Every parent in the world is likely to be feeling totally overwhelmed right now because of COVID-19 and the bombardment of online learning tools and example schedules may not actually be helping us to remain calm and clear headed.
So, I would like to share some tips. Apologies if these come across as patronising in any way. I know we will have many educationalists and home schoolers following us, but if we can help a few families cope a bit better, and avoid some mistakes I have previously made, I believe they are worth sharing.
1. Bye bye Pressure
Firstly, and most importantly, get rid of any pressure you are feeling to educate your child. These are extraordinary times and your child’s reading levels and other academic progress is not a priority. The Early Years continue in most European countries until the age of 6 or 7. Finland is one of the highest performing countries in the world, educationally, and they play in kindergartens until they are 7 years old. If your young child is engaged and playing, they ARE learning. Do not force learning.
2. What Motivates YOUR Child?
Every child is different and you are the only expert here. Nobody knows your child better. Think about your own child and what is going to motivate them and what could potentially turn them off learning completely. Don’t just copy others’ schedules as they may not be the best fit for your child or fit in with your own work schedule. Decide as a family what will work best for you all.
3. Child-led Learning
Keep children wanting to learn. Children in their early years have a thirst for new knowledge and we want to keep this going by not overloading and instead going with their own interests. So ask them what they would like to do. Give them a few options, and if they ever say “Can I learn about…?” go with it. If they’ve chosen the topic, they are already engaged with it.
4. Family Learning
“Family Learning” is about exploiting learning opportunities in everyday family life
. So involve your children in daily chores. Teach them to wash and dry up up effectively, load the washing machine, hang out washing to dry, fold laundry, pair socks etc. By helping to cook
for the family, they can develop their fine motor skills by chopping and work on their division skills by discussing portions. Talk about their times tables in relation to the food. Use daily family tasks as a learning opportunity to teach a life skill and much more.
5. Independent Play
You do not have to be actively teaching for them to be learning. Never interrupt them from independent play. This is your golden moment to answer some emails or to just have a moment of calm. Maximise the opportunity!
6. Work Station
Set up a work station
for your child. Make it look as inviting as possible with lots of paper, colouring tools, arts and crafts material
, glue, etc. Making these things accessible will encourage independence. Use recycling for arts and crafts, painting, etc. Junk modelling is always a winner.
7. A Flexible Daily Structure
Get dressed at roughly the normal time as if going to school, ready to begin the day. Eat breakfast as a family (if possible) and talk about the day ahead so your child knows there is a plan in place. You may wish to keep the structure
of the school day going with snacks and meal times at the same times. Being consistent and making expectations and boundaries clear will make children feel safer and calmer which should (in theory) make them more compliant. But within these timings remain flexible. If your child is engaged in an activity and you are making the most of helping them practise some number work for example, don’t stop until your child wants to or starts looking tired. Make the most of the opportunity to do some focussed learning. Any form of timetable will go awry on many occasions due to a myriad of unforeseen circumstances. Again, take the pressure off and keep expectations realistic.
8. Fine Motor Skill Practise
A really important skill you can help develop in young children are fine motor skills. So get them mark making, colouring, painting, playing with playdough, building Lego
… Practise number and letter formation in the good old fashioned way: a pencil and paper
, chalkboard and chalk, whiteboard and pen…. Write letters using the index finger in a tray of sand, lentils or rice, or just on the table. Try your best to let go of any reservations about mess in your home, and set your child up with some sensory, messy activities
. They are normally very successful in engaging a small child for a long time and wonderful for creativity and brain development.
9. Mixed Aged Learning
Families with more than one child obviously have an advantage here and you can really help your older child to consolidate their learning (and ideally give you some time off), by playing the teacher role to a younger child. Your older child can develop their reading skills by reading stories
to younger siblings for example, but also get them showing how to do simple addition and subtraction or letter formation with a younger child. For children without a sibling, connect with friends whose children can video themselves reading stories for younger friends.
10. Avoid Burnout
For the sake of our children and ourselves, we must all try our best to avoid burn
out. Do not set high expectations of yourself or your children. Do not do too much too soon. Observe your children closely to see how they are coping and listen to your own bodies. Don’t feel guilty about having to work. Explain to children why you need to work and tell them you need their help. This whole situation in itself is a learning opportunity and we will all be learning many life lessons along the way.
11. Be Honest
The very best teachers do not pretend to children that they know everything. Young children ask questions, lots of questions and we must encourage this curiosity. By telling our children that we don’t know something but are keen to learn with them, we are instilling in them that we never stop learning and as grown ups we continue to learn, too. I.e. we are instilling a life time love of learning.
Try to dedicate and invest a realistic amount of time daily to being 100% present
with your children. Try to dedicate half an hour in the morning to a focused activity, and half an hour in the evening (or however long is realistic due to your work commitments). Invest all your emotional energy in that time. Turn off phones and be 100% present and engaged with your child. If children know this is going to happen, they are more likely to be calm and not so attention grabbing during the day. With more than one child, explain they will all have this time EVERY day. If work schedules permit and there is more than one adult in the house, take it in turns or sometimes enjoy as a family.
13. Family Connection
Ensuring that our children feel secure has to be a priority during this period. Try to take time every day to be together, reading stories, playing a game, having a massive family cuddle and laughing together. Anything which keeps you all connected as a family
and ensures your children know that they are safe and surrounded by love.
14. Failing Doesn’t Exist
You will have days that run really smoothly and you’ll be super pleased with yourself for absolutely nailing everything. Be really proud of yourself and enjoy the immense sense of satisfaction it brings! But there will be many days that go disastrously wrong for us all, and you’ll be having to juggle work, elderly relatives needing support, a partner not feeling well, etc. Please always remember that you are never, ever failing. Only think about the successes. Brush off the frustrations, do something that YOU love and remember that tomorrow is another day.
is the Headteacher and the Director of Teaching & Learning a The Family Learning School
. FLS is a progressive independent primary school in London, UK for children aged 3 to 11. FLS delivers inspiring, personalised education to small classes with high staff-to-child ratios, valuing creative as well as academic learning. Read more about FLS on their website
or follow them on Facebook