Just checking in, how are you coping with home learning…
I am not sure how you are going with home learning, but here, it is definitely challenging!
Keeping two parents demanding jobs going as well as supporting three kids at different path of their educational journeys (Grade 2, Grade 8 and Grade 12), and a dog, are not the easiest tasks.
After 10 days of home learning, I really wanted to write something in support to ALL parents out there who are feeling this juggle real! with a few reflections about my learning points and what we have come up with that has worked better…
What is Learning? What is Home Learning?
It is not new that learning takes place at home. Home has always been full of learning opportunities. There may be times that are less intense in learning and others that are full of learning opportunities, but learning at home is happening all the time.
Learning is defined as (see just a few web searches)
the act or experience of one that learns
knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study people of good education and considerable learning
process of acquiring new understanding, knowledge, behaviours, skills, values and preferences (Richard Gross, Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour, 6E, Hachette UK);
Considering these different definitions, we are then in a position as parents to have a deeper understanding of what we are trying to achieve or aim to do during our ‘teachings’. The definition of ‘act or experience’ certainly resonates truth. What about a discussion about construction in Lego Masters and how to make a tower stay up from a shaking machine, is that not an amazing learning experience? or what about discovery different plants growing in the garden, are they not great experiences? or even cooking a cake with a sibling? learning cooperation, maths and reading skills?
What if Home Learning is Different to Home Education?
Home Learning is completely different to Home Education. As parents, we have not necessarily chosen to be in this situation. If I had chosen the Home Education path, I would probably have a very different daily schedule or would make alternative work arrangements. There would definitely be something different in our life as a family. I would also seek social contact with families in a similar situation or maybe seek support from community organisation. I remember teaching French to a group of 15 children who were all home educated and were coming to College for additional lessons as parents were feeling they were not able to give them this learning opportunity at home. Sports, hobbies, clubs and community services are not events accessible at the moment so learning from home is definitely different.
Why does it feel so hard to do home learning?
“I am not going to do what you tell me to do”…”Well don’t talk to me like this, I am your teacher, would you talk to your teacher like this?”
It may feel hard, but it is also normal for children to test our limits. As parents, we offer safety and security to their life. We have also overnight adopted a completely new role in their lives, we have now become a teacher. I can safely say that the youngest one has not liked it and it has taken a number of conversation to explain I now have a teacher role in his life and the oldest two have also challenged, wake up calls and getting to bed at a decent time. With a few conversations later about expectations and our role- what is a teacher, what does your teacher do, why needing a teacher – we are in a better place of acceptance of my/our role and activities I/we set.
There is also another element to their new learning experience, a child-centred approach aspect to learning without being fully child-centred as school prescribes lesson plans. Children have not experienced this type of learning before, a one to one learning experience, intense with “let’s do this now”, “here is the next goal or activity”. They are usually in a social environment with peers all doing the same, an incredible amount of socialisation and peer modelling taking place.
Learning a ‘new style of learning’ may need some adaptation as well as some scaffolding to this new experience such as a child needing lots of support and modelling initially and then gradually moving to more independent steps (see Vygotsky). My son, 7, reflected beautifully on this, saying ” but no-one is around me doing the same thing”. As we are busy with keeping a family ticking and a job going, it is hard to be there at all times, but perhaps helping them to initiate the task helps, with us hovering around to check in how they are going and keeping on task for a short while.
Outline the Plan for the Day Including the Plan of the School
Knowing what’s on for the day and me guiding conversations as to what is expected has certainly helped. I certainly don’t have the perfect recipe, but the moments that have been better in terms of learning is when I have been close by.
Certainly, outlining the day ahead before wake up time has helped create some prediction and routines. The days when I did not do this, my youngest said “well, it’s not on the board”. On the board, I also include a schedule from the school so we all clear about the tasks of the day such as
reading 30 minutes
and then I explain what is exactly required in terms of outcome like ‘write 3 words’ or ‘read 2 books’. It has helped knowing we achieved the goals and I will then revisit in discussions ‘outside learning times’ to check on learning acquisition.
