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By James Clements, posted on 24th March 2020

Learning at home: Making a start

Anyone who has ever seen either of my children eat a bowl of spaghetti will know I’m in no position to offer parenting advice.

Just this once, however, the tiny range of things I feel qualified to talk about might just turn out to be useful. I was a primary teacher for ten years before becoming an education researcher and writer – a job that means I spend lots of time watching teachers in schools up and down the country teaching the most amazing lessons. It’s certainly taught me a few things.

I’m also the parent of two primary-aged children, who I can hear crashing about downstairs while I steal a precious few moments to write this. Judging by the noise, I have a feeling that educating them at home and working might be an… erm… interesting experience.

Since the announcement that schools would close for all but the children of key workers and the most vulnerable children, my children’s class message groups have exploded with links to resources. There have been lots of brilliant things, but it can be a bit overwhelming too.

There just isn’t time to read or watch everything. Everyone on social media seems to have an opinion on the best way to organise our days, too. It can be difficult to make sense of it all, so here’s what I try to keep in mind:

1. Everyone is in a different position

It’s great to hear what other parents are doing at the moment, but their situation will be different from your own.

Some parents might be juggling work and family; others might be able to devote all their energy to their children. Some might have lots of support from a partner or older children; others might be on their own. Some children might thrive with lots of free time to follow their interests; others might benefit from more structure to their day. And, of course, we’ll all differ in terms of resources: time, money, space, and access to technology.

While we can take inspiration or borrow good ideas from others, we have to think about what is best for our children and our situation and not measure ourselves against what other people are sharing on social media.

2. We’ll need to be realistic about the effort involved

We all hope that this will pass and normal life will resume soon, but we might be in this situation for a while. Whatever structures we put in place might have to be sustained for a long time.

If we set up a timetable with hours of fully resourced maths and English lessons using piles of printed sheets, hours of online lessons and virtual visits – not to mention the daily baking sessions – we might find we run out of energy. Perhaps it’s best to start modestly and build up, rather than setting up something unsustainable and then feeling bad about having to stop things.

3. We shouldn’t be afraid to prioritise

We can’t do everything every day, so successful learning at home is going to involve some choices. What’s important will differ from family to family, but there are a few things that benefit from some regular time and attention:

  • Reading (both listening to children read and reading to them).
  • Writing.
  • Maths (especially keeping them fluent and stopping them forgetting what they’ve learnt at school)
  • Keeping active and healthy (both mentally and physically).
  • Plus plenty of the activities they love, whether that’s playing games together, cooking, making models, or enjoying a favourite programme.

More advice and guidance

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be writing a series of blog posts about how we might make the best of our time at home with our children, sharing practical things I’ve learnt from my own career and from the wonderful classrooms I’ve visited. The first one picks up on one of the ideas in this post: how we might organise the days so they work best for us.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that these are extraordinary times and nothing feels normal at the moment. We’ve all got plenty of things on our minds on top of our children’s learning. Now is the time to be kind to each other, to our families, and to strangers. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s the time to be kind to ourselves. Everyone has lots to juggle and we’re all doing our best in an unprecedented situation.

Good luck.