7 tips for home schooling primary school children during lockdown – Jon Aspinox Writes

7 tips for home schooling primary school children during lockdown

In this series of blogs, my wife and all-round superstar teacher Georgia Clare will be sharing some of her experiences and thoughts on how to make home schooling during lockdown a little less painful for parents and children alike. You can also read her in-depth guide to helping kids with writing, and reading and 9 tips to help motivate reluctant learners; watch out for upcoming instalments!

Once upon a time, home-schooling children was something that raised eyebrows at parties. Now it’s something that families across the country are attempting, often while trying to manage their own work from home or looking after other children. There are lots of helpful guides for home-schooling but these are aimed at the parents who have decided to do it as a long term alternative to school. That’s not you. This is a temporary situation with many more obstacles that would normally be present if you had chosen to home-school permanently.

Lots of schools are making it clear that parents shouldn’t stress and you should just ‘do what you can’. This is absolutely true – but there seems to be a bit of a gap in that guidance. Should you be sitting with them for the whole time they’re working? Only when they’re stuck? Giving them an ‘input’ before they start? Should you feel guilty when you see Sharon from the PTA showing off the fancy science experiment her family did on Facebook? Are you allowed to feel superior when you see next door’s kids in the garden ALL day, clearly doing no work at all? Should you be pushing your child(ren) to sit by themselves and work until they complete all their set work? Should you make them do 5 hours a day? What if they start resisting at hour 2? How much should you nag? When can you start drinking?

As a teacher, I’m offering some advice that may help. It’s all my personal opinion, but my advice is based on both professional experience and understanding of the science of teaching – or pedagogy, to give it its proper name. I want to help children to do some learning while they’re stuck at home, parents to manage their own work at the same time, and most importantly for everyone in the house to stay calm, happy and friends with each other!

1: 1-2 hours a day is fine

The most important thing to remember is that home-schooling is a very different form of educating to classroom teaching. Teachers need 5 hours of lessons a day in part because they have to cater for 30 different brains with different levels of prior understanding and ways of thinking. A lot of lesson time is spent analysing those 30 brains and making decisions about how to intervene. Since it’s very unlikely you have 30 children, it stands to reason that you don’t need 5 hours of learning every day to help them make the same progress.

Remember too that children in a classroom won’t spent all 5 hours learning and thinking hard. They will also spend some of that time: getting their books, sharpening their pencils, having a quick chat when the teacher is elsewhere, day-dreaming, listening to input they already understand, waiting for other children to answer questions and listening to the teacher correct or praise them… the list goes on. Though that won’t go away entirely at home, they will be more focused – so again, you don’t need to get them to replicate the entire school day at home.

My daughter is only a baby but if she were primary aged and I were home-schooling her, then based on my experiences I would be doing the following each day:

  • KS1
    • ~ 20 minutes writing lesson
    • ~ 20 minutes maths lesson
    • ~ 10 minutes shared reading
  • KS2 (minimum)
    • ~ 30 minutes writing lesson
    • ~ 30 minutes maths lesson
    • ~ 15 minutes shared reading

When I say lesson, that includes some input from you but also some time for independent work where you can butt out. Just like you at work, it’s not good for children to have someone sitting over their shoulder the whole time they’re working.

When I say shared reading I mean reading a book together, not necessarily them doing all the reading. Reading should be a pleasurable activity! Maybe you read one page, they read the next? And talk about it! Comprehension is just as important as decoding (working out what the words say). See my in-depth blog on reading for more advice with this.

It’s important to recognise that these timings are very approximate. They’re estimates based on what I believe a single child in my class would need if I was teaching them one on one, but it’s important to make allowances for the circumstances. You both may feel like it’s a more writing kind of day where you do no maths but a longer piece of writing like a story. Or everyone might be in a bad mood and you don’t do much together at all. Whatever happens, don’t stress – anything, after all, is better than nothing. If you don’t get anything done one day, maybe you’ll have a long interesting discussion about place value the next day to make up for it!

Your child will have had work set by the school and you can use this for your lessons. I’d prioritise reading, writing and maths when it comes to your input. The other subjects – which in school we term foundation subjects – such as art, music, PE and history are the fun and more open things. You can follow what the school has recommended for those if you wish but if your child wants to research Romans rather than Victorians then let them! Likewise if your child refuses to do anything for these subjects, I’d personally let them off. These are temporary and special circumstances, we don’t need to push them. See my other blog for more info about what to do for foundation subjects.

2: Be enthusiastic – fake it if you have to

As teachers, much as we enjoy learning ourselves, we aren’t actually thrown into wild joy by every thing we teach – but we PRETEND we are. We are the ultimate actors. Tom Hanks has nothing on us. As far as the children are concerned, every subject from fractions to the ecosystem of the Amazon is fascinating to us – even if we’re actually being driven slightly insane by the tedium of it, or our minds are on our dinners. I would argue that it’s incredibly important that you do the same at home. Enthusiasm for the subject helps keep children engaged, and ultimately is what inspires them to become great learners.

