Balancing home learning and parenting

Ben James Connor

Ben Connor is a Primary school teacher in Lancashire. Teaching since 2010, Ben has taught from Year 2 to Year 5. Since September 2018 he has been English subject leader and SLT at a school in Bolton. In his spare time he writes articles, and leads workshops mainly focussing on Music and English, sometimes a combination of the two.

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We are in completely uncharted waters. Thousands of children at home with parents, unable to go to school. Schools are attempting to provide resources for parents to use at home, to varying degrees of success. But what is the intention? To replicate school? To ensure children don’t miss out on learning?

What is happening in homes across Britain is not school. It can’t be. School requires qualified, experienced staff following a carefully planned curriculum, utilising resources to teach a large group of children. 'Home schooling' is completely different. Working 1:1 with your own child is challenging. The person leading the learning is, more often than not, unqualified and trying to maintain their own full time job. They are working without the resources or the experience of a teacher, often not understanding the work their children are being asked to complete. Some schools are expecting work to be logged, children to demonstrate their learning daily, whilst others have just provided resources and left families to it.

As a qualified, experienced teacher myself, non-teachers have already joked that I must be finding it easy, teaching two children at home. However, this is not the case. Teaching my own children has its own problems. Not the least that as a Year 4 teacher I am having to support my daughter with her Year 3 work (not too bad) and my Reception child (no idea). Working with two children at completely different stages is tough. Another issue is: there are no break times. No staffroom to sneak off to for a cheeky biscuit or cup of coffee. They are here. ALL THE TIME.

The first few days in isolation, I kept to a strict timetable. Thirty minute activities ranging from Maths and Grammar to Science and Art. I utilised online resources I use at my own school, using a device with one child whilst working on paper with the other. Perfect. It was all going swimmingly until the novelty wore off. One morning (I’m not sure which day as days have no meaning anymore), my son refused to work. “I don’t want to go to school today”. It was a tricky situation. No headteacher to send him to. Couldn’t keep him in at lunchtime. Eventually I realised that I had approached the whole situation as a teacher, not as a parent.

With all my experience, I had forgotten that this isn’t home and these aren’t my pupils. Not only are they having to work with their dad, not their teacher, they are also missing their friends and family. They are stuck inside more often than not, completely out of routine. This is not school and I am not their teacher. My job at this point is just to make this situation as normal as possible. A different approach was needed. The timetable went out of the window. I decided to view this more as an extended holiday (albeit the sort where you are trapped in your own home for an unknown period). Children need routine, true, but they also need comfort and enjoyment. They need to feel challenged but this can take many different forms.

It's now “Easter” and we have taken the week off. But next week the learning will start again. My children, like children everywhere, can’t afford 6 months away from school with no learning at all. The damage that would do to their development is unthinkable. But my role is just to keep them ticking over. My role is to make the learning fun, sustainable and interesting. That is where the challenge lies. I also have responsibilities for my own pupils: setting work online, providing childcare for key worker children in school. But my primary role for the time being is one of a parent and a teacher. And there is a balance needed. Schools need to make it clear to parents who are already struggling, with what is frankly a terrifying situation, that they are doing a good job. They need to know that a little bit of work each day, combined with activities to keep them busy, is the ticket in this situation. This is the job of all the parents out there:

Maintain their learning as best as you can so that teachers can pick up as close to where they left off as possible. Support them emotionally. They know what’s going on. They are completely out of routine and missing their normal lives. The most important thing here isn’t academic, rather its pastoral. If you don’t happen to do that day’s Maths assignment but you have sat and spent time with your child, don’t panic. Get to know your children. This is an unprecedented chance to spend quality time with your child. Never again will you be stuck together for months without school or work. This can be the cause of conflict but try to see it as an opportunity. Do some of the things that you never have time to do usually (social distancing permitting). Most importantly, look after yourself. There is no point in ensuring that 30 pieces of work are completed on your child’s VLE if it causes a breakdown, yours or your child’s. Sometimes watching TV together is ok, if it gives you both time to relax and stay calm.

This situation is just plain weird. No-one was prepared for it; the toilet roll debacle demonstrates this. No-one is doing well in this situation, we are all just doing our best. Do your best and protect your family. Everything else is a bonus.

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