While schools are closed, children and teens will be studying at home. Schools and colleges should be providing details of lessons to follow (which might include downloadable resources; online learning platforms; video recordings of lessons; or live classes delivered by teachers via skype, zoom or similar). Your job is to support your child/teen complete work set by the school. Nobody is expecting you to be a teacher and it is understood that eduction for children and teens is not going to be running as usual.
This is a difficult and disruptive time for all of us and children and teens may struggle with many changes happening rapidly that they may not completely understand and have no control over. Although this post focuses on home learning, our priorities should be home over learning. Providing love, stability, comfort and reassurance are all vital before we think about supporting lessons, and need to underpin the coming weeks and months.
Your child/teen may have questions about why they are off school (and are missing clubs or other activities). These may include:
– why are we off school?
– how long will we be off school for?
– will I get sick?
– when will I see my friends again?
– why do I have to study?
Answering them in clear age-appropriate ways will help them understand they are off school because of the Coronavirus (more information on explaining this to them can be found here) and they need to stay home to make sure other people who could get sick are kept safe. You may want to encourage them to see their time at home as being something that’s good for the community. Involving them in conversations about how their time will be spent at home and giving them agency in their learning may reduce their fears and remind them that everyone is in the same situation and needs to pull together. Avoid suggesting this is a holiday as it may be difficult to expect any work to be done if your child/teen thinks they’re having a break, but that doesn’t mean this time together cannot be fun. Yes, our regular routines are going to be disrupted in the near future but this isn’t going to be forever and taking opportunities to play alongside work will be what your child or teen remembers. So before focusing on their learning you may want to read up on how to support your child’s mental wellbeing and your teen’s mental health returning to this as needed as time goes on.
How to help your child or teen to work at home
How many hours should they be studying?
Young children may particularly appreciate structure and may miss the routine of school. Keeping roughly to the school day timetable can help keep track of learning and make it easier to adjust when schools re-open. Schoolwork can start from 9am and be finished by 3pm, allowing for break and lunch. But this does not have to be fixed and may not be realistic. While in school pupils cover things in the 9 – 3 day that you won’t be doing at home and you should not expect your child to be hard at their lessons for 6 hours per day. Some children and teens may work more efficiently at home without other distractions; others may struggle and might require a bigger spread of time to space smaller tasks through the day. Equally if you need to get essential work done during the day your child/teen may prefer to do some learning in the morning, some later in the day. You may need to adapt everything if you and/or your child has special needs, disabilities, chronic illness, or learning difficulties where a more flexible schedule is required.
Don’t worry that you have to create a timetable or stick to one rigidly. Your child’s school will let you know what tasks need doing per day/week. They may provide a suggested timetable (more tips on involving your child/teen with this below). You may find there are fewer tasks than you were expecting, with core curriculum tasks set out and choices for activities for exercise, free play etc. Some tasks will take your child/teen longer than others. Allow yourself time to get used to these new schedules and self-directed tasks and ask the teacher if you or your child/teen doesn’t know what to do. Neurodiverse children or those with learning difficulties may find learning from home a more positive experience than school. Equally they may find not being at school difficult and you may need to accept some activities suggested by school might not work for them, again let your teacher know and see what they advise. Your child’s mental wellbeing is more important than sticking rigidly to set work.
However you decide to make it work for you, explain clearly to your child/teen that work has to happen at some point during the day – for you and for them. It may be beneficial to discuss with older children and teens what schedule would motivate them best, or for younger children to begin with a 9am start but vary it if they seem to be struggling. They may be ready to begin the day earlier and finish work earlier too.
How can I structure our time?
Begin the day with breakfast – your child can help decide what will be served and help you prepare it and clear the table after. Have the radio on tuned to a music station your child likes. This may be a social time where all at home gather and set their goals for the day.
It may be tempting to spend all day in pjs but getting washed, dressed and ready to work clearly begins the day. Your child/teen may want to dress up for the occasion – in their favourite outfit for your teen or perhaps in costume for a younger child. The beauty of home learning is you can pick different outfits to suit your mood or maybe a theme for the day. You might want to dress up too. Equally some children/teens who like routine will struggle to differentiate between school-school and home-school and may prefer to study in their uniform, or may struggle to comprehend school at home and need gentle support with whatever decisions, clothing or otherwise, they are able to make. Noting too that if you usually rely on the launderette or will struggle with extra laundry alongside having the kids at home you might want to limit clothing changes or accept they might wear the same outfit during the day for several days running. Whatever works for you.
