Our world has been turned upside down. Apart from the threat of the coronavirus that has impacted our public lives for months now, our private lives have also been greatly affected.
Two of the biggest changes for many have been working from home and also teaching at home. Although for lots of us, exchanging the office for the living room is a welcome change, home schooling, on the other hand, can be a difficult challenge, especially if the two need to be combined.
Until recently, home schooling was usually a conscious choice rather than a necessity. The realisation that a pandemic can change our lives forever, and that we may be stuck at home more often for a long period of time in the future, motivates us to perform our roles as ‘amateur’ teachers for our children to the best of our ability.
Where do we stand now with home schooling?
In the initial phase, the emphasis was on practical and urgent matters, such as providing children with hardware, software, access to the internet and online teaching materials. What we have learnt is that we were not well prepared for such a situation, despite the fact that technology is central to our daily lives.
In many countries, children have now gone back to school. In order to keep sufficient social distancing in the classroom, many schools chose a combination of classroom and online lessons. Of course, there are also children who, for health reasons, will continue to take their entire school curriculum though online lessons for the time being. The need to continue to develop and improve distance education is there both for these pupils, and also for future pupils.
Practical tips for parents who teach at home
If you are a home-schooling parent, you must have realised by now that you’re not alone. Schools do everything possible to communicate with pupils and parents, to offer teaching materials and instructions to help structure the school day. Use this as support and trust your feelings.
Following kids’ interests
One of the best tips we can give you is to use your children’s interests to motivate and retain their attention. So feel free to be creative, because children learn a lot when something is being taught in a playful way, often without being aware of it themselves.
Quality over quantity
It is very important to realise that you don’t have to spend the whole day teaching. This is not only because you have work to do yourself, of course, but also because one-to-one teaching is often more effective than teaching in a large group, so you can achieve much more in a shorter amount of time.
The golden rule for explaining something new is to keep it short and concise. Try to explain it in a maximum of 5 to 10 minutes and then put your child to work with a task that focuses on the new content.
Give your child enough opportunities to work independently. The most important thing is that you are available whenever your child needs help. Let your child do as many tasks (and solve as many problems) as possible on their own, and only offer help in the form of suggestions and instructions.
Try to be flexible with lessons, schedules and breaks. Although routine is naturally important, children like to have input in how they organise their time. For example, let them decide for themselves the order in which they carry out their tasks and when they want to play outside for a while. Clearly indicate when you are or are not available to help, so that they can take this into account. Even if it may not always work out so well, they will learn something from it either way.
Provide variety. After half an hour of mathematics or spelling, a movement activity or a craft activity is a good idea. Use the fact that you are at home to your advantage. You have many things at your disposal at home that children don’t have at school. How about a cooking class, for example?
Ask for advice
Feel free to ask your children’s teachers for help or advice. Teachers often know a child better than parents when it comes to the best way to teach them something new. For example, there are children who prefer to watch or listen, and there are other children who learn well by writing things down, reading aloud, drawing or moving around.
Remember that the process is just as important as the end result when it comes to learning. Be patient, focus on things that are going well and try not to look too far ahead.
Online learning materials
Many publishers have temporarily offered free access to their online resources, to help parents teach their kids at home during the quarantine. This is a great initiative from which teachers, parents and pupils have benefited greatly in recent months. There are many useful free websites out there too, such as khanacademy.org, the Smithsonian Learning Lab, Starfall, code.org, Gonoodle, Storyline and Funbrain. Many others can be found by searching online.
Do what you can in these extraordinary times. Look after each other and each other’s well-being. That mathematics task that your child just can’t seem to finish is not crucial. Try to make the best of the situation so that, in a while, you can all look back at this period in a positive way.