Keep it Fun and Engaging
Learning at home is a bit different. Typically lots of children would be together in a classroom sharing and learning. In itself this would create a buzz of energy and activity. Now being at home is a bit different where one or two children may be learning together in the same space. Certainly, my youngest has reflected on this “this is the most boring schooling I ever done, no one is here”.
It is not to say that we cannot have activities that are engaging and captivating attention. For example, we needed to look at shapes this week, so we did shapes using modelling clay and discussed these together. I took a picture of the models, glued it in the ‘home learning book’ and then shapes were identified in writing.
Was the aim of lesson met: Yes! Was knowledge acquired: Yes! it could have been also achieved by attempting to do body shapes or jumps on the trampoline, identifying shapes from plants, trees, objects in the garden or making Lego shapes…
Setting Specific Tasks in Short Bursts and Chunks with a Clear Finish
Learning would not typically happen on a one to one at school or with 2 or 3 children. There would be movements around the classroom as well as social interactions so it is normal for a primary school aged child to feel tired after a burst of 30 minutes of one to one learning. This may also vary depending on a child’s needs and developmental age. It has helped my youngest to have specific tasks that are manageable within a 30 minute window and to be able to tick when finished. We also have a folder and book where we put all his work in so when work is out, we work, when work is finished, we put it away. We also check in as to what has been done and not, what are the next steps for the next learning chunk.
Capture Learning Taking Place via lots of Methods
There is also lots of incidental learning happening such as a discussion around the table, a reflection after a film, counting peeled carrots, or measuring a cup of flour. It is important to think about learning taking place all the time and not necessarily when a child is sitting in front of a book and a pencil. It is also important to remember that reading and writing are a small proportion of a learning experience. Evidencing acquired knowledge and skills can take place in lots of varied ways, such as through a video, a photograph, talking, drawing. It is also important to remember that learning takes place in different developmental areas such as language, physical, emotional, thinking and social and therefore learning can be demonstrated in different ways.
Keep evidence of all the rich experiences taking place at home, you will then being able to share with the school teacher who can then match this to their learning objectives and goals.
Respect of Family Values and Reminders about Chores and House Rules
Whilst lots of learning is taking place during the day, it is also important to reinforce family values and rules as these are central to happy family functioning. It is important you continue to ensure you are distributing chores equally with developmental age appropriate tasks as well as reinforcing how we work together, what our values, how we come together as a family unit…
The Concept of Time is on Your Side
You may say, but I have a busy schedule, it is difficult to do all of this. I say I hear you and feel it too. Don’t forget “time is on your side”, you can do home learning all day long, bring the lesson plan into your routines, just check in with acquired learning and knowledge. What about catching up with a few things on Saturdays, who said home learning was 9-3 Mondays to Fridays.
Busy Schedule at Work – ‘It’s ok to say we will do some catch up at the Weekend‘
Praise Small Steps towards an End Goal, Achievements and Reinforce What is Working Well
Establishing goals will help with gaining a child’s intrinsic motivation and effort ” wouldn’t it be great to get all 100 words right” and also involve the child in establishing their own goals “I would like to write two sentences with your help”.
As part of the process, it is also important to reinforce what is going well, something like ‘what’s working well when I write”. Praising as we go can also give us some wins such as commenting on effort and a quality, “I noticed you did this well with commitment”. It is also important to discuss moments that are tougher and describe effort over a challenge. It helps children develop a growth and resilient mindset.
Be Compassionate to Yourself – You are doing the best you can!
We are all in this together and you are doing a good job, the best you can in the current circumstances. Yes it can be hard because we are exhausted and feeling the pressure. It is also part of our daily routines and what we do anyway, it just needs to be slightly more emphasised and reinforced as children are with us all day. I really enjoyed a psychologist interview who said “Your job as a parent is to keep peace” and it makes so much sense to me as children will remember this pandemic for a long time to come. They will remember the good and fun times, and also the arguments. So choose your battles, keep learning going as you have always have, keep ‘home learning’ fun, vivid and engaging, and ensure you are also be kind to yourself…
Pascale is an educational and child psychologist (UK)/educational and developmental psychologist (AU) working in private practice, a university clinic and supporting professionals online via individual, group, webinars and training.