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Nadia Sawalha talks life at Loose Women, relationship with daughters and top homeschooling tips
The presenter has been homeschooling her children for years
Life in lockdown has been a huge adjustment for all of us, and Nadia Sawalha is no different. "We're all still reeling," she admits. "Sometimes I still feel like I'm in shock. As a family we say, 'Is this actually happening?'"
But while there have been difficult days, there have also been positives, one of which has been a reaffirmation of her and her husband Mark Adderley's decision – long before lockdown – to homeschool their daughters.
MORE: Nadia Sawalha' top 6 homeschooling tips
"I feel enormous gratitude for the simple things. It's been fascinating for us to watch people reeling with homeschooling and realise how far we've come, that's been amazing for us," says Nadia. "It's been really life-affirming in that way. It's made us more sure of our homeschooling by seeing what's gone on."
Nadia Sawalha stars on our digital cover
On top of homeschooling their kids, Nadia and Mark have released their own book on the subject. Plus they've been working constantly on their YouTube channel and Nadia has been appearing regularly on TV show Loose Women.
And despite lockdown, the Loose Women have been busy! There's been engagements to celebrate (plans are afoot for Stacey Solomon's pre-wedding knees-up), baby bumps to toast (Christine Lampard's due in April) and a few unexpected departures. But while there's always drama on the Loose Women set, Nadia insists what's said on air, stays on air – and as soon as the adverts roll, any tension evaporates.
MORE: 30 homeschooling supplies you need to get your hands on
We sat down with Nadia for a good old chin wag as she took a break from her at-home photoshoot, courtesy of her husband Mark who took all the fabulous shots, to chat about everything from her relationship with her daughters to her second family at Loose Women, and why on earth she decided to embark on homeschooling years before it was thrust upon the rest of us!
WATCH: Mark and Nadia's top 5 homeschooling tips to make life easier at home
Your decision to homeschool your daughters were for very different reasons to most of us. Your eldest Maddie was bullied at school, while Kiki was very shy and struggled with the school environment. Was it an easy decision then to start homeschooling?
"I prefer to say home-educated. Homeschooling to me suggests you have a school in your house! With Kiki it absolutely was an easy decision to pull her out of school. It was extraordinary when Mark and I discovered we could do homeschooling. We are really not anti-school. In fact, Kiki is going back to school in September. She'll have been out of school for six years and we're really excited for her. It's the right time and she's going to a lovely state school with a great ethos.
MORE: Nadia Sawalha defends controversial home decision
"For 80 per cent of children, school is the right place for them to be. But some children are very unhappy and are surviving at school rather than thriving, so I'm always really passionate about letting people know that homeschooling is an option. And it's not reserved for royalty and movie stars.
"I find it heartbreaking that people think this is homeschooling. The way parents are being asked to do it, is totally alien to a home-educator. I think it's horrific. I really, really feel so sorry for people. No home-educator outside of the pandemic would make a child sit for six or seven hours in front of a computer. Some are even making their kids get into school uniform!"
Honey, I Home-Schooled The Kids, £10.75, Amazon
Can you share more about Kiki's experience in junior school that led to your decision to home-educate?
"They always say you're only as happy as your unhappiest child and Mark and I certainly knew that. With Kiki in junior school, she was way too young. She was a year younger than everyone else in her class and she got off on the wrong foot. The more she struggled, the more stressed she got, and the more stressed she got, the more she struggled and fell behind.
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"A lot of schools don't know how to cope with a shy child. They want them to put their hand up, to stand up, to talk loudly, but Kiki was five and didn't feel able to yet. She was a shy kid. The amount of times people have said to me, 'Well your child has to toughen up!' I just don't believe that. I've met so many people that are so marked by their unhappy time at school, right through their adult life, so I'm not a believer in that.
"Now after six years of home-educating, Kiki is confident in being shy. She knows it's okay to be shy. We don't want everyone to be a loudmouth like me! We need the shy people and the listeners – they're the smart people."
Mark and Nadia share two daughters together
Would you say that your eldest Maddie is more of an extrovert, like yourself?
"Outwardly, I think she is an extroverted introvert. She would appear to be an extrovert but I think inside she is a fairly shy person as well, she just has a different way of dealing with it. She wasn't a summer baby so she was much better and she really enjoyed school up until a certain age but then she was bullied.
