From methods of motivation to how to get creative with homework, five travel agents share their top tips for making homeschooling work – as well as the times they’ve had to laugh or think outside the box when it hasn’t
You could almost hear parents’ sighs of resignation across the UK as the government announced that schools were to close for a second time in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Memories of interrupted customer calls, restructured working days and a cluttered house came flooding back as travel agents with children prepared to once again homeschool their offspring. Almost a month after study was required to be brought into the home, we speak to a range of travel agents to find out what plans they’ve put in place and what they’ve learnt in the process, as well as some of their unforgettable – and laughable – homeschooling moments.
With Hayley manager at Hays Travel and Gavin the equivalent at Tui, the duo are overseeing and supporting large teams of travel agents, as well as homeschooling two sets of twins.
“Having to be everything to everyone is the biggest challenge,” says Hayley. “You have to be a really good teacher, the best manager, the best sales person, the best employee and the best parents – it’s exhausting but it’s the commitment you make.”
In order to effectively achieve everything the pair need to, Gavin, who has been furloughed during the majority of the school closures, keeps Charlie and Jacob occupied with studying while Hayley fits agency managing around educational support for the girls.
Dedicated learning zones have been set up for the children; the girls in the dining room and boys in the living room, with bedrooms allocated as play areas. Hayley has also roped her daughters into doing Couch to 5K, PE with Joe Wicks and yoga sessions with her, in order to fulfil their PE requirements.
“That’s usually my time, but it’s something we’ve learnt to do together now and it’s brought us closer,” says Hayley.
When it comes to motivating their children to be studious, Hayley believes setting a good example is the method that’s working for them.
“Behaviour breeds behaviour,” she says. “The kids can see me working hard to meet my deadlines and it’s created a mentality that tasks just have to be done.”
The boys, not yet old enough to be au fait with video call etiquette, have suffered a few windy mishaps during their virtual classes!
Be resourceful and get creative with what you have. For example, use a trampoline for a PE lesson, the dice in a board game to teach maths, and the nature in your garden for biology and arts and crafts. “We built a bug hotel as part of a nature project and used an app to identify plants,” says Hayley.
Although Jodie has worked in travel for 20 years, joining Blue Bay Travel as a personal travel advisor just two months ago means she’s now juggling learning new bookings systems and company practices with homeschooling her five-year-old, Jaxon. The duo approach homework sheets in short bursts – a little in the morning, a little self-study while Jodie answers customer calls, a little more after Jaxon has had his tea, and also a little at the weekends.
“Schools send you timetables, which is great if you’re not working, but if you are it’s almost impossible to follow,” she says. “So we do the homework as and when we can, and try not to get stressed.”
Jodie also finds that having Jaxon around is a good talking point when liaising with customers, although it hasn’t stopped her from looking forward to 8 March, when schools are expected to reopen. “I’ve got my fingers crossed on that one!” she laughs.
On a couple of occasions after noticing the house was unusually quiet, Jodie discovered Jaxon had been amusing himself by emptying all the kitchen cupboards and filling the toilet to the brim with all the toilet tissue within reach.
Structure the learning in short bursts to suit the child’s attention span and reward them with snacks or playtime in between. “I have a table full of snacks such as grapes beside me and take Jaxon out on his scooter at the weekend as a treat,” she says.
After spending all three coronavirus lockdowns homeschooling her two children, Felicity has found a healthy balance between supporting her dyslexic son, Jake, in some of the subjects he finds trickier with her role as travel agency director. Working in her home office with her every day where she can keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn’t get distracted on his phone, Jake does a mixture of self-learning and online lessons. Meanwhile, Jasmine studies self-sufficiently, allowing Felicity to keep up with holiday amendments and January bookings, which she says are ramping up. “I’m not a teacher and I never will be, and we’re still trying to run our businesses as well, so there have been lots of tears between us – we just have to do the best that we can and muddle on,” she says.
To motivate a reluctant Jake to study Shakepeare’s Othello, Felicity upped her powers of persuasion using the promise of a Domino’s pizza for lunch.
Add a social element to schoolwork by encouraging children to team up with a friend and classmate on a video call, so they can help one another with their studies.
Based in Liverpool with a job as a travel agent, a husband in the army who is away most months of the year, and three children under the age of 12, Jennifer has her work cut out for her in normal circumstances. This means that finding the time to fit in homeschooling around her job has been a real challenge, but Jennifer’s 9am-2pm and 2-8pm shifts at Iglu Cruise have allowed her to take on teaching either in the mornings or the afternoons.
“I love my job so much that I treat it like a break from everything,” says Jennifer. “I think teachers deserve a medal!”
Annabel, her older daughter, is autistic so requires the most help with studying and Teddy needs some support too, while Poppy is mostly self-sufficient. In order to keep the kids motivated, Jennifer rations Wi-Fi access and rewards them after study with time on computer consoles, watching TV, ordering a takeaway, reading magazines or going out for a walk and some fresh air. Meanwhile, Jennifer motivates herself with the thought that there’s light at the end of the tunnel and she’s not the only travel agent mum struggling through homeschooling. “We’re all in it together,” she says.
As well as homeschooling her three children and working as a travel agent, Jennifer is also learning Spanish, which means she’ll be able to further help Annabel learn the language for school.
Make use of online learning apps and websites such as BBC Bitesize and seek out Facebook groups offering free resources.
After realising that juggling two jobs with homeschooling Evan wasn’t viable – Evan has cerebral palsy so also needs help with his mobility – travel agent and insurance product manager Paula decided to enrol her son in an online school. This meant he could achieve consistency in his study schedule and have face-to-face time with his teachers.
“He was lacking direction, and I was having to sit with him in lesson time, so we enrolled him in a private online school last March,” explains Paula, who says additional benefits include that the lessons are recorded so students can recap, and classes are split into groups for activities.
Paula also believes this approach to homeschooling will benefit her in her travel career once Covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted.
“Children can do the classes from anywhere, so you can take them abroad and be in a destination with them that you want to advertise, or make some videos and promote resorts to customers,” she says.
After the Hansen family dog made an appearance in Evan’s virtual classroom, the teachers decided to implement a “pets day” for all furry friends to join in the fun.
Set up a dedicated work area in a spare room if you have it. Add a noticeboard with a timetable, a radio, a clock etc. “You can’t expect kids to do their lessons in a good way if you’re not giving them things you would expect in your work environment,” says Paula.