9 tips for helping your child learn online
Online learning, whether it's in the classroom or at home, is becoming an increasingly important part of children's education. Pupils routinely turn to the internet for everything from times tables practice to history and geography topic work, with a huge range of websites, apps and videos to support their learning.
‘Many primary school children love learning online,’ says Tania Khojasteh, Educations Director at Über Tutors.
‘They’re excited by video and real-time technologies, enjoy feeling more grown-up in front of a computer screen, and can be more focused than ever.’
Ed Richardson, Director of Education at Keystone Tutors, also sees many benefits in online learning, especially at home. ‘It encourages children to be more independent and take greater ownership of their learning, and integrating school work within the home environment helps them see that learning can take place in all types of context in their day-to-day lives.’
So how can we parents tap into the many benefits of online learning and avoid the potential pitfalls?
1. Create an effective learning environment
Although every child has their own learning style, they’re unlikely to be able to focus on their work if they’re lying on their bed with their tablet, with unrelated, distracting messages flying in from their friends.
Instead, try to set up a dedicated home learning station somewhere quiet, whether that’s a desk in your child’s bedroom, a home office or study, or the kitchen table.
Setting your child up in a communal area of the house can be helpful if you want to supervise what they’re doing online, but be aware that they might be distracted by siblings, pets or the bustle of daily life.
Noise-reducing headphones can be useful here, perhaps with some quiet music in the background (although not songs that they’ll end up singing along with!).
‘With primary school children, you may need to set time limits for their computer use, and lock the screen during this time so they can only access pages you’ve approved,’ says Tania.
You can also disable notifications, so your child isn’t interrupted by messages from friends or pop-ups from other websites.
2. Make use of interactive technology
Online learning doesn't have to be a solitary pursuit. Children often learn best when they’re interacting with their classmates, supporting each other and bouncing ideas off each other, and communication technology means they can do this at home, as well as at school.
‘We regularly use Skype, Zoom and Google Hangouts for online tutoring, and children can also do homework or creative projects with their friends and classmates, supervised by a parent,’ says Tania.
3. Encourage independence
As your child progresses through school, they’ll need to become more independent in their learning and find ways to overcome any difficulties.
The online environment can support this, with a huge range of resources, including study guides, online encyclopaedias and interactive dictionaries. However, it's also important to show your child how to use offline resources: you could build a small primary reference book library at home, and teach your child how to consult physical atlases, thesauruses and compendiums.
Rather than leaping in to help as soon as they struggle, encourage your child to use the internet to have a go at solving problems or finding answers themselves.
With your help, they should come to realise what’s a good source and what’s not, and how they can use these sources to reinforce their learning.
4. Get involved
Although it’s important to encourage independent online learning, make the most of the opportunity to see what your child has been learning at school and is consolidating at home.
‘By showing an interest, you’re likely to become more knowledgeable about your child’s strengths and areas for development, how the curriculum is taught, and what motivates them best to learn,’ Ed explains.
5. Support online safety
Keeping your child safe online is a top priority, so make use of parental controls that screen out websites with certain words such as swear words and sexual content. Look for child-friendly versions of websites, like the Kiddle search engine and YouTube Kids.
You can also keep on top of what’s safe and what’s not using online guides like Thinkuknow and Internet Matters.
6. Take screen breaks
Screen time can easily spiral out of control, so it’s important to enforce breaks.
‘The internet has a way of consuming our energy,’ says Tania. ‘Before we know it, our children have been distracted by other websites, and that can tire them out, physically and mentally.’
As a rule, your child should walk away from their screen and do something else – ideally something active outdoors – for 10 minutes every hour to give their mind, body and eyes a rest.
7. Bookmark reputable websites
Learning to find reliable and reputable online resources is an important life lesson for children, but they’re likely to need your help with this at first.
Your child’s school may provide links to websites like Purple Mash, and Times Tables Rockstars to support their learning, and you can also make use of websites like TheSchoolRun.com, BBC Bitesize and your local library’s online catalogue.
As you find useful websites, bookmark them in your internet browser so your child has a library of educational resources that they can use to support their learning.
If you have more than one child sharing a computer, it’s worth setting up separate profiles so you can save different resources for each child, depending on their age, stage and what they’re learning.
8. Consider using an online tutor
Many parents consider hiring a tutor to support their children's learning, particularly if they're preparing for the 11+ or other important exam, and the rise of online tutoring means you have access to a wider range of tutors rather than being constrained by your location, and let your child learn from the comfort of home.
‘It’s important to approach an established and reputable tutoring service that provides a concise assessment of your child, consults you properly, and then pairs them with the perfectly matched tutor or mentor,’ says Tania.
TheSchoolRun also has a DIY 11+ tutoring programme if you want to supervise the learning yourself.
9. Try learning something different
School life isn’t all about core academic subjects; there’s also space for creativity, physical activity and mastering new skills using live streams, videos, virtual performances, museum tours and art exhibitions.
You can also channel your child’s attention towards ‘super-curricular’ learning, which goes beyond what they learn at school. ‘Encourage your child to learn something completely new, such as a new language on Duolingo, or how to orienteer online with Geo Guessr,’ Ed suggests.
This can nurture a thirst for learning that will set your child up for life.