A new challenge
These are unprecedented times, and as a result many families are finding themselves in extremely challenging circumstances. One of the most obvious new trials is that the many thousands of families who do not home-school suddenly have children who are no longer able to attend school. When combined with many parents working from home in roles that previously required presence in the office, this naturally poses difficulties.
This article will seek to give parents advice regarding establishing new routines for their children. There are a number of official sources that you should also consult, and they will be listed at the bottom of this page. We would encourage you to prepare yourself as best you can.
What can I do?
The first thing to remember is: You are not school. This is temporary. Do not put yourself under undue pressure to “meet” the educational standards of professional schools. It takes years to qualify as a teacher. People are paid very well to determine the curriculum and how best to deliver that. No one is expecting parents to perform the same, particularly those who are also trying to juggle working from home with supporting your child’s or numerous children’s education. Remember that all children are experiencing this, and your child is not comparatively disadvantaged by default.
Nonetheless, there are some things that are important. If your child’s school is making use of online materials for teaching, make sure that they make good use of these. If they have a set work schedule, then parents should endeavour as best they can to follow this. It is important where possible for children to maintain a routine and link to their school during this time.
When seeking to establish a temporary “home school”, parents should involve children in the decision-making process. This is a confusing and difficult time for them, but allowing them to help decide how much studying, what form it will take and what they will be learning about can help keep them calm and engaged. Start by laying out the subjects that they will need to keep on top of. They should aim to be covering a number of topics generally, like maths and English. Beyond this, you can be creative in what they learn about.
Other types of learning
Remember that you can learn in all sorts of ways – not just worksheets. For example, here is a page from the American Chemistry Society all about how to teach chemistry via baking. Additionally, here is a page all about teaching basic maths with LEGO. The internet provides a wide range of useful resources that cover practically any subject your children can think of. Have them draw up a list of the things they would like to do or learn, and then sit down as a family and decide which may be possible and which you will do.
Children will naturally be less focused and engaged than in school. Some of the learning from your own experience working from home can transfer – establish a routine. Get your children get up at a reasonable time, get them dressed and have breakfast the same as you would if the were going to school. This will help them to take the new routine seriously. You don’t necessarily need to put them in uniforms, but it may be harder for them to concentrate in pyjamas.
Having a distinct place to “work” is helpful for your concentration and helps to establish a distinction from home and school. Some families set up temporary “school” rooms, complete with decorations and even a “school charter”. This outlines commitments and aims of the “school” setting, and gives children a list of rules to focus on. Although this may not be possible in all houses and a work station at the kitchen table can work equally as well. Work with your child to make their “classroom”, ask them what they think makes a classroom special and provide as much as you can. Be creative and have fun. Most children have a schedule that they follow in school, so having a version of this can help them to adjust to the new way of learning.
Check up on them regularly. This is not only to ensure that they are still working, but to let them know that you care about how they are doing. If they seem to be struggling, talk to them about their issues. Remember that every child has different needs and learns at a different pace. In the same way that a teacher might have to spend more time with a particular student, do not be surprised if you have to work slightly more with one child. This is normal, not a reflection on you as a parent and makeshift educator!
Opportunity for relationship building
Keep in mind that this is an opportunity to spend time with your children doing things you might otherwise not have been able to. Of course it is highly stressful and difficult for families, but it is important to take advantage of any positives you can. Learn together, talk about the information that you have gotten, go on long walks together and talk about the environment, the weather, the possibilities are endless and it will encourage your children to pursue any interests they have.
Obviously parents who are working from home will need downtime where the children work independently. It is worthwhile talking to them about this in an age-appropriate way. However, whenever you can Parenting NI suggest getting involved in the activities your children are taking part in. Crafting and artwork is a good way to encourage learning. Don’t hesitate to make your own painting or recycled object art. You may well find that it is more enjoyable than you think.
For the time being, children are allowed outside. While it is not advisable for them to interact socially with friends or go to busy places like parks, they can still play in gardens or go for walks. Remember that regular break times are important in schools. Build these into your new routine to give your children a chance to play and relax.
The most important advice we can give is for parents to not be too hard on themselves. Know your limits, and if your children spend a day watching TV or a few more hours than usual during the week looking at screens do not despair. While it is important to ensure that not every single day is spent this way, there is no benefit to a parent getting upset or frustrated and giving up. Remember tomorrow is always a new day.
If you require further support, you can access the Parenting NI Support line on 0808 8010 722.
You can get further information regarding governmental advice from: