When I tell people I part-time homeschool my boys, I’m usually met with intrigue and surprise. In all honesty, I was unaware such a schooling arrangement existed until I moved to Saudi Arabia and began homeschooling myself. So what exactly is it?
Also known as flexi schooling or part-time enrollment, part-time homeschooling usually involves your child attending regular school for part of the day or week and studying at home for the rest. Although legal, regulations for this set up depend on the school board and vary from area to area.
This type of schooling is reported to be on the rise in the UK, but is actually very common amongst expat families living in Saudi Arabia, Children are typically sent to a tahfeedh (a school with a focus on hifdh) with the rationale they will be memorizing the Qur’an whilst being immersed in the Arabic language and culture. As schools here finish at a relatively early time of 1.15pm, kids can complete a full day in class without having to be pulled out during the week.
A normal weekday can appear very straightforward: children are home for lunch and still have the afternoon to spare. Although this may sound like a dream scenario, part-time homeschooling has a unique set of challenges that can very quickly turn it into a nightmare! – More so when living abroad as there is the added concern to ensure your children are receiving an adequate education in English.
The term “part-time” itself is terribly deceptive as it still requires all the commitment and effort you would expect with traditional homeschooling; do not be fooled into thinking this is an “easy” option, it is anything but! However, that does not mean to say it is unmanageable.
Over the years, I have come to recognize common obstacles that would initially leave me feeling stressed and drowning in failed expectations. The following are a few ideas on how to overcome these problems and some top tips from friends in the same boat. With a little preparation for such pitfalls, there is no reason why part-time schooling should not be an incredibly rewarding and advantageous situation.
The most obvious and challenging aspect about part-time homeschooling is the amount of time you actually have to get anything done. When you factor in time to unwind and play, homework (yes, such is life with school) and hifdh, there really is not that much of it.
I am a big believer in the old adage that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. This can be applied to all areas of life, but with homeschooling, it is crucial to have a plan or schedule of some sort so you have an idea of exactly what it is you are hoping to achieve that day/week/month.
TRY to set aside some time to think about academic goals for the year (be realistic!) and work out what you need to be doing to attain them. Break this down to monthly planning. To avoid outlining a schedule every night, I spend an evening every fortnight drafting a plan – I find it helpful to jot down what I intend to do with each child on each day and what resources I will be using. You can make it as detailed as you like or just a rough sketch, whatever works for you.
You might prefer to do a weekly plan, but it’s probably best not to go over two weeks as even the best-laid plans go awry! Life happens, which means you can get a little behind schedule. And that’s ok. I have finally gotten past the pressure I would feel for not completing intended tasks. The whole point of creating a plan is to provide some direction, not extra burden. Pencil plans in and if it doesn’t happen, just try again the following day.
. Keep a cut-off time to your schooling. I personally find the kids less receptive after a certain hour and so any form of learning becomes an uphill battle. It also helps to determine how long I will spend on a given topic and how long for breaks.
. Parents who are also focused on doing hifdh with their children often struggle to fit it all in. Despite memorizing at school in Saudi, time always needs to be made to revise and consolidate at home. Umm Abdullah, homeschooling mum of two says, “This is the first thing we concentrate on once the kids have eaten and changed. The incentive is that we get the most important task of the day done early so there is more barakah in our time.”
The lack of creativity in my teaching style was something that always bothered me and it is something I am still working on; it was hard enough ensuring I was providing the right materials without worrying if things were entertaining! However, it is useful to remember that creativity in education is not only fun and engaging, but nurtures a love of learning.
My eldest son is what I tend to call a “solid learner.” He was always quite happy to simply work his way through a bunch of textbooks and be done with it. His brother, however, is the complete opposite and I was forced to leave my comfort zone of working from books and apply a little imagination. To my delight, I discovered that making things a little more interesting does not have to take much time at all and fewer textbooks actually simplifies things.
Let me just clarify this does NOT mean if you are solely using textbooks you are doing something wrong. This is to provide an alternative that plays to a child’s strength; not only is creativity natural to them, it can provide a breath of fresh air to daily schooling.
TRY heading into the kitchen to bake together! This is a great way to introduce and reinforce addition, multiplication, measurement and fractions.
. Scholastic has a wonderful resource that uses Lego to help build math concepts – http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/top-teaching/2013/12/using-lego-build-math-concepts
. Look into unit studies for older children: teaching a wide range of subjects through one point of interest. When part-time homeschooling, it is difficult to manage more than two or three subjects so these are usually limited to English, Maths and science. Depending on what you choose, a unit study gives the opportunity to incorporate subjects like history, geography, art etc.
. Spend more time on creative writing. It is a sure fire way to improve spelling, punctuation and grammar than a regular English lesson.
Energy and mood
The reality for part-time schooled children in Saudi is that they are still spending a full day at school so they arrive home tired, hungry and often in no mood to study any further. With this in mind, I try to keep lessons short – sometimes I spend no more than 15 minutes – and have time for a break in between. Acknowledge that homeschooling can be tough at the best of times and go easy on yourself and your children. Find something that motivates them and lightens their mood when they come home.
TRY a reward system. This is my favorite way to avoid a complete meltdown on the days where a little more math is less than appealing; my children love knowing there is a daily reward awaiting them once they have completed their activities. This ranges from time on the xbox to watching their favourite cartoon or even a little extra time to read before bed. Reward charts are also helpful where they gain an agreed amount of stars during the week before earning a prize.
. Encourage down time. After school, kids want nothing more than to play and with a busy schedule they really need to unwind. It can be helpful to let them spend just a little time on something of their choosing before doing any work. Flitting from one activity to another can also be draining. Umm Abdullah battles tiredness by encouraging her boys to relax on the way home from school. “ Once they get in the car, I tell them to put their seats back, close their eyes and do not talk! If the fall asleep for a short while, Alhamdulillah, and if not, then at least they have rested before getting home.”
. Make use of online learning. Remember the importance of getting creative? There are some great educational websites around that make learning fun! Kids are more enthusiastic when doing something a little different and will happily sit with the laptop to play games that constitute a lesson! Najma, mum of three, brings out the console for a spot of physical education – “My boys absolutely love playing wii sports. I much prefer them being active rather than sitting in front of the computer as the exercise they get from playing is proven to enhance thinking skills. Win-win all round.”
There is no doubt that homeschooling can be a real challenge and the circumstances in Saudi can make it all the more overwhelming. But with enough dedication and forethought, the journey can become a lot smoother and enjoyable. There are still times I panic and wonder if I am doing enough (or even too much!) but overall, striking a balance means we can get the best of both worlds.