In the first of a series of guest posts, teacher Fatema Patel talks about how to help your child feel positive about home-schooling.
With the school closures at present, one of many current roles for parents is encouraging our children to want to learn. This forms the basis of all learning from childhood to adulthood regardless of ability or intellect but is easier said than done.
Having worked across different primary schools, it is evident that the values of motivation, confidence and resilience are a common theme in helping our children feel positive about learning. However, how can we develop these values in our children when they are not in school?
Motivation Through Enjoyment
It can be easy to succumb to the pressure that children should be learning the same at home as in school. With regards to education at home, I personally feel that offering a rigid home school programme may be counter-intuitive.
The most effective input a parent or carer can give their child at this time is to help them build positive experiences of being at home. The memories that children have will last a lifetime and can impact all their future learning as well as interactions.
This can vary for each child. All children have different abilities and interests. Some children may enjoy running as opposed to drawing. Incorporating more running into their routine can ensure that they have positive memories, rather than negative experiences of their time at home.
Learning can take place in so many ways that don’t need to follow the traditional curriculum. For example, you can:
- Chat and cook with them to learn about maths and science;
- Learn about emotions through drawings;
- Develop creativity through a joint project like decorating;
- Or even develop physical confidence through family games in the garden.
You could also take advantage of the many fun and free resources available online at the moment. For example:
- David Walliams reads one of his stories every morning at 11am on his website.
- The International Space School Educational Training Centre are launching ‘Space to Learn‘ every Tuesday at 2pm, an inspirational hour with an astronaut. Hear the best space stories from a different guest astronaut each week with a LIVE 45 minute Q&A.
- Oliver Jeffers is an author who reads Stay At Home Story Time on Instagram Live each day.
- Pie Corbett delivers a daily, creative literacy show on radioblogging.net. Pie Corbett’s ideas are used in many English lessons across the country. It can be perfect for your child and whilst you may have jobs to complete!
More fun ideas and projects can be found here.
Motivation: Learning Tips
– Limit distractions around them when wanting them to complete a task. If you have ever tried to draw with a 3 year old and there is a toy car on the same table, you will know how difficult this may be! This can act a sensory overload for children and make them unmotivated.
– It is important to help them complete one task at a time and ensure that there is a clear area around them with no physical distractions.
– Asking your child questions about what they are drawing or the book that they are reading can help them to develop their understanding and draw on their inference skills.
– Resist the urge to ask your children several questions at once if they do not respond to the first one. Allow them time to develop their thinking skills and conversational skills. You may want to begin with what you liked the most, then ask them their opinion. This will act as a prompt as sometimes children may be unclear with what they are expected to answer.
Different Forms of Motivation
It is helpful to think about three main types of motivation to engage in learning.
a) Intrinsic Reward in Learning.
In other words, we are talking about the desire to learn for its own sake. This will vary across subjects. For example, a child who is fascinated by planets may be intrinsically rewarded for reading a book about planets, but may lack intrinsic motivation for completing their spellings. Some children do not seem to have any intrinsic motivation to learn, and that is okay. This may be because they have had difficult learning experiences in the past, or simply because they have other priorities (like playing outside). It simply means you may need to use the other types of reward listed below.
b) Fun as a Reward.
You can make a learning task fun even when a child is not intrinsically motivated by it. For example, you can rap the times tables, or dress up as characters from the historical period you are learning about! This can be fun for the adults as well as the children, but the disadvantage is that it can be time-consuming to plan and execute.
c) Extrinsic Reward.
Not all learning tasks can be made “fun” or highly practical, especially if you have limited time. Sometimes it’s okay to use an extrinsic reward. For example: “Once you have completed these maths questions we will go and play football together outside”.
How the level of difficulty can affect motivation
All learning begins with motivation to attempt the task. However, if something is too easy or too difficult for a child, this will not motivate them as it does not create an appropriate challenge. If it is too easy, the child may refer to it as boring and if too hard, the child may ‘switch off’ and avoid the task. Asking a 6 year old what colour something is even though they have already demonstrated their knowledge of colours will not pose much of a challenge. However, asking them about the shape may create the right amount of challenge to inspire them and create curiosity.