Schools begin their day with time together in class/tutor time and assembly. Some schools will offer these virtually or you may want to begin your day with a song (your child/teen may want to pick a song each day or make a playlist), or read a story together. Alternatively you might want to try some exercise to wake you up (for example the MS Society has a tool to build your own exercise routine that can be adapted to different abilities; and Joe Wicks is running daily 30 minute workouts live from 9am (GMT) Monday – Friday). Equally you may find days begin and end at different times and don’t necessarily start with school-related work but with any enjoyable activity that helps boost you and your child/teen’s mood.
Helping your child/teen feel secure
Your child/teen may want to give their school-at-home a name (e.g. your child’s name/surname followed by ‘academy’, ‘university’, ‘school’ or ‘college of wizardry’). Younger children might want to create a poster showing their school name, badge and when classes are in session. Some children might want to see their real school’s logo/badge as a visual reminder when learning is taking place; others to keep the items they usually have in school (book bags, pen cases etc) so they feel secure.
Find out from your child/teen or the school what the daily school schedule/timetable is. Younger children may like a visual timetable indicating what lessons will happen when. Older children and teens may know their timetable they can fit the work school has provided into. If school has scheduled any live or participatory events ensure those are prioritised. You may want to check this schedule on Friday afternoons so you are ready to start again on Mondays.
You may be given daily or weekly tasks to complete at home, for which you might need to create a timetable. You can find plenty of these online to download or print, and there is a blank one to edit here that your child/teen may want to customise. Older children and teens may have a school diary they can use to note daily lessons and tasks.
If you can’t access what the school is providing or are unsure what your child should be doing, or if they are not able to follow the work that has been set, email your child/teen’s teacher. This may include asking to borrow laptops if the school is requiring you to work on those, making it clear if your phone/electricity budget is going to be affected by online learning, and requesting print outs and paper copies of work if that is more accessible to you and your child.
As your child isn’t seeing their friends you may want to organise virtual break times where they check in remotely with their mates. That might be a mid-morning google hangout, or time when your teen has their phone to connect with their socials. Or encourage older children and teens to catch up with friends during online gaming – once their school work is done. They might want to go back to old fashioned letter writing.
Another way of connecting with the community is to encourage your child/teen to place a toy in any window visible from the street, or create a poster with a picture or hopeful wording for passers by to see. If you are having a daily walk with your child/teen (remembering social distancing) they may want to look for toys and posters on your route. Check the hashtag #FromMyWindow on social media for more ideas.
Recognise your child may struggle to stay motivated so help them create a study space with you. Younger children might want to set up their ‘education station’; older children and teens may want to negotiate where different work gets done (for example art work or studies they need your assistance with happens at the kitchen table; but reading or watching online lessons might happen in a bedroom).
What if they can’t focus?
Removing distractions and temptations will be a big help. Phones can be used for study but not socialising outside break times. Teens are more likely to stick to this if you ask them to help you create a schedule where they will be studying and when they will be socialising. Where possible have phones out of the way except for break times or have periods of time when learning is happening and the wifi is off (this may need to fit around when lessons are being given online and where offline learning can happen). You most likely will need to be present to ensure your child/teen stays focused and in some cases to help them with some parts of their learning (if you don’t know what to do in these situations, email their teachers). Keeping things as quiet as possible, or with gentle music if that calms them, may encourage them to pay more attention. It might help your stress levels too.
While schools are providing resources for online learning and worksheets to complete, you may want to enhance some of their learning with some practical activities that follow the curriculum. I’ve collated resources to enhance learning for children aged 4 to 11 and 11 to 16.
In addition you could try:
– asking them to teach you what they have learned.
– using online quizzes or tests to assess what they have studied (and if they understood it).
– some basic kitchen science experiments.
– making a movie featuring their toys and depicting a period in history they’re studying.
– have them dress up and make a photo story explaining a book they’ve just read.
– being a nature detective and going on a garden bug hunt or recording bird song.
– set them the challenge of creating a dance to represent something they’ve learned in another lesson.
– sing or play instruments (some children have done their music practice on the doorstep to entertain housebound neighbours).
– making posters with uplifting messages to put in your windows (or writing on windows with washable pens).
– writing letters or draw pictures for older friends, relatives or neighbours who are housebound
responsible teens who aren’t infected could run errands in the neighbourhood (collecting and dropping off shopping, prescriptions etc).
