9 lockdown learning problems solved
As school closures continue, some of us are getting into our stride with home learning, but many of us are still finding it hard. But while there are lots of challenges at this time, there are ways to troubleshoot any problems and make homeschooling a less stressful experience for you and your child.
We asked Katie Tollitt, primary school teacher and author of How to Teach your Children at Home, for her advice on smoothing out those ongoing difficulties.
1. ‘My child’s school isn’t providing any face-to-face interaction with their teacher’
The Department for Education has said that while schools are expected to provide at least some video learning for pupils, this doesn’t have to be live or pre-recorded by their teacher: other resources, like the BBC’s homeschooling programming or lessons from Oak National Academy, can be used.
Nevertheless, it can be disappointing if your child isn’t having any face-to-face online contact with their teacher.
There may be a number of reasons why the school is choosing to run online learning without video interaction, so it’s important to trust that they’ve taken into account the resources available to both teachers and students.
If video lessons are not currently being used, it may be that the school is in the process of setting them up. After all, it’s best to start live lessons only when the school feels it can use video learning effectively, and more importantly, safely,
If your child isn’t receiving any live learning, consider helping them document some of their work in interactive ways: recording their own voice notes or videos can make work feel more purposeful to them.
Although your child's teacher might not have time to provide individual feedback, I can assure you that they will appreciate your child’s efforts. Teachers generally love receiving emails with thoughtful messages from students, despite not always having the time to reply to each one personally.
2. ‘I’m finding it hard to balance my own work with helping my child with schoolwork’
I can't begin to imagine how difficult it must be to balance work at home alongside teaching your own child.
Although I can’t speak for all teachers, I promise that most of us are extremely understanding of individual family circumstances and want to avoid adding any pressure to parents and carers during this difficult time.
If you find yourself at a point where it’s impossible to keep up with both your own work and your child’s, and there are several days’ worth of learning tasks unfinished, it might be better to call it a day on past tasks and start afresh from the day or week you are on. Most teachers will probably encourage doing what you can, rather than going over unfinished work in order to tick every box.
Also, communication with your child is key. If they’re old enough to understand, talk to them and explain that you need time in which to finish your own tasks, and arrange to come back together after working separately to share what you’ve both been working on.
3. ‘My child’s home learning is too easy’
Your child’s teacher is used to setting work in a classroom environment, where children are working either independently or collaboratively. In a home learning setting, the work is more likely to be designed for the ‘average’ pupil, and therefore children working at a higher level may be finding the work easier.
This is challenging to provide for as a teacher, as each child will have a different set-up and level of support at home.
If your child is racing through their work, consider sending a polite email to the class teacher seeing if they might be able to set additional challenges.
You could also research their specific topics online, and find extra resources yourself. For example, if your Year 2 child is learning about addition and finding the work too easy, searching for Year 3 addition word problems might help challenge them so they don’t lose interest.
4. ‘The level of home learning is too difficult for my child’
It can be tricky to work out whether your child is actually finding their work too difficult, or if it’s just not engaging them. Children can be quite selective with their learning: it often depends on their mood, whether they’re hungry, or even the location of the moon on a particular day!
It’s important to talk to your child and find out why a particular task is proving difficult. Check in with them before they tackle an activity, noting down any key words that they might need to complete the task on a Post-it note so they can easily refer to them.
You can also give them resources like number lines, blocks or counters, phonics flashcards or word banks to help them along.
If you believe the work really is pitched too high for their current ability, email their class teacher: they might, for example, be able to help your child by sending visual resources that explain a topic more clearly, such as slides with images or a video that links with the lesson.
5. ‘We’re having difficulties making the technology work’
From forgotten passwords to unreliable laptops, technical issues can often interrupt the flow of work and cause you and your child considerable stress.
Keep a small noticeboard close to your child's workstation with their (many) student login details clearly presented to save the headache of having to locate each one when required.
If your child is old enough, teach them to charge their own device and offer an abundance of praise if they remember to do it independently.
Also, spend some time ensuring software is up to date and that the right version of apps has been downloaded: this is a daily stress that teachers face too!
If all else fails, a polite email to your school’s technology coordinator to ask for guidance is more than acceptable, especially when getting everything set up at the start.
6. ‘My children are having to share a laptop (or other device)’
Contact your child's school to see if there are devices available to borrow. Although it might not have been advertised, there may be devices available to lend to students who don’t have easy access to one at home. The school might also be willing to print some or all of your child’s home learning and post or deliver it to you, so they can get on with work while their sibling is using the device.
You could consider temporarily borrowing a device from a family member. Some local charities are coordinating efforts to get donated new or second-hand laptops to children who need them, too.
If you’ve exhausted these options, sit down with your children and figure out a responsible way in which devices can shared. You could make a timetable and revisit it at the end of the week, talking to your children about whether the system is working and how you could improve it so everyone has a fair chance to use the device.
7. ‘I don’t have a printer for all the schoolwork’
Many households don’t have access to a printer, so try not to worry too much about this. Although it might be frustrating, your child can copy the text from online worksheets into their exercise book (or you can do this for them) and complete the exercises on paper, photographing and sending their work to their teacher if they want evidence of finished tasks.
You may also be able to save worksheets as pdfs and make them editable, so your child can fill in their answers on screen, save and email to their teacher.
If printing is unavoidable, see if you can borrow a printer from a family member, or look for a free or cheap second-hand printer online: Facebook recycling or selling pages can be good places to try.
There’s also a chance that your child's school can help with this, for example by printing out worksheets for ‘paper learners', so there’s absolutely no harm in asking for practical support if you need it.
8. ‘My child needs a lot of supervision and support to understand their work and stay on task’
In a classroom setting, it is highly unlikely that your child will have their teacher's attention at all times, watching and supporting their every move. Unless they have an assigned adult to support them with a specific learning need, they’ll spend the majority of their day working either independently or as part of a group.
Once you’ve looked over a task with your child, give them the time and space to tackle a task without you by their side. Let them have the chance to struggle (an important part of the process that develops problem-solving skills and independence) before stepping in if required.
A check-in time may help with this, especially if they feel that 20 minutes of focus will be rewarded with a discussion and a chance to present what they have been working on by your side.
Offer lots of praise if they manage even part of a task by themselves, and remind them that you are proud of their efforts.
Younger children will obviously need more input from you, but they also need to do less work during the school day (the Department for Education recommends three hours a day for children in KS1 and less for Reception children). Learning takes many different forms, so while they may need your help practising phonics, they’ll also be learning if they’re playing with Lego independently, drawing and colouring, modelling with play dough or watching some educational TV programmes.
9. ‘My child is fed up with sitting at their desk’
In a classroom, teachers will take any opportunity they can for their students to move around, designing, creating, building and discussing. We know that sometimes the best learning happens when our students are away from the desk, expressing themselves.
With that in mind, try to twist tasks to allow for more creativity. If a teacher has asked your child to write a speech, encourage them to perform it. If they have asked your child to look at different 3D shapes, you could get them find examples of each shape around the house. This is often how tasks are presented at school, so don't be afraid of going off piste.
Remember, though, that it’s exhausting to continually think of interesting ways of presenting tasks, so don't be too hard on yourself if some days you find yourself suggesting an educational YouTube video, followed by a worksheet. Balance the exciting child-led opportunities that you can do together with more structured prescribed activities that they can do independently.
It's a tough time, but we’ll get through this together.