Coronavirus: Home-schooling – advice for parents

Written by: Sean Harris | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools are supporting home education via setting work and linking families to resources. However, why not also offer parents some basic teaching advice and tips for the facilitation of learning. Sean Harris explains

My colourful timetable was laminated and placed on the wall, the children were engaged in their independent learning, and the team at Amberley Primary School in Newcastle had been most helpful at supplying me with various tasks and online learning for my daughters to complete.

Home learning! What could possibly go wrong?

It was mostly hassle free on day one, but juggling full-time work with the need to educate my children at home is proving difficult.

My five-year-old cannot quite understand why she cannot just play with Lego all day or adopt Peppa Pig as her full-time teacher.

Meanwhile, my eight-year-old is keen to show me every piece of work that she produces, even while I am in the middle of an important phone call with an executive headteacher.

Our employers have been immensely supportive – prioritising my wellbeing and that of my family above the need to get all aspects of my job done in the same timescales.

Even with my experience as a former teacher and school leader, this home schooling challenge is tougher than I thought. However, there are a number of tips and insights from the education world to support parents and carers juggling their careers while teaching their children.

Give yourself and your children a break

First things first – build in the breaks. Segment the learning episodes and make sure you build in time for:

  • Fresh air: A 15-minute break in the garden or a brief walk down the street can make all of the difference. It is important to continue to follow expert advice regarding social distancing, of course.
  • Food: Remember to build time in for healthy snacks to keep your children nourished and to feed their minds.
  • Discussion: Do not underestimate the impact that it will have on the children not being able to talk to their friends and engage in social interaction with their peers. Build time in for talking about their learning and encourage positive conversations with your children while they are working and during breaks.
  • Laughter: In the current climate, it is essential that we act as circuit breakers for the anxiety, frustration and sadness that will inevitably affect so many children and families. It is imperative to encourage laughter and positive thinking for your child. A well-timed YouTube cat video or telling a child-friendly joke can set the right tone and mindset.

Timetable and environment

Associate assistant headteacher, Alex Fairlamb (@Lamb_Heart_Tea), is one of several lead advocates of the North East’s EdNorth network – a collaborative consisting of teachers and school leaders dedicated to sharing resources, evidence-based approaches to learning and good practice. Alex offered me some two key pieces of advice for how parents and carers can further support home learning routines.

Tip 1: Timetable the learning day

Teachers are good with routines and processes. We also know that this supports children with their learning and behaviour. A routine will help to reassure children and provide them with structure.

Alex advises getting your children to create their learning timetables, basing these on their school timetable. Use the following criteria to help them:

  • Set achievable but challenging goals.
  • Include all subjects across the week.
  • Include a range of subjects in one day.
  • Space out learning, with subject disciplines interleaved.
  • Include breaks and planned rest time.

Get your children to set goals at the start of each day so that they know what they are working towards and in order to motivate them. And at the end of the day, get them to review if they have successfully met their aims. This could include a “reward” – such as their choice of film to watch as a family that evening.

Finally, factoring in breaks is key. Do not underestimate the importance of this. It will enable them to avoid cognitive overload and support wellbeing. Remember, this is not school and during the current crisis family time and time for discussion and talking will be essential.

Tip 2: Create the perfect learning environment

For Alex, the learning environment is just as important. While it is unlikely we will have the latest 3D projectors, state-of-the-art assembly hall or sensory room in our own homes, we can adjust certain aspects of the home environment to help create a positive learning climate. Alex suggests:

  • Create a comfortable but studious space, free from distractions (such as televisions, consoles etc).
  • Limit distractions: Encourage your children to put their phones away while working. If they are using them for online resources or research then encourage them to do so for some periods, but then to take a break during other periods.
  • Equipment: Make sure they are equipped for study and not having to stop their work to search for stationery.

You know your class already

Joanne Clifford Swan, a senior lecturer in the Department of Social Work, Education and Community Wellbeing at Northumbria University, is quick to remind parents and carers that they know their children really well – they already know the needs, abilities and personal behaviour traits of their class!

As such, she offers the following insights to help enhance learning at home:

  • Use your child’s school bag to store pens, pencils and paper. Everything can then be put back at the end of an activity. This keeps things organised but also prevents the home from looking like a permanent classroom. This will help to make the distinction between family time and school work.
  • Do not create battlegrounds. This is a long-term situation, so think carefully about the sort of activities you are going to ask your children to do and make sure they are sustainable. Don’t bombard children with revision guides and so on right from the start. Think little and often!
  • Take advantage of your child’s knowledge of technology to get them to decide upon their own projects that they can research and work on without you needing to sit over them.
  • Think of activities that are real and make use of your child’s skills, such as emailing or sending cards or completed projects to grandparents or other family members. Older children could make story videos for younger members of the extended family.
  • A vast array of free online resources has become available over recent days. Let your child have a look at some of these and choose what they would like to do. Schools will be providing work and/or resources for their students too and Headteacher Update has also published an in-depth list of resources for families and schools to access, many of which are free access.
  • The most important role you have is as a parent. Do not try to replicate what teachers do at schools. For example, watching a DVD is okay and can indeed lead to reflection, learning and discussion as a family.

You are not alone

Finally, teach out to teachers across the nation. Social media, particularly Twitter, is currently alive with examples of good practice being shared from educators to support parents, colleagues and pupils across the country. Good places to start include @EdNorthUK and @HeadteacherNews

  • Sean Harris is the North East area director for Ambition Institute. Sean regularly writes for SecEd, Headteacher Update and is a published author in the fields of education, theology and youth work. He is a governor for a school in Northumberland, a trustee, and co-director of Bike4Health. He is also a champion of all things EdNorth. You can follow him @SeanHarris_NE

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