Learning at home – how to make it work with younger pupils

Every social media stream is bombarding us with ways to keep children busy and how to help their learning continue once the schools shut.  But is it all just too much?

These are uncertain times for all of us, especially our children.  They are experiencing far more change than we perhaps realise, from their clubs and activities disappearing, to schools closing, to parents feeling worried and frazzled about a million other things all caused by Coronavirus.

So, what impact will a long school closure period have on our primary aged children academically?

Realistically, over the long term, very little.  Most good schools will adjust plans when things are up and running again and make sure all the key things are caught up with.  It is really important to remember that the main purpose of primary education is to teach children to read, write, use numbers and to have some knowledge about other things that go on in the world.  It will not damage them permanently if they miss a topic on the Egyptians or do not tick off every objective rammed into our curriculums.  The good news is that this affects everybody, so no child will return to school feeling that they have fallen behind.

What should I do to help?

Most schools will be setting up home learning and that will vary from school to school.  The thing to focus on is ensuring that children do not go backwards and that they stay in the game.  The good news is that this is really easy to do.  Make sure your children read and write a little every day and keep them practising their number skills.  On top of this, encourage them to get interested in something and to get learning.  It doesn’t really matter if this is through books, film clips or websites, but generating a love of learning is a powerful thing.

What should I worry about?

Perhaps surprisingly, it isn’t the academic subjects which worries me, I can sort that out later.  It is all of the other things children get from being at school which are going to be missed.  All of those experiences and interactions that happen every day.  Children may feel lonely or isolated, they may feel less independent, they may be worried but not want to talk to you about it because you are worried too.  The overall impact on the wellbeing of families is my biggest concern and something on which we should all be focusing.

What should I do?

One size does not fit all!  All children, and most adults, actually benefit from a routine – a regular rhythm which rolls on from day to day.  Building this in right from the start could help keep things on track.  Just like any New Year’s Resolution or fitness regime – don’t go too hard at the start as it just won’t last!  Think moderate and reasonable.  Children in P1-3 really don’t need to be doing more than 1-2 hours per day and P4-7 only 2-3.  Depending on you and your children, this could be done in chunks throughout the day, or first thing in the morning.  Sort out a place to work and try to be together for at least part of this.  Around the kitchen table would be ideal.  If your child is really struggling, or having a bad day, then know when to let it go.  No one benefits from a screaming match.  If you are finding it hard to get your children to engage in any home learning, see if their teacher can help or support.  Diverting the friction away from you can help when everyone is stuck in together and most children are more likely to do what they are told by their teacher (even mine!).  See this as a tool and not a weakness.

Children thrive on responsibility so build in time during the day for the children to do some basic chores to help out.  It is important that they know this is a difficult time for everyone and they have a part to play.

But I am supposed to working from home!  How will I manage?

This is a tough one.  Again, a routine can help.  If your children are needing a level of support with school-work that you cannot manage, talk to the school if you can and if that isn’t an option just be decisive and do what you can.  A shorter amount of time well supported is better than 3 hours of screaming and tears.

Think of something that will keep children busy for a long time.  Sometimes that is messy.  You can’t have everything!  Anything from Lego cities to giant dens.  There are loads of great challenges available online.  On a positive note, children get so little time to play these days as they get shuttled around from pillar to post, this could be a really good thing!  The more children play, the better they get at it.

Try to have some agreed time slots for things like tv, screen time, family activities and do your best to stick to it.  Don’t be too hard on yourself and if things are not going well, then know when it is time to let everyone snuggle up with a film – it is hard being cooped up, but children and common sense must prevail.

It is challenging working from home when looking after children.  We need to remember that lots of people may be dealing with the same issues – so just be kind and cut everyone some slack!

Anything else?

Get outside!  If you have a garden, use it – every day, rain, wind or shine. 

Ailsa Lawn, Head of Junior School 

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