Homeschooling & Working advice by the experts

The closure of schools in response to the Coronavirus pandemic has meant millions of mums and dads are having to add the job of full-time teacher to their already full-time work schedule. I’ve asked Murray Morrison, one of the UK’s leading learning and education experts, to give us some advice. He is the founder of online learning program which is widely used within UK schools.

Q: The Covid-19 lockdown has forced parents to ‘replace’ teachers for the duration of the school closure. There’s a lot of pressure on parents all over the world to meet expectations of what homeschooling “should” be while also trying to maintain their day-to-day job. What’s the best way to tackle this?

Murray Morrison (MM): First of all, I’d advise parents not to try to replace teachers. They’re professionals, and the role they take on is one that needs to plan for and teach to the needs of a room full of children all at once. Your role as a parent needn’t try to emulate that, and you’re also having to juggle other responsibilities that are equally important. Instead, think about tasks that you can get your children doing by themselves, or that you can do together which are educational, but not ‘teaching and learning’ in the school sense.

Q: How can parents fill the educational gaps at this extraordinary time? 

MM: Remember that all the curriculum content will be covered at school when it goes back – so take a little pressure off yourself. Instead, look at what’s required from the school – the activities and resources they send – and support where you can. If you come across problems, there are amazing lessons and resources available online that your child can use to help themselves or that you can look through with them when you have time. 

Q: One of the questions we have as parents is ‘When school resumes, how could teachers run over everything from the ‘lost term’ in a limited time-frame?

MM: This is going to have to happen. However much you might be doing – or struggling to do – school will not be able to assume that any content will have been covered properly in the home environment, and there will be a large group of children in tough circumstances that will have completely missed out. So yes, schools will cover everything again. The problem is that it will all be covered at pace and with limited time for practice. The best advantage you can give your child is to keep them in ‘learning mode’, help them maintain the skills that will allow them to prosper: organisation, concentration, time-management, self-discipline, so that they will be able to handle what will be a new educational territory when they do go back. 

Q: The biggest challenges for parents are keeping the motivation and focus up. Can you share some tips to achieve that effortlessly?

MM: Collaboration and buy-in is key. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging and underlining to your child the responsibility that they have to be self-sufficient and to take their own learning seriously, but also you’ll get a lot more progress out of them if, together, you’re able to work out the plan for the hour, for the day, and for the week. Set out what you think will be achievable, and build in rewards and breaks around the work. If education is something that’s “being done to them”, they’re likely to rebel against it. If they buy in to the task, and their responsibility, you might find that they take the lead on the whole project.

Q: What can we do to keep children occupied while we do our work? Please share ideas for both primary and secondary pupils to avoid them being ‘attached’ to video games in their spare time. 

MM: Focus on activities that can build key skills for next year’s learning – things that develop their focus, concentration and memory skills, for example. Tasks like gardening or batch-cooking are useful for the family, rewarding and foster a sense of quiet focus; other activities like puzzle-solving, knitting and yoga can be great for helping them mentally and physically. But don’t rule out video games – within limits, they can develop problem-solving skills, memory, concentration and motor skills. Use them as a reward and make them part of the plan you build into the daily routine.

Q: Please share examples of resources parents can use for edutainment, better if off screen. 

MM: My favourite resource for my son is just plain old card – we’ve been making 3D shapes of all sorts – a quick google of “platonic solids” will give you some great ideas. Not only have we made some beautiful objects, but I’ve been able to help him to develop drawing, measuring and construction skills (essential for maths and science). We also turned a cube into a pinhole camera and got some great science out of it. All from an old cereal box.

Q: Do you have tips on enrichment activities which parents can do with their children that keep everyone happy and that school cannot offer? 

MM: There are as many brilliant enrichment activities as there are parents out there…. I’d start with the idea that, at this strange time, we’re going to need to change the roles a bit. Everyone in the house needs to take on different responsibilities and help each other out – and that means, to some extent, talking as equals rather than as parent and child. Conversation as peers is the greatest enrichment activity out there, in my opinion. Get them involved in some of your work if you can – great experience and they might even be able to help you out. Getting them to help around the house, DIY, gardening and cooking and doing these things with you will not only make a valuable contribution but it will be helping their development and providing valuable education for life.

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