Phrases to avoid:

  • “Yeah I never liked fractions when I was at school”
  • “Oh god, I don’t understand this at all!”
  • “I know it’s boring but you’ve got to do it anyway”

Phrases to use:    

  • “I remember learning about co-ordinates! Shall we play a game of battleships?”
  • “I love this time we get to spend together learning”
  • “Gosh this is a bit tricky, let’s see of we can figure it out together”

It might feel like a tall order to get excited about expanded noun phrases – but remember, you don’t need to keep it going for 5 hours – just for as long as the lesson lasts, which might be no longer than half an hour. And the benefits to your child’s learning will be astounding.

3: Encourage independence

Don’t feel that you have to focus on your kid the whole time they’re working. I’d start with maybe 5 minutes of input from you. Have a quick look at the piece of work they’re about to attempt and then, depending on what’s appropriate, give them an input. This input could be:

  • ‘Modelling’ – showing them exactly what to do, talking it through like narration as you’re doing it.
  • Watching them have a go at one and setting them right if they go wrong.
  • Just a chat. Asking them if they understand what they’re doing and getting them to explain it to you.

Then, just let them get on with it. It’s great idea to do your work at the table with them at the same time, modelling how to work independently. It’ll motivate them to carry on more than it would if you had left to go and watch TV or do the washing up.

Your child may take the opportunity of you being there to ask you for help every time they get a tiny bit stuck – or bored. If this happens, don’t jump straight in. Encourage them to think about it for themselves properly first, because THIS IS WHERE LEARNING HAPPENS. However, you don’t want them to get to the point where they’re so frustrated they switch off so little prompts such as a clue, or helping them structure their thoughts depending on the task, are good.

4: Feedback – give two stars and a wish

How did you learn to drive? You had a little bit of instruction on the basics. Then you gave it a go with someone telling you what you could do better. Then you practised some more, focusing on improving one or two skills at a time – clutch control, or road positioning, for example. Those individualised nudges in the right direction are an incredibly important part of teaching. They are also ones you can do easily, with minimal effort, at home with your child.

The crucial point about feedback is not to overwhelm them with it. A good guide is two stars and a wish (two positive comments and one thing to work on). Try to give this feedback once per piece of work, ideally while they’re still completing it. Any more than 3 pieces of feedback (the two positives and the one thing to improve) are too much for a child to process.

Try to keep the feedback specific and simple, remembering with the wish that you’ll probably need to help them a bit with how to put it into practice.

Feedback to avoid:

  • “It’s really good” (too general – what’s good about it?)
  • “Remember to carry the one” (fine if they understand this and have just forgotten but do they understand and know how to do it?)

Feedback to use:

  • “It’s great how you’ve remembered all your capital letters today because that was what we were focusing on yesterday”
  • “You’ve not lined up the place value columns correctly in your addition sums, let’s do one together to help you remember”

For more examples and how to teach skills they’re missing, see my in-depth blog on writing, reading, and other subject specific blogs which will be published later this week.

5: If they’re really confused, move on or ask for help

If a child was stuck during a lesson in a classroom, the teacher would do some probing to discover where the blockage is, by taking them gradually back through the things they need to understand before this new learning is accessible.

For example, if a child was not ‘carrying the one’ in column addition (this is now called exchanging) do they understand they have made more than 10 so need to stick that 10 in the 10s column where they add it on later? Do they understand what a tens column is, and how it relates to the 1s column? Do they understand the concept of ‘adding’ at all?

This analysis of misconceptions and knowing how to build learning up from that last point of understanding is quite a tricky skill and one that we get taught on our PGCE course. I’d suggest unless you’re confident and have the time, just make a note that they didn’t get this for their teacher and move on.

The exception I’d suggest to this would be if your child’s set work is progressive (ie they need to understand Monday’s work before they can do Tuesday’s) – but I’d imagine this isn’t the case for the majority. Teachers won’t be setting lots of new learning unless they’re presenting zoom lessons or have created highly detailed teaching resources, probably because they know that it’ll be a nightmare for parents if the kids get stuck. They’ll mostly be setting revision type work that covers a range of topics. If you do find your child is stuck on something they do really need to understand in order to progress, then call the school. They can arrange for your child’s teacher to give you a call, or maybe a TA or even the head! Schools are full of staff eager to help children learn and many of them at the moment are stuck at home not able to do that – by calling on them you’re making their day!

6: Don’t worry about being told off by the school

Schools and teachers are still trying to figure this situation out and every school has a different take on it. You may have a school that is asking to children to do 5 lessons a day and setting work accordingly. They may be ringing you up to check it’s all getting done.

Whatever their reasoning, I GUARANTEE you that each teacher’s first priority is children’s welfare. They don’t want anyone to stress and if they ask how everything’s going it’s because they care and they want an honest conversation!