"It's incredibly difficult to sort bullying out, especially the way that girls bully. It's almost imperceptible to teachers. We made the decision that it was better to take her out and see what happens. Maddie has now decided not to do GCSEs, but she doesn't need them for the career path she's chosen. She's had a good education without constant testing. I left school myself at 16."
MORE: When homeschooling doesn't go to plan: 6 hilarious photos
Nadia posing with her Homeschooling Superpower mug and wearing her M&S supersoft striped jumper
Has home-educating brought your even closer to your daughters?
"Oh my gosh, yes! We are incredibly close. Being with the children 24/7 – well our kids actually went to homeschooling groups prior to the pandemic – but being with them for the amount of time that we are, it is a big deal. But it's so normal to us that we forget it's a huge thing for parents now. We were laughing the other day saying it'll be so weird when Kiki goes to school in September. But we've loved it and we wouldn't have done it differently.
"When people first started talking about lockdown and homeschooling, I would actually get really upset hearing all the moaning about when are the kids going back to school. I know there's a lot of humour in that, but when you see on Facebook people joking that they need a bottle of wine at lunch to get through homeschooling – I just think it's such a shame.
MORE: Nadia Sawalha reveals why she's 'in shock' over her daughter
"Maddie said to me, 'It's so funny the way everyone keeps talking about the lost generation of children not being able to go to school. Do adults not actually realise what that feels like as a child to hear that?' It's terribly debilitating. She pointed out that no one's actually missing school, they're just missing their friends. I think it's really wrong to keep saying that this generation's education is ruined. We have to remember that young people are hearing that.
"I think it's really important to check in with children's mental health and ask them how they're feeling. I do it with my daughters all the time. I ask them from a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst, what number they're at. We'll have a bit of a laugh about it but it does open up the conversation for them to talk."
Mark and Nadia at home. Nadia wearing M&S cashmere colour block jumper
When you first took your children out of school, you followed the 'de-schooling' method. Tell us about that.
"We decided to try 'de-schooling', where for every year that they were at school, they have a month off doing absolutely nothing. The idea being that you de-stress them from school, from a routine, and you try and encourage them to be self-starters – you find out what fires them up, what they are passionate about, if they're left with nothing to do, what do they look to do? And that's how they find out what their 'thing' is."
Have any of your Loose Women co-stars asked for homeschooling advice?
"It was really nice when Stacey [Solomon] was homeschooling her boys before the pandemic. It was just lovely to have another homeschooler on the panel. But no one asks me for advice, I think they all think I'm completely mad for doing what I do."
Nadia wearing Next's sparkle heart jumper
The Loose Women ladies are all fantastic at throwing on-air celebrations. Are you planning a hen do for Stacey Solomon?
"I'm sure we'll have something up our sleeve! We're going to milk this for all it's worth, we certainly will be making a fuss of her and Joe [Swash]. Joe comes on the show a lot and we all love him. We're all totally soppy over Joe, he's such a sweetheart, and of course, the boys. Stacey has the most beautiful boys, I just adore them. They're all such gorgeous, gorgeous kids and Stacey is such a good mum. She's also a great Loose Woman. We really were in need of someone younger and she came in and breathed a breath of fresh air into the show. I'm very fond of her."
MORE: The Loose Women stars' stunning engagement rings
Are you expecting a wedding invite in the post?
"Ha, I don't know! The thing is now weddings have to be so tiny and she's got a huge family. I'm absolutely not expecting an invitation. I know that if it wasn't in a lockdown situation… we're good friends but it is very restricted at the moment, so I'm not expecting one."
Christine Lampard is expecting again! Are you planning a baby shower for her?
"Again, with lockdown, we can't have a proper baby shower. But I'm so chuffed for her. She is as lovely as she looks, she really is. She is the real thing."
Nadia wearing her Boden cashmere cardigan
A few Loose Women stars have left in the past couple of months. Were you surprised at all?
"I was surprised, but I know that throughout lockdown people have thought about life in a different way. I think we have all at one point questioned everything we're doing. The thing about Loose Women is that doors are always open. People come and go. I went off for about seven or eight years because I was working for the BBC. I came back and it felt just like yesterday.
