As an online teacher, I am always aware of the struggles students have with distance learning. They have to organise their own timetables, keep to their daily workload, and get to grips with technology they may not be familiar with. They also need to track which assignments they have done and submitted for particular subjects, and which they have received back with marks and comments. Furthermore, they have to be able to make sense of those comments so that they can improve their performance. Students at AS and A Levels may be more capable of doing this as they can work more independently but what about younger students? This is where parental involvement in homeschooling becomes crucial.
A traditional-type school is very structured – daily, weekly and term timetables are all planned out for the student. There is not much choice but for the student to follow this structure. Moreover, the physical presence of a teacher in a classroom setting ensures the student adheres to this structure.
However, in an online homeschooling environment, there is so much freedom that it may be difficult for the student to plan and stick to their timetable. Although each course comes with a Course Outline which contains a schedule for each week in each subject, students still have to coordinate all of these subjects so that they can achieve their workload for each week. This can be tricky depending on how much work there is in each lesson for each subject, and when taking into account the different weeks assignments may appear in. This can lead to the student feeling overwhelmed and demotivated.
Face-time with subject specialists is crucial for progression in homeschooling
CambriLearn holds weekly Q & A sessions – question and answer sessions in which students get to pose questions to a particular subject teacher, based on work they have been doing that week. This is a great opportunity to have some face-to-face ‘teaching’ time. A trend I have noticed is that students who regularly come to weekly Q & A Sessions tend to perform better than those who do not. This may be because it acts as a reminder that the student is part of a ‘school’, that there are specialists to support them, and that there are others also slogging through the course. But more noticeably, students who have a parent present from time to time (in the background), or who monitors them to ensure they have come online and then leaves as the session starts, tend to perform better in terms of workload management and marks achieved. This is because the parent is helping to monitor and motivate their child.
Surprisingly, older students (at AS and A Level) who have an involved parent also tend to perform better. This does not mean that the parent has to take on the role of a teacher; it simply means taking an interest in how their child is progressing and making sure they are sticking to a set timetable. This may be difficult for working parents to implement but one way of getting around this is to set a daily or weekly meeting with your child and to get them to show you what they have done. Students can keep tabs of their progress in a spreadsheet, for example. It can also involve the parent looking at marked assignments and going through the comments in them with their child.
What parent involvement in homeschooling should look like
According to education experts, Fenton & McFarland, “parent involvement in children’s home learning can be fostered in a variety of ways, including:
- asking questions about what children are learning, encouraging and supporting children to complete homework;
- helping to teach organisational and self-study skills, such as keeping notebooks organised, and creating time and space for learning activities;
- showing an interest in children’s learning, listening to them talk about their day;
- engaging with the information distributed by schools (via Facebook, email, website, etc); and
- providing access to learning resources, such as trips to the library, access to internet, and materials to complete homework.
Most importantly, these strategies create a range of ways that connect the home and primary school environments. By being engaged and interested in their children’s activities outside the school, parents can be powerful supporters of their children’s learning.”
The following video is based on the idea of parent involvement in a traditional school set-up but it can equally apply to parents who homeschool their children:
Do parents have to have previous teaching experience to be involved?
It not necessary for parents to have previous teaching experience in order to help their child progress in their homeschooling. What they do need to do is to act in a supervisory role, showing an interest and providing moral support on an ongoing basis. According to Shirley Erwee, a homeschool curriculum author, consultant and activist, “parents are the experts on their own children and they have their children’s long term best interests at heart. This is why all research has shown that home-educated learners generally outperform their school-going peers, regardless of their parents’ income levels or education”.
According to Mamello Lefefa of Kaelo Engage, a content marketing agency specialising in sustainability:
“parents need not brush up on their algebra and long division in order to make a lasting impact. In fact, something as simple as eating healthily during pregnancy can be effective, as it ensures appropriate brain development. As children grow older, arranging play dates can give them a chance to develop social skills and learn how to interact with other children. Interactive games can also have a positive impact: a simple game with building blocks will expose children to new ideas and help stimulate their thinking, which, contributes to creativity, vocabulary and fine motor development. It is also a good idea for reading to be part of an everyday routine. More than simply boosting a child’s vocabulary, this will instill a life-long love of books and a curious mind – true gifts that will help them navigate the increasingly complex world we live in”.
An education consultant's perspective on parent involvement in homeschooling
CambriLearn's education consultants can immediately pick up on whether a parent is likely to get involved in their children’s homeschooling. “We can assess interest and keenness from the information we gather from students” says Nic Dooling. “We always make sure that parents are made aware of the challenges of the curriculum we follow, as well as the discipline and dedication required from both parents and students in their homeschooling journey. It all comes down to parents monitoring, evaluating and facilitating their children’s progress. We are currently developing a parent dashboard that will make it easy for the parent to be a homeschool parent. This platform will ultimately provide a better success rate for our students.”
Words on parent involvement from a homeschooling expert
CambriLearn Principal, Cecilia von Molendorff (who also teaches Economics, Business and Accouting), feels that parental involvement can even determine whether or not a child fails or passes a course. She believes in the old adage that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Cecilia points out that the Cambrilearn system provides students with live sessions, access to course material and to full-time subject-specialist teachers who provide detailed marking of assignments: “We provide it all for the students. But you can’t take the students and force them to interact with a perfect system. They’ve got to go through it with someone and that is where a parent is important. Students who can manage on their own are few and far between. The typical student needs a parent to help them manage their time and to monitor their progress. This can also be where tutor centres come in because they can provide this kind of monitoring. Full value for money in homeschooling comes from a parent, au pair or tutor acting as a facilitator.”
A final word on parental involvement
I have noticed that parents who regularly ignore messages about their children’s progress from their online teachers are usually the parents of students who struggle. Is their non-interested approach a bigger picture of how their child responds to learning as a whole? If parents do not take a genuine interest in their children’s studies then why should their children? Parents need to make some effort to contribute towards their children’s education, and homeschooling more than allows for this. It is an opportunity to show that you care about your child’s daily activities and long-term goals, that you want to be involved, and that you are willing to provide them with the moral support they need.
Fenton, Angela & McFarland, Laura. 2017. Why it matters to transform parent involvement from early childhood to primary school. The Conversation.
Lefefa, Mamello. 2016. Why Your Child’s Education is as Much Your Responsibility as it is the Teacher’s. NGOPulse.Org.
Luke, Alfred. 2017. Why SA Parents are Turning to Home Schooling. BusinessLive.Co.Za.
Youtube. Parent Involvement Matters.