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By James Clements, posted on 1st July 2020

Learning at home during lockdown: Almost over the finish line

Is anyone else finding home learning tough going at the moment? Perhaps it’s the sunny weather making it feel like the holidays, perhaps it’s the lockdown restrictions gradually lifting and bringing a bit more freedom or just fatigue after three months of being at home, but motivation levels are perhaps not what they once were…

If, like us, finding the enthusiasm to keep going with home learning is tricky, here are a few ideas for making it over the finish line.

1. Pick your battles

Rather than trying to do everything, now might be the time to focus on just the things that really matter. Of course, that will be different in every household. It might be time to focus on the core subjects some reading every day, some maths work on times tables or number bonds to keep them fluent – or it might be that you look at other things that are important to you – practising a musical instrument or getting your daily exercise completed.

Streamlining expectations and focusing on the things that really matter is a sensible strategy at the moment.

2. Sneak in some learning

Just because they’re learning something new, it doesn’t mean they have to be sat at the table. If you haven’t been doing this already (and you probably have), now is certainly the time to try some stealth learning. Whether it’s maths through games or activities like cooking, or having fun while developing children’s reading and language skills, if it doesn’t feel like schoolwork then it is far more likely to be approached with some enthusiasm.

3. Take the chance to reflect on a job well done

At this stage in the term, hopefully the children have learnt lots of new things while they’ve been at home. They might be linked to the school curriculum – maths, English, an interesting humanities topic – or they might be something else entirely – to use the toaster, to bake banana loaves, to tidy their own bedroom (ha, as if!). Rather than try and cram in lots of new things, now might be a good moment to take stock and celebrate the successes instead.

This could take lots of different forms:

Now I can

Give children the sentence starter ‘Now I can…’ and ask them to finish it as many times as they can with new things they can do. They could write or draw each aspect and see how many new things they can do that they couldn’t before. Once they start, they might surprise themselves.

A school report

Rather than waiting for a school report, you could try asking the people who know best: the children. Ask them to write their own school report, listing the things they’ve achieved and the things they feel proud of (and perhaps the areas they don’t feel as confident about). You might be surprised how reflective they can be.

Write a quiz

At school during the summer, children often sit tests which give teachers a picture of what children have learnt (and remembered) over the year. Giving them an exam on their home learning is probably going a bit far, but there is one way we can make use of this educational tradition: ask children to write a quiz for you using all of the things they now know. Can they set some maths questions that they know the answers to, but you might not? Can they test you on some things that they know about the Anglo-Saxons?

Older children could write a quiz for you to sit, while younger children could just ask you some questions to answer. I don’t know why, but children seem love setting quizzes and they love marking them too- and just wait to see the delight when you get something wrong…

Look back and talk

The simplest way to reflect is just to look back on everything they’ve done while they’ve been at home and talk to you about it Looking through any folders (or in our house, random piles) of work set by school, any work submitted electronically and through the photos on your phone to hep remember what you’ve been doing.

4. Resort to extrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the holy grail of education. It’s the name for when children are motivated to learn something new because they are inherently interested and want to study it for its own sake. It’s just possible that this might be in short supply at the end of the school year. And that’s when we might need to resort to extrinsic motivation (put simply, that’s bribery).

If you’ve made it to this point in the year without an intricate system of bribes and rewards then you are doing a remarkable job, but perhaps now might be time to consider introducing something to keep motivation levels up.

If you’re already deep into this, now’s probably the time to double down and go all in. Whether it’s a tick-sheet on the fridge where every piece of work is ticked off when it is finished or a marble in a jar to mark every task completed, having a way of recording individual achievements might just be what keeps everyone going.

The reward when enough marbles or ticks are collected doesn’t have to be edible treats or screentime – a trip to somewhere special, a favourite meal, the choice of what you play together can all be a reward. Often the reward itself is far less important than collecting and acknowledging the small steps that are achieved every day.

And finally, remember not to be too hard on yourself or the children.

For most parents, this hasn’t been an easy time and the fact we’ve got this far and are still talking about home learning is a minor miracle. Every school in the country will be busy at the moment thinking about how they can best support children when they get back, redesigning their curriculum and teaching to make sure no child misses out on anything important.

If you don’t manage to get much done in these last couple of weeks, don’t panic: someone at your child’s school is sitting down right now thinking about how they can teach it again in September.