We are living in strange times. COVID-19 has impacted every element of our lives – our health, our work, and our education. With schools closed across the country since March, many parents have been left wondering what to do. While teachers are providing work for some students, there is still a whole lot of time to fill throughout the day – and filling it with something beneficial and educational is a priority.

A lot of parents have turned to home-schooling their children as a result of this change. Balancing a full workload and a mini-classroom can be tough – but we’re here to help. At Orchard Fostering, we recognise the importance of education in your foster child’s life – now, more than ever. We’ve gathered a couple of home-schooling tips and tricks below – if you follow along, you’ll be a schoolmaster in no time.

Set up a classroom area

We’ve already discussed the importance of ‘the homework hub’ for your foster child’s education. If you can, find a permanent home for your foster child’s new classroom. This will help put a structure on their activities in much the same way that going to school did. You can find out more about setting up a homework area here.

Establish a daily routine

One of the best things about going to school is the routine (though some schoolchildren might disagree). Knowing where you’re going and when you’re going there reduces levels of anxiety and stress. As such, it’s important to establish a daily routine when home-schooling your foster child. If your foster child is in their teens, they’ll likely have a lot of work to do – this routine is geared more towards younger children, who need a little more routine in their day.

Our advice is to mimic school times as best as possible. Get up at the same time every day, have your breakfast, and then get down to it. Start the school day with fine motor skills training – this can be as simple as building simple structures with Lego.

After that, it’s good to get a bit of writing in – one handy (and endlessly repeatable) exercise a news round-up. Ask your foster child to write down what they did yesterday and get them to read it aloud to you. Following this, tackle a subject – Maths, Irish, or History. These ones are a little harder to teach, so consult your foster child’s schoolbooks for help.

Take a little break and follow it up with an exercise – Joe Wicks’ YouTube channel is a great source of daily PE lessons. After PE, it can be nice to do something more creative – art, or music, can come in handy here.

Once you’ve had your lunch, try reading a story together. We’ve covered the importance of reading before, which you can read all about here. Your foster child will be exhausted at this point (and so might you), so a story is a nice way to close out the day.

Theme your play time

Play time is extremely important – especially when your regular routine has been disrupted. Aistear is a curriculum framework for children under six designed to help children develop into competent and confident learners. It’s widely used in primary schools across the country. It’s play – but its structured by you, and focuses on a different theme every week. Four stations are set up each week, and students take turns playing at each one.

For example, if the theme of the week is “garden centres”: station one will be a role play game where the students pretend to work in a garden centre; station two will be an art station, where students draw garden centre-related pictures; station three will be construction-based, where students build their own garden centre out of Lego; station four will be a play-doh section, where students make flowers out of mala.

Aistear is designed for classes, but it can be adapted for home-school, too. Why not try a themed week of activities as part of your school schedule? Instead of stations, you could try a different activity each day, based around the same theme. If you have a theme, activities will become that little bit easier to plan.

Start a project

If you’re struggling to fill the hours, why not develop a larger project with your foster child? If your foster child has something big to focus on, you can always pivot to it if your imagination runs dry. Projects focus the mind and can help develop your child’s creativity and can give you opportunities to touch on interesting teaching points.

There are tonnes of project ideas, and some of our favourites include:

  • Build a recyclable robot – take materials from around the house and build the best robot you can. This can teach your foster child about recycling, waste, and engineering.
  • Take tree rubbings – this is great for those COVID-19 walks! It can help can spark conversations around nature and environmentalism.
  • Make a recipe video – baking is all the rage right now. Let your foster child take you through a simple recipe and film them doing it. This will help them develop their sequencing and storytelling abilities – and will also yield delicious cakes, most importantly!

Look online for inspiration

Educational resources abound online. If you’re struggling with what to tackle in your home-schooling, look on Curriculum Online. This is a curriculum hub for parents and teachers alike, that shows exactly where your foster child should be in their learning.

Twinkl is also a great resource for home-schooling. They provide teacher-created resources, including lesson plans and assessments for all levels of primary education.

Most importantly – remember that teacher assigned work is a suggestion, not a requirement. Working full- or part-time and educating your foster child is a lot of work. It’s okay if you don’t get through it all! Reach out to your foster child’s teacher in these scenarios and let them know you’re trying your best. They’ll understand – we’re all going through difficult times right now.