So if they call, it’s not to be accusatory: don’t be apologetic or defensive, be honest, ask for their help. And if you don’t want them to call – just tell them that!

Phrases to avoid:

  • “Sorry we haven’t done that yet, we’ll do it tomorrow” (if you’re struggling to do it, tell them why)
  • “Yeah we’re fine, he’s done all his work, he understands it all” (only a problem if it’s not true!)

Phrases to use:

  • “He likes doing the maths you set but I’m struggling to get him to do any reading. Do you have any advice?”
  • “I struggled to explain equivalent fractions to him when he was stuck. Do you have any advice?”
  • “We’re struggling to do more than 1 hour a day. What do you want us to prioritise?”
  • “He’s doing all his work and understands it all but is getting bored of it. Is there anything different we can try?”

Finally remember the teacher is there to help, but if your child wants to forge their own path, go with it! Child led learning is the holy grail of education – after all, if they’re setting the agenda, they will get so much more out of it. It’s tricky to do with 30 kids and a set curriculum, but we’d do much more of it if we could. While they are at home is a perfect time to do this – no one is going to hold you accountable for what you’re covering! They’ll be plenty of time to get back to the National Curriculum while they’re at school. So if they happen to be really into Minecraft at the moment, ignore the set work and follow their lead! Write Minecraft stories or instructions or adverts, read Minecraft books, do maths based on block building. A short Google search will give you lots to get your teeth into whatever the topic is. If you can find something that both of you are into, that’s even better – and will help you be enthusiastic about the learning. See my blog on writing, reading, and upcoming subject-specific blogs for more help with this.

7: Be kind to yourself

Home schooling, you’ve no doubt found out by now, is not easy. No-one prepared you for this situation and as teachers, we don’t want you be in it. There were many tears from teaching staff across the country when we sent the kids home on that Friday afternoon. We want to be doing our jobs. We want to be educating the nation’s children. And we want you to know that we will do our damndest to make up for lost time when we can.

Remember that SATs, GCSEs and A levels have all been cancelled; it’s not like your children will fail their exams if they don’t get all their learning done during lockdown.  As long as you can keep the spark of learning alive in your child, they’ll be OK. In the meantime, stay strong, have lots of cuddles and drink lots of tea, do what you can, if you can, but most importantly look after each other. They’ll be plenty of time to learn about column multiplication and fronted adverbials later.

Note from the editor: if you found this blog useful, check out Georgia’s 9 tips for motivating children to do their home-learning, her in-depth guide to writing, and her guide to reading. We’ll be publishing some more in-depth blogs on specific subjects through this week and next; if you have any other questions, leave a comment – Georgia would be very happy to offer advice!

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9 thoughts on “7 tips for home schooling primary school children during lockdown

  1. Thank you – this was a very calming constructive read with lots of great advice. My son aged 9 is in P5 and still struggles with spelling despite his reading being fluent – can you offer any advice please?

    1. Hi Heidi, thanks for reading, I’m so glad you found it helpful. Have you read my blog on writing? That may help but if not, here’s some extra advice – First of all don’t worry, most children can read better than they can spell. Some children learn spelling best by learning phonics but some do better by looking at the shape of the words. With some children it can be helpful to write spelling words in ‘boxes’ of different shapes (tall ones for tall letters etc) – if you google “box font spelling” you’ll see what I mean. So maybe each week pick 5 words he’s been getting wrong – start with the most common. Write them out together in these box shapes every day. Maybe mix it up by you draw the boxes and he has to match it to the right word, or make actual boxes out of lolly sticks or pencils and he has to build the word himself? Then when you test him, draw the boxes for him and he just has to write the word in. I hope this makes sense?
      If you don’t have the time for that, the best thing to do is to encourage him to read a lot. I’m a terrible speller but I can usually figure it out by what ‘looks right’ because I’ve seen the word a lot through reading. Good luck! georgia x

  2. I completely relate to all of this. I’m currently at home with my two sons, one aged 5 and the other three. We’ve struggled to begin with, understanding the best way to fit my eldest school things in whilst arranging our own working day. The techniques you’ve discussed in this piece is exactly how we have tackled it all. Thanks

  3. Thank you Georgia for your incredibly insightful blog! I can’t wait to apply some of it tomorrow and feel more positive about the whole home schooling! 🙂

    For me, I actually enjoy having the opportunity to teach my kids (Rec and Y3) and always start with a fresh attitude. But I get so much constant resistance from my kids that it becomes draining and I end up losing all my enthusiasm very quickly!

    I’ll take on your advice and hope to have less battles in the future!

    1. Same here my kids are Reception and Year 2. I’m also working from home. I’m focusing on reading and sounds for reception but expect more from the older one who loves school but not so much independent learning at home. Was hoping they’d do more on their own, most of my work is on skype meetings.

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