In our series of guest posts, this time teacher Vicky Collins gives you some tips for refreshing your child’s lockdown learning routine. This aims to support parents of Key Stage 2, 3 and 4 children (age 7-16). For more about supporting younger children, see my previous guest posts by Eleanor Pyper and Fatema Patel.
A Teacher’s Tips for Refreshing Your Child’s Lockdown Learning Routine
Whilst some children have returned to school, for the majority, the reality is that they will not be back in school until at least September.
As a parent myself, I completely understand the problems that come along with trying to keep lockdown life interesting. Juggling work, family life and schooling is a completely new challenge for all of us. To help you in this I, a teacher, tutor and mum of three, have come up with some ideas to help.
Developing a Schedule: Things to Consider
When coming up with a schedule for your family you need to consider 3 things:
- What are the school’s expectations?
- How can you design a schedule that fits with your family circumstances?
- What are your child’s motivators and needs?
Largely this is going to be a partnership between your family and the school; the more school and your family can put in will directly affect how your child learns.
Work With What You’ve Got…Or Add To It
By now you will have a clear idea about what kind of learning experience your child’s school is offering. You will know whether it is meeting your child’s learning needs. If school are not giving you as much content as you feel is suitable then you may wish to explore wider. There are some good free offerings available for you to work with here, and this page is also full of exciting projects. The BBC schedule daily lessons for all key stages via iPlayer and BBC Four, and these are supported with online content. Additionally, there are many celebrities who have been trying to inspire children’s learning, such as these:
Geography: Steve Backshall
Science: Brian Cox
Literacy: David Walliams
Dance: Oti Mabuse (Strictly Come Dancing)
Don’t Forget Reset Time
In school, children have lots of time to “reset” between lessons, some of this is moving around a classroom, some may be moving from building to building. Within this time they get to have 5 mins of chat and down time to talk to a friend. Discussing ideas is also a useful way of ordering your thoughts – these are the interactions which are not going to be possible at the moment. It is worth remembering this when they ask for a quick chat.
Create a ‘First Draft’ of Your Refreshed Schedule
Now you have all the information about school and expectations, and what is working for your child. Sit down as a family and work out a new schedule for everyone. Try to work out the non-negotiable elements and those elements which are more flexible. Try it out and see what works. Discussion will improve your child’s “buy-in” and improve their feelings of ownership over their learning.
Managing Your Time
Teachers in the classroom share their time amongst 30 or more pupils so when you are helping your child you don’t need to be with them continuously. Teachers teach the concept, run through some examples and then set the children some work. This pattern will be very familiar to your child. Once they understand what to do they should be able to get on with the task at hand by themselves for a while (although its worth having a quick check on their work a couple of questions in).
Senior school pupils are used to following their scheduled timetable for lessons, it is expected that they keep a similar timetable and make slight adjustments to fit in with the family. Everyone needs to be flexible at the moment. Senior pupils will largely be expected to be self-motivated. They are old enough to be doing their own work and judging their own quality. That being said, we all work better when someone recognises our achievements. Asking about your child’s work, helping search up a topic and generally being interested will help keep you child on track. If you do feel there are problems with the work your child is being set then contact the school. Teachers receive feedback in the classroom constantly. This is a very different experience for everyone.
There is a balance to be found with older primary school pupils. Work with what your child’s school is offering, and remember that their learning has been carefully planned with all the objectives for the year. If your school suggests a schedule then work out if it works for your family and adjust it accordingly. Try interspersing formal learning with learning experiences such as scavenger hunts or science experiments (within reason, we are only human!).
What to Schedule When
Primary schools often schedule maths and English in the morning. Most children are fresher then, and brains are ready for some academic learning. It is a good time to achieve quality thinking. By scheduling these lessons in the morning your child will be more receptive and find the topic easier.
Reading and Writing
Reading is a lovely way to start the day. Not all reading needs to be out loud but if it is possible for you to listen to a page or two then this improves things. Children reading to siblings is an alternative, or perhaps to grandparents over the internet. Asking questions about the story and explaining the subtleties of the language can really enhance the book. Some questions might be:
- Do you like the story?
- Who is your favourite character?
- What might happen next?
- If this was your story what would you change?
Writing every day is great practice. A lockdown diary or blog for older children is an interesting project. It’s never too late to start! Equally, writing stories or making project books is a fantastic activity. Some days they may only write a sentence or two, perhaps these are the days to draw a lovely picture; other days the words will flow and pages will fill up quickly.
Maths is likely to be more directed by the learning objectives set by school; try not to get frustrated with your child if they don’t understand. Some strategies you may try include:
- Ask someone else to explain it (in person or online).
- Find a video clip which explains it.
- Finding online games to practise.
- Leave it and come back to it later when everyone is calm (this may even be the next day).
