After the trials and tribulations of 2020, anyone who was hoping for a fresh start or at least a return to normality will have been sorely disappointed.
The reality of another, more contagious variant of the coronavirus has necessitated another severe lockdown.
For parents, especially those with primary-age children, this has resurrected the horrors of school closure and homeschooling.
For teachers, the challenge is to accommodate those concerns whilst making sure that pupil progress is not hindered more than necessary.
Fortunately, there is plenty that we have learned from our experiences of last year, but there is always room to improve. Here are some ideas to help us all do the best for our children and make the home school experience work for them.
How long should primary school children spend on home learning?
Right at the start of the year, the Government decreed that schools should provide between three and five hours of learning per day and announced that Ofsted would be watching.
While it is helpful for the powers-that-be to outline their expectations, what happens in reality is not always within the control of the teacher. The best schools can do is ensure that they make quality provision available and encourage parents to do their best.
What does great home learning look like?
In short, the answer to this question should be happiness and engagement. This is a scary time for all of us and our first duty as adults is to model calm and caring behaviour in response to a crisis.
Beyond that, the trick is to ensure that remote teaching is converted into remote learning, which makes this an excellent opportunity to develop blended learning techniques. This is where face-to-face learning activities are supported by small chunks of digital information and applied through independent activities.
For some pupils, it will help to follow a rigid and familiar timetable. Others might benefit from a more fluid approach that is responsive to the child’s needs. Either way, there should be a clear indication of what they should hope to achieve each day.
Schools can help by issuing daily menus of lessons and resources, ideally with input from the teacher and some way for the pupils to show what they have done.
How important is live teaching for remote education?
For many pupils, the sight and sound of their teacher will be a great comfort. However, different households will have different challenges so it might be better for teachers to record and post videos of their input for each lesson rather than expect the whole class to log in at the same time.
Even so, there should also be some opportunity for classes to have live-streamed get-togethers over video conferencing platforms such as Zoom.
This will allow the teacher to facilitate direct interaction with the pupils as well as giving the children the reassurance of seeing their classmates, many of whom they will probably be missing desperately.
Just remember, however, that this will be difficult for some individuals to cope with so make sure that parents understand attendance at these sessions will be optional.
What useful resources are available for home learning?
Not surprisingly, there is now a plethora of curriculum-linked primary resources available to those who seek. If that choice seems overwhelming, your first port of call could be our home-learning collection where you will find an extensive range of quality resources created by experienced educators.
What are some easy home learning activities?
As home learning relies a great deal on parental input, it is only fair to give them as much help as possible. For example, one of our home learning activity packs comprises an engaging week-long unit for KS1 pupils about the moon, designed to be delivered with some adult support.
It can also be hard for parents to support reading in a way that helps to develop the skills expected of them at this level, such as retrieval, inference and understanding vocabulary in context.
That is why our home learning resources include a set of fiction reading comprehension question cards for both KS1 and KS2 children. These will help parents to enjoy story time and give their children that vitally important sense of comfort and connection while still promoting valuable learning.
How can children get the most out of home learning?
An important part of any home learning experience is the scope for fun. Of course, some topics will have to be addressed in a more sober way, but that still leaves plenty of opportunities for less formal approaches such as games. For example, we offer a range of grammar and spelling learning games to play at home for KS2 pupils, which should help to keep them motivated when the going gets tough.
How important is adult supervision for home learning?
The reality is that primary pupils will require a great deal of supervision and the younger they are, the more they will need. This will inevitably put a significant strain on households, especially those where parents are trying to balance the demands of home learning with the challenges of holding down jobs. Try to provide resources that offer some scope for independent work without expecting too much of them. Also remember that there could well be competition for access to equipment such as laptops and tablets within a household.
How can parents tell how well home learning is going?
It can be really hard for parents to feel that they are doing the best for their children. It is vitally important, then, that teachers understand the challenges and limitations of homeschooling but still provide some feedback. Therefore, it is essential to establish systems that enable some sort of reflection as to how the pupils are doing, although the actual wording of this will require great sensitivity.
Above all, the home learning experience needs to be kind to everyone involved and help them feel connected during these extraordinary times. This is where our Keeping In Touch home learning pack might also come in useful as it provides some great ideas and activities for helping children to keep in touch with people they are missing, manage their emotions and think positively about the future.
We will get through to the other side of this. It’s how we get there that matters so don’t be afraid to accept help when it is offered.