way. The children and I decide together how we structure our days, taking everyone’s needs into account. We have a morning meeting to make a to-do list and we’re all allowed to push back on things. Sometimes they ask me to make a list the night before as they enjoy coming down to the breakfast table to see what we’re going to do.
A lot of what we do is based on their interests. I ask them what they want to learn about and whether they have ideas on how we can explore that topic. This is our normal, established for years, so they’re confident in their ability to find things to do and I’m confident in allowing them to go off-piste. I know that learning happens through play and conversation.
Do you have any non-negotiatiables (e.g. anything your day *must* include?)
Little in our home is non-negotiable unless it’s a safety issue. A huge part of the reason we home educate is to protect our children’s autonomy and help them develop their emotional intelligence. In light of that, it wouldn’t make sense for us to disregard their right to have a say in how they spend their time.
We do, however, have conversations about issues that provoke friction. I find it uncomfortable to have the television on all day. So we talk about the effect the television has on everybody and negotiate until we find a compromise we’re all reasonably happy with. This process changes from day to day because every day is different. Tidying up is another point like that. When you’re home a bit more, the house easily gets trashed and I struggle with mess on a sensory level. I own that that’s my issue but we discuss how we can find a way through together.
If we were instead talking about what I think is essential, our bare bones “curriculum” involves read-alouds (me reading to them or listening to an audiobook together) and spending some time outdoors. The latter can just mean pottering in the garden.
Any tips on managing multiple age children? Do you do different things or different versions of the same thing?
This depends on whether they all want to join in. My eight-year-old has a more structured day because she likes ticking things off and working towards things. We follow a history curriculum and the others sometimes sit with us and they all colour while they listen. Other times they float in and out of the room doing their own thing. They might surprise me by later referencing something we’re reading about or they may not.
My six-year-old has a pretty unstructured day. It’s so full of art, science, drama, maths but hardly of it is ever led by me. She’s learning to read because she’s asked to but she mostly wants to play and pull out the odd idea of things we could do together, like baking.
Sometimes I set the other two up with something while I do something with one. The younger two might take turns playing with an online program while I help my eldest practise the violin, for instance. Or I might set the youngest up with play dough while I read a chapter book to the older two. Sometimes, nothing flows! Some days my three-year-old rips the books out of my hand and gets frustrated that I’m not focusing on her 100 per cent. It might work to spend concentrated time with her first but sometimes it doesn’t and plans have to change.
This is obviously a new paradigm as lot of us are now going to be in the position of having kids at home to entertain, in a very different way to the school hols – can you give us any tips for survival/thrival?
Firstly, I’ll say it is different for us home educators too! We don’t spend time at home with our kids all day every day or away from friends when we do go out. We’re also grieving and anxious over the necessary social distancing.
That said, I think many of us aren’t daunted in the same way as parents whose kids normally go to school possibly are and I think it’s because we’ve relaxed into having them around a whole lot.
- Take time to process the loss
We probably all need time to process our feelings about the loss of so many things all at once. Wouldn’t we normally binge as a grief response? I don’t think it’s wrong to allow our kids the same. My worry is that a lot of parents are going to feel that they need to force their children to do things and it’s hard to keep calm when we ourselves are under uncommon stress. We need to be kind to ourselves in this too.
- Go through a period of adjustment
Give your family time to adjust. Why not treat it like the school holidays? Do fun things together. Let them get bored. Let them watch television and play video games. We’re playing the long game here. Social distancing is going to be the new normal for a long time. There’s no need to jump into the perfect routine right now.
It might help to know that in the home educating community, we consider it normal for children deregistered from school to go through a period of “deschooling” where you just have fun together, get to know your child’s interests and think about how you can help to support their unique style of learning. Deschooling is as much for parents and it is for kids who need to adjust to a life that’s very different from school. I think it would be helpful to employ this idea now, before jumping into anything. Perhaps your school is distance learning. Are there other ways you can allow your family to relax around that?
- It’s ok to find things hard
We (home-educators) are finding it hard too. It’s really important that we all talk about this and support each other rather than viewing this as something we need to get competitive about.
- Talk to your friends
Keep communicating, both over the internet and on the phone. And let your kids talk to theirs too!
- You don’t need any formal qualifications
Finally, you can do this. You really can teach your child. You just have to be willing to be curious about the process and accept that it may take time for things to fall into place. And that they might not completely fall into place because this social confinement isn’t normal for any of us!
Any activity/lesson suggestions of things that have worked really well for you?