"Carol [McGiffin] also went off and came back. Denise [Walsh] too. I think it's really lovely when that happens because the audience get to catch up with them. Whenever I see anyone leave, I never really think they're gone for ever. Never. I always know that people will come back, it's just the way with Loose Women. It goes round and round and everyone comes back. It's just like family that go off for a bit and then return."
There are sometimes heated moments on air on Loose Women. How do you deal with any tension?
"When we have the live audience, it's actually very funny for them because we might get heated and opinionated. That's what we're there for. But they literally can't believe it when we get to the commercial break, we start chatting away as normal. We don't even think about it. It's very much a female thing though. People expect that if women have differing opinions, they're going to fall out. But I can't think of any time where any Loose Women have fallen out after what was said on air."
Nadia wearing her Boden cashmere cardigan
Do you see yourself at Loose Women for the long term?
"I've been doing Loose Women for 20 years. We did the very first one – myself, Jane Moore, Kaye Adams and Karen Brady. It feels like a second home to me. It is a privilege, it's an enormous privilege. I get to hang out with my friends, people have to listen to my opinions even if they don't want to, I'm just so bloody lucky, especially to have a job that I love and I do love it, and to have a job in these times. I'm very, very loyal to the show and I think it's part of my family. It's hugely important to me. They'll have to wiggle me out for me not to be on Loose Women anymore."
How has lockdown made you look at the world differently?
"It's also really made me think about the planet and the way we treat animals. I wasn't as committed to it before, but now I really do believe we have to make huge changes to the way we all live because there will be more pandemics if we carry on treating animals the way we treat them, if we continue to ravage the planet the way we do."
Mark and Nadia at home. Nadia wearing Next's multi stripe heart jumper
Nadia Sawalha's top homeschooling tips:
Don't put yourself in the place of a teacher
"My number one tip is don't put yourself in the place of a teacher because you aren't a teacher. You are a facilitator, you're facilitating your child's learning and that's a really big distinction. Somebody said to me recently, how do you distinguish being a mum and being a teacher? And I said I don't, because I'm not a teacher. I'm their mum who does everything they need me to do to facilitate their learning. Why would you change the way you talk to your children just because you're going into learning mode?"
Don't pretend you know everything
"I think people get stressed panicking they don't know the answer to everything. My kids love it when I say, 'I don't know, I haven't got a clue' and we try and find the answer to something together. My sister Dina is a teacher and she uses that as a technique because she's seen how empowering that is for children. Whereas if you're standing there manically trying to pretend you know everything, kids smell a rat and that's when they start playing up."
Don't follow formal school hours
"I think people get locked into the idea that the only time you can educate your children is between 8am and 3pm. What we often do, when we have busy days, is we just shift it all around. We do Maddie and Kiki's official learning at the weekend if it's been a really busy week.
"It's a scientific fact that teenagers work better when they're allowed to sleep until 9 or 9:30am, just by the way a teenage brain develops, so if my child wants to sleep a bit longer, as far as I'm concerned that's fantastic because it means I get a whole load of stuff done. They're more focused when they get up and not so moody. Trying to drag a teenager up at 7am when they don't have to leave the house is madness!"
Let your children work from bed
"I read an article recently where psychologists said it's actually a really good idea to work from your bed, because it's safe, it's warm, you feel positive and it's actually fine to work from your bed. I really think that with the kids as well. The world won't stop turning."
Talk to home-educators in your local area
"If you're thinking about making the jump to homeschooling for good, talk to a home-educator. Go online, look at what's going on in your area, what different homeschooling groups are available, and of course, read my book! The thing about our book is that it's not a philosophy, which is what was only available at the time we started homeschooling. We wanted to know what it was like from day one and we are very honest about the mistakes we made."
Shop Nadia Sawalha's cosy knits:
Multi stripe heart jumper, £28, Next
Sparkle heart jumper, £28, Next
Supersoft striped crew neck jumper, £15, Marks & Spencer
Pure cashmere colour block jumper, £99, Marks & Spencer
Multi Stripe Kew Cashmere Cardigan - Frankincense Stripe, £198, Boden
Honey, I Home-Schooled the Kids by Nadia Sawalha and Mark Adderley is published by Coronet, £14.99
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