For parents, children (and teachers) alike, there is an unacknowledged sense of dread as we try to galvanise ourselves for the return to ‘school’, without having that glorious school building beckon us. How do we make the holidays different from term-time all within the confines of our own four walls? How do we encourage children to engage with learning when we are finding it hard to motivate ourselves?
The first thing to realise is: don’t expect too much from yourself. You might have an idyllic dream of suddenly becoming an expert in the subjects you hated whilst you were at school; of your children all studiously engaged in their separate lessons and then enthusiastically sharing their learnings with each other at the end of the day. Even for teachers, our expectation vs. reality is sometimes worlds apart in the classroom; so except that the reality of home-learning is bound to fall short of the ideal expectation. That being said, here are some tips (not to achieve that perfect instagrammable home-school life), but to try and make the transition as painless as possible.
Create a sense of change
The joy of returning to school is the change in place and routine that it brings from the holidays. Whilst we cannot physically change the place that we are in, we can still create a sense of change. If you’re dealing with teenagers who would lie-in until midday if they had the choice, encourage them to be up, dressed and breakfasted before their lessons begin so that the weekend sleep-fest is a joy for them (and you) when they get there.
For those of you with younger children, getting them up won’t be the problem, but try to create a ‘school morning routine’ that looks different from the weekends and holidays. This can be as simple as the food that’s on offer (cereal/fruit during the week, toast/pancakes at the weekends) and the time you have breakfast (8am during the week, whenever-you-like at the weekends).
Equally, try to demark the end of the ‘school day’. Maybe this is the time to use your one-piece-of-exercise-a-day by going to the park for a bike ride or run around. Rain or shine, it’s good to get out of the house and then return to the place of ‘home’ rather than ‘school’.
Most schools across the country operate a system of merits or house points in rewarding and motivating pupils – why not adopt your own home version? The phrase ‘house point’ has never been so apt. Star charts often have intrinsic value for younger children and can be given out for concentrating really well for half an hour, for working out a tricky question, for helping a sibling with something they’re struggling with.
Teenagers might initially scoff at such things, but I’ve seen with my own eyes Year 11 students working hard for merits! You can always up the stakes by making it possible to earn rewards through the accumulation of ‘house points’: time on social media, time on Netflix/Prime/[insert relevant subscription here], a Friday night ‘treat’ dinner.
Let them take ownership
For those of you with children at secondary school, chances are that they have already been taking ownership of their time and lessons. Many secondary schools are still sticking to the school timetable, providing students with set lesson times that they follow. Even for schools on a reduced timetable, there is often a structure provided for students. Touch base with them at certain points throughout the day, but allow them to get on with it and trust that they are engaging with their lessons. They are used to school being their space – let this continue to be the case.
For those of you with primary school children, there is often more flexibility in lessons which allows you to decide what the learning day will look like. Common sense dictates that letting them ‘just get on with it’ would not end well; even so, you can still encourage them to take ownership. Together, work out a timetable which is achievable for each child – get them to write it out, decorate it and stick it on the wall, taking pride in the fact that this is theirs.
Try to make home-learning fun. Could you set up a lunchtime ‘club’ or encourage older kids to run clubs for younger siblings? Could you rope in family members or friends who have 20 minutes to spare? (I can guarantee that Uncle Will explaining fractions over Zoom will be a highlight of the day.) Could you finish the week with ‘performance Friday’ – a rendition of ‘The Gruffalo’ perhaps or, if you’re feeling particularly high-brow, a silly adaptation of ‘Macbeth’?
Whatever you do, remember that no-one (not even teachers) are expecting you to recreate school at home. Just take one day at a time and encourage your kids to do the same.