How to support parents while your students are learning at home

Learning from home is here to stay, at least for the moment. While school closures came on suddenly, as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, it seems increasingly likely that most students won’t be headed to classes in-person until after the summer break. After the quick pivot...

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Learning from home is here to stay, at least for the moment. While school closures came on suddenly, as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, it seems increasingly likely that most students won’t be headed to classes in-person until after the summer break.

After the quick pivot to distance learning, teachers are learning on the hoof what works and what doesn’t. But with such a long time away from educational institutions, how can they make sure students continue to learn and develop? And how can teachers support parents on their children’s homeschooling journey, too?

The challenges of learning from home

It’s important to acknowledge learning from home comes with different challenges, depending on age group and subject. What works with secondary-aged pupils won’t be suitable for primary pupils, and vice versa. There is an enormous variety of approaches to distance learning and not all schools – or even all teachers within a school – are doing it the same way.

What’s more, the situation of each family can hugely vary. The demands on a family might be different depending on the age of the kids. Not all children have equal access to technology – some students might have their own laptop, others might have to share with siblings or not have access to a computer at all.

Most importantly, not all parents will have the same availability to support their child’s learning. Some parents will be off work on furlough, while others will be working from home. Some may be feeling stressed about being suddenly out of work, and others might be employed as essential workers. The pressure might be greater still for single parents who have lost access to their support network of friends and relatives.

How can teachers help support parents?

There are some practical things that all teachers can do to make learning from home as easy and straightforward as possible for everyone. Here are our tips:

1. Limit screen time

Imagine six hours of Zoom meetings in one day. It sounds awful, doesn’t it? If adults find a lot of screen time overwhelming, imagine how children and teenagers feel. Realistically, your students will be spending time on screens in their downtime, so try to limit the amount of screen time you expect as part of learning from home. This takes the pressure off parents trying to ensure access for their children.

Of course, it’s still important for teachers to make themselves available to parents and students. So instead, use short periods of screen time to give direction and guidance. Don’t expect to teach in front of a laptop in exactly the same way you’d teach in front of a classroom.

2. Create individual and flexible lesson plans

Some schools are providing parents with a full curriculum to follow, but this can create added stress for busy parents. Instead, create lesson plans that can work on their own, as a resource bank for parents to pick and choose from. This relieves some of the pressure of planning and organising – both for you and for parents. There will be plenty of time to fill in the gaps and connect the dots once children are back at school.

3. Suggest alternative activities

Learning can take place outside of textbooks and worksheets, but often parents aren’t sure about the educational value of everyday activities. However, there are plenty of learning opportunities in household chores. Cooking is a great way to improve maths and literacy skills, through reading recipes, writing shopping lists, measuring ingredients and so on. Keeping a diary is a good way for students to develop their writing skills. Light gardening activities, such as weeding or planting herbs, is a good opportunity to observe roots systems, identify plants and observe the growing process. Even more mundane chores like doing the laundry and helping with cleaning will teach older children and teenagers valuable life skills.

4. Support child-led learning

Reassure parents that it’s ok to follow their child’s interests – it will remove the pressure of following a curriculum, and make the homeschooling process much easier on everyone involved. Children are naturally curious, so allow them to choose what they want to learn about and direct their own learning through play and research. Older children and teenagers might need a little more direction, so find out what their particular interests are, and encourage them to delve deep into this area. The freedom of learning from home is an opportunity to become experts in their chosen subject area, whatever it may be.

5. Suggest free resources

Try to point parents in the direction of free resources. There are lots of websites and blog posts with suggestions, and you can use them to create a curated list for each class or age group. Lots of publishers are making resources available while schools are closed, so encourage parents and students to take advantage while they can! Take a look at our Pearson support page with free resources for home schooling during this period.

6. Underline the importance of reading and play

It doesn’t really matter what students are reading – just so long as they ARE reading. Everything from graphic novels to (quality) journalism will improve literacy for students of all ages. Encourage parents to create a block of reading time every day, where students can read whatever they want. The benefits go further than improved literacy – studies have shown that reading develops empathy and general cognitive skills. And for younger students who struggle with reading independently, emphasise the importance of play as a learning tool for the skills of empathy, creativity and problem-solving.

7. Emphasise that everything is a suggestion

Don’t pile the pressure on. Remember, when it comes to learning from home, your role is to guide and support parents in their children’s education. Lots of parents report feeling under enormous pressure to send completed worksheets and remember project deadlines. Try to minimise the administrative side of things, and instead focus on making the learning process fun and rewarding for families in this stressful time.

Further reading and resources

For more COVID-19-related articles, have a look at our COVID-19 blog reel.

We’ve gathered all our resources for parents which are free during the pandemic into this single, easy-to-navigate parent page.

And don’t forget to check out our main COVID-19 support page for teachers, learners and parents.

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