Keeping up the momentum during pandemic home learning

Keeping your child motivated with home learning
Flagging after months of homeschooling? Try these techniques for giving your child’s motivation a boost.
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After months of unexpected homeschooling, many of us are finding it harder and harder to keep motivated.
It’s been reported that a third of pupils are not engaging with schoolwork, and just over half of parents are also struggling to engage: unsurprising when many of us are juggling our children’s learning with working, trying to support more than one child, and meeting increasing reluctance from our kids.
‘Although some children are thriving at home, most respond to the structure and routine of school, and may be finding it difficult to have been at home for several months without the same routines in place,’ says Elliott Plumb, assistant headteacher at Churchfield Primary School in North London.

Running out of steam

Having spent so many months at home, it’s natural to have grown weary of lockdown learning, especially as restrictions have begun to ease but the majority of children are still at home.
This can lead to difficulties in managing emotions and behaviour, with kids pushing back against having to do schoolwork at home and finding it hard to settle to tasks that they might have previously found tolerable.
‘It’s impacting on our ability to cooperate with the things we felt able to deal with in the first stages of lockdown,’ explains primary school teacher Julie Glavin.
Many families initially tried to replicate the school routine at home, but have found it hard to keep it going: for example, bedtimes and waking-up times may have slipped, with a knock-on effect on how the ‘school day’ is structured.
‘We’ve definitely hit the wall at home,’ agrees mum of two Lisa. ‘Homeschooling has taken a nosedive and the constant groundhog days are having an impact on the kids’ behaviour and my sanity.’
Since schools have reopened to a wider number of pupils, those who are still at home may have noticed a change in the amount and type of work being set, as teachers are now having to look after their ‘bubble’ while also sending work home for those who aren’t back at school.
‘We’ve found that the work is now a lot more worksheet-based with less communication from school,’ says primary school parent Clare. ‘I understand that teachers’ workload has doubled since schools have reopened, but the work being sent home is samey and it’s hard to keep my daughter motivated.’

Rebooting the motivation

At this stage of the pandemic, it’s looking unlikely that children who are still at home will be going back to school before the summer holidays.
And with weeks left until schools would have broken up, you may be worried about how to keep your child’s learning on track until the end of term.
So how can we revive our children’s motivation – and our own – and keep the momentum going throughout these last few weeks?

1. Break learning down

If you are, or have been, working from home, you may well have found it harder to concentrate for long periods, and your child is likely to feel the same, so try breaking their work up into shorter spells.
‘If your child feels they can manage work in smaller chunks, with breaks in between, it doesn’t feel so daunting,’ Elliott says.

2. Make break times work

When your child takes a break from working, don’t put pressure on them – or yourself – to fill those gaps with something wholesome or educational.
‘The activities in between should be motivating to your child, so if they want 10 minutes on the iPad, let them have it,’ advises Julie.
Having something to look forward to in their breaks may mean your child is more motivated to get through their work with less procrastination.

3. Tap into your child’s interests

Many families who choose to home educate allow their children to direct their own learning based on their interests, so if the work being set by your child’s teacher is leaving them cold, try going off piste.
If they have a passion for dinosaurs, baking or Minecraft, for example, harness their enthusiasm and turn their pet subject into a learning experience.
‘Learning is all about keeping the brain active,’ says Julie. ‘For example, baking a cake includes maths, language, science and health, and could even incorporate subjects like geography if you discuss the countries of origin of the produce, and social studies if you think about carbon footprint.’

4. Take advantage of online resources

With the amount and type of work sent home changing as teachers spend more time in the classroom, make use of the many online resources to give your child a break from endless worksheets and make learning more fun. ‘There are many excellent resources online, so try out different things and choose a handful that your child can engage with,’ Elliott advises.

TheSchoolRun recommends a number of options for different subjects, as well as great websites for home schooling, best YouTube channels for learning and great virtual museum and field trip options for families:

5. Clear up your child’s workspace

Chances are your child started lockdown learning with an organised place to work, but it’s now covered in half-finished worksheets, empty glasses and blunt pencils.
It’s hard to work in a chaotic environment, so at this stage of homeschooling it’s a good idea to give your child’s workspace a spring clean so it’s more conducive to studying.

6. Take shortcuts without guilt

Juggling the needs of two or more children can be really tough, whatever their ages. Pre-schoolers may interrupt your older child’s learning, while school-age siblings may wander off track if you’re helping their brother and sister and leaving them to get on with their work on their own.
‘If allowing your toddler to watch Bing means you can spend that time working through maths questions with your older child, do it – even if it’s something you wouldn’t normally do, it could save your sanity,’ says Julie.

7. Ditch the pressure to get everything done

If you’re struggling to get your child to do their work, you’re far from alone.
There are many reasons why it might be feeling impossible, from not being able to supervise them constantly to being worn down by endless sulking and arguments, but schools have been told by government to suspend the usual curriculum, and it’s not mandatory to get through all of your child’s set work.
‘If you’re feeling under pressure to get your child to complete work, have an honest conversation with their teacher,’ suggests Elliott. ‘Families shouldn’t be feeling stressed about getting through the set work – just focus on doing what’s manageable.’

8. Step back from arguments

‘Many parents at this point feel they’re at stalemate with their child, and feel that they’re not listening or complying, or just won’t engage,’ Julie says.
If you and your child are locking horns, give yourselves some time out: go for a head-clearing walk on your own, and let them cool off by watching TV or gaming with a friend.

9. Focus on consolidation, not new concepts

Children might get frustrated and put off their schoolwork if they can’t get their head around what they’re expected to do.
Meanwhile, you might feel disillusioned and demotivated if you don’t feel you can provide adequate help, but you’re not expected to be your child’s teacher.
‘Your child’s home learning should be a consolidation of things they have already covered, not new concepts,’ says Julie.

If you’re struggling, it's okay to skip over a certain task or come back to it later. If you're worried about not getting the work done, drop their teacher an email to explain that you're finding it difficult and so have moved on.
You can also ask your child’s teacher for help explaining a particular concept or topic, although bear in mind that as most are now supervising bubbles, you may not get an immediate response.

10. Consider asking for a return to school

If homeschooling really isn’t working for you, talk to your child’s school about other options, including returning to school. This is not guaranteed, but may be possible, especially if there are circumstances like special educational needs.
‘There’s always someone who can offer advice and guidance in a school, so reach out to a member of staff you feel comfortable with,’ suggests Elliott. ‘They may be able to help with structure and routine, and even offer a space in school.’

11. Change your mindset

Your child is probably not the only one struggling with motivation at this stage. It’s likely that you’re losing momentum, too, especially if every day feels like a battle to get them to work.
This can leave you feeling overwhelmed by guilt, but the vast majority of families will be finding this time hard, so don’t beat yourself up or compare yourself with others.
‘What you’re providing here is not homeschooling; that’s something families choose to do, not have thrust upon them,’ Julie explains. ‘Try to think of it as home learning instead, and give yourself permission to take your foot off the gas.
‘Your child’s work will still be there whether you’ve taken time to reconnect with them or have been banging your head off a brick wall, so give yourself permission to rest and repair, at a pace that’s right for you and your child.’