– they may want to write a diary or keep a video log of their days at home. We are in unprecedented times and they might want to make a record to show their children or grandchildren.
– try knitting, crafting, cooking, coding or making.
There may be particular things you or your child/teen enjoy or excel at more and provided they are doing work set by school you might want to spend more time on those activities if it brings you closer and helps them feel more secure.
End each ‘school’ day by looking at what the next day will bring and ensure all the things your child/teen needs to get that work done is available (e.g. they find pens/paper, glue, textbooks, download resources etc so they aren’t searching for them when work needs focusing on). Make a note of any snags, glitches or things to fix. You and your child/teen may also want to acknowledge the work done and be proud of managing to do it.
For all of us facing isolation or lock down, many break times will need to happen at home so there won’t be a physical change of scenery like there is at school where breaks happen outside or in other parts of the school building. If your child/teen is doing a lot of learning on their computer or phone you might want to have screen-free break times during the day. Ask your child/teen to help you create a list of fun things they enjoy. That might include: listening to music; dancing together; reading a story; doing a quick workout; yoga or stretching; sitting in the garden; caring for pets; helping make lunch. While you aren’t at home to teach your child, you can be proactive during break and lunch times and get them to shake things up a bit. As there is housework needing doing, involving your child in this may also be something they can do to earn praise, feel productive, and give them a break away from lessons. If you have more than one child at home they may want to do something separately at break time if they have been working together, or if they have been working apart they might want to be with each other during breaks.
Your child/teen may be more motivated to learn if they have identified what they can look forward to once ‘school’ finishes for the day. For younger children that might include playing with water; blowing bubbles; make believe story or building games with toys or lego; watching children’s television; building a den made of cushions and blankets: or junk modelling. Teens may want to go online to game, make TikToks, or catch up with YouTubers or Instagrammers. Children and teens might enjoy baking, crafting, or physical activities. If possible, allow your child/teen to have this time without you managing it so they get some space and can relax and have fun. But it might be positive if you’re there to be more actively involved in these fun activities if they want you to be part of them. Noting your energy levels, a need to have a break, or get your own work done if you are now working from home. Be flexible so you can encourage them to do their school work but be more active and present when they want positive and loving attention from you. Again, these will be the things they remember and you treasure and can go a long way to reducing conflicts and resentments.
Your child/teen may be able to help prepare the evening meal, set the table and clear it after. Reinforcing how everyone at home is supporting one another and allowing more opportunities for them to feel responsible and earn praise. Evening meals may be a good place to review the day and share any fun things your child/teen has picked up during their ‘after school downtime’. For children that prefer routine they may wish to stick to regular bedtimes, or you may want to allow later bedtimes but still with a wind-down of no screens 30 minutes before bed, a bath or shower, time to talk to you if there are any worries, a story or reading in bed/listening to music or the radio or a podcast. Older teens may want to spend the evening with you watching a movie, or may prefer to be in their room (if space is limited you may want to have a rota over who gets to watch TV and who has the bedroom to read or listen to music).
You and your child/teen will need space – moreso if you have more than one child at home. If space allows you may want them to be doing different activities in different rooms (your timetable planning described above will make this easier). Or you may need to organise who has access to a computer/TV at different times. Some children may be motivated to study together, or teens may appreciate the responsibility of assisting younger siblings (make sure they keep to the curriculum!). If there is conflict it may help to let of steam, get into the garden (if available), or send one child to have a shower or chill out in another room or another part of your living space while the other finishes a piece of work. For this reason you may need to ensure your 9 – 3 ‘school day’ completes work set by schools while accounting for your individual circumstances. It’s better to have a bit more time and space to prevent bickering. If school is requiring lots of online work and you have several children who all need to get online to study, and possibly yourself too, you need to tell them if logistically this is not possible and is causing tensions. They may have other suggestions for you to try. And while the 9 – 3 day may be good for stability and structure realistically the day may have to extend if lots of people have conflicting needs. It’s fine to work this out as you go along and be flexible. Do whatever you need to to maintain harmony.
Don’t feel you have to fill every hour of the day with lessons. In school there are times when pupils are focused, but also there are times when they need to pause, reflect, question and breathe. And time to play or take a break. You don’t need to add more work onto what has been set by the school, your child/teen’s teachers will know what they need to do. If you feel your child/teen is getting through work quickly check with their teacher who could either set more work or assist if your child hasn’t understood what has been set. Give yourself, and your child/teen, time each day to be quiet. To sit still, listen to relaxing music, or just be alone for a while. Some children/teens may appreciate a guided meditation. In schools if children become overwhelmed they may be offered space to decompress, so having this option at home is equally important.