Some children really appreciate repetition to cement concepts into their working memory. Try not to get stressed when they don’t understand and need further help on the same topic.
Lunch and Break Times
If possible have some time around lunch for a chat. We all need human company, especially now, but don’t overlook solitary time where they can just be themselves.
Be prepared to be flexible. If something is not working then switch it around. You will find the best outcome for your child and family. This is a time for embracing what we can do, and not criticising what we can’t.
Exercise and Movement
One of the most important subjects for physical and mental health is PE. Children move all the time and different children have different needs for movement. Some children need to fiddle constantly, and need movement breaks every 20 mins. Further exercise comes at break and lunchtimes when children spend their time running, playing football, skipping and cartwheeling. Ensuring your child achieves enough exercise and breaks may be the hardest element to manage given the restrictions. Working out if your children need more exercise is worth a family discussion.
One significant exercise session is the minimum children need each day. Ideally this should be supplemented with additional bursts of activity to break up their work. YouTube workouts, hula hoops, skittles, old Wii games, football in the garden, climbing frames and trampolines are all good to encourage movement and give children a break.
The more creative subjects are often scheduled in the afternoon when there is a more relaxed feel to the work. Art, music and project work benefit from this. Giving your child choices about their own learning will empower them and keep them on task for longer. If they love the Romans, go with it; now is exactly the time to indulge their passions. If they are very artistic, find some YouTube tutorials. By reserving time for more creative subjects, your child will feel relieved from their everyday lessons. This may make them more enthusiastic to learn at other times.
Finding Additional Material
Teachers spend hours (every week) planning their pupils’ learning. They scour the internet in the hope of finding the perfect resource and when they can’t find the right resource often create their own PowerPoint or worksheet. Many companies have offered their resources for free during the lockdown, the government has compiled a list.
One of my favourite education publishers, CGP, has these handy checklists for the understanding your child should leave their year group with. These are for the primary school years only. You could ask your child to sit with you and discuss the topics, ask them to give each a rating out of five for understanding.
Time for Friends & Fun
It is completely understandable that we all miss company, the first two days after the summer holidays are spent with excitable children swapping stories and catching up. There is a burbling noise within classrooms up and down the country. Try to add social contact into your child’s schedule. It is worth remembering that while we have fun memories of our childhoods playing wholesome activities and “not wasting away our time on screens” today’s youngsters can chat and play with their friends across households. While we may see screen time as a resource to be limited, for them it is an escape from reality and a connection to their friends. Perhaps now is a time to take a gentle approach to this.
Some of the lessons our children will be learning across this period are not academic. With an increased number of us using our indoor space more often there is more wear and tear and need to clean. With this in mind, now is the perfect time for your children to be taking responsibility for a few more chores around the house to create a happy home for all. Help your child cook a meal in order to apply the following subjects:
- Maths (weighing out ingredients)
- English (following a recipe)
- Science (cooking is all science really)
- Unloading the dishwasher may be unglamorous but it is also teaching your child to take care of themselves and others (PSHE)
- Cleaning door handles reminds them of the science of infection control.
Whilst these are not overt learning objectives they are going to be useful lessons for their futures. Moreover, this is history in the making, just as our children learn about evacuees in WW2, future generations will study this period.
Recognise and Reward
Schools will want to ensure they recognise children’s achievements; teachers will be working towards making sure children receive the attention for their good work and attitudes to learning, now more than ever. Recognising this in your own family is very helpful. Appreciate when children have made special effort on a piece of work. Reward charts can be very helpful if you have a specific task you can reward. These can still be used for for older children too, after all now is exactly the time when we want to see our achievements in writing. Sticking the proverbial picture on the fridge is a useful reminder to all of success.
Discuss and Review
Finally all this works best with your child being on side. Talk to them and find out what they like and don’t like. Write the schedule together and then write the reward plan. Review what works and doesn’t after the first week and then keep reviewing it, tweaking it when necessary and improving it.
I hope this article helps you feel positive about refreshing your child’s lockdown learning routine. Please don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed by home-schooling. Teachers are used to this (on a smaller scale). Children change schools mid-year, move to new countries for parents’ work, or are absent with ill-health. We are practiced at spotting children with gaps in their knowledge or whose learning hasn’t progressed at a good pace for them. It’s our job and it is what we are trained to do. When we are all back in school, rest assured we will assess the children, work out what needs to be taught and work our socks off to help your child achieve all that they can.
Vicky Collins is an experienced teacher in Buckinghamshire who runs Total Tutoring in High Wycombe, who are currently working online and can be contacted via email firstname.lastname@example.org . She has worked in both private and state schools for nearly ten years. As well as working in schools, she set up her own tutoring business in 2016 helping many children build confidence, understanding and a love of learning.
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