Reading aloud together is probably our favourite activity. The kids usually do something else while I’m reading like colouring, building, rocking and balancing on things. They rarely just sit and listen but they are listening. I know some families find this hard but instead prefer to listen to audiobooks together, again with activities to keep hands or bodies busy.
Being read to allows children to take in vocabulary and ideas above their reading level and gives you lots to talk about. You might wind up on a tangent gathering more information about things that come up in the book, from history to wildlife to geography to philosophy. You might just enjoy the time together without particularly knowing what you’re all learning. I know it’s not very Pinterest-worthy but again, conversation and play are truly where the learning happens.
And what about resources – any recommendations?
We use several resources as part of our long term education approach which aren’t going to work as short term recommendations but we do love looking at videos on The Kid Should See This. It’s a curated site so I often leave them to it while I get on with other things.
Any suggestions for things that ‘should happen’ and tips for setting up for unexpected home schooling?
I do ask that we all get dressed and I think that’s going to become more important as we become increasingly confined but I also think you can have a conversation as a family about it and see where you land. Sometimes my kids insist on having a pyjama day and they have a perfectly productive day.
It helps to have any books and materials you’re using in one place, just so you have a better chance of accomplishing what you all set out to do. It’s the same for us as adults.
It can help to have a set time of coming together to talk about things, whether it’s a morning meeting at the breakfast table, a chat over dinner or a cuddle in bed. Our kids are going to have lots to work through in the coming time and so are we. It’s not just this first bit that’s going to be hard. It’s difficult to impossible to learn effectively when you feel unhappy or unsafe. So while I think it’s great that we’re all putting lots of thought into this, I do think we need to remember that this is about survival.
Thinking of work, for those balancing working from home and homeschooling, do you have any advice to offer?
We tend to tag team it in terms of work. So today, he was working in the morning and I was with the kids. Then we swapped in the afternoon. It is very difficult to work at the same time as looking after kids, especially if they’re very young and need a lot of your attention. It’s a recipe for everyone getting very frustrated. If you do need to do it (I sometimes have), I find it helps to spend time doing things with them first and then accept that the screens will need to take over if they’re too young to respect the fact I’m working. My eight-year-old has got on with her own things when we’ve been home together. Sometimes she needs some input from me to organise the time a little. Equally, I know kids the same age who just wouldn’t so it’s not one size fits all.
How do you get any ‘me’ time?
Quite often, the kids wake up in the morning with their own agenda. They’ll spend some good time playing or reading and I can use that time to sit with a cup of coffee on my book or phone. It’s one of the reasons why we don’t have a set schedule – I want to take advantage of the pockets of time that emerge during the day when nobody needs me.
I also try to get them to bed at a reasonable time so I can relax or work in the evenings but this doesn’t always happened. It hasn’t at all lately because we’ve been so stressed and over busy trying to work things out with our businesses over the coming months that everything is out of kilter. So sometimes I do stay up too late. I don’t give myself any grief for it.
Any tips for managing house work around all the other competing interests?
I think a relaxing of standards probably has to happen. We’re going through a highly distressing event globally so I don’t think the house needs to become another burden. On the other hand, we’re all going to be spending a lot more time in it so we don’t want the state of the house to add to our overload. We can involve our kids, talking about what’s tolerable and finding compromises that work for everyone. It may not be quite as you’d like it to be or as they would but that’s compromise.
It’s also OK to ignore the kids and clean the house. This is when I listen to podcasts and audiobooks on headphones. I hate cleaning so listening makes it into part of my self-care routine. If there is another grown up in the house, I’d say that they certainly need to be part of this process. Even if you have to take time off paid work to look after the kids, you are still working. It’s an all hands on deck situation.
Do you have any tried-and-tested ideas for keeping getting outside, complying with social distancing obvs?
I suppose this is a time for heading to the lesser known and quieter beaches and woodlands in Cornwall. I’d like to know what’s happening in the countryside in other European countries. All the stories we keep hearing are coming out of big cities. Are people spending lots of time out in nature but away from others?
I suppose I wonder whether we will eventually have to primarily stay on our properties. In terms of ideas, try to notice things while you’re out and about. Spring is in progress and there are lots of signs of it everywhere. Model curiosity. Take pictures. Bring home samples. Keep a nature journal. Take some art supplies with you on your walk.
And lastly, I always ask everyone – whats your favourite beach?
I find that really difficult to answer! I suppose I’ll say Maenporth because it’s a much loved beach we go to a lot. It’s not my secret favourite, though. I’m not going to tell you that one. 😉