What should I do while my children are learning?
As you aren’t expected to teach, what are you supposed to do? Your role is to be available to help your child/teen get started on a task, remind them to move onto another activity, encourage them to stretch and have breaks, answer questions, and give praise. Not forgetting enjoying down time with them. While they are focused on their work you may be able to do some of your own. But this may not be realistic in which case while they are working you may be present but doing something quiet (e.g. playing a game silently on your phone, cooking a meal, or reading a book). You don’t have to be switched on 100% for them at all times, and nor should they expect you to give them answers or do their work for them. You are there to encourage their learning because being honest they most likely aren’t going to do it without you present. Young children may need more assistance to undertake tasks, older children and teens may know what is expected of them but won’t especially want to do it. Both children and teens may have questions about their work they’ll want to ask, and for you to help them find solutions (remember it’s okay if you don’t know to say so and encourage them to ask their teacher once they’ve had a go at solving things themselves). Matching their needs to work (and space to do it) might conflict with your work responsibilities and the need to get paid. Again, being flexible with their schedule and yours and being willing to chop and change may reduce tensions. As we move forward these are issues employers and schools will need to accept and support. Just do your best, and adjust your standards.
Rewards and sanctions
Your child or teen will be motivated in school by rewards and recognition. You can mirror this at home with encouragement for trying tasks, praise for finishing each activity set by school, and completing the day’s school work. Some children and teens will be motivated if you make them certificates. Or have goals to aim for each day. That could include finishing school work equals a later bed time, being able to pick a film to watch, you reading them a story, drawing together, or extra screen/gaming time. They may want to let their teacher know what they have achieved at the end of each week, and some schools may be requesting this information is provided.
Unkind, uncooperative or unpleasant behaviour, or refusing to do work, can be approached in a variety of ways. In advance of starting learning at home you might want to agree with your child/teen what behaviour is acceptable. There will be rules they follow at school you can adapt for home and they can set out what they plan to do to help with their learning. A visual list of goals and rewards pinned on the wall may give them something to work towards (a template for younger children can be found here). Deciding together what consequences follow unhelpful or unkind behaviour may be better than you deciding on punishments and delivering them without prior warning. Consequences might include losing out on watching TV, game time, or having their phone. Remember that escalating punishments leave little to aim for for your child or teen, and limited negotiating space for you, so it’s better to focus on ways to give praise and rewards and enjoyable family time rather than negativity and criticism.
If your child/teen isn’t cooperating check if they are…
1. sick – their mood and behaviour could be due to being unwell.
2. coping with being at home, the change in environment/structure could be difficult for them to adapt to.
3. struggling with worries or fears.
4. feeling pressured to learn or are struggling with the work they’ve been set.
5. struggling to cope with other people in the house distracting them.
6. in need of comfort, love, and reassurance
7. missing out on fun. You may have plans to fill their day with educational wonders but that might not be what they want at all.
You can ask your child/teen’s teacher for advice if you are struggling to manage learning or behaviour. But don’t use school as a threat (as in “I’ll tell your teacher if you don’t behave”) you want your child to return to school with positive feelings about it and it’s unfair to expect teachers who’re also working from home to fix your parenting problems. That said this may be challenging for many families and the resources on mental health for children and teens at the start of this post have places you can get help for them, while the resource on your mental health linked below directs you to parenting support organisations you can reach out to.
You are not a trained teacher (and even if you are teaching your kids at home is very different!), nor are you homeschooling. Your job is to support your child to learn by distance with instructions and resources provided by their school. Teachers do not micro manage every aspect of a child/teen’s learning and nor should you.
Take good care of your own mental health.
You may want to enhance and vary your child’s learning with additional resources (see the links above) but don’t change or deviate from the work provided by the school. By all means try some additional/enhanced activities to break up the day, add some fun, and boost everyone’s mood. But don’t feel you have to create an entire syllabus or overload your child with yet more work.
Don’t feel pressured to try new, complicated or messy activities if they are going to stress or exhaust you. Some days you’re going to get very little done. And that is okay.
