With the majority of UK school and college pupils now being told to stay at home, apart from vulnerable children and the children of key workers, many parents and guardians are again adding home schooling to their list of responsibilities.
That’s no easy task, given it might well be some years since parents learned about grammar and fractions themselves. There’s a large element of juggling to be done, as many adults are trying to take work calls and field emails from the kitchen table, while also keeping kids engaged in school worksheets. Add to that the stresses of being stuck at home during lockdown, and it’s very clear that it’s a challenging situation
“Home learning is now an essential part of education and parents and carers play an essential role. Encouraging their child to complete the work set by school and ensuring they have a daily routine is very important and will help children transition back into school. Anything extra, such as working through the tasks with their child will promote learning even more,” explained Louise Kirby, Deputy Head at Burlington Junior School in East Yorkshire.
“However, schools completely understand how hard it is for parents and carers to complete home learning, as many school staff are struggling to do the same. Juggling home learning, several children and their own jobs is incredibly difficult and anyone attempting this should not be too hard on themselves when things don’t go to plan. The most important part is that schools and families remain in good communication, so that we can pull through these difficult times together,” she added.
If you’re a home schooling parent or guardian and you’re currently feeling overwhelmed, that’s totally normal. Do remember, though, there are resources to help you, from your contacts at your child’s school to online and TV lessons created by experts.
Here, we’ve rounded up some essential pieces of advice from eight educators, covering how to effectively organise your home schooling days as well as teaching subjects from maths and literacy to music and PE.
Planning your home school days
“Make sure you don’t try to replicate the rhythm of the school day as it’s often totally unnatural and arbitrary. Instead, focus on alternating ‘breathing in’ and ‘breathing out’ activities,” said Shabnam Cadwallender, Lecturer in Primary Education, Leeds Beckett University, and Education Consultant at DewDrop Education.
“For example, maths, which requires inward concentration is like breathing in and needs ideally to be followed by an expansion activity where it feels like breathing out - something without much structure, something ‘free’, before returning to another activity that requires concentration. Allow for uninterrupted free play in between more academic learning and even before getting children to sit down to eat,” Shabnam added.
“Don’t panic if you’ve not thought much about science since you were at school and have visions of Bunsen burners and chemical symbols! Primary science learning at home can be simple and great fun for everyone,” reassured Angharad Pass, Primary Science Specialist.
“Whatever you do, try to promote curiosity and wonder, whether that is exploring the garden looking for minibeasts, or raiding the kitchen cupboards to investigate the viscosity (how quickly something flows) of honey compared to orange juice. Science should be fun and is as much about the skills and curiosity as it is about the knowledge. Children should feel like they can be scientists, whatever their background,” Angharad added.
Angharad recommends making the most of online resources.
“There are some brilliant Science Fun At Home activities from the Primary Science Teaching Trust (PSTT) and Science Sparks that can be accessed here. They use household objects and are clear, simple and manageable for all. Just have a go, have fun, and don’t worry if it doesn’t work – science is like that in the real world too!”
“The advice I'd give to any parent out there is to encourage their child to read every day, anything from a comic to a novel, just instil a love of reading,” said primary school teacher Natalie Smith.
“Parents can use websites such as Twinkl or BBC Bitesize to understand the terminology used. Names are given to parts of grammar most of us feel like we 'just learnt', but trust me - after working across almost all of Key Stage 2, I can tell you getting to grips with grammar isn’t as scary as it seems. Twinkl and Bitesize have home schooling sections available to support parents and pupils in these times.”
“My top piece of advice for helping children learn music at home is first and foremost, have fun. A lot of the ‘learning’ children will have to do at the moment will be sitting down in front of a worksheet or on a screen. Change it up! Use music as a moment to be more creative, move about, be free, be silly,” advised YolanDa Brown, musician and campaigner for more music education in primary schools.
“A good strategy is to base the music tasks around music that your children like already and use that as a launchpad to introduce something new. Make up songs, no matter how simple and perform it to each other. It’s a lovely way to build confidence and give positive praise to your child. You don’t need to be musical, the lyrics don’t need to rhyme, you can dress up for the ‘big gig performance’, just make sure you laugh and have fun along the way,” YolanDa said.
“Of course, there are resources out there to guide you with music learning including my new ‘Join The Jam’ resource available on Twinkl which will have your child making instruments, working out their own dance moves and singing along to some fun music.”
When it comes to languages, Noah Higgs, an Irish teacher and contributor to Duolingo, feels it’s all about thinking creatively and positively.
“If you’re a parent teaching a child a language at home, you're at quite an advantage in a way because you know what they like and I would say there'll be a lot of thinking creatively,” he explained.
"It’s mostly an attitude thing - whether you're playing a game [languages snap cards can be a good option] or not, just try to be creative and playful about it. Try to let the learner feel some sort of authority over it. Focus on progress during a lesson and make them feel like they can really express themselves in a topic, ideally,” he advised.
Noah also advises watching a movie in a foreign language as a means of learning that doubles up as a treat for kids.
“When you're trying to teach a language, the best thing you can do is immerse. If you're having trouble getting your child to engage, try to show them how fun it can be and instead of a regular lesson, watch a cartoon in the language and then talk about it after.”
If you’re concerned about the fact you yourself can’t speak the language your child is learning, don’t shy away from admitting that and asking questions.
“Whatever the subject is, be humble about it and say: ‘You know what? I don't actually know much about this myself.’ Start asking the child questions and I'll tell you, as a teacher, you'll never learn as much as when you have to explain something to somebody else. So definitely get the child to explain to you if you don't know, you can kind of do two birds with one stone.”
“There are lots of great resources out there but don't feel as if you need to scroll through Google to find a hidden gem,” said primary school teacher Daniel Batchelor.
“BBC Bitesize is excellent across a range of age groups and breaks the individual skills down well. Try to make learning as fun and practical as possible. For example, if you are looking at fractions, use a block of chocolate to make it visual.”
Daniel also advises keeping consistency with in-school teaching.
“Make sure to communicate with your school as they will have their own way of teaching calculation methods. Keep it consistent for the child as repetition is the key to remembering,” he said.
Inevitably, there’s going to be lots of screen time for many children during this period of learning at home, but PE teacher Simon Bradbury highlights the importance of making time for fresh air and physical activity.
“It’s important to get outside and walk and run and cycle. And that might get lost because obviously the first time we were in lockdown [in 2020] the sun was out and it was a lot warmer. Wrap up warm, get yourself outside, get some fresh air and get away from the screen,” he advised.
Simon recommends using friendly competition as a way to motivate kids to keep active. Parents could facilitate this between classmates using technology.
“Seeing others in their class doing stuff is always a good motivation. I’ve seen some PE staff giving gold, silver and bronze if kids can cover this amount of distance or that amount of time. Friendly competition is always quite good,” he said.
“I’d encourage kids to get outside, maybe throw and catch a ball and see if they can beat their score from last time. Having little competitions, even just with themselves, is really important.”
Online resource toolkit
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