As children learn from home, parents are effectively running two schedules – work and school. Some children may not be able to get through all the work their school assigns in the time they have, which can leave parents feeling guilty.
It’s important for parents to note they are not replacement teachers, nor is it possible to hold down a full time job while helping their children learn full time. Something’s got to give.
These are unusual times and schools themselves don’t expect children to cover all the content they provide, especially when it comes to children in primary school.
In a newsletter to parents the principal of Bondi Public school said
Some days your children will submit outstanding work and other days they will submit nothing at all. I want you to know that this is OK. Our students very rarely work at the same level or at the same pace, so try not to compare yourselves with other families.
There’s more to learning than content
There is much more to education than just getting through content. Schools struggle to cover all content in the Australian Curriculum under normal circumstances.
What education provides is the skills to be able to pick up content, or catch up on it when need be.
I research children’s learning in conflict-affected contexts, where school is often disrupted due to disease, poverty or war, and the responsibility of education lands back with families.
This research has shown me that the children most able to catch up on content when they return to school are those whose families or communities promote literacy, numeracy and social skills.
In his research among European refugees during and after the second world war, Professor Reuven Feuerstein observed that children whose mothers believed in them and invested in their learning skills were more likely to overcome trauma and progress their learning.
So the best thing you can do is believe in your children, and help them maintain their love of learning, as well as their basic literacy, numeracy and social skills.
1. Get your kids to read
The more words children have at their disposal, the more they can make sense of the world.
One of the most effective ways to build vocabulary is reading. If you’re having a bad school day at home but you manage for your child to fit in ten minutes of reading, then you’ve had a win.
Building vocabulary is also important for helping children overcome trauma and stress. When children can make sense of their experiences, it frees up their thinking resources for learning and development.
If your child is a resistant reader, try to build their reading stamina. Start with five minutes per day, then incrementally add one minute each day. Explain to them stamina is like building muscle. Choose material they like to read – and celebrate the wins.
If reading is an uphill battle, don’t feel like you have to conquer dense texts – reading comics and joke books is better than no reading at all. Try light-hearted humorous books like Andy Griffith’s Treehouse series or The Day My Bum Went Psycho.
Also, tell your children stories. Sharing stories gives us a sense of belonging and possibility. In my study of children’s learning in conflict-affected Northern Uganda many teachers lamented the loss of generational stories due to the loss of parents and grandparents.
Stories give children connections to culture and points of reference that show adversity can be overcome. If all your child manages to do during this difficult time is read and tell or write stories, they’ll be well positioned with literacy skills for later recovery.
2. Build their maths stamina
The Australian Mathematics Curriculum sets out three strands: numbers and algebra, measurement and geometry, and statistics and probability.
These strands are covered at every grade level and spiral up in complexity. As a parent, you don’t need to unpack and interpret the curriculum, your child’s school has already done this for you.
Try to keep to the school’s plan. But if your child is finding it hard to cover everything, just focus on them doing at least some maths every day. It is a skill better practised frequently (10-15 minutes per day) than doing all on one day (and then forgotten by next week).
If your child is resistant to doing maths, ten minutes per day is better than zero minutes. And those ten minutes day by day build momentum.
Help them to build that stamina rather than just getting through the material. The clock is your friend – set a timer – see how many problems can be done in ten minutes, and gradually build up this time.
Numeracy is more than doing maths problems. It involves problem solving, sense making and critical judgement. To keep our children numerate while at home, we should keep them counting, measuring, calculating, comparing and estimating.
Online programs like Mathletics may be just what a busy parent with primary schoolers needs, but practical activities like cooking, telling the time or doing a basic budget are also great learning opportunities.
3. Social skills
Educational research places social and emotional skills as considerably important for children’s development and well-being.
Social skills don’t come naturally to all children, and often need to be explicitly taught. These skills include manners, self-regulation and hygiene. The best place to teach these is in families.
The Growing Up in Australia survey shows safe and supportive family environments are key to positive future outcomes for children.
Help your children build social skills into their daily routine: for example, get dressed, brush your hair and clean your teeth every morning by 8 am; insist on manners around food, and create a cool-down space to help with self-regulation.
Although it may sound simplistic, understanding not all people are the same is key to a child’s educational development.
When young people understand people have different backgrounds, experiences, and views, they are more likely to question their own assumptions and listen to the views of others. This extended time at home might be a wonderful opportunity to view documentaries or read stories about other people places and ways of living.
If your children can sustain these three learning skills – literacy, numeracy and social skills – they will be well positioned to go forward, as they can be applied in every subject area.