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With most schools closed and children at home, parents are facing new challenges. We asked Abby Young-Powell to investigate. Abby is a freelance journalist and was previously a deputy editor of Guardian Students.


Are you a parent teaching your children at home? Perhaps, a few weeks in, you’re struggling to think of ways to keep young people engaged. Or maybe you’ve got it under control, but would like to hear what others are doing and could use some new ideas to add to the mix.

Most schools have set up online learning, or prepared homework packs, to keep children and teenagers busy and engaged. Many teachers are also still on hand and available to field questions and listen to the concerns of parents. So how can families adapt to the new situation?

We spoke to parents to find out the lessons they’ve gleaned in the weeks since schools across the UK closed. On top of that we asked teachers and education specialists to share their best advice and tips on teaching from home.

Go easy on yourself

It’s a difficult time, so take the pressure off and go easy on yourself. Nobody is expecting parents to suddenly become teachers, Charlotte Monroe, a primary school teacher, says. “We’re not expecting you to do the same thing we do in school and we’re not judging you,” she says. Monroe candidly admits that teachers don’t always know it all, either. “So we’re not expecting you to know everything,” she says.

Natalie Costa, a former primary school teacher and confidence coach for children, says a lot of parents feel overwhelmed at the moment. But children don’t have to learn every minute of the day. “Children may be at school for six hours, but that doesn’t mean they’re learning for six hours straight,” she says. Plus, any gaps in learning will likely be picked up when school opens again, she reassures parents.

Structure the day

It’s helpful to have a structure and to print out or write down a timetable. Catherine Millar, a former teacher who is currently teaching her children at home, says she is structuring the day around snacks. She also shares the loose structure she creates on Facebook, so other parents can join in and do the same if they want.

Monroe says this is a good idea because it replicates school, which is all about routine. “You go at the same time every day and do the same thing pretty much at the same time,” she says. It’s also a good idea to get your children involved in setting up the timetable. “It helps if they look at it as a team effort,” Lee Wilcock, principle of Wolsey Hall Oxford, a homeschooling college, says.

Wilcock also says it’s important to schedule breaks, because working in small bursts helps boost concentration.

Balance fun activities with formal learning

Once you have a loose structure, you can be a bit flexible with it. Many parents say they start the day with Joe Wicks’s PE workouts.

On top of this, there are learning opportunities in more everyday activities. “There are lots of learning opportunities in baking, crafting, even grocery shopping,” Costa says. “If they’re doing these things it doesn’t mean that they’re not learning.”

Avoid common pitfalls

Ben Wiggins, a senior lecturer in education at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and who also has nearly 20 years’ experience as a primary school teacher, shares some common mistakes.

One pitfall is to try and do too much, he says, when it’s best to keep things simple. “Remember to get the difficult things out of the way early and leave afternoons for more fun activities,” he says.

Wiggins also points out it’s difficult to teach your own children because you are so invested in their progress. “But learning takes time and is a messy process so don’t worry too much if they don’t get it the first time,” he says.

Stay in touch with your children’s teacher or school

Find out how to stay in touch with your children’s teacher or school to stay informed, ask questions and get more guidance. “Parent groups or community groups can also be a good way to support each other,” Robert Jenkins, global chief of education at Unicef, says. Millar says sharing her routine and connecting with others on Facebook has helped her, for example, and other parents have told her it’s helped them too, she says.

As a teacher, Monroe has recently got to know her class’s parents much better. It’s a positive thing that has come from a challenging situation, she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time communicating with the parents. You’ve got to tell us if you need help with something, though” she says, “otherwise we don’t know.”

Make use of online resources

It’s a good idea to make use of a network of content across the internet from local schools, your local community and organisations, Muna Golmohamad Linkova, from the University of Roehampton’s school of education, says. For example, BBC Bitesize or Teach are popular resources and there are also Apps available such as EdPlace.com, she says.

Celebrate the small wins

Everybody is doing their best to muddle through in uncertain times, so lots of encouragement may be needed. Entrepreneur Clio Wood has been teaching her daughter at home and says they have been doing school worksheets, gardening, playing music, baking, playing board games and reading. “I don’t want it to be a massive deal if she doesn’t do stuff, though,” she says. “I’d rather she is happy and not stressed.” Clio is the founder of wellbeing company &Breathe.

Costa says this is a good strategy. “Celebrate the small wins and things that are going OK,” she says. “Because you’re doing the best you can right now.”

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