Positive reinforcement is one powerful way to build confidence. However, praising character traits and effort is much more important and effective than praising achievement. It is also important to be specific.
One form of positive reinforcement is praise. Let’s imagine a child has read one word correctly, yet two wrong. Your response could be: “Wow, I can see that you are not finding these words easy, and yet you are working so hard. You managed to get one right. You are showing such determination.” Labelling positive character traits helps the child build a positive sense of self. This form of praise will build a sense of competence (one of the main elements of self esteem) as well as a keenness to continue.
The Importance of Growth Mindset
Surprisingly, our brains continue to develop until the at least the age of 25 for females and the age of 28 for males. Our pre-frontal cortex is responsible for decision making, understanding the consequences of our actions as well as planning behaviour. The pre-frontal cortex grows a little in earlier childhood but has accelerated development in adolescence. Our brains change and grow constantly and therefore our mindset is not fixed.
In the classroom, it is extremely common to hear those four dreaded words. “I can’t do this.” As a teacher, occasionally, I review the task that I have given the child and the difficulty of the task. I keep in mind that every child is different. Tasks should always be broken down to simple steps, for children to access the learning. If I feel that the task is at the correct level for the child, I will try to ensure that the child is aware that everyone is learning. I remind them that nobody can possibly know everything, not even adults. This can surprise them!
Rephrasing their statement to: “I do not know how to do this yet but I will learn” can help a child to develop their growth mindset.
At this time, it is easy to want to relax and spend some time doing activities that do not see challenging. Rest and recovery is extremely important for both children and adults. It is also an important component in building resilience and moving forward without feeling overwhelmed and crashing later on.
In addition, encouraging your child to try something out of their comfort zone can help them to build resilience. Being resilient is more about being flexible rather than remaining positive. It is impossible to remain positive at all times. However, we can help our children to develop a self-belief that they can be successful at something which may be unfamiliar to them.
Encourage your child not to fear mistakes. As humans, we all inevitably fail at something. Using this time at home to develop an environment where failing is acceptable can create a positive attitude to learning. This can be done through discussing mistakes that you have made. It can help your child to appreciate that fear is a normal emotion that everyone experiences and everyone makes mistakes. Inform your child of how you dealt with that experience using positive self-talk. You may also add what was in your control and this will help them to manage negative emotions and increase their tolerance of failure.
Home-schooling is not easy and we can’t be perfect teachers, especially as we are not trained.
Whether you are a working parent/carer or a stay at home parent/carer, realistically it is impossible to give undivided attention to our children 24/7! However, when you are able to be with your child, no matter how short the time may seem, be present. Give them your undivided attention for that short time. This will help you build your connection with them.
Additionally, let them have fun! Allow them to play and be silly. I strongly believe that a regimented routine of learning that they do not enjoy is not going to help them to progress. I agree however that routine is essential for a healthy mind in both children and adults. However, a full school timetable is not necessary. What is necessary is having fun with little activities. Reading or completing puzzles can help them to learn without realising. This will help them to enjoy themselves as well as the adults around them. Keep it short and sweet!
I hope this post has given you some fresh ideas on how to help your child feel positive about home-schooling. If you have any questions, concerns or simply want to talk, please do not hesitate to follow me @FatemaPatel14 on Twitter.
I am happy to help where I can!
I hope you all stay safe, happy and well.
Fatema Patel is a Primary Teacher who is passionate about creating an inclusive education for children of all abilities, ages and backgrounds. She has experience working with children of additional needs, varying from visual impairment to situational mutism. With a background in psychology, she has also previously worked with children on the autistic spectrum as an applied behavioural analysis tutor. Fatema believes that the foundation to learning is to build strong relationships and experiences with her pupils to help them to develop a positive attitude to learning.
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