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Flagging at homeschooling? Expert shares tips for getting through the final weeks of lockdown

If you’re flagging at homeschooling, one expert advises letting your children play video games, sticking to 10 minute tasks – and resisting the urge to be ‘too controlling’. 

In recent days primary and secondary schools across the UK have reopened their doors to certain year groups.

But the majority of children remain in classrooms on a part time basis – and that means the dreaded homeschooling continues for many parents.

According to Dr Lorna Bourke, Principal Lecturer in Psychology at Liverpool Hope University, that uncertainty could be creating ‘the most fearful group of children in a generation’. Parents too are worried they might not be doing enough to help their kids.

But Dr Bourke, a specialist in cognitive developmental psychology, particularly in children, says there are simple, effective things that both parents and schools can do to prepare kids to return to classrooms.

If you're flagging at homeschooling, one expert advises letting your children play video games, sticking to 10 minute tasks - and resisting the urge to be 'too controlling'. Pictured: stock image

If you're flagging at homeschooling, one expert advises letting your children play video games, sticking to 10 minute tasks - and resisting the urge to be 'too controlling'. Pictured: stock image

If you’re flagging at homeschooling, one expert advises letting your children play video games, sticking to 10 minute tasks – and resisting the urge to be ‘too controlling’. Pictured: stock image

And she wants to reach-out to mums and dads to stop them fretting nervously about their home-schooling methods.

Dr Bourke explains: ‘This is probably not your profession – you’re a parent, not a qualified teacher. And we can only do what we can do.

‘Simply talking to your child, encouraging them to enjoy some exercising of their brains, as well as the body, is a perfectly good starting point for homeschooling, particularly if you’re having to work from home while also looking after your children.’

Here Dr Bourke – who is actively researching the impact of school closures on the wellbeing of adolescents during the Covid-19 pandemic – shares with FEMAIL some homeschooling techniques that might protect the wellbeing of your child – and yourself!

Let them game 

Spending hours and hours a day glued to the Playstation clearly isn’t helpful, but video gaming isn’t necessarily as harmful as a lot of parents might suspect. 

A lot of gaming actually exercises the child’s personal sustainability skills when it comes to attention span, as well as learning how to manage frustration. 

Dr Bourke said: 'As a parent, you've probably never thought to ask for a breakdown of your child's timetable, particularly if they're in primary school. But it might be reassuring to see for yourself just how much your school does in terms of activities away from the classroom.' Pictured: stock image

Dr Bourke said: 'As a parent, you've probably never thought to ask for a breakdown of your child's timetable, particularly if they're in primary school. But it might be reassuring to see for yourself just how much your school does in terms of activities away from the classroom.' Pictured: stock image

Dr Bourke said: ‘As a parent, you’ve probably never thought to ask for a breakdown of your child’s timetable, particularly if they’re in primary school. But it might be reassuring to see for yourself just how much your school does in terms of activities away from the classroom.’ Pictured: stock image

Little ones in particular can learn valuable lessons in control. The process will be individualistic according to the child, but I don’t believe gaming is such a bad thing. 

Gaming can also have a calming effect which could protect a child’s mental wellbeing. It’s about the rhythm of the mechanics of play. And this rhythm could also actually aid in the retention of information, too. 

I’d suggest that in the current climate, it’s fine to experiment. And if that involves video games, it’s highly unlikely to harm the child, if age appropriate.

Let your child have their own opinion

When we look at children, a lot of fear and frustration comes from them having no control over a given situation. And you can actually help to improve that sense of control through the things you do at home. 

The classroom is clearly a very controlled environment. But you’re not at school now – you’re in your home, and the rules are different. And you can give your child some degree of control by simply giving them different options – make them feel as if they have choices. 

This could be as simple as suggesting a choice of different homeschooling tasks they might want to engage with, not simply demanding they complete the one put in front of them. And remember that stability and a strict routine is good for managing change. 

But we always have a degree of flexibility within that routine as an adult. We should offer the same support to our children.

Work to 10 minute time slots 

Remember that any task you give your child is an ‘exercise’. And similar to physical exercise, you can only do so much before you need a break. 

If you build-in specific breaks to your homeschooling timetable, you actually minimise distraction in your child. 

In terms of specific times, I’d begin with 10 minutes for younger children and work up to 20 minutes for older children. If we look at higher education, for example, it’s believed university students can’t sit for more than 50 minutes during lectures without becoming distracted. 

If you use that as an example, you can work out what’s appropriate for your own child.

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Ask school for a copy of the class timetable

As a parent, you’ve probably never thought to ask for a breakdown of your child’s timetable, particularly if they’re in primary school. But it might be reassuring to see for yourself just how much your school does in terms of activities away from the classroom. 

It obviously depends on the age of the child, but besides literacy, mathematics, science and languages, you’ll have PE, the arts, music, nature activities. And by looking at the timetable, it might give you a better framework for your own home-schooling week. 

Also remember that lockdown came at a potentially good time. We had the Easter break and we had half term. What was actually realistic to achieve in terms of your own teaching within the time frame your child would have been at school?

Separate writing and drawing tasks

We should always be encouraging our children to engage with a variety of topics wherever possible. But if you’re struggling to keep them engaged, take the approach of many famous authors – and get them to write about something they know. 

Being at home provides the perfect opportunity. Try to get them to really explore their own environment, and the people in it, in order to increase their vocabulary and word power. 

You could increase that power through things like word searches or crosswords, again themed around some of their favourite things, and books they are familiar with. 

Meanwhile you should always plan a break between writing and drawing tasks for younger children. 

It might be tempted to ask your child to draw a picture and to then write a few lines underneath it. But I’d argue that approach is counterproductive. 

Their concentration is likely to have dipped after a drawing task. So come back to it a few hours, or a day later, to finish the writing element of the task. It’s about giving them the motivation and the tools to persevere. 

You could also plan your own ‘young writers week’. Look out for people like Frank Cottrell-Boyce, an award winning children’s author, who has created a series of YouTube clips for lockdown to encourage creative writing skills. 

Try getting them to talk out loud while they think

One of the key challenges for anyone homeschooling is maintaining the attention of the child while reducing their distractibility. And a useful form of self-regulation involves the child talking out loud, as it can help them to really process their thoughts. 

As an adult, voicing thoughts might come naturally, but in children we need to train them to find this inner voice to help them stay on track in a task.’

Self-regulation and mindfulness

Mindfulness skills aren’t just useful when it comes to easing anxiety in children, they can also be used to improve their attention skills, self-regulation and executive functioning. 

And mindfulness is useful for children of all ages, from young to old. Some examples might be blowing bubbles, asking them to explore all of their different senses, going on a mini garden ‘safari’, or simply controlled breathing exercises. 

I’d urge schools to adopt mindfulness techniques, too. They’re cost-effective and may help children who are returning to the classroom to feel less fearful, when combined with talking about their anxiety.

And finally… don’t worry about development gaps – they can be closed!

Some children will have spent the lockdown in an educationally rich environment, while others may not have done. And there may be noticeable development gaps between children when they do return to schools. 

We’d start to see that in September, particularly for younger children. And while we shouldn’t feel pressured, one way parents can try to reduce the gap is through practice and repetition – something that happens continually in the classroom but which might not necessarily transfer to homeschooling. 

It’s about parents trying to emulate teachers by finding different ways and methods to communicate the same key messages. It’s this practice and repetition that accelerates all aspects of their learning development.

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