Schools don’t just focus on academics, and nor should you. Being at home gives you time to listen to your child/teen, find out how they experience the world, and have quality time together whether that’s completing a puzzle, giving each other face packs, watching a TV series, or creating your own mini book club. Children and teens benefit hugely from feeling listened to and respected and it may be easy to lose this while you feel under pressure to get them through the work set by school. Time each day to enjoy their company may be more powerful than pushing them to finish worksheets.
Note that teachers will still be working and expecting your child to learn, not least so when children/teens return to school they can continue with their studies. You’ll need to strike a balance between your mental health and that of your child/teen, and getting school work completed. It will help your child/teen in the future if they feel they can keep going when times are tough, but this isn’t a competition to see which family can academically hothouse their child or outperform schools. Just encourage your child to keep up with what they are asked to do and seek help if they are struggling. You don’t have to be a superhero and nor do they.
It is okay to tell your child/teen you are working things out, just as they are. And that this is new to you, just as it is to them. Being a person they can rely on is important so don’t overburden them with your worries. But do make it clear if things go wrong that this is okay and can be fixed. And that together you’re going to learn how to make the most of being at home together.
Let your child/teen give you feedback. They know you in your role as a parent, but not in this new role of teacher/parent which might be a novelty for some, but be confusing or upsetting for others. Teachers are used to being told quite bluntly what children and teens think and this might happen to you as well. It might feel unnerving or ungrateful (after all you’re helping them learn!). But they didn’t ask for this situation any more than you did. Being flexible with how you present yourself to them and adapting how you encourage them to do their work and enjoy their free time may help all of you adjust to this ‘new normal’.
Calls, skype/zoom/hangouts, email etc with grandparents or other relatives can break up the day, or help with learning. Isolated older people may feel they have a purpose if they are on hand to help with answering questions or cheerleading work that is completed.
Take regular breaks so you don’t feel overwhelmed and stressed. That includes some time for yourself. If there is more than one adult at home, take turns supervising learning, perhaps with lessons that play to your strengths. If you are on your own remember you are there to guide and motivate, you cannot manage what two parents or a school of teachers can achieve – and that is okay.
Discuss with your workplace if you are trying to work from home while your child/teen is also studying there. You may be able to do some work alongside your child/teen; or you may have to be present to check work is being done and do your work later in the day. There may be some aspects of work you cannot deliver if your children are home and workplaces need to be accommodating of this. If you have children/teens at home and you need to do online meetings/work or phone calls it is absolutely fine for them to game, watch TV or any other favourite activity you know will engage them and requires no supervision from you. They are not going to be harmed by you putting them in front of the telly or a tablet for a while if you need to get work done or simply need a break. Don’t expect them to be engrossed with schoolwork while you are also working, they may get bored or distracted or have questions. It’s better to leave them with things they like if you need to focus. And if they interrupt you, that is also okay, nobody can expect you to be working as normal in times that are far from normal.
As we move forward you’ll find what works for you and other parents will share tips you can copy. Not everything you see recommended will work for your child and children/teens who are disabled or have special need, learning difficulties or health problems may need very different approaches to much mainstream advice.
Schools work hard to safeguard pupils, only showing things children and parents consent to on social media that celebrate achievements,avoiding anything that might shame a child/teen. Remember this yourself so don’t post updates of your child/teen’s problems or bad behaviour, film and share meltdowns, or otherwise do things they might find embarrassing (or in the case of teens could be used for social media bullying). If you’re frustrated or anxious, have those conversations with people you trust, privately. Equally you may be tempted to share your amazing progress at home, but be aware this might cause other parents and pupils to feel bad. Stick to sharing tips rather than bragging – although always give yourself full credit for getting through the day.
Teachers give each other support in the staffroom and you may find connecting with other parents helps you with parenting ideas, supporting learning or understanding work that has been set. It might help to have other parents offer to coach your child by phone or skype to give you a break, or help if you’re a single parent, or if a subject is something you struggle with. You can return the favour too.
Weekends and evenings are for recreation and rest, you and your child/teen and need time off. If work hasn’t been completed, either set it aside or try it again the following week. Don’t punish your child by making them work into the evenings or over the weekend. Note, also, that pushing your child/teen to do more work while they are at home isn’t going to give them an academic edge but could make them more stressed, anxious, and untrusting of you. When they go back to school, it’s still home they need to feel safe returning to.
Schools allow for pupils to make mistakes, and you should allow for your child/teen to do this with tomorrow being another day. Being gentle with yourself and letting yourself begin afresh is also important.
You can do this.